Considering the price and the spec, we were expecting some serious performance from this Z-series laptop. Even so, we weren't quite prepared for the extreme testing results we encountered. In PCMark Vantage, at least, it's the fastest laptop we've ever tested and by quite some margin.
This is thanks in large part to the ultra-fast SSD configuration, which has two 128GB drives configured in RAID 0 to boost performance. While we've included a couple of recent laptops, namely the Acer Aspire 5942G and the Samsung R780, for comparison, in reality we've reviewed nothing that affords a useful comparison. Its explosive performance in our synthetic benchmarks is confirmed via subjective use. Whatever you're doing this system just flies.
This is also a machine that can play games. In Trackmania Nations it managed a brisk 90fps, while even our much more demanding STALKER: Call of Pripyat test resulted in a playable 30fps. These are quite similar results, in fact, to the Alienware M11x - no surprise considering both use the same Nvidia GeForce GT 330M graphics card.
All this performance does have some side-effects, however, as the Z Series isn’t the quietest machine around. When using the integrated graphics it's much like any other laptop, but switch to the dedicated GPU and throw the machine some number crunching tasks and the fan kicks in with gusto. This is a somewhat inevitable impact of having such powerful components in a relatively small chassis, but anyone who's particularly intolerant of ambient noise will be irritated by it. That it only occurs during very taxing tasks is something of a consolation, though, and while it does get noisy the machine itself doesn't get too hot.
The battery life, despite not matching Sony's initial claims, is still mighty impressive considering the power at your disposal. Using the Stamina mode, our Z Series lasted 323 minutes (5hrs, 23mins) in the Productivity test - good enough for several hours of offline and online use. Even the 151 minutes (2hrs, 31mins) of DVD playback is impressive considering how bright the screen can go. Moreover, should this not be enough for you, Sony does offer an upgrade over the standard six-cell, 5,200mAh battery.
All of which goes to prove that the Z Series is everything it promises to be. Not only is it eyebrow-singeing fast, on battery power it can last long enough to get meaningful work done. It's not without one or two issues, not least its bank-breaking asking prices, but there's nothing else we can think of that does what it does quite as well, and you can always make a few tweaks to the spec to save money without sacrificing too much performance.
In many ways the Sony VAIO Z Series is one-of-a-kind. As fast as many desktops, but no heavier than many netbooks, it's a testament to what can be achieved thanks to modern hardware and engineering. It's a niche product, of that there's no doubt, but if you need the power and portability it offers then it comes highly recommended.