Sony VAIO VGN-Z51WG/B review
Light yet powerful, gorgeous yet practical, it's the best all-round ultraportable Sony has produced
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.
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.
|Price ex VAT||£1,592|
|Price inc VAT||£1,831|
|Features & Design||6|
|Value for Money||5|
|Dimensions||314 x 210 x 33mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo P9700|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel GM45/GM47|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||2|
Screen and video
|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|
|Hard disk usable capacity||298GB|
|Internal disk interface||SATA/300|
|Hard disk||Hitachi Deskstar 7K500|
|Optical disc technology||DVD writer|
|Optical drive||Matshita DVD-RAM UJ862AS|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||yes|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||yes|
|Wireless key-combination switch||no|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||2|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial ports||Fail|
|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|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Audio chipset||Realtek HD Audio|
|Speaker location||Above keyboard|
|Hardware volume control?||no|
|Camera megapixel rating||0.3mp|
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|