Sony VAIO VGN-Z31VN/X review

21 May 2009

An ultraportable without compromise: plenty of power, great battery life and superb design.

Price when reviewed: 
2,048(£2,049 inc VAT)
5

The Sony VAIO Z-series is one of the smallest laptops we've ever seen, but it still tries to cram in everything you'd expect on a full-size notebook. Its 1.47kg weight is far less than most notebooks, and it's light enough to barely be noticeable when slung in a bag. The 33mm thickness is another reason why the Z-series is ideal for frequent travellers, as long as you've got a well-padded bag for added protection.

The VAIO's chassis should be able to withstand regular transport, too. The thin screen lid flexed easily but there was no sign of distortion on the Windows desktop when we prodded and twisted it. And the build quality elsewhere is beyond reproach - the wrist-rest didn't flex as much as we've seen in machines twice or three times the size.

Sony's now-familiar Scrabble-tile keyboard layout is excellent, proving just as comfortable as it did in the preceding Z-series, the VAIO Z21MN/B, and more comfortable than the scrabble-tile keys of the MacBook Air. The trackpad is decent, too: large enough to not prove restrictive, and with two responsive buttons.

The 13.3in screen, with its native resolution of 1,600 x 900, offers plenty of desktop space. The audio output is also surprisingly good for such a diminutive notebook, with the pair of small stereo speakers pumping out decent bass and a clear mid-range.

What's most impressive, however, is the sheer grunt this seemingly lightweight machine is able to deliver. It's equipped with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo P9600 instead of the low-power CPUs favoured by the MacBook Air, Lenovo X301 and Toshiba Portege R600, and the new part is also a step up from the 2.4GHz P8600 CPU included in the VAIO Z21MN/B. The result, unsurprisingly, is much more capable performance: the Z scored 1.45 in our benchmarks - twice as quick as all of its main rivals, and quicker than the 1.31 scored by the last VAIO.

And, thanks to dual graphics chips, this power doesn't come at the cost of battery life and portability. Using the Speed/ Stamina switch above the keyboard you can quickly swap between the Intel integrated graphics and the more powerful Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS chip; don't expect mind-blowing gaming, though: in our low-quality Crysis benchmark it achieved only 6fps.

In Speed mode the VAIO lasted just over two hours in our heavy use test and 7hrs 4mins in our light use benchmark. Flick over to the Stamina settings however, and you can turn this laptop from mobile powerhouse to indispensible business tool - we saw the VAIO last for a remarkable 9hrs 10mins in our light use test. The Nearest contenders, from Toshiba and Lenovo, last for six and a half hours: good, but not a patch on the Sony's all-day lifespan.

The VAIO's tiny frame manages to pack in plenty of decent components besides the CPU and pair of graphics chips. A 320GB hard disk is far larger than the 128GB SSD drives offered by Apple and Lenovo's rival ultraportables, but it's a trade-off between capacity and an SSD's speed and reliability. If you're not going to use all the space provided by the Sony, then an SSD model may be a better option in a machine that, inevitably, could take a few knocks.

The Sony matches the ThinkPad X301 for connectivity: both machines are kitted out with draft-n wireless, Bluetooth and an HSDPA modem, ensuring that it's possible to stay connected even without a wireless hotspot in sight, and a TPM module will be a welcome addition for business users.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,781
Price inc VAT £2,048
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 6
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 314 x 213 x 33mm (WDH)
Weight 1.470kg
Travelling weight 1.8kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo P9600
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/Intel GMA X4500 HD
Graphics card RAM 256MB
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 320GB
Hard disk usable capacity 297GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/150
Hard disk Toshiba MK3252GSX
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical drive Matshita UJ862AS
Battery capacity 5,400mAh
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
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem yes
ExpressCard34 slots 0
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
3.5mm audio jacks 2
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
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM yes
Fingerprint reader yes
Smartcard reader no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 550
Battery life, heavy use 120
Overall application benchmark score 1.45
Office application benchmark score 1.61
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.47
Encoding application benchmark score 1.20
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.52
3D performance (crysis) low settings 6fps
3D performance setting Medium

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Business
OS family Windows Vista
Recovery method Recovery partition