Sony VAIO VGN-TZ12MN/N.CEK review

Price when reviewed

If the TZ12 looks familiar, that’s because it’s the spitting image of the TZ11 (web ID: 117830), which graced these pages just two months ago. We can’t complain, as this version is as desirable as the original, but Sony has made a major change under the covers. Gone is the 100GB hard disk of the TZ11, replaced by a 32GB Samsung solid-state disk (SSD) – one of the very first laptops to contain what some consider the death knell for mechanical hard disks.

We’re yet to be convinced by that, but SSD does have a number of advantages over mechanical disks, which, for all their tried-and-tested years, still rely on precision moving parts. As they’re prone to physical stress, extra layers such as head-parking software (as used by the Toshiba R500, opposite) become necessary, and a single, heavy blow can render the whole disk extinct. Also, seek times are higher because of the need to get a physical head to a specific place on a disk. And, in a product where battery life is the name of the game, SSDs take up significantly less power than their spinning equivalents.

But the proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the benchmarks. The TZ12 produced superb results in our battery tests. The TZ11 set a high bar with a staggering light-use run of 7hrs 17mins. As this test makes minimal use of the hard disk, it seemed unwise to expect great things, but the TZ12 still managed to beat its predecessor by 37 minutes, bringing it to within touching distance of the holy grail of eight hours – the working day. That also beats Sony’s own seven-hour estimate. And our intensive-use test showed the clear power-saving advantages of the SSD: where the TZ11 ran to 3hrs 7mins, the TZ12 ran a whole hour more – an incredible 4hrs 19mins, flat out.

The SSD does come at a cost, though, and we don’t just mean the TZ12’s whopping price tag. SSDs are only just past the point of being prohibitively expensive, and price and capacity is still some way off the sweet spot. As it is, the TZ12 comes with 32GB of storage, which, once formatted, equates to merely 23GB of usable space (there’s also a hidden 7.45GB recovery partition). Into this rather cramped space, you need to get Windows, plus your documents and any applications you need. So although the TZ12 might be perfect for entertainment on long flights, you can forget about keeping films on there for very long, or even a decent-sized music collection. Luckily, the built-in DVD writer is on hand.

Sony has also made a few smaller changes to the TZ12. The processor has been upgraded from a 1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7500 to a 1.2GHz U7600, which accounts for the improvement in its application benchmark score from 0.57 to 0.59 for the TZ12. The RAM is unchanged at 2GB, which is a healthy amount even for Vista.

The screen is also unchanged, being the same 1,366 x 768 glossy panel of the TZ11. And we remain as unconvinced by it – for all its shiny attractiveness, the glossy finish is highly reflective, and fluorescent office lights are a particular problem. Images are at least punchy thanks to the apparent boost in contrast, but we do ultimately prefer the matte-finish panel Toshiba plumps for on the R500.

And, of course, the TZ12 still looks incredible. When closed, it’s just 30mm thick, with the TFT being remarkably slender at 4mm. The flush keyboard is solid and surprisingly comfortable to type on, and neat touches abound. A fingerprint reader sits between the mouse buttons, and a range of chrome-effect media buttons sit along the front edge, with a pair of media card slots occupying the other side.

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