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Sony VAIO VGN-Z51WG/B review

Verdict

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

Review Date: 20 Oct 2009

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,592 (£1,831 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
6 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

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.

Author: Sasha Muller

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User comments

What are the differences from the previous models? I'm assuming this is replacing the Z21 and Z31 models are they are no longer available, however those models can't be customised with a blu-ray drive. Tthe only models currently available to buy on the Sony Style site are the customisable Z55 models and to spec one out as above costs £1,949.00 inc. VAT - and that's without the larger battery I assume you were using to get 10hrs from it.

By simbr on 22 Oct 2009

The difference

Physically, the Z51 is no different at all. It's just Windows 7 plus a specification boost.

If you want a Blu-ray drive you just have to use the customisation option at www.sonystyle-europe.com and specify all the bits yourself.

Doing it this way means you can also save cash. By pruning the memory back to 4GB you save £140, and, if you look closely, you'll notice that choosing the larger battery actually SAVES you £80. Probably a mistake, but I'd take advantage while you still can!

Go for a 2.53GHz Core 2, 4GB DDR3, a 320GB hard disk and Blu-ray and it comes to £1769 inc VAT.

By SashaMuller on 22 Oct 2009

z51 v z55

Sonystyle seem to have a z55 model - is this the same as z51??

By derek744 on 27 Oct 2009

Z51 vs Z55

Physically they're identical.

The Z51 comes in two pre-defined specifications, but the Z55 is the version which you can customise yourself.

If you want to add Blu-ray etc, it'll be a Z55 you're after.

By SashaMuller on 27 Oct 2009

Intel VT

Does its BIOS support Intel VT?
(required for XP mode in W7 afaik).

By nifty on 27 Oct 2009

Intel VT

There were some issues with the Z series and Intel VT which I believe some people managed to solve with a workaround/hack.

Now, however, it looks like VT support is going legit:

http://www.sony-asia.com/subtype/notifications/ass
et/339736/productcategory/it+personal+computer

By SashaMuller on 27 Oct 2009

Intel VT

There were some issues with the Z series and Intel VT which I believe some people managed to solve with a workaround/hack.

Now, however, it looks like VT support is going legit:

http://www.sony-asia.com/subtype/notifications/ass
et/339736/productcategory/it+personal+computer

By SashaMuller on 27 Oct 2009

sounds like a great machine. Does it get hot like the new macs or can it be used on ones lap without burn marks?

By condor on 29 Oct 2009

Beware: Sony Service Centres

Looks like a nice laptop. I have a Z series, z550n. However it does get really hot and mine developed white patches on the screen, eventually becoming unusable - which Sony will not repair within the warranty period.
Perhaps PCPRO should survey the best and worst companies for keeping warranty agreements.

By CGreengrass on 9 Nov 2009

Beware: Sony Service Centres

Actually they have now agreed to repair it FOC. Always complain higher up is my advice! Thanks Sony after all, and sorry for jumping the gun

By CGreengrass on 11 Nov 2009

A Bargain ?

This is looking like a bargain when compared with you previous "fastest ever" laptop the Dell Precision M6400 Covet

The apps benchmark is all but the same.

Please please can you get hold of one of these Sony's with the 256gb SSD and benchmark it.

I would reall like to know how much extra oomph £660 buys you !

By MiniEggs on 25 Nov 2009

Pricing

Your price guide of £299, as of Dec 29 is way off - the link takes you to a Samsung TV, not a Vaio laptop.

By nbirbeck on 30 Dec 2009

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