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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

    Have you done anything that puts the CPU load at 100% for ten minutes? If so, then it appears we have a case of wildly varying laptop thermals. The fact is that Dustin hit nearly 90C on the CPU, which is either a poor design decision, a poor sample, or perhaps both.

    As for the keyboard and touchpad, I've played with the Z2 as well. If you think it's good, that's your right, but I'm with Dustin: this is not a good (or comfortable) keyboard. The one major area where this laptop is awesome is the display. Everything else is "good" at best (e.g. you might like the styling), okay in some cases (I could live with the touchpad if only to get the display), or outright bad in other areas (graphics drivers, thermals, flimsy feel of chassis, and in at least our unit the noise levels).

    I dare say that anyone who bought one of these laptops for $2000 or so to come and call our independent review "unfair" would have to qualify as a biased opinion. Others certainly like the design as well, but I'd rather have NVIDIA Optimus for the switchable graphics, and I'd like build quality to at least feel like a MacBook Pro. This has neither of those, which is a pretty serious drawback in my book.
    Reply
  • Sea Shadow - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    First of I would like to say thank you for your answers to my previous questions.

    2nd full disclosure, I don't have a Sony Z, I have a Lenovo x220t and I am calling your review not unfair but poor. In my opinion it is below Anandtech standards.

    90C is quite common among laptops packing that type of processor. It's common for most MacBook Pros to hit 90-100c while at high load. I have had friends complain of theirs pushing past 100C when they are running windows on them. If anything I would consider it high praise for the VAIO Z to have a cool chassis while running at full tilt considering many Mac users complain of burning hot chassis with their MacBook Pros

    Not bad considering that a Sony Z is thinner than the thickest point of a MacBook Air

    By way of mention the safe max operating temperature of a 2620M is listed as 100C.

    I have used a Z and the keyboard seemed plenty rigid to me, but that is just a matter of preference. I will agree that the keys were horribly squishy but I'm biased as I have a thinkpad *klack klack klack*.
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Japanese laptops have always been designed with this "flimsiness." Take a look at Panasonic's line of portable toughbooks or Toshiba's R series. They are all a bit flimsy and I have never heard of anyone's laptop breaking from standard handling. There's a difference between flimsiness and cheap. If anything, my laptop fell out of my car onto tarmac and survived with just a minor chip on the corner. A more solid laptop could shatter in that scenario - just as how phone battery covers pop off but the phone is undamaged yet an iPhone 4's glass will shatter.

    I don't have this generation of Z laptops, but I got the last one for $1100 so I didn't exactly invest in a lot of money to be sore that I got a crappy product.
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    and you don't just pay a premium for styling and name, you're paying for cutting edge technology that will take other companies years to catch up to. My current Vaio is the older Z5 which is a proper Z series (whereas I wouldn't say the new ones are) which has the fastest mobile Core 2 Duo processor, a beautiful 1600x900 screen, twin graphics cards (internal and discrete), dual 128GB SSDs in RAID 0 and a blu-ray writer wrapped up in a carbon fibre chassis which is smaller and lighter than any of its rivals all which were much lower spec. In fact even machines further up the range struggled to meet its specification. It's easily the best laptop I've had as it easily mixes portability and performance.

    My oldest Vaio is a TX which is an 11.1in ultralight that dates back long before the netbooks and I bought for much the same reasons as the Z series, it was technologically far more advanced than any of its rivals and even years after machines would struggle to match it. In the ultralight category most companies cut corners to get the size and weight down which usually meant no optical drive, a very small 3 or 4 cell battery and a cut down range of ports with dongles required to get normal ports. The TX however did not, it had an onboard optical drive, its standard battery was the same size as rival extended battery and its extended battery was a massive 13,000Mah battery, it had a range of standard ports onboard and despite all that it was still smaller and lighter than its rivals which was some engineering feat. It was also one of the first laptops (if not the first) to use LED backlighting, again years ahead of everyone else.

    I didn't like the older Vaios at all when they were going through their Apple phase when Vaios were the laptops to have which meant Sony could churn out rubbish and people would pay lots of money for it. But once they got past that stage and had to compete for business, their machines were far better. People complain about Macbooks being called overpriced when Vaios are more expensive but I disagree with that, with the Macbooks you're generally getting yesterday's technology or worse whereas Sony are giving you the best there is and frequently a long way ahead of anyone else. I was amused when sites like this one and Ars Technica were defending the C2D in the 13in Macbook because it wouldn't be physically possible to fit the three chips in, at the same time Sony were not only doing that with their Z series but also packing in a more powerful processor with quad SSDs into a chassis smaller and lighter than the Macbook.

    So that's why I buy Sony laptops as I get the best the market has to offer and usually in the most compact package. I prefer the lack of manufacturer software and easier maintenance on some of the Dell machines but the latter is a reasonable price to pay for the smaller size.

    John
    Reply
  • bernstein - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - link

    FYI : i am currently using a Radeon 6950 in an open ended pcie x4 slot in conjunction with a 35W i3-2100T and you know what? i get a 5-15% penalty in frame rate across games. compared to a full x16 pcie slot.

    so stop writing shit like :
    "even at our lowest benchmark settings in Battlefield 3, the GPU seemed hamstrung by the PCIe x4 bandwidth afforded by the Power Media Dock."

    it it JUST NOT POSSIBLE for a 6650M gpu to be bandwith limited in a pcie x4 link. unless it used the ram as gpu memory, but that would make ZERO sense.

    FYI: there are reviews out there that specifically analyze this, just google them up...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - link

    Let me help you out: "The GPU seemed hamstrung by the PCIe x4 bandwidth afforded by the Power Media Dock."

    In other words, given the specs the HD 6650M in the dock appears to be underperforming. I've got another laptop with an HD 6630M integrated into the laptop. Let me just give you the numbers from the upcoming review compared the the results of a *faster* HD 6650M in this review:

    Batman AC: 56 (17% faster)
    BF3: 27.2 (45% faster)
    Civ5: 30.3 (76% faster)
    DiRT3: 48.8 (98% faster)
    Portal2: 102.2 (36% faster)
    Skyrim: 40 (7% slower - this is the only game where the Z2 came out on top)
    TWS2: 50.2 (40% faster)

    Average performance of HD 6630M vs. Z2's docked HD 6650M: the integrated HD 6630M is 44% faster.

    These results are from the same tests Dustin is using. What's causing the drop in performance? The dock. Is it because of copying the frame buffer back to the main display? Perhaps, but nevertheless the result is that the HD 6650M in the dock is hamstrung by something. We aren't certain that it's the dock (it could be drivers, for instance), but it SEEMS to be the dock bandwidth.
    Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - link

    You shouldn't forget that copying over the frame buffer to the integrated graphics does use a lot of memory. It will be more of a hit then when outputing directly from the gpu. I can depend a lot on the software/drivers. It's not really too little bandwidth though. 10GB/s bi-directional should be fine even for higher end gpus basically. Reply
  • aferox - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - link

    I have a couple of older Z's - a Z11 and Z13. I too prefer the "all-in-one" design of those models, and I have found them to be amazing machines. After 2 years of constant use, my Z11 is still holding up quite well. It looks almost new. The 330M is a better graphics card than I expected. I can play Skyrim quite comfortably with medium to high settings. The laptop is powerful enough to reasonably run genetic statistics analyses. The physical switch for graphics has had no impact, since it functions intelligently and I haven't had to touch it in ages. The keyboard feels a bit soft and mushy to me, with little tactile feedback from the keys, but not problematic. People seem to have a huge variety in preferences regarding keyboards. I like reviews to have detailed descriptions (clicky, soft, shallow key travel, etc.) rather than "good" or "bad". Adding qualified subjective statements is okay, but not sufficient. This review worked fine that way for me. The screen is excellent.

    The Z2 is an interesting laptop. Unfortunately, it has moved away from some of the features which made the older Z11-Z13 line so attractive to me. I don't want to carry around an external dock. It adds weight, which is a prime factor for me, and it is, well, a clunky solution. More connections to make when I want it, and more real estate gobbled up. If a laptop + dock weighs as much as a larger all-in-one, then I see no advantage for me. I don't travel with part of my system. I certainly don't care about thickness (3/4", 1", who cares?), but weight and robustness are all important. I prefer the old-style hinge with the power connector on one end and the switch on the other. The new touchpad has a different design, and again I prefer the old one with dedicated mouse buttons.

    Lack of long-term support from Sony is a very valid question. Still, I'm able to run everything on my old model after 2 years, and that isn't bad.

    In the end, the Z2 hasn't seemed like a compelling step up, but rather a step backwards in some areas important to me. I actually looked around and purchased the Z13 rather than a new Z2 because of that. Too bad Anandtech wasn't able to get review units when the Z11 appeared, because it was honestly jaw-dropping 2 years ago. In some ways, I believe the field is still catching up.
    Reply
  • apudapus - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - link

    I own both the Z2 and the Z1 and think the Z1 was a much better machine. With the Z1, it was great having everything all-in-one and being able to play Portal 2 and SC2 on battery power. You can't do this with the Z2 because the power dock requires wall-power. The power dock is inconvenient for me because I play video games at home and at my girlfriend's place and it's tedious to safely disconnect the power dock when I'm traveling between places (versus just closing the lid on the Z1 and forcing it to sleep).

    Nonetheless, the Z2 is a great machine. It is the best portable laptop for me: small, super lightweight, yet powerful to compile code and play some video games. The portability and immediate on-off make it great to bring to meetings. The high resolution screen is definitely the best and was the biggest deciding factor for me. I hate that you have to go to a heavy 15" laptop to get better than 1366x768 res. The Z2 isn't for everyone but definitely worth it if you're looking for small size, portability, power, and playing some light video games (it does NOT play BF3). I wish I had this thing in college. I'd be in debt for a while but I'd have the best machine to work with. Yes, the keyboard sucks. They need to bring back the keyboard from the Z1!

    Options I chose:
    Blu-ray drive - I watch movies often
    1920x1080 screen - Things look small but there's a lot of information I need to look at when I'm working
    Reply
  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - link

    Not to make you feel bad, but why did you 'upgrade' from the Z1 to the Z2?

    I can't imagine any usage scenario where the Z2 would offer considerably greater performance or functionality. The old model was almost as portable and included the dedicated GPU and optical drive in the chassis.
    Reply

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