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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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  • Death666Angel - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    You realize this has launched far before any Ultrabooks? It doesn't try to be an Ultrabook, as the article mentioned as well.
    Also, I'd take a thicker more useful laptop any day of the week over non-upgradeable, small battery Ultrabooks.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - link

    I wish sony would ignore the stupid apple air and actually design it without compromises. Make the damn thing thicker (esp at the back as they do/did), quieter, and screen not hitting the table. Reply
  • Anonamouse7 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I absolutely love my Vaio Z (last gen). For me, it's great: enough gaming punch to play some light games (runs TF2/HL2 on low or lower settings, which is fine by me), enough CPU to render videos in decent time periods and good portability. And I adore the screen, even if it's 'just' 900p :3

    I feel almost compelled to say something though. On the second page of your review you state:
    "Unfortunately you're at Sony's mercy for driver updates..."
    And therein lies my problem. The last GPU driver update from Sony is dated June 2010! For now, I'll just ignore that even getting to that was an uphill struggle, as my Z is a custom one and the Sony website just kept refusing to recognise it, but since then nVIDIA have released quite a few drivers, and, frankly, it's unacceptable that the 'latest' drivers are over 18 months old.
    Reply
  • wilkinb - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    if its like the 2011 Z, you can just tell the laptop to do more thermal management in the Sony utils. Then it doesnt make much noise at all....

    As the owner mac and a Z, I have to say I like the Z more (both are nice).
    Reply
  • whalemonster - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I bought a Z13 December 2010, which I still love in many ways - built-in Blu-Ray writer, discrete graphics, stunning screen, etc. But even when it arrived, the hybrid graphics driver was dated June 2010, i.e. already 6 months out of date, and Sony have not provided an update since. The stock NVIDIA drivers won't work because Sony has built a custom Intel/NVIDIA hybrid package. So customers are at the mercy of Sony for updates.

    Despite repeated heartfelt appeals to Sony, including the president of the UK operation himself, they have refused to update their graphics driver for this top-of-the-line model, evne during the lifetime of the product. This means that by the time my warranty ended in January 2012, I was using a laptop with a graphics driver 18 months out of date, with no support from Sony whatsoever.

    Sony is a company which produces some great hardware, but their abysmal software support does not justify the premium asking price. My lasting impression is one of a company which is all too happy to bank your money quickly then leave you hanging.
    Reply
  • MarkColby - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    ...and am extremely happy with it. It's interesting how one's usage model affects the impression of the machine. Mine is mainly coding of embedded applications with cross-compilers, coding of desktop applications, FPGA design and simulation, data-analysis, plus all the normal desktop office-type applications with daily travelling and occasional time-pressured work in difficult conditions thrown in. I rarely have time for gaming these days (boo). My requirements for a laptop are primarly maximum screen resolution and quality, followed by good CPU horsepower for compilation and chip simulation. I've typically had Dells and battery life has typically been <3 hours as a result of my higher priority choices.

    The Z2 appeared to give me the chance to get what I need in a smaller package, plus long battery life (with the slice). I chose it for size/weight, screen resolution, CPU, battery life in that order. I got the dock purely as a convenient way to connect power, external monitor (27" 2560x1440 over HDMI) and BD/DVD. Mine has 8GB ram and 256GB SSD (twin 128GB).

    The Z2 has so far been excellent. The keyboard was odd to start with but I've got used to it now (I remapped right ctrl and application buttons to get convenient home and end keys) and am nearly as fast and accurate with it as a good full-size. I had the slice on from day one so I didn't notice the screen hinge issue mentioned in the review at all. Cold boot to Win7 password prompt is 8 seconds; I have a useable desktop in 12. I had a 256GB Vertex 3 in my previous Dell and this is definitely more responsive to date.

    Computational performance has been very good with compilations, chip layouts and simulations taking around half the time of my previous-generation i7 Dell. Fan noise is only noticeable during these high-demand tasks (and yes it does get quite loud then); otherwise the laptop is generally quiet.

    The slice has a significant (for me) benefit not noted in the review - it re-routes the vents to the back rather than underneath, allowing safe use of the laptop directly on a fabric surface - like a lap :-)

    It is definitely more fragile than a latest generation 14" Dell Latitude (for example - these are excellent machines that we use for many field-personnel) and yes it is indeed expensive but the combination of display, cpu power and form factor is so far more than making up for that, and the 10-12 hours battery life is an extremely welcome bonus.

    Just my 2p. Hope it's useful to someone.
    Reply
  • DoctorG - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    +1. It sounds like my usage model is very similar to yours, and I have enjoyed using the Z2 very much. Reply
  • Zoomer - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - link

    Here's Sony's target market! Price doesn't matter that much in the grand scheme of corporate budgets. Reply
  • MarkColby - Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - link

    Sorry, wrong. It was a carefully considered personally-funded purchase. Reply
  • dustofnations - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Planting Amazon affiliate links one someone else's website is bad enough, but riding on their coattails by trying to make money from the hard work of someone else is truly contemptible. Reply

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