Below the screen is a series of indicator lights for Power, Battery Charging, Hard Disk Activity, WLAN and Bluetooth. Nestling in the speaker grille above the keyboard is a selection of buttons and switches. The largest button is for powering the notebook on, while the other two are programmable shortcut buttons. The first switch will toggle the integrated wireless adapters on and off, but the second switch is something very new to Sony. The second switch is labelled Stamina and Performance – this refers to the graphics chipset that you are currently using. Like the Rock Pegasus 650 and Alienware Area-51 m5500, the Sony SZ1VP can switch between using the integrated Intel 945GM graphics or the nVidia GeForce GO 7400 chipset. Like the previous notebooks I’ve looked at with this feature, you have to reboot the system to switch between graphics chips, but Sony has made this clear by installing an indicator light at either side of the switch. The light tells you which graphics are currently selected and when you flick the switch the light doesn’t change position, only after a reboot does the light jump to the other side, so the user is never in any doubt as to which graphics chipset is in use.
The whole point of the dual graphics chips is that you can use the Intel graphics when you’re just doing general Windows work and then switch to the nVidia chipset if you fancy playing a game. Not only will you get better 3D performance from the nVidia chipset, but you’ll also get better battery life when using the Intel integrated graphics – so you really do have the best of both worlds. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to run MobileMark 2005 using both graphics settings, but looking at the results on previous dual graphics notebooks, the Intel option should reward you with a significant increase in battery life. I did manage to run some basic 3D tests though, and it’s clear that the nVidia 7400 chipset gives you a big boost over the Intel integrated solution. Running 3DMark03 turned in a score of 1273 on the Intel graphics compared to 4162 on the nVidia chipset. Likewise 3DMark05 showed a similar chasm-like difference with the Intel 945GM graphics struggling to bring in a score of 428 compared to 1815 using the nVidia 7400 chipset. All the tests were run at a reslotion of 1,024 x 768 with no FSAA or AF enabled.
The keyboard is a bit of a strange beast. There’s a definite degree of flex, especially towards the left hand side, but bizarrely this didn’t seem to affect my typing. Usually when you have flex in a keyboard it has a cheap rattly feel to it, with shallow travel and a spongey break, but the keyboard on the SZ1VP still felt solid to type on, despite the flex. In fact the travel on the keys is deeper than many far larger notebooks I’ve used, while the key size is also generous considering the physical dimensions of the chassis. The Return and Backspace keys are reassuringly large, as are the Shift and Caps Lock keys. Also the Ctrl key is located in the bottom left corner where it’s supposed to be, so anyone who uses a lot of keyboard shortcuts will feel right at home. I would hope that the flexy keyboard is an issue with this early model and that it won’t be present in customer units, although as I said it didn’t stop me typing at my usual rate. In fact I couldn’t even feel the keyboard flexing and was only made aware of it when I looked down at the keys and actually saw it happening.