- Flexible design
- good performance and battery life.
- Relatively expensive
- unwieldy external peripherals.
As befits a master of miniaturisation, Sony has no less than three notebook families that break the sub-2kg barrier. The most mainstream of these is the Z600 range, now headed by the new Z600HEK model. Weighing 1.7kg (with the battery but without accessories), and with a footprint that's a touch shorter and wider than a piece of A4 paper, the Z600HEK is a slim but powerful and flexible notebook that, if you can justify the £2,024 (ex. VAT) price, will perform well both on and off the road.
The Z600HEK is the 'classic' VAIO notebook design, decked out in the now-familiar metallic purple and purple-grey colours. The system unit accommodates an 800MHz Mobile Pentium III processor supported by 128MB of PC100 SDRAM, providing plenty of basic horsepower to run the pre-installed Windows 2000 Professional. There's plenty of fixed storage, in the shape of a 20GB Toshiba hard disk, while the good-quality 12.1in. TFT display is driven by ATi's workmanlike Rage Mobility-M1 chipset with 8MB of video RAM.
Like most ultraportables, the Z600HEK's system unit lacks removable media drives and has a restricted complement of I/O ports and expansion opportunities. The right-hand side features RJ-11 and RJ-45 ports for the built-in V.90 modem and 10/100 Ethernet connection, as well as a full-size USB port and Sony's Jog Dial navigation device. The left-hand side carries mini-USB, i.LINK (IEEE 1394) and audio ports, along with a single Type II PC Card slot and a Memory Stick slot. Also on the left-hand side is a proprietary connector for the supplied port replicator, which carries serial, parallel, USB, i.LINK and VGA ports. Note the absence of PS/2 and TV out ports, and the fact that an external monitor can only be connected if the port replicator is attached.
You get two external drives with the Z600HEK: a 16-speed CD-ROM drive that connects via the PC Card slot, and a 1.44MB USB floppy drive. With these drives connected, and the port replicator in place, your system becomes the hub of a somewhat unwieldy array of wired peripherals.
The 84-key keyboard provides a pretty comfortable typing experience, with a good-sized Enter key, although Home, End, PgUp and PgDn are doubled up with the cursor keys and accessed via the Fn key. The spacebar is also on the short side. The main navigation device is the two-button touchpad, which is augmented by Sony's Jog Dial.
As far as performance is concerned, the Z600HEK acquits itself well. Although component-level benchmarks expose the Rage Mobility-M1 graphics chipset as rather sluggish, 2D acceleration is still adequate for mainstream purposes -- as is clear from the very respectable overall Business Winstone 2001 score of 25.5. Sony's determination to rectify its poor reputation for battery life is evident in the three hours and six minutes we got from the standard 2,600mAh Li-ion battery with the CPU running at its full 800MHz.
There's little to dislike about the VAIO Z600HEK apart from the relatively high price. The design is tried and tested, while the improved performance and battery life are both welcome.