Sony VAIO VGN-Z51WG/B review

Light yet powerful, gorgeous yet practical, it's the best all-round ultraportable Sony has produced

5
Price when reviewed 
1,831

The Sony VAIO VGN-Z51WG/B is the latest update to a range that's currently under threat in the catwalk stakes from Dell's gorgeous Adamo. But anyone familiar with the Z-series will be glad to hear that, physically, Sony hasn't changed a thing.

It mightn't boast the wow factor it once had, what with the seemingly never-ending slew of slimline competitors, but it's still impressive to behold. Measuring 33mm thick, the Sony is far from chunky, and while tipping the scales at 1.49kg isn't the party trick it used to be, it's still barely noticeable on your shoulder.

The light weight leaves the VGN-Z51WG/B feeling skeletal, with its hollow chassis and almost paper-thin display, but it's tough enough to survive a life on the move. In a previous long-term test of the original Z11, the chassis stood up to all the knocks and scrapes of a regular commute without a moment's downtime - it's sturdier than it looks.

It's impressive to see the VAIO walk the line between portability and toughness with such swagger, and the keyboard is a fine example. The Scrabble-tile design allows the top of the base to be milled from a single, rigid piece of aluminium - a clever design touch in itself - but it also makes for a keyboard that's a pleasure to type upon, with responsive long-travel keys and a spacious, roomy layout.

Sony VAIO VGN-Z51WG/B

Where would-be rivals resort to low-voltage processors and do away with such fripperies as integrated optical drives, the Z-series is the sensible old codger of the bunch. It happily conceals an optical drive - with a Blu-ray drive proving one of the many customisation options up on Sony's website - and the 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo P9700 processor makes no concessions in the power stakes.

Indeed, you'd be forgiven for expecting a 1.5kg ultraportable to lag a little, but that full-power processor really hammers along when the occasion demands it, and with 6GB of DDR3 memory and a 64-bit copy of Windows 7 Professional installed, the VGN-Z51WG/B proved its mettle with 1.43 in our benchmarks. Compare that to the raft of CULV rivals and there's only one winner.

It's also testament to the VAIO's sheer brilliance that such power goes hand in hand with unparalleled stamina. The first trick up its sleeve comes in the form of a switch above the keyboard to change between Stamina and Speed modes. In the latter, the Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS graphics are active, and the Sony managed a fair 26fps in Crysis at 1,024 x 768 and low settings.

But flip that switch back to Stamina mode and the discrete graphics chip powers down, handing duties over to the integrated Intel GMA X4500MHD chip. In tandem with Windows 7's Power Saver mode, with the optical drive powered down via Sony's proprietary power management software, the Sony clung on for an astounding 10hrs 1min of light use. It's a startling achievement, and in stark contrast to the 1hr 33mins of life when all those beefy components blaze away at full pelt and the screen is at maximum brightness.

Unless you're using the VGN-Z51WG/B outside in the height of summer, you're unlikely to need that brightest setting. The panel might measure just 13.1in across, but it's amongst the best we've seen. The spacious 1,600 x 900 pixel resolution offers outstanding brightness and superbly accurate colour reproduction, and the only slight let down is a little backlight leakage along its top edge.

Try as we might, there's little to criticise the Z-series for. The addition of a fingerprint reader adds a welcome element of security, and even the presence of Windows 7 helps to amplify the VAIO's charms. Swapping between the two graphics chipsets, for example, is now almost instantaneous and the overall experience is just that bit slicker and more satisfying.

The VGN-Z51WG/B outstrips the best of the netbook and ultraportable worlds for sheer longevity, but is also capable of switching gears and assuming desktop duties with its reserves of power. With Intel's mobile Core i7 looming large on the horizon, it mightn't be long before an even more flexible successor arrives, but right now, if your budget can stretch to it, the Z-series remains as good a laptop as we've had the pleasure of using.

Warranty

Warranty

Physical specifications

Dimensions314 x 210 x 33mm (WDH)
Weight1.490kg
Travelling weight1.9kg

Processor and memory

ProcessorIntel Core 2 Duo P9700
Motherboard chipsetIntel GM45/GM47
RAM capacity6.00GB
Memory typeDDR3
SODIMM sockets free0
SODIMM sockets total2

Screen and video

Screen size13.1in
Resolution screen horizontal1,600
Resolution screen vertical900
Resolution1600 x 900
Graphics chipsetIntel GMA X4500MHD and Nvidia Geforce 9300M GS
Graphics card RAM256MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs1
HDMI outputs1
S-Video outputs0
DVI-I outputs0
DVI-D outputs0
DisplayPort outputs0

Drives

Capacity320GB
Hard disk usable capacity298GB
Spindle speed7,200RPM
Internal disk interfaceSATA/300
Hard diskHitachi Deskstar 7K500
Optical disc technologyDVD writer
Optical driveMatshita DVD-RAM UJ862AS
Battery capacity5,400mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT£0

Networking

Wired adapter speed1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a supportno
802.11b supportyes
802.11g supportyes
802.11 draft-n supportyes
Integrated 3G adapteryes
Bluetooth supportyes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switchyes
Wireless key-combination switchno
Modemyes
ExpressCard34 slots1
ExpressCard54 slots0
PC Card slots0
USB ports (downstream)2
FireWire ports1
PS/2 mouse portno
9-pin serial portsFail
Parallel ports0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports1
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports0
3.5mm audio jacks2
SD card readeryes
Memory Stick readeryes
MMC (multimedia card) readerno
Smart Media readerno
Compact Flash readerno
xD-card readerno
Pointing device typeTouchpad
Audio chipsetRealtek HD Audio
Speaker locationAbove keyboard
Hardware volume control?no
Integrated microphone?yes
Integrated webcam?yes
Camera megapixel rating0.3mp
TPMyes
Fingerprint readeryes
Smartcard readerno
Carry caseno

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use10hr 1min
Battery life, heavy use1hr 33min
Overall application benchmark score1.43
Office application benchmark score1.41
2D graphics application benchmark score1.62
Encoding application benchmark score1.28
Multitasking application benchmark score1.39
3D performance (crysis) low settings26fps
3D performance settingLow

Operating system and software

Operating systemWindows 7 Professional 64-bit
OS familyWindows 7
Recovery methodRecovery disc

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