Sony VAIO VGN-Z11WN/B review

19 Sep 2008

Sony's Z-Series is an ultraportable to aspire to, but it's not without its faults.

Price when reviewed: 
1,469(£1,600 inc VAT)
4

A couple of months back we took a tentative first look at Sony's forthcoming range of business ultraportables, the Z-Series, in PC Pro's blogs. Now, finally, we can stop gazing adoringly at the press photos, as Sony has sent us the first VGN-Z11WN/B in the UK.

Sony's other ultraportable, the VGN-TZ31, won our hearts when it arrived back in PC Pro's offices not so very long ago, and the Z11WN is its bigger, pricier brother. The TZ31's 11.1in screen grows in stature to a more sizable 13.1in panel, and the already generous 1,366 x 768 native resolution swells to a not-far-off full HD 1,600 x 900 pixels - by far the highest resolution panel we've seen on an ultraportable.

Of course, that extra screen size means that the whole chassis is that bit bigger, measuring 314 x 210 x 33mm, but although you'd expect weight to start troubling the 2kg mark at that size, you'd be wide of the mark. Indeed, pop the Z11WN/B on the scales and it reaches a stunningly svelte 1.47kg - less even than substantially smaller TZ31.

What's impressive then, is that despite the Sony's extreme light weight, it still manages to feel sturdier and more resilient than its diminutive predecessor. The base is far more resistant to flex, or just heavy-handed twisting and tugging, and it feels far capable of surviving the rigours of regular travel and transatlantic flights.

The ultra-thin LED-backlit display proves less flexible than the TZ31, but in all honesty, that's not a huge compliment. It looks stunningly slim, granted, but that thinness doesn't seem to afford the display a great deal of protection. The panel seems well isolated from twisting motions, and you still have to prod reasonably firmly on its rear to transmit any showthrough to the display itself, but this is one laptop that's best ensconced in the safety of a well-padded laptop bag.

Say what you will about its durability, but quality is not an area where this display is lacking; every one of the display's 13.1 inches is stunningly bright. LED-backlighting provides incredibly vivid brightness and its contrast is beyond reproach. There's the tell-tale subtle red push that we so often see on Sony displays, but while it leaves whites a little impure, it more than makes up for it with real world performance, with eye-poppingly vibrant colours. Crysis' jungle environments burst forth from the screen with alluring intensity and 1080p movie clips are similarly well-handled.

And, any talk of the Sony's display segues nicely into another one of its talents, namely its twin graphics chipsets. When light gaming is on the agenda, the Sony has a discrete Nvidia 9300M GS chipset ready to deal with 3D duties. But, when battery life is more crucial than graphical grunt, simply flick the switch above the keyboard's left edge from speed to stamina, and there's an Intel GMA X4500MHD chipset to fall back upon. It's a trick we've seen before, but it's enough to swell the Sony's battery life, under light usage, from 5hrs to 5hrs 46mins.

Even with that Nvidia chipset enabled, though, gaming performance is merely adequate. Our least demanding Crysis test, run at 1,024 x768 resolution and low detail, saw the Sony manage a barely-playable 24 frames per second. Cranking that up to 1,280 x 1,024 resolution and medium detail proved far too much for the 9300M GS, and the Sony slowed to an unplayable 6.6fps. It's no match for more focussed gaming laptops, but for an ultraportable it is admittedly an impressive performance.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,277
Price inc VAT £1,469
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 3
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 3yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 314 x 210 x 33mm (WDH)
Weight 1.470kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
Motherboard chipset Intel GM45 Express
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 13.1in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,600
Resolution screen vertical 900
Resolution 1600 x 900
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 250GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Modem yes
ExpressCard34 slots 1
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 0.3mp
TPM yes
Fingerprint reader yes
Smartcard reader no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 5hr 47min
Battery life, heavy use 2hr 44min
Overall application benchmark score 1.21
Office application benchmark score 1.26
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.30
Encoding application benchmark score 1.06
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.23
3D performance (crysis) low settings 7fps
3D performance setting Medium

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Business
OS family Windows Vista