Sony VAIO PCG-Z1SP

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Excellent application performance
  • attractive, stylish design
  • integrated Bluetooth as well as 802.11b
  • extensive software bundle.

Cons

  • Relatively small standard battery limits battery life
  • unimpressive 3D performance
  • no legacy or TV-out ports
  • expensive.

Thin, light and stylish, Sony's VAIO PCG-Z1SP, which will be available on 17 March, has all the designer chic that a fashion-conscious user could wish for. But beneath the surface gloss, does this 1.5GHz Pentium M/Centrino system deliver the goods in terms of performance and battery life? Our testing of this pre-production unit suggests that although performance is very good, you may need to buy the optional extended-life battery to put this system's mains-free longevity on a par with competing Pentium M/Centrino systems.

Design
If it's design you're after, Sony is the notebook maker to consider. The company's VAIO range -- particularly the thin and light and ultraportable models -- have always stood out from the crowd, and the PCG-Z1SP is no exception. With a footprint of 24.7cm by 31.6cm, and a thickness ranging from 2.38cm at the front to 3.9cm at the back, the wedge-shaped 2.15kg Z1SP is certainly a system you can contemplate taking on the road. The general look and feel is sleek silver and black, and while it's nowhere near as sturdily constructed as Panasonic's Toughbook CF-R1, the build quality seems solid throughout. There are some nice aesthetic touches, such as the 'running board' where the keyboard surround is cut away to accommodate ports on the left-hand side and a fan vent on the right-hand side (Sony calls this the 'wave' design). Indicator lights for power, wireless LAN and Bluetooth are set into the 'running board' on the right. Other nice details are the integrated LEDs on the power button and power connector, and the unobtrusive two-button touchpad, which has the same silver-effect finish as the rest of the system case. The Z1SP's dimensions are largely determined by its 14.1in., SXGA+ (1,400 by 1,050 pixels) display, which is a high-quality unit. Although there's no close clip for the lid, the lid stayed shut when closed and (obviously) opened easily. Between the screen and keyboard is a grille housing a pair of stereo speakers, with a MagicGate Memory Stick slot to the left and a cluster of activity LEDs plus three buttons to the right (wireless on/off, and two user-programmable quick-launch buttons). The keyboard is an 85-key unit with good-sized keys, a positive action and a generally sensible layout: we like the extra-large Enter key, but access to PgUp, PgDn, Home and End is via a Fn key combination. Generally, the PCG-Z1 is comfortable to type on; this is helped by the fact that the rear of the system is slightly raised by the battery pack, which runs the length of the system. Notable for its absence from the PCG-Z1 (and apparently all future Sony notebooks) is the hitherto ubiquitous Jog Dial navigation device. RIP Jog Dial -- it won't be missed by this reviewer, for one.

Features
The VAIO PCG-Z1SP is based on a 1.5GHz Pentium M (Banias) processor, the 855PM chipset and Intel's PRO/Wireless 2100 802.11b module, making it a proper Centrino product. It comes with a generous 512MB of DDR SDRAM, with a maximum of 1GB, although the 855 chipset supports up to 2GB. There's no access to the innards of the case, so we must assume that there's only one slot, and that extra memory must either be specified at purchase time or retro-fitted by Sony. Magnetic storage is provided by a massive 60GB Hitachi hard drive with a rotation speed of 4,200rpm, while the fixed optical drive -- which is set into the chamfered edge on the right-hand side -- is a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo unit (Sony's CD-RW CRX950). The 14.1in. display is driven by ATI's Mobility Radeon 7500 chipset with a rather measly 16MB of dedicated video RAM. This is not a leading-edge specification, and although 2D acceleration is impeccable, 3D performance suffers in comparison to more highly configured competitors (see below). The PCG-Z1SP is legacy free as far as ports and connectors are concerned -- no serial, parallel or PS/2 ports here. What you do get is a pair of USB 2.0 ports and the inevitable i.LINK (FireWire/1394) port on the left-hand side, along with the audio ports (microphone and headphone) and an RJ-11 modem port on the right-hand side, plus an RJ-45 Ethernet connector and a VGA port behind a drop-down door at the back. As has been the case with Sony for some time, there's no infrared connection. A more surprising omission, in our view, is the lack of a TV-out port. As well as the aforementioned MagicGate Memory Stick slot, there's a single Type II PC Card slot set unobtrusively into the left-hand side. The slot's opening is guarded by a spring-loaded door, which is far preferable to the easily-lost PC Card blanks used by some manufacturers. The optional docking station for the PCG-Z1, which costs £126.81 (ex. VAT) extra, provides the following ports: analogue VGA and digital DVI-D, parallel, three USB 2.0 and Ethernet. You can also get an optional extended battery, which costs £220.42 (ex. VAT) -- and if you want four-hour-plus battery life, you might need it (see below). Sony provides its customary 'VAIO world' software bundle, which includes Sony multimedia applications like PictureGear Studio, MovieShaker, SonicStage, DVGate and Smart Capture Library. The integrated Bluetooth functionality is controlled by Sony's BlueSpace NE software. You also get copies of Norton AntiVirus 2003, WinDVD and a trio of Adobe applications – Premiere 6.0 LE, Photoshop Elements 2.0 and Acrobat Reader 5.1. Two further Sony utilities give you a high degree of control over the trade-off between performance, battery life and fan noise. Performance Balancer provides two tabbed pages -- 'Running on Batteries' and 'AC Plugged in' -- that provide preset and customisable combinations of LCD brightness (which affects battery life) and fan speed (which affects noise, and also CPU speed and therefore performance). More detailed power management profiles can be created in Power Panel; editable preset profiles are supplied for different usage scenarios such as DVD-watching, games, communications, presentation and so on, as well as maximum performance and maximum or ultimate battery life.

Performance
The 1.5GHz VAIO PCG-Z1SP is an impressive performer: its Business Winstone 2001 and Content Creation Winstone 2002 scores (53.3 and 35 respectively) both beat Sony's 2.4GHz Mobile Pentium 4-M-based PCG-GRX616SP, by around 9.5 per cent in each test. If you're thinking of playing 3D games on the PCG-Z1SP, you'll find it less responsive: the system's 16MB ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 delivered a distinctly moderate score of 1,753 under 3DMark 2001 -- class-leading notebooks like Acer's TravelMate 800 with its 64MB Mobility Radeon 9000, score over 7,000 on this test. Battery life figures of 2 hours 50 minutes under BatteryMark 4.01 and 3 hours under MobileMark 2002 (both in 1,500MHz desktop mode) were also disappointing, given the excellent 4 hours 40 minutes we got from Acer's TravelMate 800. The difference is largely down to the fact that Sony's system uses a less powerful 48.8Wh battery than the 65.1Wh cell in the Acer machine. If you need that extra bit of juice, you'll either need to buy Sony's optional extended-life battery or take a performance hit by tweaking the power management settings.

Service & support
Sony's standard warranty for the PCG-Z1SP is merely a one-year return-to-base affair, which isn't exactly generous. You can extend this to three years, or three years on-site, but it'll cost you. There was no Z1-specific information on Sony's Web site at the time of writing, but you can expect the usual package of online FAQs, manuals, downloads and e-support to be in place soon after this system's 17 March launch. On 31 March, Sony launches a cheaper Z1 model, the £1,399 (ex. VAT) PCG-Z1MP. This features a 1.3GHz Pentium M processor, 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard disk, but is in all other respects identical to the Z1SP.

Specifications

Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Pentium M 1.5 GHz
Cache L2 - 1 MB - Advanced Transfer Cache
Data Bus Speed 400 MHz
Platform Technology Intel Centrino
General
Recommended Use home use, small business
Operating System Microsoft Windows XP Professional
Storage
Optical Drive CD-RW / DVD-ROM combo
Type none
Read Speed 24x (CD) / 8x (DVD)
Write Speed 8x
CD / DVD Rewrite Speed 4x
Type portable
Memory
Max Supported Size 1 GB
Technology DDR SDRAM
Speed 266 MHz / PC2100 - 266 MHz
Display
Resolution 1400 x 1050 (SXGA+)
Widescreen Display No
Diagonal Size (metric) 35.8 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation SXGA+
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor ATI Mobility Radeon - 16 MB
Sound Stereo speakers
Compliant Standards Microsoft WSS 1.0/2.0
Input
Type keyboard, touchpad
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11b, Bluetooth
Wired Protocol 10/100 Ethernet
Processor
Type Pentium M
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 1.5 GHz
Connections & Expansion
Slots 1 x CardBus (1 free)
Memory
Interfaces 1 x IEEE 1394 (FireWire)
2 x USB 2.0 4 pin USB Type A
1 x network RJ-45
1 x display / video - VGA - 15 pin HD D-Sub (HD-15)
1 x headphones - output - mini-phone 3.5 mm
1 x microphone - input - mini-phone 3.5 mm
1 x docking / port replicator
1 x modem - phone line - RJ-11
Memory Card Reader Yes (Memory Stick)
Header
Brand Sony
Product Line Sony VAIO
Model PCG-Z1SP
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Networking
Max Transfer Rate 56 Kbps
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth, Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b
Compliant Standards Bluetooth 1.1
System
Platform Technology Intel Centrino
Notebook Type notebook
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 60 GB
Dimensions & Weight
Width 31.6 cm
Depth 24.7 cm
Height 3.9 cm
Monitor
Diagonal Size 14.1 in
Native Resolution 1400 x 1050
Mainboard
Data Bus Speed 400 MHz
Cache Memory
Type L2 cache
Installed Size 1 MB
RAM
Technology DDR SDRAM
Installed Size 512 MB
Max Supported Size 1 GB
Memory Speed 266 MHz
Memory Specification Compliance PC2100
Rated Memory Speed 266 MHz
Hard Drive
Type HDD
Installed Qty 1
Capacity 60 GB
Physical Characteristics
Form Factor portable
Weight 2.2 kg
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Microsoft Windows XP Professional
Type Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.1, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, Sony PictureGear Studio, Sony SonicStage 1.5, Adobe Premiere 6.0 LE, Apple QuickTime 5, Callserve, InterVideo WinDVD 4, Norton AntiVirus 2003, RealOne Player, Sony DVgate 2.6, Sony MovieShaker 3.3
Optical Storage
Drive Type CD-RW / DVD
Type CD-RW / DVD-ROM combo
Card Reader
Type card reader
Supported Flash Memory Memory Stick
Video Output
Graphics Processor ATI Mobility Radeon
Graphics Processor Series ATI Mobility Radeon
Video Memory
Installed Size 16 MB
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Service Included parts and labor
Full Contract Period 1 year

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