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Laptops

Sony Vaio Z series (VPC-Z21M9E)

Sony's Z series laptop promises high-performance hardware in a beautifully designed carbon-fibre body. The dock is a particularly top-notch touch -- as long as you can stand the sky-high price.

Sony's latest cutting-edge laptop, the Vaio Z series VPC-Z21M9E, achieves that much sought-after combination of being eye-meltingly stylish, portable and as powerful as you need. Such a combination comes at a price -- the Z series starts at just under £1,500 (direct from Sony) and rockets up to just under £4,000 if you configure the specs to the max.

We took the Z series for a spin and were suitably impressed. If you're after a strong performing laptop that won't show you up in a business class lounge, the Z series laptop may be worth selling that extra car.

Looking sharp

Flashy colours are nowhere to be seen on the Z series -- instead, we're met with black with subtle silver accents. It's so sleek and stylish we were surprised not to find a red carpet leading up to it. A subtle dark blue colour option will also be available, as well as a gold option which would beautifully match that Gucci bag you want.

The Z series is made from carbon fibre, rather than the plastic you would find on less Mayfair laptops. This results in it feeling very sturdy with no flex under pressure in either the lid or the keyboard and surround. It certainly feels as though it can withstand a few knocks.

It's a 13.1-inch machine, a perfect size for on-the-go use. At only 16.5mm thick, it's slim enough to slide into an Italian leather briefcase without any trouble. At only 1.18kg, it isn't going to weigh you down either.

The isolated keys are well sized and very easy to type on. 

Upon opening the Z series up, you're greeted by a keyboard with isolated keys. They're well spaced and very easy to press, allowing for quick and comfortable typing. They sit quite flush against the surround, adding to the well-built feel of this laptop.

The trackpad, while not massive, is decently sized and has a coating that helps your finger glide across it with precision.

The 13.1-inch screen has a 1,600x900-pixel resolution with an anti-reflective coating. We'll see how anti-reflective it really is once we put it under our own lights, but it seemed to do a fair job. Colours looked bright and punchy and small text on webpages was clear and readable.

Sony claims the Z series can achieve up to 7 hours of use from a single charge, and with an optional battery -- that attaches to the entire underside of the laptop, increasing its thickness by about 10mm -- the Z series can keep going for up to 14 hours. That's an impressive claim for a machine that's packed with high-performance gear, so we're looking forward to attacking the Z series with our battery benchmark test.

First class performer

On the standard Z series model, you can expect to find an Intel Core i5-2410M 2.3GHz processor, coupled with 4GB of DDR3 RAM. That's enough to blast through all those finance reports on your way to the conference with no trouble at all, but if you want some more grunt, you can configure your own version of the Z series on Sony's website with specs to suit you. The Z series is available with an Intel Core i7-2620M 2.7GHz processor and up to 8GB of RAM, but it will cost you an extra £290 in total.

For storage, Sony has whacked in a 128GB solid-state disk drive. SSD drives are smaller than standard hard disk drives and have a much faster read/write speed, allowing the Z series to offer a much quicker start-up time. We'll see how that claim stacks up when we subject it to our mean set of benchmark tests.

SSDs do come at a premium, however, and it goes some way to explain the high price tag on this machine. If you're feeling particularly flush, you can configure a Z series with a 512GB Generation 3 SSD drive for a mere £1,170 extra.

The Z series on its own isn't going to be your portable gaming friend. It uses only the built-in graphics capabilities of the processor, so don't expect it to run recent games on max settings. If gaming -- and spending cash -- is your thing, then an external dock is available that acts as a plug-in graphics processor.

With the additional battery pack attached, the laptop is slightly thinner than this 50p piece is tall. 

The dock couples to the laptop using Light Peak (the high-speed connector you might know as Thunderbolt on Apple's computers) and contains a 1GB AMD Radeon 6650M GPU. This dramatically increases the gaming power of the Z series, so you can happily ramp up your game's settings once you plug the dock in.

The dock also acts as a DVD drive, with a Blu-ray version available online only as an upgrade. Sony told us the Blu-ray drive will not be available as standard in shops due to "price point reasons". Frankly, if you're willing to spend £400 for the standard external dock, an extra £50 for a Blu-ray version probably isn't going to break the bank.

The specifications offered up on the standard model of the Z series suggest it will be quite the performer, easily capable of chewing through high-definition video, photo editing and all manner of office tasks. We'll be sure to test how it fares in our performance benchmark tests when one lands in the office.

Conclusion

Sony's Z series is a truly stunning piece of kit. It's small and light enough to slip into a bag, but manages to feel sturdy enough to withstand the odd bump. The strong specs inside the standard model suggest it can handle all but the most demanding of tasks without too much worry. It's going to have to put in a great performance in our benchmarks to justify its £1,434 starting price tag, so make sure to check back for a full review soon.

Edited by Nick Hide

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