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Sony VAIO VPCZ128GX review: Sony VAIO VPCZ128GX


Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
6 min read

In a laptop universe filled with $300 Netbooks and $600 dual-core midsize systems, an actual high-end product is rare indeed. Apple's MacBook Pro and HP's Envy laptops are considered high-end, but generally run between $1,000 and $1,500. In an entirely different category altogether (a different universe, even) is Sony's Vaio Z128GX, which runs a whopping $3,339. Of course, that's for our tricked-out review unit, which includes a very expensive 512GB solid-state hard drive, which could easily fetch $1,500 or more on its own.

Sony VAIO VPCZ128GX/B 13.1 Z Series Notebook PC - Black


The Good

Huge SSD hard drive; slick, high-end design.

The Bad

Switchable graphics, but no Nvidia Optimus; middling battery life; very expensive.

The Bottom Line

Sony's super-high-end Vaio Z is an enviable status symbol, but probably out of your price range, especially with its optional 512GB SSD.

Other high-end features include a Verizon 3G connection (with a handy app for easily using it to create a Wi-Fi hot spot for your other gadgets), an Nvidia GeForce 300 GPU, and a higher-than-normal 1,600x900-pixel resolution for the 13-inch display.

Although this is Sony's premium 13-inch laptop, there are versions of the Vaio Z that don't cost quite as much. For a still-pricey $1,919, you can get a configuration with a smaller 128GB SSD, or you can add even more-expensive options, including a 1,920x1,080-pixel display or a Blu-ray player, driving the price as far up as $4,700.

Though this is an ultrapremium laptop with excellent design and construction, we're annoyed by Sony's non-Optimus graphics switching, which uses a manual switch, and is not as seamless as you'd expect for the price.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $3,299 / $1,919
Processor 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520
Memory 8GB, 1066MHz DDR3
Hard drive 250GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel HM55
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GT 330M (switchable)
Operating system Windows 7 Professional
Dimensions (WD) 12.4 x 8.3 inches
Height 1-1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 13.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.1/4 pounds
Category 13-inch

The slim chassis is a mix of brushed metal and magnesium, making for an end product that feels light but sturdy at the same time. Just as importantly, it feels like a plastic-free high-end product (although for these prices, we'd certainly hope so). The last Vaio Z we looked at had black keys against a silver finish, which didn't look nearly as slick as this all-dark model.

Sony's typical raised-island-style keyboard is excellent, although the actual key faces are on the small side. Important keys such as Shift and Tab are nice and big, and we found no major problems with the keyboard layout. The backlit keys are a helpful feature, but we've come to expect it as standard in laptops more than $1,000. The Vaio Z's touch pad is likewise excellent, offering plenty of space and small, but effective, left and right mouse buttons separated by a fingerprint reader.

Above the keyboard on the left side is a three-way switch that turns the Nvidia GeForce 330 graphics on or off. Unfortunately, in the half-year since we saw our last Sony Vaio Z (which had a similar switch), Nvidia's Optimus technology has taken over, even in budget systems. Optimus works behind the scenes to automatically turn the discrete GPU off and on as needed, completely invisible to the end user. It generally works great, and it's a major knock that this Vaio doesn't include it.

The settings on the physical switch itself are labeled "speed" and "stamina," and it can be confusing as to what the switch actually does if you're not familiar with the concept of switchable graphics. There's also a third position, "auto," that turns the GPU off when you unplug the laptop. Using the switch can force you to quit programs, and makes the screen flick off, which are all problems Nvidia's Optimus avoids.

Three quick-launch buttons sit above the keyboard to the right. One launches a built-in suite of Sony support resources and troubleshooting apps and easy access to tech support contact info. The second is user assignable, and the third launches Sony's Media Gallery software, a collection of media organizing and playback tools.

The 13.3-inch wide-screen LED display has a 1,600x900-pixel native resolution. Most 13-inch systems have 1,366x768-pixel displays, but you can configure the Vaio Z with an even higher 1,920x1080-pixel screen, although at that level, text might be hard to read on the 13-inch display.

Sony Vaio VPCZ128GX Average for category [Netbook]
Video VGA-out, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile broadband Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

The Vaio Z has the standard set of ports and connections for a 13-inch laptop, although for $3,000, we'd expect a Blu-ray drive (it's an available add-on, however). We're more excited about the built-in Verizon mobile broadband. It's a common enough feature, but Sony's SmartWi Connection Utility includes a very handy button for taking that 3G signal and sharing it as a mobile hot spot, similar to how a MiFi device works. You can actually do this with pretty much any laptop, but it requires some under-the-hood setup, and it doesn't always work properly.

The 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520 CPU in this system is typical of the high-end of mainstream components, and it performed on par with other Intel Core i5 laptops, which is to say it's more than powerful enough for all but the most demanding applications. We ran into no slowdown or stuttering, even when working on multiple projects at once, which is in part because of the included 8GB of RAM.

With the Nvidia GeForce 330 GPU engaged, we got 57.3 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3 running at 1,440x900 pixels. This is a respectable midrange gaming laptop, but not for hard-core PC gamers. Still, it should be able to handle all current games, even if you have to turn the detail or resolution down a bit.

Juice box
Sony Vaio VPCZ128GX Average watts per hour
Off (60%) 0.56
Sleep (10%) 1.03
Idle (25%) 14.91
Load (05%) 49.43
Raw kWh number 58.15
Annual power consumption cost $6.60

Annual power consumption cost
HP Envy 13
Sony Vaio VPC-Z128GX

Battery life is key for mobility minded 13-inch laptops, but the Vaio Z fell slightly behind other systems of this size, even much less-expensive ones. The Vaio Z ran for 3 hours and 41 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. Toshiba's Portege R705 and HP's Envy both ran for about 15 minutes longer, and of course, Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro runs for about 2 hours more, and is still the king of 13-inch laptops.

Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts and labor warranty with the system, which smartly includes onsite service. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, as well as an online knowledge base and driver downloads. The included support software, accessed via a quick-launch button on the keyboard tray, connects you directly to diagnostic tools, online resources, and troubleshooting tips.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VPC-Z128GX
HP Envy 13

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VPC-Z128GX

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VPC-Z128GX

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VPC-Z128GX

Find out more about how we test laptops. System configurations:

Sony Vaio VPCZ128GX
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520; 8192MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 330M; 512GB Intel SSD

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 330M; 256GB Intel SSD

HP Envy 13
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit); 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9600; 3072MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330; 250GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Asus U33Jc-A1
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4Hz Intel Core i3 M370; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 310M + 1749MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA MHD; 500GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Toshiba Portege R705-P25
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.27GHz Intel Core i3 M350; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1696MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO VPCZ128GX/B 13.1 Z Series Notebook PC - Black


Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 7Support 7