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Introducing the Sony VAIO Z2

Users who want everything out of their notebook, no matter how ridiculous the demands, are probably more than at least a little curious about Sony's new VAIO Z2. There's good reason to be: this 13.1" ultrabook features a stunning 1080p screen, a secondary battery slice that nearly doubles running time off the mains, and an external dock box that features an optical drive, additional connectivity, and a dedicated GPU that can actually be used to power the notebook's internal screen. The VAIO Z2 has a lot going for it, but is it worth the heavy price tag?

Sony's website lists this unit under the same old Z-series heading, but you'll remember last generation's Z-series notebooks used Arrandale CPUs and packed an optical drive and GPU into the main chassis. The Z2 also technically wouldn't qualify as an ultrabook with a starting price north of $1,600, but the design and build quality is basically in line with Intel's specification (other than the full power CPU). Sony just also happens to include a wealth of extras in the box with it to shore up any deficiencies the primary system might have.

Sony VAIO Z2 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2620M
(2x2.7GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.4GHz, 32nm, 4MB L3, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 4GB integrated DDR3-1333 in dual channel
Graphics Intel HD 3000 Graphics
(12 EUs, up to 1.3GHz)

AMD Radeon HD 6650M 1GB DDR3 (in external dock)
(480 shaders, 128-bit memory bus, 725MHz/1.8GHz core/memory clocks, running at PCIe 2.1 x4)
Display 13.1" LED Matte 16:9 1080p
Sony MS_0025
Hard Drive(s) 2x128GB Samsung SATA 3Gbps SSD in RAID 0 (integrated)
Optical Drive Optiarc DVD+/-RW (in external dock)
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet (second in dock)
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC275 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Single combination mic/headphone jack
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 45Wh (integrated)

6-Cell, 11.1V, 49Wh (battery slice)
Front Side MS/MSPro card reader
SD/MMC card reader
Right Side Mic/headphone combo jack
Ethernet port
HDMI
USB 2.0
USB 3.0/dock combo port
AC adaptor
Left Side VGA
Exhaust vent
Kensington lock
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 13.0" x 0.66" x 8.27" (WxHxD)
330mm x 16.8mm x 210mm
Weight 2.57 lbs (with standard battery)
1.17kg
Extras Webcam
SD and MS card readers
2xSSD in RAID 0
USB 3.0
Bluetooth
Removable external battery slice

External docking unit which features:
DVD+/-RW drive
2x USB 2.0
1x USB 3.0
Gigabit ethernet
HDMI
VGA
AMD Radeon HD 6650M 1GB DDR3
Warranty 1-year international warranty
Pricing Starts at $1,649
As configured: $2,499

It's fairly obvious Sony is gunning for the premium ultraportable market with the VAIO Z2, much as they did with its predecessors. The Z2 is slim and light, but unlike other ultrabooks, Sony elected to use a full-wattage Intel Sandy Bridge processor in the form of the Core i7 2620M, a dual-core processor that runs at a 2.7GHz nominal clock but turbos up to 3.2GHz on both cores or 3.5GHz on a single core. They pair it with 4GB of dual channel DDR3-1333, and you can order the Z2 with up to 8GB, but buyer beware: the memory is soldered on to the motherboard. If you want more than the standard 4GB of DDR3, you'd better order it from the get go because you won't be able to upgrade it later.

Also not upgradable but still appreciated is the SSD. Information about the controller used is not forthcoming, but the individual drives are running on SATA 3Gbps instead of SATA 6Gbps, and then data is striped between two channels in RAID 0. It's a decision of questionable value to the end user; the HM67 mobile chipset is capable of supporting a SATA 6Gbps SSD, so the only real benefit here is the pair of SSD controllers theoretically improving overall throughput.

The rest of the notebook on its own is business as usual excepting the stellar 1080p 13.1" screen. It's definitely a TN panel, but as you'll see later it's among the best notebook screens we've ever tested. The 1080p screen is an upgrade, but even the bottom rung model of Z2 still comes with a 900p screen bog standard, a far cry from the poor quality 768p screens other manufacturers are using.

While sheet batteries are nothing new and the one available for the Z2 does exactly what it was intended for, the docking unit is another matter entirely. Sony dubs it the Power Media Dock, and it offers something most notebook users have been clamoring for: a discrete graphics upgrade. Since the Z2 itself is too small to house a discrete GPU, the Power Media Dock features an AMD Radeon HD 6650M with 1GB of DDR3. Unlike prototypes that have been announced year after year (and almost never materialize in the marketplace), the Z2's Power Media Dock is capable of actually using the Radeon with the internal screen instead of forcing you to use an external monitor if you want dedicated graphics performance. The dock also includes additional connectivity along with a DVD+/-RW drive, and more expensive versions can upgrade to a Blu-ray reader or a Blu-ray writer.

Accessories to a Crime
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  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I've been trying to include metric on all my laptop specs for a while, but I guess I didn't pass the message along to Dustin. Consider him flogged for being an Imperialist scum. ;-) Reply
  • Solandri - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    The point isn't that you can do the conversion yourself on a free web site. The point is that if the article author does the conversion once, then tens of thousands of readers don't have to do the same conversion themselves. 60 seconds saved * 50,000 readers = 1 month of aggregate time saved. Reply
  • Zoomer - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - link

    Metric is a SI standard. Imperial units aren't. Too bad. Reply
  • Sea Shadow - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I can't help but feel like this article was lost in time somewhere as a lot of things just don't add up.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I could have sworn that the last Z to have the optical drive was 2 generations ago, that or at least it was 2 years ago. The Z sold last year didn't have an optical drive and was nearly identical in body styling.

    Also the current Z doesn't ship with a 2620M, as the option was replaced by the 2640M a while back.

    The gripe with the 4x PCI-E link seems trivial as that is all that Light Peak can support... Last I checked, the interface currently supports 10 Gbit/s. So what else is Sony supposed to do?

    Not that it matters much, as people have been using their express card slot to make their own E-GPUs for quite some time now. I have a Lenovo x220t with an E-GPU and I can confirm that even a 1x link is enough for even BF3. Others have performed scaling tests and found that while there is a marked difference between 1x and 2x, anything above that has a minimal impact. So even a 4x link is plenty sufficient.

    For information on E-GPUs check out this page: (NOTICE:You are responsible for your equipment)
    http://forum.notebookreview.com/gaming-software-gr...

    Also there is a typo on the first page:

    1st page processor model is listed as " Core i7 2720M" but everywhere else it is listed as 2620M

    I won't hold the typo against you, but this review feels out of date, and in my opinion does not meet the usual standards of an Anandtech review.
    Reply
  • Rick83 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Also, it would have been interesting to see if performance of the graphics card changes when using an external screen, attached directly to the dock.
    That way the framebuffer won't have to be flushed back (via the displayport segment of LP/TB? or PCIe?) to the laptop, and more bandwidth would be free on the link to the dock. If there truly was a bandwidth limit (at v2x4 and mid-end mobile graphics, there shouldn't be) it might have less impact in that case.

    In the end, for me the SSD-RAID kills the deal. A single SATA 3 high-end SSD would have been plenty of fast enough, and would have instead allowed to either beef up cooling, allow swappable RAM, or just lower the price. Unless they are using a highly specific daughterboard for the SSD to save on space, there really is no reason in this day and age to stick two cheap SSDs where one good one would do the trick.
    Reply
  • DoctorG - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    If I remember correctly, LP is bi-directional, and most graphics card bandwidth is used to send data to the card, so sending back the framebuffer doesn't impact the performance all that much. There is a noticeable performance difference between the internal vs. external screen though, which I think has to do with the graphics drivers and extra processing required to render something back to the internal display.

    And yes, the SSD "raid" isn't two drives in the normal sense of the word -- it's two controllers, but they are one unit, and designed to be extremely thin. Also, this laptop came out more than six months ago, when the current, high-end controllers did not have as good a track record as they do now . . . I don't know Sony's reason behind the decision or anything, but those are my best guesses.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I'll see if Dustin still has the Z2 and can check the performance using an external display. As for the out-of-date aspect, that's mostly a factor of Sony not having sent us a review unit until we met with them at CES. The Z2 we're reviewing here technically launched around July last year, so it is six months old -- though it's still on sale. Granted, the CPUs were refreshed to the 2640M, 2530M, etc. but the extra 100MHz speed bump hardly matters.

    Anyway, while the hardware is six months old, we have had a LOT of requests to review the VAIO Z series, so when we finally got a chance to do so we took it. Hopefully, we can get the Ivy Bridge version reviewed closer to launch -- and hopefully it will address a few of our concerns with this model.

    As far as the PCIe bandwidth being limited by Light Peak, that's fine. It's not really Sony's fault that Light Peak can't carry more than an x4 link, but it is their fault for choosing to use the technology this way. It seems reasonable that the bandwidth isn't so much a problem for rendering on an external display, but for some reason it causes some performance degradation with the internal display. Whatever the cause, though, what's important is that we point out the level of performance you can expect in a reasonable use case, and here the Z2 GPU is only fast enough for our "Value" (~medium detail) settings.
    Reply
  • jonyah - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Yep, you're wrong on the model. the VPC-Z1, was the previous model. Sony usually updates the Z around June. So it won't be long till the Z3 is out. This article is just late since the Z2 has been around since last June. The Z is usually the last model of Sony's notebook line to be updated because they actually do some real engineering to fit everything inside such a small frame. Reply
  • clarkn0va - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I thought ultrabooks were supposed to be small and beautiful. 2.5 lbs is decently light, but this thing looks thicker than my 3-year old Timeline. Leave it to Sony to bring a knife to a gun fight. Reply
  • jonyah - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    That's because the pictures show it with the optional battery slice attached. Remove the slice and you have a nice thin notebook. Not as thin as an ultrabook but also not as slow as one (I'm still waiting for an ultrabook that has more than 4gb of memory). Reply

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