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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

    Original post deleted for spam-like content. Thanks! Reply
  • DoctorG - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Usually I read AnandTech's reviews and hold them in high regard, but this time I feel the quality was not quite up to par. And so, like any good Internetizen, I felt I must complain. ;)

    I purchased the Z2 after being unable to find any other notebook that met all of my requirements -- no optical drive, full voltage processor, good screen, USB3, SSD, very light weight, etc. The Vaio piqued my interest because of the innovative LightPeak dock and thin design, which is very important for me as I carry my laptop around for usually more than 8 hours per day.

    I just typed a 24-page report using the Z's built-in keyboard, because I was on the go and couldn't use my ergonomic keyboard attached to the dock and my 24" monitor at my desk. The Z's keyboard is not the best, of course, but definitely not as horrible as it sounded in the review. And that whole "sweet spot for both typing and visual comfort" thing is sheer bull. Without the hinge, the keyboard would simply be flat -- like *every other* laptop on the market. So, you're complaining about an adjustable angle, when every other laptop's keyboard angle is fixed? Wow. Plus, the design of the hing means the keyboard angle only changes slightly when the screen angle is changed significantly, so that "sweet spot" is pretty easy to find. I can understand being particular, but to me, this sounded like nit-picking an innovative design simply for the sake of complaining.

    If it helps, I ordered the Z without all of Sony's bloatware on it -- a *free* option you neglected to mention in the review. It came installed with only the Sony utilities necessary to access everything on the Z, like fan speed controls, which you also forgot to mention in the review. I set the "Viao" button to change the fan profile, so if I want the laptop to be quiet, I tap the button and the fan noise is decreased, even under load.

    For just about everything else that I have to say, see MarkColby's comment above -- props on that. Pretty much sums it up. I have enjoyed using this computer, and while there are definitely things about it that aren't perfect (the USB ports being too close together, for example, is a problem with larger USB dongles).

    P.S. I've had this laptop since August. And now it's February . . . hmmmm . . .
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I wouldn't call the hinge "innovative" -- it's different from what others have done, and in this case we feel it is a step backwards. You're welcome to disagree, naturally, which goes for the keyboard as well. How a keyboard feels is quite subjective, but most reviews of the Z2 have complained about the keyboard to various degrees. Dustin really disliked it. I played with it a bit at CES and found it to be flexy and shallow, and my overall impression of build quality was not good. For a $1600+ laptop, that's a pretty serious concern. As for the "lateness" of this review, see my comment above. We have only just started getting Sony laptops for review, and hopefully we can get new models around the time of launch going forward. Of course, if we aren't particularly enamored with a product, that may not happen, but we'll see. Reply
  • joel4565 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    When you design a product, isn't the first thing you do is to decide a market for the product?

    With that in mind, who exactly is Sony making this laptop for? The screen is beautiful, but with the keyboard being horrible, no one will want to use it for long period of typing.

    The external graphics card is cute, but borderline useless. You will never have up to date drivers and it is no where near powerful enough to drive anywhere near native resolution on any modern game.

    The CPU power is nice except it kills the battery life (when running on one battery) and makes the laptop loud & hot. I personally think we have reached the point where the performance of the 17 watt CPU is probably good enough for most people while mobile.

    The worst part is the price. For the cost of this laptop you could probably buy a ultrabook or 13 mac book air and build a desktop computer for gaming.

    As configured: $2,499
    So you could get a 13" macbook air for $1,299.00 and have 1,200 left over to build a very nice desktop.
    Reply
  • Metaluna - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I agree about the confusing design decisions. The inclusion of an analog VGA port seems to argue that this is aimed at businesses where you are giving presentations and hooking up to projectors, which is one of the few places where VGA still seems to be common (that and multi-way KVM switches in server racks). But why would someone like that need an external GPU (with yet another analog port)?

    And the lack of a decent keyboard is simply mind-boggling on a premium-priced product.

    I do think the reviewer's criticism of the hinge design was kind of over the top though. It's unusual to be sure, but I have a hard time getting worked up over slight changes to the keyboard tilt. If the hinge were to, for example, rotate on its own while you were typing or something like that, then that would be much more serious.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I don't think the problem is so much the tilt but also the "resting on the back of the LCD while the laptop slides around a bit". It's not the worst thing ever, but it's not a great design decision either IMO. Reply
  • MarkColby - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    > with the keyboard being horrible, no one will want to use it for long period of typing.

    Bear in mind that keyboards are a very personal thing and it depends how much you type versus how much you think :-) I have no big issue with it other than the lack of dedicated home, end, page up and page down keys, which there was room for at the side.

    > The external graphics card is cute, but borderline useless. [etc]

    Agreed. the external dock ("PMD") is fine but I could care less about the graphics card in it...

    > The CPU power is nice except it kills the battery life

    Plain wrong unless you're talking about constant load like gaming. My usage model is periods of low load (editing, document referencing etc) and less frequent periods of very high demand (chip simulations etc) where I want maximum performance. I appear to be getting very good battery life even on a single battery (which I have tried once or twice just for comparison). And I'll take the fan noise on those occasions over the alternatives (back ache from a heavy machine or less productivity).

    > The worst part is the price. For the cost of this laptop you could probably buy a ultrabook
    > or 13 mac book air and build a desktop computer for gaming [...] you could get a 13"
    > macbook air for $1,299.00 and have 1,200 left over to build a very nice desktop.

    Except that the macbook and ultrabooks to date won't do what I want and a desktop is no good to me.

    I'm not trying to argure your points - just pointing out that there are some people that Sony's design choices have matched quite well. Yes if I could get this performance and screen and size and weight cheaper I would, but who wouldn't? This is my first Sony, bought entirely based on the configuration of the machine and despite the badge (badges put me off, truth be told) and I'm just hoping my experience will not be as bad as you're all leading me to believe :-)
    Reply
  • wwwcd - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Sony Vaio Z2 - sh|t, but expensive sh|t, external and docking shIt? Be different for all peoles horror! Low volume of RAM...Only SSD's significance as a, hmm, good component capable...
    "13.1" LED (Matte -good!) 16:9 1080p(?)"I have like microscope look and I see a pixels ;)
    Reply
  • AssBall - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    It looks like a hell of a laptop, hardware-wise, and great screen. But a few things don't make sense from my perspective.

    Great screen, but on a 13"??? Can't see jack at high res on them.

    Great processor, but again, why have a i7 in a 13", what are you going to do, CAD?

    The shitty keyboard and pad are deal breakers. Sony tech support also sucks.

    Just my opinion.
    Reply
  • MarkColby - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Oh come on. Don't complain about the screen size/resolution combination just because you've got poor eyes. I'm absolutely fed up with people dissing my primary requirement as being stupid just because they don't want it or can't cope with it. I mostly bought this laptop *because* it had a 13" 1080 screen and I run 8 point font in editors to see more text at once. Perhaps Sony support will indeed turn out to be awful (here's hoping I never need to find out) but at least they made what I wanted when noone else did.

    > Great processor, but again, why have a i7 in a 13", what are you going to do, CAD?

    Er, yes I am thanks. And matlab calculations. And silicon design simulations. What's your issue exactly? Some of us do technically tough jobs on the move.

    > The shitty keyboard and pad are deal breakers. Sony tech support also sucks.

    The keyboard is not great but it's far from the worst I've had to use. Most of the keys even produce the letters printed on them when you hit them. I carry around a wireless logitech trackman because it's better for work (as opposed to gaming) than a mouse or pad. Some of us are happy with the compromises made here to get the features we really need.

    > Just my opinion.

    Do us a favour - stump up the cash and live with the thing for a bit before being so opinionated.

    By the way someone here said the keyboard was 'flexy' or some such? How the heck hard do you type? The key travel is short for sure but this is one of the most solid laptop keyboards I've owned, and I've had more than my fair share over the years...
    Reply

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