Sony VAIO Z (2011) Review - Connectivity and External Dock Review


Connectivity is simply superb. In fact, we’re fairly certain that – despite a few limitations – this is the best-connected ultraportable on the market. Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 3.0 and 3G/mobile broadband (which Sony embarrassingly calls “everywair”) take excellent care of the wireless side of things, though the latter is a £100 upgrade.

The laptop’s left side houses a lone VGA video output, the front SDHC/XC and HG Duo card readers, while all the other connections are found to the right. These include a headphone input, Gigabit Ethernet port (of the thin flip-out variety that’s becoming common on super-thin laptops), HDMI 1.4, a sleep-and-charge USB 2.0 port and USB 3.0 port – or at least, a connector that looks and works like USB 3.0, but is so much more than that. You see, it also integrates Intel’s Light Peak, which is one of the most exciting things about this 13.1in laptop.

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Now more popularly known as Thunderbolt, Light Peak is a super-fast (10GB/s), bi-directional universal interconnect that lets you daisy chain any number of devices – from monitors to external storage. The standard connector for this would appear to be DisplayPort (as found on the new Apple MacBook Air), but Sony being Sony, it has taken a slightly different route and made it use USB 3.0.
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This does mean that many third-party devices may be incompatible, at least without the use of another adapter (if one even becomes available). Annoying as this is, if you regard the Z’s Light Peak implementation as a proprietary way of hooking up the optional dock, there’s little cause for frustration. You see, not only is the dock a thing of beauty, it brings a heck of a lot of features to the table.

Only slightly larger than a regular 2.5in external optical drive (which in fact it also is) and a mere 17mm thick, the grandly-named Power Media Dock not only offers you a choice of optical drives but also doubles the connectivity – and, best of all, adds dedicated graphics which turn the VAIO Z into one of the few ultraportable gaming machines on the market. That Sony managed to cram all this into such a slim enclosure is an impressive feat, to say the least. Of course, you would expect good engineering on an accessory costing £370 in its cheapest config.
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And style is certainly not something it lacks. Sporting a complementary matt finish and streamlined angular lines to match the laptop it accompanies, it’s a well-built device that’s nice to hold and quite rugged. At the front we have a slot-loading optical drive with eject button. You get a choice of DVD-writer (£369), Blu-ray player (£419) or Blu-ray writer (£469).

Hidden behind a flap at the top (or side, depending on orientation) is a single USB 2.0 port, while the rear houses a second USB 2.0 port, USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI and VGA. That makes it possible to connect the VAIO Z to two hardwired networks simultaneously, and gives it the ability to hook up no fewer than four monitors – the only mobile solution we’re aware of to offer this without resorting to DisplayLink adapters such as the VillageTronic ViBook.
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We’ll discuss the performance benefits of the Radeon HD 6650M dedicated graphics in the performance section, but suffice to say for now that they make a dramatic difference and combine with the optional Blu-ray to make this little laptop a great entertainment all-rounder.

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