Sony VAIO Z1 review: Sony VAIO Z1

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.2
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 5.0
  • Battery life: 7.0
  • Service and support: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Thin, stylish case; integrated wireless; big screen; excellent multimedia software.

The Bad Aging graphics chip; slow mobile performance.

The Bottom Line The updated Sony VAIO Z1 is still a great choice for the fashion conscious, but slow performance puts it behind the best thin-and-lights.

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summary

Sony recently updated its VAIO Z1-series laptops. Although this revitalized Sony laptop is still great-looking, it's no match for other thin-and-lights with graphics chips more powerful than the VAIO Z1's 16MB ATI Mobility Radeon chip. Still, the VAIO Z1 offers other advantages, such as a big, 14.1-inch display; integrated 802.11b/g wireless; and top-shelf multimedia software. Sony's unique, curved case still turns heads, but despite its perks, it's hard to overlook the Z1's lackluster performance. If you're hell-bent on getting a Sony, check out the company's other, faster thin-and-light, the VAIO V505 series. Or consider the speedy Acer TravelMate 803LCi . The VAIO Z1's case design is classic Sony. The system measures 12.4 inches wide, 9.7 inches deep, just 0.9 inches thick in front, and 1.5 inches thick at the back where the battery props it up. It weighs 4.7 pounds by itself and 5.4 pounds with the AC adapter, a weight that's on the low end for thin-and-lights. Instead of a swappable bay, the Sony Z1 includes either an integrated DVD/CD-RW drive or a DVD-RW drive.

Sony gives the VAIO Z1 series a streamlined look: The front and side edges slant inward at approximately 45-degree angles. Halfway down each side, the edge curves in about one inch, creating a crevice where Sony hides many of the laptop's ports. In addition to two USB 2.0 ports, headphone/microphone jacks, and one PC Card slot, the left edge sports two Sony staples: an iLink (a.k.a. FireWire) port and a Memory Stick slot. The power button, a 56Kbps modem jack, and two system-status lights occupy the right-edge recession.

The Sony VAIO Z1's arrangement of the keyboard and touchpad is less impressive than its angular case. The reasonably wide and comfortable keyboard is firm, but it's nothing spectacular. The touchpad works fine, although the two matchstick-size mouse buttons underneath the pad could be larger. A strip of average-sounding speakers is centered above the board. Three buttons are the only standout features on the keyboard deck: two programmable application buttons in the upper-right corner, plus a convenient wireless on/off switch above the two buttons.

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The sides of the VAIO Z1's unique case curve to allow recessed ports. The mouse buttons under the touchpad are on the small side.

Sony sells six preconfigured versions of the VAIO Z1 series on Sonystyle.com, but the company doesn't let you build a Sony VAIO Z1 to order. We wish Sony offered both the ability to customize the system, as well as a selection of graphics chips. The laptop ships with a Pentium M processor running between 1.5GHz and 1.8GHz; anywhere from 256MB to 1,024MB of 266MHz DDR memory; a 60GB or 80GB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm or 4,200rpm, respectively; and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive or a DVD-RW drive.

No matter which preconfigured Sony VAIO Z1 you choose, you'll get a 14.1-inch display with a high native resolution of 1,400x1,050 and an outdated ATI Mobility Radeon with 16MB of 266MHz DDR SDRAM. All configurations offer an Intel Pro/wireless mini-PCI wireless adapter based on either the 802.11b or 802.11g standard.

Sony preloads Windows XP Home or Windows XP Professional onto the VAIO Z1. The company also includes Microsoft's Works , Money 2003 , and Encarta Online. But the big software bonus comes in the form of Sony's excellent multimedia-app bundle, which includes DVGate, SonicStage, and PictureGear Studio for working with DVDs, music, and photos, respectively.

Other than the graphics chip, our test machine, the Sony VAIO PCG-Z1VA, matches or exceeds the specs of the two comparison laptops in this small test group--the Gateway 450 and the HP Compaq Business Notebook nc4000 --but the Sony finished a distant third in CNET's mobile performance test. Our Sony VAIO PCG-Z1VA included a 1.6GHz Pentium M processor, 512MB of 266MHz DDR RAM--at least twice the amount of the comparison systems'--an aging graphics chip (ATI's Mobility Radeon 16MB), and a 5,400rpm hard drive, yet its performance lagged at least 17 percent behind that of its peers. Processor throttling was part of the reason. To cut down on the heat a laptop generates, some manufacturers have the CPU throttle its speed when running on battery power. This process can hurt mobile performance. In the end, the Sony VAIO PCG-Z1VA's mobile performance leaves much to be desired when compared to similarly configured laptops.

Mobile application performance   (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating  

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

System configurations:

Gateway 450
Windows XP Professional; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK6021GAS 60GB 4,200rpm

HP Compaq Business Notebook nc4000
Windows XP Professional; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 224MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Radeon IGP 350M 32MB (shared); Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-Z1VA
Windows XP Home; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Toshiba MK6021GAX 60GB 5,400rpm

The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1VA makes up for its middling performance with good battery life. The laptop houses an 11.1V, 4,400mAh (48WHr) battery that cranked for more than three and a half hours running office and content-creation apps. This is good enough for second place in this small test group, behind the Gateway 450, which lasted more than five hours, thanks to its big 14.8V, 4,200mAh (62WHr) battery. The HP Compaq Business Notebook nc4000 had the smallest battery and the shortest battery life, less than three hours. All in all, the Sony VAIO PCG-Z1VA is a system that sacrifices speedy mobile performance for good battery life.

Battery life   (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes  

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark 2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

Battery life analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

System configurations:

Gateway 450
Windows XP Professional; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK6021GAS 60GB 4,200rpm

HP Compaq Business Notebook nc4000
Windows XP Professional; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 224MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Radeon IGP 350M 32MB (shared); Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-Z1VA
Windows XP Home; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Toshiba MK6021GAX 60GB 5,400rpm

Sony isn't overly generous in the service-and-support department, although the package is in line with what other laptop makers offer. The company includes a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with return-to-depot service (Sony pays for shipping). But rather than toll-free, 24/7 phone support for the life of the system, Sony includes only a year's worth of free phone help. After the warranty ends, calls to support are $19.95 per incident. At least you can up your warranty to three years for another $200, which we recommend doing.

The company's support Web site has improved; it now features online tutorials and an intuitive knowledge base that's a lot like &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex_1&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Easkjeeves%2Ecom">Ask Jeeves. But it still lacks helpful elements, such as customer forums and the ability to chat in real time with a tech-support representative. Thankfully, the printed and online setup manuals are easy to follow.

To find out more about how this product's warranty really stacks up and what you should look for in terms of service and support, take a look at CNET's hardware warranty explainer.

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Sony VAIO Z1 series

Part Number: PCGZ1A Released: Feb 3, 2004
MSRP: $2,300.00 Low Price: $1,021.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Feb 3, 2004
  • Installed Size 512 MB
  • CPU Intel Pentium M 1.3 GHz
    Intel Pentium M 1.5 GHz
  • Operating System Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition
    Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition
  • Color Silver
  • Weight 4.6 lbs
  • Optical Drive CD-RW / DVD-ROM combo - removable
    CD-RW / DVD-ROM combo - fixed
  • Graphics Processor ATI Mobility Radeon - 16 MB DDR SDRAM
    ATI Mobility Radeon - 16 MB DDR SDRAM