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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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  • bjornb - Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - link

    I've owned the Z2 for about 6 months now (so I am biased ;) ). I didnt realize the hinge design was a problem before reading this review :). I have never experienced any problems with the computer sliding about during use or finding the sweet spot for screen angle. The incline is not that dramatic.

    I agree that the keyboard is not perfect (it was better on the previous Z) with the shallow travel, but in my opinion it is not bad and it didnt take long to get used to.

    Regarding graphics performance it is at least partially a driver problem. Sony is unfortunately poor at releasing updated drivers (I have sent a complaint/request about this to Sony Norway), but there are community drivers that work well. I'm using the AMD 11.12 drivers from here:
    http://forum.notebookreview.com/sony/636724-univer...
    It actually makes BF3 playable on the laptop. It is also possible to overclock the GPU and control the GPU fan using Sapphire Trixx (I understand that you dont review a unit with community drivers and overclocked GPU, but the information may be useful for other potential owners).

    Regarding fan noise and temps it is noisy when playing games at full cpu load and using the Intel IGP, but I dont find it particularly noisier than other laptops at load I use (HP 8440p at work, Alienware m15x etc). During normal use (web browsing, watching HD videos etc) it is very quiet. One can also select thermal profiles in Vaio Control Center (silent/balanced/performance).
    I did a quick test yesterday regarding CPU temp: Playing two h.264 HD videos simultaneously and used throttlestop to monitor and TS bench to genereate 4 threads of cpu load. The max temp I saw during the test for several minutes was 80 deg C (balanced thermal profile, and throttlestop reported the CPU speed as 3.2GHz for both cores).

    Regarding SATA speeds the Z2 is supplied with SATA 6GBs drives in some markets and/or as a CTO option, more information:
    http://forum.notebookreview.com/sony/607410-sony-v...
    Reply
  • jcmm33 - Saturday, March 31, 2012 - link

    I like you have owned one of these since launch. I see a fair few comments about the keyboard but for me it doesn't take long for one to get used to it.

    With regard to fan noise i don't play games on the device so i never really hear it at all.

    Trackpad could be better, but once again its not a nightmare.

    The performance of the machine however is excellent. The boot time of approx 10 secs is awesome, display is excellent and its good to have network connectors on the device not just having to rely on wifi or buying a dongle (e.g. Macbook Air) to get a wired connection going.
    Reply
  • DesktopMan - Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - link

    "The AMD Radeon HD 6650M inside the dock is limited to a PCI Express 2.1 x4 link instead of x8 or x16, and the performance hit is a noticeable one"

    Source on this statement? It's been shown many times that graphic cards really aren't very bandwidth starved at 4x 2.0 and above. Taking a quick look at the 5870 we see the following: http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/AMD/HD_5870_PCI...
    Reply
  • thebeastie - Thursday, February 16, 2012 - link

    Why do they continue to ran the SSDs in Raid 0 since you can't get TRIM?
    Are they just trying to suck in over paid clueless CIOs or something?
    Reply
  • irev210 - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    They use garbage collection instead.

    Not really sure what's wrong with RAID-0 if you have proper garbage collection.
    Reply
  • irev210 - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    According to Crystaldiskmark, the Sony Z I tested (64x2 in raid 0) showed over 850MB/sec read speeds, which clearly shows that the Z does run in 6Gbps mode (SATA-3).

    Sort of interesting that I email them this info and they don't even update/check.
    Reply
  • Fran - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link


    Dear friends, sell my Vaio Z21-2011 purchased in August-2011, if there is someone interested can visit the link indicated below;

    http://www.ebay.es/itm/SONY-Vaio-Z21-Ultrabook-VPC...

    Greetings!
    Reply
  • Fran - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link


    Hi all! I lowered the price to -300 €.

    http://www.ebay.es/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&a...

    Regards.
    Reply

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