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Sony Vaio Z: Costly Vaio with extra power on the side

At the IFA fair in Berlin earlier this fall, many manufacturers previewed new super-thin laptops. Apple had already released its latest edition of the Macbook Air, now with a really fast processor, large ssd disk and Thunderbolt port.

Most of the competitors showed off and later also launched ultrabook computers based on Intel’s “build kit” of extra compact chipsets and components that should make it cheap to build both fast and thin at the same time. And the ones we tested or read news about seem to match the Macbook Air in thinness, but try to compete with a lower price tag instead of advanced features or maxed out performance.

Astronomical price

Low price has never been Sony’s style. When they build their Vaio computers, it is almost always with the highest possible ambitions and with customers who are prepared to pay as the main target group. The new Vaio Z is no exception. The full name of the model we tested is VPC-Z21V9E/B, and it is the most exclusive in the series, with a staggering price of close to SEK 30,000.

Sony Vaio Z
Connected. The docking station looks like a slim DVD player. It can either be mounted on a high edge in the included stand or lie on the table.

Two other slightly simpler models are also on the way, but are not yet available for sale. The difference between these and our unit is that the others either have a slower processor (but still Intel Core i5, so it will probably get away anyway) or less memory, and that a docking station is not included in the price. It’s this docking device that’s really interesting about the Vaio Z. But we’ll get back to that.

Restrained elegance
First, let’s look at the computer itself. The Vaio Z is a 13-inch computer with a slim shell that is only 1.7 centimeters thick. The carbon fiber chassis is both light, durable and “tough”, which means you can pry and wear the thin construction quite a lot without risking it being deformed.

The design is elegant but restrained. The beautifully curved shape we saw in the Macbook Air and the new Acer Aspire S3 has had to give way to slightly polished edges with substantial fan exhausts and practical connections. On the underside you have ventilation holes and a large easily accessible hatch for maintenance and upgrading.

If you open the lid, you are greeted by sober matte black surfaces and a backlit keyboard with an unusually low stroke height. We’re not completely enamored with it and would have preferred the entire computer to be half a millimeter thicker for better button feel, but that can be a matter of taste. The mousepad is also a little disappointing. It’s well built and has excellent control, but is relatively small and has stiff mouse buttons. Of course, this is just a detail quibble, but considering the price, we also raise the requirements to the max.

Sony Vaio Z
Specialists. The blue usb 3 connector on one side is not just a usb connector. It also has extra pins to use for connecting the docking device.

The display has a resolution of 1,600 x 900 pixels, perfect for a 13-inch panel in our opinion. Sharper than 1366 x 760, but not so high resolution that interfaces and text become difficult to decipher. The screen surface is glossy with good reflective protection, but the brightness is not as high as many other new notebook PCs this fall.

Top performance
If we look at performance, however, there is nothing to complain about. One of the fastest mobile Core i7 processors, 8 gigabytes of memory and a 256 gigabyte SSD volume instead of a hard drive. An unusually fast ssd in addition. The graphics card in the computer is Intel’s built-in, but if you don’t play games or want to work with graphics-intensive cad programs, you won’t lack more muscle there.

Despite a lot of computing power, Sony is good at saving energy. With a dimmed screen and moderate load, the battery lasts for several hours. Save a lot and you can keep going for a whole working day. The cooling keeps the fans running with a noticeable but not directly annoying hiss, which escalates to a real whining if you stress the processor to the limit for a while. The cooling is efficient and the surfaces on and around the keyboard never get uncomfortably hot.

DVD and graphics on string
So there was that thing with the docking station. The Vaio Z already has a lot more connections and features than competing tuners. There are dual screen outputs, hdmi and analog d-sub (vga). This is supplemented with dual memory card readers, both usb 2 and usb 3, fingerprint reader, 3g modem for mobile broadband and the option to attach a second battery for extra long operating time.

The USB 3 port is more than USB, it also hides a completely different connection that Sony calls Lightpeak. It’s built on the same Intel technology that Apple has in its Thunderbolt ports, meaning it’s basically an external PCI Express port. For it, Sony has built a small docking station as big as a slim external DVD. It connects with one cable to the computer and one to a power adapter. The cable to the computer also supplies the computer with power so that it charges the battery when you are plugged in.

The docking station contains, among other things, a DVD burner. There is also a network port, a USB 2 and a USB 3 port. In the small box there is also a separate graphics card, a Radeon HD 6650M, with a vga and an hdmi output. When you plug in the docking station, the computer automatically switches to this graphics card and makes the screen connected to the dock the first monitor.

The best of both worlds
The idea is that you have a large screen, mouse, keyboard and the fixed network plugged into this, so that you plug in when you get home and turn the computer into a complete and powerful workstation with DVD, gigabit network, solid monitor, mouse and keyboard . Plus an extra gear graphically. The only thing missing here would be an audio output so you can plug in computer speakers. If you want to have these, it can be via USB, or via the HDMI output.

The idea is clever, the execution is well thought out and works just as well as we hoped. The computer is almost as good as you can build a portable PC in 2011. A few small details to complain about, however, make it not a full pot. And it’s hard to call it a good buy when it costs what it does.

The best competitors in this size class are only half the price, but it is an exaggeration to say they are only half as good. On the other hand, if you have the money, right now there is probably no better computer than this one to burn it on.

Sony Vaio Z (VPC-Z21V9E/B)
Manufacturer: Sony, www.sony.se
Processor: Intel Core i7 2620M, 2x 2.7 GHz.
Graphics: Intel GMA HD 3000.
Memory: 8 GB ddr3.
Storage: 256 GB ssd.
DVD: No.
Connections: Usb 2, usb 3/lightpeak, hdmi, vga, lan, headphones.
Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n, bluetooth 2.1+edr, 3g.
Card reader: Sd, sdhc, sdxc, mmc, ms, ms pro/duo, magicgate.
Screen: 13.1 inches, 1600 x 900 pixels.
Webcam: 1.3 megapixels.
Operating system: Windows 7 Professional 64 bit.
Size: 32.7 x 21.1 x 1.7 cm.
Battery life (without dock):
Peak: 1 hour 14 minutes.
Low load: 10 hours 41 minutes.
Sound level 50 cm distance: 29-42 dBA
Display brightness, white surface, 100 percent: 110-180 nits
Weight: 1.18 kg.
Guarantee: 2 years.
Approx price: SEK 29,000.

Docking station VGP-PRZ20C (included)
Interface: Lightpeak
Connections: Usb 2, usb 3, lan, hdmi, vga
DVD: Yes.
Graphics card: AMD Radeon HD 6650M.
Size: 14.8 x 22 x 1.8 cm.
Weight: 662 grams.

Plus: Top performance. Thin and light. Very functional.
Minus: The price. Slightly dim screen.
Grade: (9 out of 10)

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