Its a beauty as well as a beast- you wont find a better performing notebook with such portability.
There’s only one notebook that manages to lure me away from my MacBook Pro and that is the Sony VAIO Z series. About two years back, I had sold my 15″ MacBook Pro and gotten the Sony but then Apple released the 13″ MBP and I was back on the Mac bandwagon. I found the recent updates to MBP a bit underwhelming- especially to the 13″ version which has become my favorite form factor for a notebook. The Sony VAIO Z on the other hand recieved an incredibe upgrade and thus it was time for me to sell my 13″ MBP and head back to Windows land.
I bought the medium-end configuration which by no means is a mid-end config from any angle. Equipped with a Core i5-520 CPU running at 2.4GHz, 4GB DDR3-1066 RAM, 802.11n Wireless Networking, an NVIDIA GT330 graphics card with 1GB RAM as well as Intel HD graphics and a 128GB SSD running in RAID0 mode are just some of the highlights of this notebook. Add to that the gorgeous 13″ hardly-reflective LED screen with a resolution of 1600×900 pixels and a carbon-fibre body and you can probably understand why someone with a Mac can turn to Windows for.
The first thing you notice about the Sony VAIO Z11 is how incredibly light it is. Weighing under 1.4kg, the notebook is extremely easy to carry around with you. Although its a bit thicker than the MacBook Pro, the weight makes the Z11 more portable. Construction quality on the Z11 is alright but this is definitely one area where the MacBook Pro wins hands down. The screen on the Z11 flexes a bit and the battery shifts in its place while the palm rest has a plasticy feel to it. Suffice to say, a Unibody MBP it isnt.
The left side of the laptop features the power connector, a Gigabit network connector, HDMI out and two USB ports seperated by an Express Slot in the middle. The front has slots for SD and Sony’s Memory Stick on the left while the right has audio input/output jacks and a Wi-Fi on/off switch which tends to move a bit easier than I would’ve like it to. Finally, the right side has an additional USB port, the optical drive (A DVD Writer) and the power switch. The optical drive can be upgraded to BluRay if you’re willing to spend more, however, I think a slot-in drive would have been a better idea than the tray based one that Sony equips the Z series with.
Besides the hardware refresh, there are a couple of nice additions that Sony has added to the new Z series. First of all, much like the MBP, the keyboard now has a backlight for people that work under darker conditions. I also quite like the keyboard on the Z, more than the keyboard on my 13″ MBP which is saying something. Sony has also increased the size of the trackpad and with new drivers from Synaptics, multi-touch, including two finger scrolling is also supported which works but isn’t as fluid as a Mac.
Above the keyboard, you have a three-way switch that lets you select between the NVIDIA GPU and the Intel GPU or automatically let the system decide using Auto position. On the other side, there are three keys and an eject button for the optical drive. It seems that Sony has designed the Z series for people that want to switch from a Mac to PC by giving you an almost identical experience. Windows still isn’t as fluid of an experience as the Mac OS and I had it crash on my a couple of times within a week but I guess that comes as a given when you have to support the sheer number of components that Windows does.
I chose to compare the benchmark numbers on this Sony VAIO with the Alienware MX11 that we had reviewed some time back which is also a highly portable notebook that performs extra-ordinarily. I’ve benchmarked the Z in both “Speed” and “Stamina” modes or using the NVIDIA GPU as well as the Intel GPU. The following table outlines the results.
||3D Mark 2006
||PC Mark Vantage
||WinRAR CPU test
|Sony VAIO Z (Stamina)
|Sony VAIO Z (Speed)
As you can see, the Core i5 CPU on the Sony VAIO along with the 128GB RAID0 SSD can’t be matched by the Alienware. In fact, the Sony VAIO Z11 is the fastest notebook we’ve ever worked with. Surprisingly, the heat and noise generated by the Z11 wasn’t much to complain about. The left side has a vent and a fan that comes on when you’re gaming or running a benchmark and that could get a bit noisy. But under normal everyday use, the machine is extremely quiet. The bottom of the machine didn’t even get close to being as hot as my MacBook Pro would with everyday usage.
Now generally, this kind of power takes it toll on the battery life so I wasn’t expecting anything incredible in terms of battery life on the Sony VAIO Z11 and thus, I was not surprised by the results. Using the integrated graphics, I manged to get a little over four hours on this notebook. Switching to the discrete controller dropped it to three or below depending on what I’m doing. For example, gaming on it wont give you more than a couple of hours. Alternatively, you can buy an extended battery which will tilt the angle of the machine and add weight to it but will also increase the battery life to over six hours bringing it more in line with a 13″ MBP.
For all this power and portability, Sony sure charges you a pretty penny. The model that I’ve reviewed sells for about AED 8,500 (US$2300.) There is a lower priced model which removes the optical drive and replaces the SSD with a traditional 500GB hard drive for a 1500 Dirhams less. Alternatively, you can pay AED 11,000 and get the top of the line model with a full HD 1080p screen and a 256GB SSD.
The Z11 is expensive- but you get what you pay for which is an insanely fastest yet incredibly portable notebook. Just wish that it had a better battery life.