Sony VAIO TZ Review

by Reads (148,221)

Reasons for Purchasing

I certainly don?t consider myself a road worrier by any stretch of the imagination and have always disliked ultra portables due to their under performing components and a tiny screen.  So why would I opt for one of the smallest and thinnest ultraportables around?  Read on to find out! 

My last laptop was a ThinkPad T60p 15? screen which was the lightest laptop I have had, but after a while, the weight just started to get to me.  I was almost ready to buy the Sony TX when someone on this forum announced that Sony is going to come out with its successor, the TZ series.  Pictures were scarce, but when one did pop up, I was sold, and that was when I didn?t even know its specifications yet.

Where and How Purchased

At the time only one web site was ready to sell the TZ and that was the importer Dynamism.  I called them up and was told they would start taking orders by the last week of May and it was ready for pre-order.  Being an early adopter has its prices.  After configuring the top of the line model, it came out to over $3300 which was a lot more than what I wanted to pay. 

A couple of weeks later, a forum member mentioned a Japanese import web site PriceJapan.com.  My order was placed on May 31st after numerous inquiries via email.  Including all the upgrades like SSD hard drive, 2GB of RAM and Standard battery, it came out to $2,744 with shipping via DHL.  Since it comes with Vista Basic Japanese you would have to install your own OS unless you?re fine with what?s on it.  After waiting for what felt like an eternity, I finally received it on June 18th..

Build & Design

The first thing that will come to your mind is how ridiculously small this ultraportable is.  Even the adapter has been miniaturized!

I can only say this is the best looking laptop I have ever laid my eyes on, bar none.  It only weighs 2.5 lbs with the standard (medium) battery I opted instead of the lightweight (small) which would reduce it to an even lighter 2.25 lbs.  The TZ just oozes great build quality and craftsmanship.  The low weight is mainly contributed by using carbon fiber and LED screen technology. 

Looking at it from different angles, you can tell that Sony design engineers have spent a lot of time trying to make everything as sleek, thin, sturdy, and light weight as possible. 

One really unique feature is the placement of the power button.  It resides within the right side cylindrical hinge and glows green when the laptop is powered on and amber when in standby.  The hinge reminds me of the Asus W3J, however this design was carried over from the VAIO X505 in which the TZ drew much inspirations from.

There are a total of four colors to choose from: Black, Premium Carbon, Bordeaux and Champagne Gold. They are all made of carbon fiber; the only difference is just the colors.  I originally wanted the Bordeaux color, however I decided for me, the best understated but yet unique look would be the Premium Carbon due to its carbon weaving patterns on the lid.

The model I configured below:

  • Sony Model: TZ90
  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 1.2 GHz, L2 Cache: 2 MB CPU integrated
  • RAM: 2GB (2GB Max)
  • Chipset: Intel 945GMS Express
  • Storage: 32GB Solid State Disk
  • Optical Drives: Dual Layer DVD super multi drive (DVD R DL)
  • Graphic / Video
    • Chip: Intel 945GMS Express
    • VRAM: 256MB (shared with main memory)
    • Display: 11.1″ WXGA TFT
    • Resolution: 1366 x 768 pixels
    • External Resolution: 1600 x 1200 pixels
  • Sound system Audio:
    • Intel High Definition Audio
    • Built-in stereo speaker
    • Built-in monaural microphone
  • Interface Card Slot: ExpressCard/34, SD/MMC/Memory Stick PRO
  • Communications: 802.11 a/b/g,  10/100/1000 LAN, Bluetooth v2.0 + EDR,  56K v.90/v.92 Modem
  • Integrated ports: USB 2.0 x 2, i.LINK (S400), Min D-sub 15pin, Headphone, Mic, Built-in Webcam, Keyboard: 87 key, 17mm pitch, 1.7mm stroke, Intelligent Touchpad
  • Battery Life:
    • Lightweight battery pack VGP-BPS11: 6 hours (Real world 3 hours)
    • Standard battery pack VGP-BPL11: 12 hours (Real world 6 hours)
    • Enhanced battery pack VGP-BPX11: 18 hours (Real world 9 hours)
  • Power Consumption: A/C adapter: 40W, 100-240V / 50-60 Hz

Sony allows you to have several configurations of the hard drive/optical drive combination. You can have:

  • 2.5? 160GB with no DVD drive.
  • 32GB SSD with DVD drive.
  • 32GB SSD with 2.5? 160GB HDD
  • 1.8? 100GB with DVD drive.

However, I did not see an option for 1.8? + 2.5? HDD.

Keep in mind that these are not swappable. At least right now, you cannot swap a DVD drive if you already have a 2.5? HDD in there.  They are all pre-configured at the factory.  I?m sure over time, some modders will attempt to do just that, but I?m not willing to take such an expensive chance.

Screen

Like many that have said before me, these LED screens are absolutely breathtaking to view.  Its hard to imagine that those engineers could make such a small and thin screen so bright and crisp.  Although I?m no Photoshop professional, this screen is just stunning.  My previous ThinkPad screen was matte IPS which had fantastic viewing angles regardless if its vertical or horizontal, but lacked the brightness.  After using an IPS screen, it?s a bit hard to go back to a non IPS screen, but my worries completely disappeared after turning the laptop on.  The viewing angles of course can?t compete with an IPS screen, however the colors look more saturated and it?s a lot brighter and crisper. 

While the horizontal angles were very good, vertical angles weren?t great.

I did not notice any light leakage or dead pixels.  All colors are evenly distributed and uniform throughout the screen.

Because the screen incorporates the latest LED technology, it is extremely thin, and when you add in the carbon fiber material, construction makes it very sturdy and strong and light, stronger than magnesium.  I had thought that the construction would be very similar to the TX in that when you apply pressure in the back of the lid, it would produce ripples very easily, so I was pleasantly surprised when even modest pressures were applied, I could not get the screen to produce any ripples. 

Performance

I was a bit disappointed that this laptop which seems to use the most modern materials for its construction did not use the latest Intel platform Santa Rosa, even though many mid range notebooks that are coming out now are incorporating it to their line-ups.  However, for my uses which are mainly internet browsing, movie/TV watching and light gaming, Santa Rosa will make no difference.  But its always great to have the latest and greatest especially when you pay a high premium for a product.

One reason I imagine why Sony did not go the latest platform route is the purpose of this laptop is to be used without being plugged into the wall for as long as possible, and Santa Rosa does require almost twice more power than the current Napa platform, and as of this writing, Intel does not yet have an ULV CPU for their latest platform.

One of my main concerns going with the SSD was that I was afraid it might be more of a gimmick rather than a real boost over the conventional hard drive.  However, I?m very happy to report that there is such a noticeable boost especially during windows boot-up time that I am willing to sacrifice space over speed.  No longer do I cringe whenever I needed to reboot. 

Few reasons why I chose the SSD configuration due to its many advantages over the conventional hard drive.

  • Faster boot time
  • Faster on random I/O
  • Lower read and write latency (seek) time, hundreds of times faster than a mechanical disk
  • Much more resistant to G-shock
  • No defragmentation
  • No heat output

It seems that the main complaint owners of the TX series have was the slow 4200rpm hard drive being the bottleneck.  Especially with Vista installed, boot-up time is excruciatingly slow as well as launching applications.  Boot-up time from pushing the power button to being able to start applications is 40 seconds flat, quicker than my desktop using a Raptor 10k rpm drive.  Now that is fast!

Benchmarks

Following are some benchmarks to give you an idea of how the TZ90 performs.

Super Pi Comparison Results

Super Pi gives an indication of overall CPU speed.

Notebook Time
Sony VAIO TZ90HS (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo ULV U7600) 1m 50s
Sony VAIO TX850p (1.2GHz Core Solo) 1m 55
Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 59s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo T7200) 1m 03s
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (1.73 GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T5300) 1m 24s
Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 34s
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52) 2m 05s
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s
Toshiba A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 1m 29s
HP dv5000z (2.0GHz Sempron 3300+) 2m 02s

 

Not as well as I had hoped but still not too shabby for a 1.2GHz ULV processor.

PCMark05 Comparison Results

PCMark05 tests overall system performance.

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Sony VAIO TZ90HS (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo ULV U7600) 2,517 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TX850p (1.2GHz Core Solo) 1,428 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (Intel 1.73GHz T5300 + GMA 950) 2,981 PCMarks
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270) 2,420 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite A135 (Core Duo T2250, Intel GMA 950) 3,027 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950) 2,994 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 3,637 PCMarks
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 2,732 PCMarks
HP dv5000z (2.0GHz Sempron 3300+) 3,646 PCMarks

 

I was expecting a lower score, so I was surprised it performed as well as it did.  But in my experience, synthetic benchmark scores have little bearing on real world performances

HD Tune

HD Tune measures the hard drive performance:

 

As you can see, this is where the TZ really shines. One of the biggest advantages is the access time.  In this case, just 0.3ms.

Being that it has the same Intel graphics chipset, I decided not to run 3DMark05 as that would only score between 300 to 400 points.  Definitely not a gaming machine.

Heat and Noise

I thought my previous ThinkPad was silent.  The TZ blows the ThinkPad out of the water.  In other words, it is DEAD SILENT.  The only thing I hear is when the DVD drive powers on or when its spinning a disc.  I have to put my ears by the vent in order to hear anything.

During heavy use, it does get hot near the left rear under side, but not uncomfortably so.  However, everywhere else remains cool to the touch, another advantage of the SSD drive.

Most of the time, the same area is just warm and very comfortable on the lap.

Battery

I selected the standard size that sits flush with the back of the machine but has a little small bump on the bottom that tilts the laptop about 10 degrees in the rear.  Its actually a good thing as it gives the laptop some breathing room and it barely adds any bulk to it while doubling its power.  Another important note is the battery does not wobble when placed into the laptop.  Its not waterproof seal tight either, but it is secure enough that when you shake the laptop, it doesn?t create any noise.

Sony website states that the lightweight (default) battery will give you 6 hours of usage, standard will give 12 hours and the extended will give 18 hours.  I do believe those numbers are true only if you leave your laptop on and do nothing with it which really defeats the purpose, but for marketing purposes, it certainly sounds great.  Cut all those figures in halves and you will have your real world numbers which in my opinion isn?t too shabby.  Imagine, working on your laptop non-stop for 6 to 9 hours at a time without being tethered to the wall outlet, now that?s what I call freedom.

Keyboard & Touchpad

Many people that see the keyboard will no doubt think that it resembles Apple?s Macbook.  However, if you read up a bit on history, it was actually Sony that came out with the style on its X505 about 3 years before the Macbook came out.  I also read that it was Apple that hired some of Sony?s engineers to help design their upcoming Macbook.

The importance of a good keyboard is right up there with the screen. The two most used interface.  After trying a VAIO SZ laptop, I was sorely disappointed and was not expecting anything good with the TZ, but I was proven wrong with its well placed and sized keys.  I came from the ThinkPad?s legendary keyboard which was so good I would prefer using it over a desktop keyboard.  Its feel and feedback is just incredible.  While not as great as the ThinkPad?s, this keyboard is many times better than the SZ series that I had tried at a local Best Buy.

Its keys are smaller than standard, but they are very well placed and give just the right amount of feedback and travel.  I was utterly surprised.  The matte keys have their individual space surrounded by a glossy cover which creates a great contrast.  On the downside, the glossy cover is the same as those used on the Logitech DiNovo Edge.  It looks like a highly polished plexi glass material which is a magnet for finger prints.  Luckily, Sony was kind enough to include a micro fiber cloth.

The mouse pad is decent sized and has a rough surface to give the user good feedback.  However, I?ve been much spoiled by the ThinkPad?s mouse nub.  I just loved not having my hands leave the keyboard, which I will sorely miss.

 

Security

Sony wasted no space and integrated a fingerprint reader in between the two mouse buttons.  The TZ has Trusted Platform Module 1.2 embedded in the motherboard, so for those that like the added security of logging in using your finger instead of typing a password, you will like this.  I would prefer if the reader was placed somewhere to the right on the palm rest though.

Input & Output Ports

 

Nothing spectacular, especially for a laptop this size.

Left: Dial-up modem/FireWire/Gigabit Ethernet concealed by a flap, Express card 34 slot, 2 USB 2.0

Front: Headset and Mic jack, Sony memory stick slot, AV buttons, WIFI switch.

Right: DVD writer, D-Sub.

 

Nothing in the back.

 

Speakers

Stereo speakers sit on the upper left and right side above the keyboard.  There are two slits per speaker and yet they are loud and clear despite lacking in the bass area.

Wireless & Bluetooth

The TZ comes with a tried and true Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 A/B/G card.  The reception seems to be good, but I haven?t tested its range, but I assume its on par with other laptops, so no problems there. It also has built-in Bluetooth, which I haven?t really used other than pairing it with my BlackBerry, so I can’t comment too much on it.

Sony includes a handy little program which can be used to easily select which wireless devices are controlled by the Wi-Fi switch on the front.

Operating System & Bundled Software

Operating system comes in the form of Windows Vista Basic Japanese. I can neither read nor write Japanese and it?s the Basic iteration.  Since I have a retail version of Vista Home Premium, there?s no question I was going to replace it.  I always have had a habit of doing a fresh install of windows whenever I receive a new computer mainly to get rid of all the junk ware to decrease the boot time as well as customizing it to my own liking.

There was no other bundled software that came with it.  Total hard drive after format shows 30.5GB of space

Windows ? 8GB

MS Office and other applications ? 5.5GB

Free space ? 17GB

Final Conclusions

I am extremely satisfied with my purchase even though this is by far the most expensive computer I have ever bought that lacks the latest and greatest hardware under the hood.

Pros

  • Stylish (Subjective)
  • Extreme portability
  • Super lightweight
  • Extremely long battery life
  • High quality
  • Thin and rigid screen lid.
  • SSDequipped rivals that of 7200rpm HDD
  • Instant on AV mode without booting into Windows

Cons

  • Only available via importers as of this writing
  • Price not for the faint of heart
  • No Santa Rosa platform
  • Only one RAM slot
  • SSD configuration only offers 32GB
  • Not made for gaming.


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