Sony's flagship Vaio Z-series VPCZ11Z9E/B is an ultra-portable powerhouse primed for any task -- even heavy gaming. That said, it's also pitched as a mobile business laptop for style-conscious buyers with resource-intensive needs. It's on sale now for a hefty £2,200 or thereabouts.
Solid as a rock
Most ultra-portable laptops feel like they'll blow over in a high wind, but not the 13.1-inch VPCZ11Z9E/B. It's housed in a solid, yet lightweight, carbon-fibre and aluminium chassis. That makes it feel resilient, while the chosen materials keep the weight down to 1.4kg. At 314 by 33 by 210mm, Sony has also kept the dimensions in check. There are lighter and smaller models around, but few machines of this size can match the VPCZ11Z9E/B's all-out performance.
The black lid opens to reveal a handsome, gunmetal grey keyboard surround, and a 'chiclet' keyboard. Keyboards like these, with shallow, curved keys, are easier to use on laptops of this size, and it only took us half an hour to get up to full speed without making typing errors. This makes the VPCZ11Z9E/B a real contender for business purposes. Sony has added a smart touch too -- an ambient light sensor that automatically switches the keyboard backlighting on in low-light conditions.
There's only a small amount of space to work with, so Sony hasn't gone port-mad. There's an HDMI out, three USB sockets, a VGA port, and an SD card slot. There's even room for an integrated optical DVD drive, but Sony's failed to add a Blu-ray drive, which is a sin at this price point.
Screen's a dream
The lack of a Blu-ray drive is doubly disappointing because the LED-backlit display sports a 'Full HD', 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, and it's simply stunning. We thoroughly enjoyed high-definition YouTube content, and, when we pumped Crysis up to 1,920x1,080 pixels, our jaws hit the floor. That's not just because the laptop can cope with Crysis, but also because the screen is pin-sharp and vibrant, with deep and intense colours.
At least Sony has tried to justify the cost by using only the best features. The 6GB of speedy DDR3 memory can be upgraded to 8GB, and it's complemented by Intel's dual-core Core i7-620M CPU, running at 2.66GHz. The 256GB of storage is made up of four solid-state drives, designed to transfer files much faster than standard hard drives can. No wonder these drives managed an incredible 7.6 out of 7.9 in the Windows Experience Index test. Try as we might, we found no lag with the VPCZ11Z9E/B when we were multi-tasking between numerous applications.
The VPCZ11Z9E/B has integrated Intel graphics, but also uses a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU. The laptop can swap between them automatically, or you can choose which one to use via a sliding switch. This lets you opt for increased speed or battery life.
In high-performance mode, the VPCZ11Z9E/B delivered a 3DMark06 score of 5,647. To have such graphical capabilities in such a portable bundle is rare. The only tiny laptop we've seen that can beat this score is the Alienware M11x. Playing around with Crysis' settings, we managed playable frame rates at 1,280x1,024 pixels, with all settings switched to high. The laptop's PCMark05 score of 11,194 also reflects the high-end components, equalling the performance of an expensive desktop PC.
Unfortunately, the only performance complaint we have is a considerable one for an ultra-portable laptop. Sony claims a battery life of between 3.5 and 6 hours, depending on use. But, running in stamina mode, the VPCZ11Z9E/B only mustered a paltry 2 hours in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, which runs the CPU at full tilt until the battery dies. If you push the laptop, the battery won't last the length of a short-haul flight. That's a big turn-off for an ultra-portable machine.
The Sony Vaio Z-series VPCZ11Z9E/B combines true portability with spectacular performance. If its cost and short battery life aren't important issues for you, we'd happily recommend buying this beautiful piece of hardware. If they are, you might want to hang on until the price has dropped and Sony's bundling back-up batteries.
Edited by Nick Hide and Charles Kloet