Sony VAIO VGN-Z51WG/B review

20 Oct 2009

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

Price when reviewed 
1,831
5

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,592
Price inc VAT £1,831
Overall rating 6
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 5
Performance 6

Warranty

Warranty

Physical specifications

Dimensions 314 x 210 x 33mm (WDH)
Weight 1.490kg
Travelling weight 1.9kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo P9700
Motherboard chipset Intel GM45/GM47
RAM capacity 6.00GB
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 Intel GMA X4500MHD and Nvidia Geforce 9300M GS
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 298GB
Spindle speed 7,200RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Hitachi Deskstar 7K500
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical drive Matshita DVD-RAM UJ862AS
Battery capacity 5,400mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter yes
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
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 Fail
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
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
Camera megapixel rating 0.3mp
TPM yes
Fingerprint reader yes
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 10hr 1min
Battery life, heavy use 1hr 33min
Overall application benchmark score 1.43
Office application benchmark score 1.41
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.62
Encoding application benchmark score 1.28
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.39
3D performance (crysis) low settings 26fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery disc