Sony VAIO VGN-Z21MN/B review

£1467
Price when reviewed

It wasn’t long ago that we looked at Sony’s gorgeous, if pricey, VGN-Z11WN/B ultraportable, but now we’ve sneaked an exclusive first glance at its forthcoming replacement.

The VGN-Z21MN/B is, to all intents and purposes, the big brother of Sony’s 11.1in VGN-TT11WN/B. The 314 x 210 x 33mm dimensions conceal a generous 13.1in display and belie a headline grabbing weight of just 1.43kg. Factor in the power brick and the Z-series still weighs in at a highly portable 1.88kg.

If you’ve not seen or heard of Sony’s Z-series, then you’re missing out. Visually, it’s fairly unassuming, with a matte black lid complimented by a silver hinge and a dark grey interior, but its subtle curves scream luxury in a way that eludes other laptops. There is the slightest hint of the Spectrum 48k in the workmanlike curves and scrabble-tile keyboard – but the lack of pretension and useless glowing lights is definitely a good thing in our book.

Built to last

Just like its supremely expensive stablemate, the VGN-TT11WN/B, the VGN-Z21MN/B boasts a carbon-fibre reinforced chassis. The keyboard surround is moulded from a single piece of aluminium, and it’s neat design touches such as this which allows the Z-series to tout such outstandingly low weight without feeling delicate and insubstantial. Indeed, grab the chassis with both hands and the build is surprisingly taut.

The 13.1in display is outstandingly slim, measuring mere millimetres thick, but while this makes it worryingly flexible, the delicate components inside seem well protected. We had to really twist and jab at its rear before any force was transmitted to the display itself in the form of image distortion or ripples. As ever, though, the lack of ruggedisation means that frequent travellers would be advised to make sure their laptop bag is a well-padded one.

The build is top-notch, and usability is beyond reproach too. It takes a little while to acclimatise to the scrabble-tile keyboard after traditional designs, but the widely-spaced keys have a surprising depth of travel and the positive break at the end of each stroke makes for supremely comfortable typing.

The display is another fine example from Sony. As one of the lower models in the Z-series the resolution is limited to 1,366 x 768 pixels, rather than the 1,600 x 900 found higher up the range, but what it lacks in resolution it more than makes up for with quality. LED backlighting makes for squint-inducing brightness, but the sheer vibrancy of the images it creates is jaw-dropping.

Power and portability

But, where many ultraportables, Sony’s own VGN-TT11WN/B included, sacrifice power for long battery life, the VGN-Z21MN/B has it all. The Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor is a powerful mid-range option, and with 4GB of DDR3 to back it up it scythed through our benchmarks with a sterling 1.31 in our benchmarks.

Graphically, the Z-series has a neat party trick – flick the button above the keyboard’s top edge from Stamina to Speed, and Intel’s weedy GMA X4500MHD graphics are supplanted by the more capable Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS chipset. Impressively, you don’t even have to reboot Windows to do it – just log off and log on again, and the graphics chipsets exchange places.

The GeForce 9300M GS still isn’t a thoroughbred gaming chipset, but a result of 24 frames per second in Crysis at 1,024 x 768 and low detail does at least prove that it has a little gaming capability. Task it with less demanding titles, such as Half Life 2 or Call of Duty 4, and it’ll help while away those interminable transatlantic flights.

Warranty

Warranty1 year(s) collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions314 x 210 x 33mm (WDH)
Weight1.4kg

Processor and memory

ProcessorIntel Core 2 Duo P8600
Motherboard chipsetIntel PM45 Express
RAM capacity4GB
Memory typeDDR3
SODIMM sockets free0
SODIMM sockets total2

Screen and video

Screen size13.1in
Resolution screen horizontal1,366
Resolution screen vertical768
Resolution1366 x 768
Graphics chipsetNvidia GeForce 9300M GS
Graphics card RAM256MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs1
HDMI outputs1
S-Video outputs0
DVI-I outputs0
DVI-D outputs0
DisplayPort outputs0

Drives

Capacity200GB
Hard disk usable capacity175GB
Spindle speed5,400RPM
Internal disk interfaceSATA 300
Hard diskToshiba MK2546GSX
Optical disc technologyDVD writer
Optical driveMatshita UJ862AS
Battery capacity5,400mAh
Replacement battery price ex VAT£114
Replacement battery price inc VAT£131

Networking

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

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switchyes
Wireless key-combination switchno
Modemyes
ExpressCard34 slots0
ExpressCard54 slots0
PC Card slots0
USB ports (downstream)2
FireWire ports1
PS/2 mouse portno
9-pin serial ports0
Parallel ports0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports0
3.5mm audio jacks2
SD card readeryes
Memory Stick readeryes
MMC (multimedia card) readeryes
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 ratingN/A
TPMno
Fingerprint readerno
Smartcard readerno
Carry caseno

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use572
Battery life, heavy use105
Overall application benchmark score1.31
3D performance (crysis) low settings24fps
3D performance settingLow

Operating system and software

Operating systemWindows Vista Business
OS familyWindows Vista
Recovery methodRecovery partition
Software suppliedAdobe Photoshop Elements 6, Roxio Easy Media Creator 10, InterVideo WinDVD 8

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