"Sony" and "budget laptop" are two phrases not used to cuddling up next to each other, but here they are almost spooning with the E Series, after the initial Vaio YB flirtation.
Only one of the E series comes with AMD inside though, the rest are Intel. Sony arranged two models for us, which have the soft and cuddly names of VPCEB45FG and VPCEB46FG, with Core i3 and Core i5 respectively.
The E series has actually been around for a while, but it's still hard to get used to the missing trademark of Sony's side-facing power button. While the plastic is incredibly smooth, shiny and there's a definite depth to it, take off the Sony labels and you could have any laptop manufacturer's design, down to the mismatching black keyboard strip.
The keyboard is serviceable, but the textured touch pad is an instant turn off. Expandability is well apportioned given the price range, with three USB ports, a USB/eSATA port, DVD+-RW drive, gigabit Ethernet, VGA and HDMI out, ExpressCard 34 slot, SD card and MS card reader, headphone and microphone jacks, bluetooth and 2.4GHz 802.11n.
Sony's software bundle is decent with only a few blights, the most impressive thing being the bundled copies of Adobe's Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements.
It also includes Office Starter 2010, the first instance we've seen of this. You can choose to buy the full Office Suite, or use the Starter edition, which only includes Word and Excel and is advertising supported, but likely to be all anyone needs. A link to Qriocity, Sony's new subscription music service, is there too.
Vaio Care is back and includes troubleshooting and diagnostic tools, while McAfee pulls security duties. Less useful is the annoying Vaio Gate, a dock that takes up precious screen real estate for nothing more than a few shortcuts already provided elsewhere, and there's also PMB, a Picasa/iPhoto stand-in but not quite as good.
Screen quality is where the E series suffers, with the 1366x768, 15.5-inch screen sporting pitiful viewing angles and supporting the axiom that you get what you pay for.
The VPCEB45FG features a Core i3 380M, 320GB hard drive and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470, and comes in pink, green, blue, white and black. The VPCEB46FG bundles a Core i5, 500GB hard drive and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650, and is offered in blue, black and white. Both laptops feature 4GB RAM and run on Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.
The AU$999 EB45FG did well in the performance tests, with 3DMark06 and PCMark05 returning scores of 4242 and 6208 respectively, making it capable of handling most household tasks and some older games, or at least more forgiving ones like those that run on the Source engine. As is usually the case, though, with budget laptops is that the battery time wasn't great — with all power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and an XviD file played back, the EB45FG only made one hour and 46 minutes.
At AU$1299 the EB46FG provided a small boost thanks to its faster CPU and GPU, clocking in 6951 and 7147 in 3DMark and PCMark respectively. The hit on the battery wasn't as large as expected, giving out at the one hour and 36-minute mark.
Sony's E series are perfectly good budget laptops, with the only real detractors being the screen quality and battery life. But for the price, what you're getting is a good deal.