Sony VAIO Z Series (VPCZ217GG) laptop

Would you pay $3999 for a laptop?

Sony VAIO Z Series (VPCZ217GG)
  • Sony VAIO Z Series (VPCZ217GG)
  • Sony VAIO Z Series (VPCZ217GG)
  • Sony VAIO Z Series (VPCZ217GG)
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Performance
  • Light weight
  • Excellent screen

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Keyboard and touchpad
  • Can get very noisy

Bottom Line

While the Sony Z Series definitely has a 'wow' factor, it's a 'wow' factor that is mostly a reaction to: "so how much does it cost?". But hey, if you can afford it, then you'll end up with a 1.15kg, super-slim laptop that also features high-end processing performance and very fast drive speeds.

Would you buy this?

Performance

When it comes to performance, the VAIO Z has lots of it and it can be used for reasonably intense multimedia work in addition to basic office tasks and Web browsing. It recorded 40sec in our Blender 3D rendering test, 48sec in our iTunes MP3 encoding test and 52min in our DVD-to-Xvid video transcoding test. These results are on par with what the Sony VAIO SA Series laptop recorded with the same CPU, but they aren't as fast as what Fujitsu's LifeBook S761 produced. The Fujitsu was also slightly faster in 3DMark06, where it recorded 5014 compared to the VAIO Z Series' 4588. That (and all the other) tests were undertaken using the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics adapter.

A powerful graphics adapter is usually something that can't be found in a laptop this small, and Sony's engineers haven't been able to figure out how to cram a discrete graphics adapter into such a small space yet. That hasn't stopped them offering a powerful graphics solution for the VAIO Z Series though. When you're on the road, you can use the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics, but when you're at home, you can plug in the supplied docking station, which has an integrated AMD Radeon HD 6650M graphics adapter with 1GB of its own memory. It almost doubles the graphics performance of the laptop (7989 in 3DMark06), allowing it to be used for more taxing tasks than just viewing photos and editing video. Other results were improved, too, when the graphics processing was taken away from the CPU: Blender recorded 37sec and iTunes 45sec.

This docking station isn't optional — it's a standard piece of kit. Sony supplies it with every VAIO Z Series and its function is not only to provide a faster graphics solution, but also to supply a Blu-ray/DVD-RW combo drive and a selection of expansion ports. It has Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI and VGA ports. The dock is connected through the laptop's USB 3.0 and power ports on the right side, but you have to be careful with it. If you unplug it before pressing the 'undock' button, then the laptop will possibly show you a blue screen of death.

As for storage, the VAIO Z Series' 256GB may not be much by today's mainstream standards, but it's perhaps as fast as you can get in any laptop at the moment. The two 128GB solid state drives are combined in a RAID 0 array that produced exceptional performance in our tests. In CrystalDiskMark, a read speed of 478 megabytes per second (MBps) was achieved, along with a write speed of 301.5MBps. In the ATTO Disk Benchmark, the read speed peaked at 504MBps and the write speed at 349MBps. Even our own real-world file copy tests produced an average rate of 92.17MBps, which is excellent.

Battery life

The battery life in our tests was a little below the average for a 13in laptop in our rundown test (in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video), but that was to be expected considering the small dimensions available for a battery. The battery has a 45 Watt-hour rating and it lasted 3hr 27min. You can get more out of it if you implement a power saving scheme, or you can opt to purchase a second battery pack, which can be plugged in to the base of the laptop. We didn't run a battery test with the AMD graphics attached because if you're using those graphics, you are either at home or in the office.

Final observations

The laptop runs cool when you're just using it on your lap to browse Web pages, write documents or look at photos. It has vent holes in the middle of the bottom panel, as well vents for the cooling fan, which is located on the left side. This fan will be a source of much frustration for many users. Whenever the CPU is under a heavy load, this fan will spin up mightily and it will become very loud. This is something that could become bothersome in a quiet room, and especially if giving a presentation in a boardroom.

The cooling of the innards isn't only through the fan and the bottom panel's vent holes though. In case the bottom vents are blocked, little vent holes around the keyboard area are designed to allow warm air to escape through the top. We're not sure how well this would work under a heavy load, but we do know that if you do use this laptop for heavy work while it's on your lap, it will get noticeably hot and you'll have to get it onto a desk anyway.

So basically, the VAIO Z Series has many good points, such as its performance, screen, solid state drives and backlit keyboard. However, it has flaws when it comes to user comfort: the keyboard and touchpad could be better, the power button is awful, its fan gets very noisy, the base's edges are very hard and pointy.

With a laptop like this, the biggest selling point is the weight-to-power ratio. It's no doubt one of the fastest (if not the fastest) laptop in its weight class, but ultimately, that's not all we look for in a laptop and we think the Z Series is let down by some key user comfort issues. We don't think it's worth anywhere near the $3999 asking price, especially when there are so many decent ultraportable offerings at half, and even a third of the cost.

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