Sony VAIO VPCF21Z1E review

26 Jan 2011

A fast machine with a quality 3D screen that really works, but the price is in another dimension

Price when reviewed 
1,800
4

Ever since James Cameron’s Avatar thrust cinema-goers into the third-dimension of film, the concept of 3D in the home has become a reality. Now Sony, the big force behind the Blu-ray 3D format, has gone one step further, cramming a 3D display into a laptop equipped with one of Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processors.

It might be significantly more portable than your average 3D TV, but even so, you’re unlikely to want to watch 3D movies on the train to work; the Sony VAIO VPCF21Z1E is a seriously big laptop. Even with the glossy black lid firmly shut, it rises 46mm above the desk, and weighs in at a considerable 3.14kg.

Sit the Sony on a coffee table or a desk, though, and it’s right at home. Gloss black reaches all around, the thick-set chassis tapering away underneath, and the imposing figure makes the Sony look every inch the luxurious powerhouse.

Sony Vaio VPCF21Z1E - front

Peel the thick lid back and, as the Windows desktop appears, you’re left in no doubt as to the quality of the Sony’s 16in Full HD display. Fire up a Blu-ray disc, and the display delivers strikingly crisp images. Pin-sharp detail fills every corner of the screen, while the excellent colour reproduction sees it shrug off the challenges of Avatar, the beautifully rendered palette of blues and greens bringing the planet of Pandora to life.

Don the supplied active-shutter glasses, dab the 3D button beneath the Sony’s display, and the VPCF21Z1E reveals its 3D party trick. The display’s brightness levels drop significantly in 3D mode, when it switches to 120Hz, and the shutter glasses darken content even further, but the sheer quality of the display more than makes amends. Indeed, despite the relatively small 16in panel, Blu-ray 3D content was jaw-droppingly effective, with environments reaching deep into three-dimensional space and objects bursting out of the confines of the screen.

The bundled copy of Corel’s WinDVD software also makes it possible to watch standard 2D movies in a 3D-upscaling mode. We tested it with a DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as Avatar on Blu-ray, and the results were mixed. The pseudo-3D effect definitely gave images more depth, but, in the main it was unconvincing, and we often found our eyes struggling to adjust to the forced depth effect in certain scenes. Somewhat disappointingly, as the upscaling mode is restricted to WinDVD, it isn't possible to engage the 3D upscaling while watching web-based content such as BBC iPlayer or YouTube.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,500
Price inc VAT £1,800
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 3
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 399 x 272 x 46mm (WDH)
Weight 3.140kg
Travelling weight 4.0kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
Motherboard chipset Intel ID0104
RAM capacity 8.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 16.0in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,080
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce GT 540M
Graphics card RAM 1.00GB
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 640GB
Hard disk usable capacity 596GB
Spindle speed 7,200RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Optical disc technology Blu-ray writer
Optical drive Pioneer BDR-TD03
Battery capacity 5,000mAh
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 no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 1
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
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 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 2hr 56min
Battery life, heavy use 1hr 37min
Overall application benchmark score 2.02
Office application benchmark score 1.45
2D graphics application benchmark score 2.35
Encoding application benchmark score 1.81
Multitasking application benchmark score 2.47
3D performance (crysis) low settings 84fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition
Software supplied Corel WinDVD, Microsoft Office 2010 Starter