With the VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B notebook, Sony is targeting corporate buyers with an eye for style and a need for speed. It’s a 13.1in laptop that weighs only 1.4kg, yet has plenty of features.
It’s light, small and easy to carry and use while travelling, but it still packs a powerful CPU and a good amount of storage. You get a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P9500 CPU, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 5400rpm, 320GB hard drive, and dual graphics cards. The Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B’s screen has a native resolution of 1600x900, which makes it ideal for lining up windows next to each other when you are multitasking.
With the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B you can switch between the integrated Intel GMA 4500HD graphics and an NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS graphics card. The GeForce 9300M GS is twice as powerful as the integrated Intel option, and can use up to 1.5GB of memory (much of it taken from the system RAM); the integrated graphics card only has 256MB of dedicated RAM (it scored 1112 in 3DMark06 which is a weak result). The extra RAM is handy if you plan to use the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B to process 3D graphics — that is, for gaming! But you’ll only be able to use the laptop for low-level gaming anyway (its score of 2273 in 3DMark06 indicates this), and most current titles won’t run well on it.
For the most part you’ll be fine using integrated graphics, but the beauty of Sony’s implementation of dual graphics cards is that you can switch between them at the flick of a switch and not even restart the laptop. The options are labelled Stamina and Speed. The Stamina setting uses the integrated graphics and provides 30min more battery life.
When using the NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS, the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B lasted 1hr 25min in our DVD rundown test while using maximum screen brightness. This isn't long if you’re going to be using the laptop on the road, but it’s nevertheless on par with what we have seen from comparable laptops. Using integrated graphics, the battery lasted a more respectable 1hr 55min.
You can also finetune the power scheme by switching off unused features such as the modem, FireWire and optical drive, as well as turn down the screen’s brightness. And the screen is bright — and only 5mm thick. It uses LED backlighting and possesses excellent contrast and adequate horizontal viewing angles. Its vertical viewing angles are narrow, so you need to tilt the screen just right to avoid colour shift. The screen is so thin that it feels a little flimsy, and it also creaks as you open and close the lid.
When using the NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS the laptop garnered a score of 86 in WorldBench 6 (it scored 84 when using the integrated Intel GMA 4500HD graphics), which is slightly slower than the Dell Studio XPS 13's 93 (another hot 13in laptop). The Dell Studio XPS 13 has a faster hard drive (7200rpm) and this was evident in our hard drive transfer test, in which the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B recorded 19.74 megabytes per second. This is approximately 13MB slower then the 32.32MBps that the Dell Studio XPS 13 recorded.
In our iTunes MP3 encoding test, the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B’s CPU recorded a time of 1min 07sec, which is identical to the Dell Studio XPS 13 and spot-on for a 2.53GHz CPU. What all this means is that the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B will be a swift performer when running everyday office applications, Web and communications software, as well as when multitasking.
Besides giving you more battery life while on the road, the integrated graphics also make the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B run cooler. Its heat production is noticeably less when using the Intel GMA 4500HD integrated graphics than when using the NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS. When employing the NVIDIA graphics card an area on the left of the laptop towards the rear gets warm enough to be uncomfortable when using it on your lap.
The Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B feels like it has a solid enough chassis. It also looks quite good, tapering from the back to the front. Its keyboard has isolated keys that sit on an aluminium plate and they take a little getting used to; it feels like you have to aim before you attempt to hit each key. Furthermore, the keys have a sponge-like feel.
We wish that Sony would look into providing some illumination for the keys, similar to what Dell has done with the Studio XPS 13. We like the fact that the unit has a built-in DVD burner and an eject button just above the function keys on the keyboard; we’re also fans of the dim status LEDs.
Only two USB 2.0 ports and an ExpressCard/34 slot — instead of an ExpressCard/54 slot — are provided, limiting the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B’s expandability. You do get FireWire, too, and you can always plug in a USB 2.0 hub or use the optional port replicator or docking station. You get an HDMI port, so you can hook up the notebook to a big-screen TV or high-definition monitor, and there’s also a D-Sub port. It has a concealed Gigabit Ethernet port and also supports dual-band 802.11n wireless networking and Bluetooth. Card slots for MemoryStick and SD media can be found at the front of the laptop.
In the end, there’s certainly a lot to the Sony VAIO VGN-Z17GN/B, especially when it comes to screen resolution, speed, and weight, and it looks good to boot. If you can afford it, it’s definitely worth splurging on. However, it would be nice to see a 7200rpm hard drive installed given the notebook's price, and some further refinement of the design to include backlit keys or a keyboard light for typing at night.