by Jim Boutilier
There are already a number of Sony VAIO SZ reviews and Apple MacBook reviews written on this site, but if you are like most folks only one or the other may have interested you enough to read (depending on if you are a Mac person or a PC person).
This review is inspired by those cute “I'm a Mac... I'm a PC” commercials, and while it may be less humorous, it will hopefully be a bit more informative as to the differences between at least this Mac and this PC.
Obviously the most efficient comparison method would be a big table, but as this is meant to be a learning experience and not a cure for insomnia, I'll try and intersperse some pictures, text, and tables in an effort to keep your interest until the end.
Our two contenders:
On the left we have a Sony VAIO SZ280 Premium model and on the right we have a Black Apple MacBook model.
|Sony VAIO SZ280||Apple MacBook|
|Size||0.9-1.2h x 12.5w x 9.3d (128 cubic in)||1.1h x 12.3w x 9d (81cubic in)|
|Weight||3.7 pounds||5.2 pounds|
|Materials||Magnesium, Aluminum, Plastics||Plastics|
|Screen||13.3 1280 x 800 Widescreen Glare type, LED Backlighting||13.3 1280 x 800 Widescreen Glare type, Backlit|
|Keyboard||Full size, long travel keys||Compact Size, short travel keys|
|Buttons||Power, Speed/Stamina, WirelessOn/OFF, 12fn, 2 user defined||Power, 12fn|
|Touchpad||Small 2 button w Fingerprint Scanner||Large 1 button|
|Camera||1.3mp with Microphone||1.3mp with Microphone|
The numbers don't tell the whole story, but here we see that while the SZ and MacBook are similar “Thin and Light” category notebooks, the MacBook capitalizes on the “Thin” part and the SZ on the “Light”.
The weight is the most significant difference and for that the Sony wins hands down. The weight difference is so considerable, that the Sony actually feels smaller when handling it even though it is the larger of the two machines dimensions wise.
On the visual and tactile side, I'd give the edge to the MacBook because of its smooth curves, rectangular shape, and much more solid and sturdy feel.
The screens are the same size and resolution, and I'd say both are of excellent contrast, brightness, and quality. They have similar horizontal and vertical viewing angles. I'd give the SZ a slight technical edge here because it can be adjusted brighter than the MacBook. In really bright light this may be an advantage, but in common conditions I keep the SZ brightness down a notch or two as I find it too bright.
If you work on an airplane the MacBook is a little easier because it is a bit shorter from base to the top of the screen when open, as well as from front to back.
Both keyboards are very nice, but I prefer the shorter travel and much firmer feel on the MacBook (I tend to miss letters on the SZ, particularly spaces). The SZ has a couple of extra buttons for special functions (switching video cards and turning wireless off and on) and a couple of programmable buttons that the MacBook does not have. Both track pads are very nice. The SZ track pad includes a fingerprint reader that is linked to a TPM module and both are very handy, but frustrating on occasion when the reader does not read correctly or you are forced to change your password by the TPM module. The MacBook track pad is roomy and responsive, but what is with the one mouse button? Get with the program Apple. In all fairness, you can set it up so a two fingered touch on the pad is a right click but there is really no excuse to not have two real buttons. Both track pads feature horizontal and vertical scrolling – the SZ by zones along the bottom and right edge and the MacBook via touching the pad with one finger and dragging another finger in the direction(s) you want to scroll. I can definitely live with the MacBook track pad, but I prefer the one on the SZ as it's a bit smoother and more responsive (not to mention the fingerprint scanner).
Both machines have built in cameras and microphones in the top center of the screen bezel for video conferencing and both have similar specs, but the picture quality and angle is better in the MacBook. For some reason the camera on the SZ points at the top of my head when the screen is at an optimal viewing angle, where the MacBook is pretty much dead on when at an optimal viewing angle. There is a horrid little piece of Sony software on the SZ that pops up asking for adjustments whenever its camera is activated. Both cameras feature a little light so you (think) you know when they are on (these days you can't even trust a cell phone you think is off, so who knows).
One of my pet peeves on Sony VAIO’s is that, while they are very feature rich, the features are not smoothly integrated. Usually there are a number of completely separate utilities (on per special feature) that look and act like they were written by different developers – for each of whom, this was the first program they've written. No similar look and feel, little in the way of robustness, and – er not too thoroughly tested – especially if you try and run more than one at a time.
Both machines have clean looking fronts as they both feature magnetic catches so no buttons or levers are needed to open. The MacBook (bottom) features a little scallop so you can grip the lid to open it a bit easier. The MacBook also has a tiny IR window for its included remote control. The wedge shape of the SZ (top) makes it appear a bit thinner from this angle but overall it is thicker than the MacBook
Left side view:
Left side view of VAIO SZ on top and MacBook on the bottom (view large image)
On the SZ (top) from left to right we have microphone and headphone jacks, FireWire 400, VGA, PCCARD T2, and Memory Stick.
On the MacBook (bottom) from left to right we have power, ethernet, mini DVI, FireWire 400, two USB 2.0 ports, Microphone and headphone jacks, and a Kensington Lock slot.
The MacBook has no PC-Card slot or Memory Stick slot. The mini DVI connector is proprietary on the MacBook but you can purchase adapters ($20 each) to convert it to DVI, VGA, or Video Out.
I do miss having the PC Card slot on the MacBook, and like most tiny connectors with lots of pins that distribute some kind of video signal the MiniDVI port can be inconsistent with respect to color and brightness (the picture may look ok or may have a significant color cast to it, touching the cable or connector – on purpose or by accident - will usually transition it from one state to the other and it can be very annoying).
Right Side View:
Right side view of VAIO SZ on top and MacBook on the bottom (view large image)
On the SZ (top) from left to right we have a DVD+-/DL/RW drive, an ExpressCard 34 slot, two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet and Modem ports (under a little door) and the Cingular WAN Antenna.
On the MacBook (bottom) we have a DVD+-/DL/RW drive slot and that’s it.
The optical drives are about the same on the two machines other than the SZ is a conventional tray loader and the MacBook is a slot loader. I think I prefer the tray because it’s easier on the media and you can use mini-media, but the slot loader sure helps the MacBook feel sturdier than the SZ.
The MacBook has no ExpressCard 34 slot, no modem (you can get a USB modem for $50), and no WAN card or antenna built in. I really miss my WAN card and wish the MacBook had one built in or a slot (PC-Card or ExpressCard) to add one. You can make do with a Bluetooth connection to the Internet via your cell phone though.
Rear view of VAIO SZ on top and MacBook on the bottom (view large image)
On the SZ (top) from left to right we have power, lots of heat sync fins and a Kensington Lock slot.
On the MacBook there is a thin exhaust slot almost all the way along the bottom edge.
|Sony SZ280P||Black MacBook|
|CPU||2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo||2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Memory||2gb 533mhz DDR2 (2x1GB)||2gb 667mhz DDR2 (2x1GB)|
|Video Card(s)||Nvida Gforce Go 7400 128mb, Intel GMA 950||Intel GMA 950|
|Hard Drive||120gb 5400rpm SATA 2.5”||120gb 5400rpm SATA 2.5”|
Both machines feature internal 802.11 wireless LAN cards. The SZ has abg while the MacBook only has bg. I've never been anywhere that uses “a” so I'm not sure that’s significant. The MacBook keeps a more reliable connection in many environments I work in (home, office, client sites, hotels) but speed is about the same at a given distance. The MacBook also does a better job of connecting to a new network when I've moved the machine from sleep or hibernate modes. Often I'll have to reboot the SZ or Repair its connection after it wakes up near a different Wireless network.
Both machines feature Bluetooth 2.0 and have performed wonderfully linking to Bluetooth mice and Bluetooth phones.
The MacBook is a few months newer than the SZ so the SZ has a 2.0 GHz Core Duo and the MacBook has a 2 GHz Core 2 Duo. The main differences are the larger cache and 64-bit in the Core 2 Duo. Since neither machine uses any 64 bit software I don't see a big advantage there (yet) and as for cache, tests I've seen show a difference of performance between 5% and 20%. Real world I'm not sure I could tell the difference because I have a friend with an SZ Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz and I can't tell it from my SZ.
Both machines are at their maximum capacity of 2 GB RAM. The SZ using 533 MHz and the MacBook using 667 MHz RAM. Tests I've seen don't show a significant difference in speed for everyday use but I'm told the 667 MHz helps the GMA 950 graphics.
Speaking of Graphics cards – the SZ has two. One NVIDIA GeForce GO 7400 with dedicated GPU and 128mb dedicated RAM, and one Intel GMA 950. The MacBook has only an Intel GMA 950. The NVIDIA Card on the SZ generates a lot of heat and consumes a lot of power for its performance increase. If you need it it’s worth it, but in everyday use I don't notice a big difference between the NVIDIA and Intel on the SZ.
Both machines feature 120 GB 5400 RPM SATA drives and I see no real differences in the drives. I wish both had 7200rpm drive options as I know this makes a huge difference in Windows and I assume it would also be a significant difference in OS X.
The SZ features Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2, while the MacBook comes with OS X 10.4.8. Via a free utility (BootCamp) you can set the MacBook to dual boot with OS X and Win XP SP2 (there are a number of third party utilities that allow the use of OS X and XP or other OS's at the same time).
My experience is that OS X is far more stable, far more robust, and far faster than Windows XP. Within about a week I was able to find applications for OS X that did all of the things my Windows software did. In about 25% of the cases it was the same software that would run on both systems (Java). In about 50% of the cases it was similar software that offered some kind of data exchange with the equivalent PC application, and about 25% was a completely different application with no data interchange (although there is not always the need for data exchange either).
On the downside for the Mac there is a lot of plug-in hardware-software items out there that won't work on a Mac. There is less variety (fewer manufactures and fewer packages that perform a given function) in Mac software. My experience so far is that most of the Mac software is less feature rich but more elegant and stable. If you can find software and hardware you need and it runs on the Mac, it’s something you should consider.
Me, I'm a Mac convert at this point and looking to get away from Windows as much as I can (I still have to support some Windows boxes). I'm willing to trade off some hardware and software unavailability in return for the stability and robustness of OS X. That’s not everyone’s choice but now that Macs are Intel based and can run Window's too, I expect it will be more people’s choice.
Oh yeah, we were comparing the SZ and the MacBook weren't we? Well, hardware wise, Sony packs a huge number of features into a really small and light, high tech package. On pure specs the SZ wins hands down. The MacBook is less feature rich, but the features it has are a match for the SZ and the MacBook features are much better integrated plus the overall included software and OS is better.
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