Details of Sony's new laptops have been trickling out for several weeks, but Sony held off on an official announcement to coincide with Intel's Centrino 2 launch this week.
Sony introduced four new VAIO lines ranging from the 3-pound Z-series ultraportable with a 13.1-inch display to the FW series, the first notebook with a 16.4-inch display. All of them are based on the Centrino 2 platform which includes new Core 2 Duo processors, a chipset with more powerful integrated graphics, and 802.11n wireless.
Sony packed in its usual laundry list of software including VAIO Movie Story for video editing, VAIO MusicBox, a DVD and Blu-ray disc authoring program, and the VAIO Media app for streaming content to other VAIO PCs or a PlayStation 3. If you choose Windows Vista Business with SP1 for an extra $90, you can also opt for Fresh Start, which means your PC comes without VAIO software, and third-party trial-ware and games. Sony is also offering the Windows XP Professional "downgrade" on some models.
Z series (13.1-inch display) The Z series is an ultraportable with a 13.1-inch LED-backlit display and integrated optical drive. The base model has a display resolution of 1,366 x 768, but you can upgrade to a 1,600 x 900 screen and a Blu-ray drive (all models have HDMI out). Other options include a 128GB SSD, in place of the hard drive, and integrated Sprint EV-DO wireless broadband. With its carbon fiber frame, the Z series weighs in at 3.4 pounds and measures 12.4 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches.
The Z series also is notable because it is one of the first systems--along with Lenovo IdeaPad U330--with "switchable graphics," which is Intel's version of hybrid graphics. That means you can use the more powerful, discrete GPU when plugged in (assuming your configuration includes it), but switch to integrated graphics to prolong battery life when unplugged. AMD already offers this feature on its competing Puma notebook platform.
The VGN-Z540 starts at $1,800 with a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400, 2GB DDR3 memory, Nvidia GeForce 9300M graphics, a 120GB hard drive, DVD burner, and Windows Vista Home Premium with SP1. At the opposite extreme, the $4,000 VGN-Z590UAB has a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P9500, 4GB DDR3 memory, a 128GB SSD, and Windows Vista Ultimate.
The Z series will be available in August.
SR series (13.3 inch display) The SR series is a new ultraportable with a 13.3-inch LED-backlit display. With its magnesium alloy frame, the SR series weighs 4.1 pounds and measures 12.4 x 1.0 x 1.3 inches. Sony says the keyboard design, with keys slightly raised above a one-piece black bezel, is quieter, more durable and provides better feedback when typing.
The SR series is designed to be user customizable. You can create up to three different "personalities" (for work and home, for example) and assign them to the keys located above the keyboard. And it comes in five different colors--some of which cost an extra $45.
The configure-to-order VGN-SR190 starts at $1,260 with 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400, 1GB of DDR2-800 memory, GMA 4700MHD integrated graphics, a 120GB hard disk drive, DVD burner, and Windows Vista Home Premium with SP1. A top-of-the-line model with a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600, 4GB of DDR2-800 memory, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3470 graphics, a 200GB hard disk drive, DVD burner, and Windows Vista Home Premium with SP1 costs $2,070.
The SR series ships at the end of July.
BZ series (15.4-inch display) The BZ is targeted at business users, though some of the features--biometric fingerprint sensor, Trusted Platform Module chip and password protection software, and G-Shock hard drive protection--are available in many VAIO models. It weighs 5.8 pounds and measures 14.3 x 1.2 x 10.5 inches.
The BZ comes standard with Windows Vista Business with SP1 (a Windows XP downgrade is also available) and a "stripped-down software load." Some models also include Intel's vPro technology, which allows IT administrators to remotely wake-up and troubleshoot PCs.
Unlike the other VAIOs, the BZ series is not available for pre-order online at Sony Style. It will be sold in retail and through VARs beginning later this month. There are four configurations of the VGN-BZ560 (PDF here) starting at about $1,000.
FW series (16.4 inch display) The FW series is the first laptop to offer a 16.4-inch widescreen display. Sony says the new 1,600 x 900 screen is ideal for HD video, or for viewing two Web pages or documents side-by-side.
The attractive design borrows from previous models such as the TZ series that that use a cylindrical hinge; it measures 15.1 by 1.46 by 10.3 inches and weighs 6.5 pounds with the standard battery. The premium models, which start around $1,750, include Blu-ray drives (HDMI-out is standard).
The configure-to-order VGN-FW190 starts at $1,060 with a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400, 2GB of DDR2-800 memory, Intel GMA 4700MHD integrated graphics, a 160GB hard disk drive, DVD burner and Windows Vista Home Premium with SP1. A maxed-out version with Sony's XBRITE-HiColor display, a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T9600, 4GB of DR2-800 memory, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3470 graphics, a 400GB hard disk drive, Blu-ray Read and Write Drive, and Windows Vista Home Premium with SP1 comes in at about $2,320.
The FW series comes in two colors--titanium gray or powder white--and ships in early August. CNET has posted a review of the VAIO VGN-FW140 and Laptop Magazine gave a higher-end configuration, the VAIO VGN-FW198U, an Editors' Choice award.