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Sony Vaio VGN-Z17GNB review: Sony Vaio VGN-Z17GNB

Sony's new ultraportable has switchable graphics and a high resolution 13.1-inch screen.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
3 min read

Sony's Z series is, in a word, gorgeous. Our matte black model is probably one of the more stylish laptops we've seen this year, along with its silver hinge and separated keys.


Sony Vaio VGN-Z17GNB

The Good

Excellent screen colour and vibrancy. Keyboard is excellent to type on. Stamina/Speed modes let you choose between performance or battery power.

The Bad

No eSATA. Can't use full complement of RAM due to 32-bit OS. Poorer than usual speakers.

The Bottom Line

Sony's Vaio VGN-Z17GNB is sure to be the envy of many co-workers, straddling the line between consumer and business comfortably.

As with Sony's TT, the 13.1-inch screen possesses a 16:9 aspect ratio, as opposed to the usual 16:10 found in consumer laptops, making it a perfect fit for movies. It has a higher resolution than usual too, offering 1,600x900. It looks amazing, with high colour and vibrancy, with our other laptop screens looking lifeless by comparison.

Each key on the keyboard is separated by a large gap, which is odd at first, but before you know it you're typing at high speed and accuracy because of it. Our only complaint here is the DVD eject button that Sony has included on the keyboard — useful in itself, but doesn't work outside of Windows.

A glowing power button is featured on the right-hand side of the spine, and the trackpad is wide and a delight to use.

The Vaio VGN-Z17GNB features a Core 2 Duo P9500 clocked at 2.53GHz, with a 320GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM. Sadly this is limited to 3GB RAM, due to Sony using a 32-bit operating system, in this case, the Business variant of the Windows Vista family. Wireless N and Bluetooth 2.0 complete the internal communications systems.

Of particular note is a switch at the top left that allows you to switch between "Speed" or "Stamina" modes. Speed mode enables the GeForce 9300M GS graphics card for extra 3D performance, while Stamina switches to the on-board Intel GMA 4500MHD, to save battery. While you're unlikely to be blown away by the performance difference, it's a nice option to have should you want to dabble a little in 3D that Intel's basic chip can't handle.

The rest of the laptop is well featured too, with Memory Stick and SD/MMC readers on the front, a USB, HDMI, VGA and DVD+-RW drive on the right, and gigabit Ethernet, ExpressCard 34, modem, USB, FireWire and headphone and microphone jacks on the left. Annoyingly the Ethernet and modem jacks are hidden behind rubberised flaps, which get in the way more than they protect, but it's not a deal-breaking issue.

Speakers were the biggest letdown, with over-sharp treble and constant attenuation at high volumes marking these as worse than the norm, which is already not a good place to be.

With the laptop in Stamina mode, it registered 1,095 in 3DMark06, and 4,787 in PCMark05 — meaning games are a definite no-no, but business apps should be more than adequate. Switching to Speed mode increased our scores to 2,265 and 5,157 respectively, opening up the ability to play some older games.

Turning off all power-saving features, setting screen brightness and volume to full, the mode to Speed and then playing back a DVD, the Vaio VGN-Z17GNB lasted two hours, one minute and 33 seconds, not bad considering the hardware involved. Turning power-saving features back on and only using productivity apps will massively increase this, as this is an incredibly taxing test.

Sony's Vaio VGN-Z17GNB is sure to be the envy of many co-workers, straddling the line between consumer and business comfortably.