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Sony has, for some time now, been considered the kings of the ultra-portable notebook. It's a reputation it has fostered for many years and one that was solidified, in our minds at least, when we gave our 2007 Best Notebook award to the much coveted Sony VAIO TZ. Yet, even now the VAIO TZ is starting to look a little old-hat given the plethora of new contenders, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X300, hitting the market. Clearly Sony hasn't been resting on its laurels, however, since the VAIO TT Series (review coming soon) has arrived to replace the TZ and Sony has also been busy revising the rest of its range, replacing the 13.3 inch SZ with today's target, the Z Series.
Like the SZ before it (see: Sony VAIO VGN-SZ61VN), the Z Series is targeted at those demanding users that require a highly portable machine that doesn't sacrifice any performance over a regular laptop. This time around Sony has embraced the evolution towards 16:9 aspect based machines by fitting the Z Series with 13.1 inch displays. Most interestingly, though, this has also precipitated the move to a roomier 1,600 x 900 native resolution. This is even greater in size than the 1,440 x 900 sported by the likes of the ThinkPad X300 and is a very welcome feature.
Indeed, the Z Series is laden with "very welcome" features. Our review model, the VGN-Z11WN/B, comes equipped with freefall hard drive protection, a Trusted Platform Module and fingerprint reader for secure encryption and authentication and integrated HSDPA (mobile broadband), while all systems come equipped with interchangeable discrete and integrated graphics and are sold with a two year warranty. More expensive models also come with Blu-ray drives and in the case of the top of the range configuration, a 128GB SSD. Finally, the Z Series is one of the first Sony laptop ranges to come under Sony's new 'VAIO by you' configuration service, so you can mix and match the components you want if you so desire.
Mind you, the Z11WN/B isn't wanting for much. Granted, at just under £1,500 it's an expensive piece of kit, but for the outlay you get a brisk 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 with a 1,066MHz front side bus and 3MB L2 Cache. This is matched by 4GBs of extremely fast 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM, something you don't often see even today.
For discrete graphics there's an 256MB nVidia 9300M GS and this is joined by Intel GMA X4500M HD integrated graphics, so you benefit from the processing power of one and frugalness of the other. Finally there's a 250GB hard drive, though if one were being picky (we are) it would have been good to see a faster 7,200rpm drive in here rather than the 5,400rpm one offered. When you're spending £1,500 on a laptop, it's the least one could expect.
Still, there are a few other perks worth mentioning in the software department that go someway to alleviating this disappointment; namely, full versions of both Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and Adobe Acrobat 8 Standard. These, along with Roxio Easy Media Creator, InterVideo DVD, Picasa2, Skype, Google Earth, Google Talk, Google Desktop, Microsoft Works and a sprinkling of Sony branded applications, combine to create one of the more useful pre-installed software selections you'll find.