Sony SZ1XP/C

Sony SZ1XP/C with lid closed…is one very shiny 13.3" with Core Duo 1.83GHz, 1GB of memory, 100GB SATA 5400 disk, all required wireless and Bluetooth, with the choice of two graphics options (Intel GMA950 and nVidia GeForce Go7400), all packed in premium carbon 1.69kg package. Sounds quite amazing and it mostly is. Sony really ticked most of the the right spots with the SZ line.

The good

13.3" is a great choice of size and in my opinion ideal for the portable notebook. 12" is smaller and more portable but leads to lower graphics options and basically less options to choose from. The dual-graphics thing is, I believe, impossible on 12" form factor. 13.3" is still small just enough so you can open them in airplane or a bus, something you can’t with 14" or higher. A centimeter makes a huge difference when you need to use the laptop while traveling. Also, with limited graphics options, 12" could not possibly be the one and only computer in the house, as this laptop is, for me.

Left side ports

I bought another GB of memory from Crucial for £90 and am really enjoying it. I usually work with several programs open and the 1GB is almost always enough, but where second GB is very helpful is when I open virtual machines through VMWare Player. I give the VM a 1GB of memory available and this really leads to guest OS working wonderfully while VMWare Player is dynamically giving it what it actually needs, thus the memory is not wasted. Not to mention that Alt-Tabing is instanteous even in this case.

With the Intel graphics active and 3/8 brightness and all wireless off, I achieved a maximum of 5h:20min of working on the standard battery (one that comes with laptop). But usually, when I’m not confined with battery life (meaning: I can charge it as needed), I work with nVidia + 6/8 brightness and Bluetooth on (for the mouse) and this gives me 2h:20min of battery life. All in all, standard things I would say. Another thing I noticed is that, when nVidia is used, wireless LAN is off but Bluetooth is on, then the indicator is showing 2:09 on full battery charge. Turning wireless to completely off changes it to 2:19 then to something like 2:42. So, that’s give you an idea how much is wireless pulling out - half an hour more juice.

Right side ports

What mainly impresses me with this model is how cool it runs. Comparing it to MacBook, this is cool as fridge. The fans are quiet and barely hearable. Sony has found the perfect balance between fan use, airflow and size. MB is a bit thinner, but few mm more that SZ has are meaningless compared to amazing coolness of its enclosure. In fact, I once made a stupid mistake and packed the fully ON laptop inside the Incase laptop sleeve, put it all in the backpack and went to work - all in all it stayed inside for about 40-45 minutes. When I arrived at work, it was so hot that I thought it would melt or burst into fire - instead it took just 5 mins or so to cool down completely. I dread to think what would happen if this was one of Apple’s laptops notebooks.

Speaking of stupid mistakes, that Incase sleeve is worth every penny of £20 I payed for it in Apple store. I dropped the laptop (while inside the sleeve) from about 1m to concrete floor and it fell on the edge, between the desk counter and iron bar. This was on my third day of ownership and I was…well, words fail me. What happend is…almost nothing. Laptop works just fine and the only consequence is the scratch on the screen, caused probably by the impact of the screen versus touchpad area. The matrix of the screen is intact, and the scratch is invisible during regular work, only when the screen is off and thus dark black. Even that would not happen if I kept the thin layer of screen cover that came with laptop - I do that ever since and never pack the laptop without that cover between the screen and keyboard.

The bad

DVD drive is regionally locked

Enough with good stuff, there are some things I would very like to be changed. First and most important is the choice of DVD drive. It’s Matshita UJ-832D. On the outlook, it looks fine: DL DVD/RW drive, all fine and dandy. But this is RPC-2 locked drive and from the company which drives are notorious for its impossibility of flashing them with RPC-1 firmware. Actually, if you look at the www.rpc1.org list of firmwares, there are none for this model, not even RPC-2 ones. The problem with this is that it renders my collection of 50 Region 1 DVDs unusable. The problem is very serious because this Sony is using 9.5mm drive, and it seems that the only drives of this size are made by Matshita. So there is no choice at all but to acquire the external drive to be used for the movie watching.

Second thing I would emphasize is the graphics output. Why in the Earth are manufacturers still using VGA in the world where LCD/TFT monitors rule the world. DVI-I is the logical choice, covers both DVI and VGA (over adapter) outputs. Even mini-DVI that Apple is using is just fine, but not VGA shit. This was the sole reason I bought docking station for the laptop, so I could run large external monitor.

Docking station is s*it

Speaking of docking station, Sony VGPPRSZ1 is the probably the shittiest of all. It has: 3 USB ports, 1GB Ethernet, DVI-D, VGA. See something missing there..? I see plenty, especially for £150+. First, it has no legacy ports at all, not even PS/2 for the keyboard. It also has no audio outputs of any kind, so you are still limited with headphone output on the laptop itself, even though the laptop has HD Audio implemented. Computer is the center not only of my work but also my media center - I watch movies on it and have 5.1 speakers for that purpose.

So, there were holes to fill in. I first used PS/2-to-USB converter for my beloved IBM ModelM keyboard (one USB port down). Then I looked for external sound card and bought Creative Live! 24bit which actually proved to be fantastic - for £50 I have amazing sound, much deeper then SoundStorm from my old desktop computer. That was second USB occupied. The third one is obviously going for the external DVD drive. So, I spent all 3 USB ports only to full-in the gaps and lackings of the machine itself.

Thus, this all proves that your spending is far from over with the laptop buying itself. But if you ask me, the benefits of having your entire work fully mobile are far above all that.

The ugly

Very ugly.

After mere four months the standard battery died. Completely. One day it simply stopped being recognized by the laptop, with Windows’s Power Meter showing “not present” icon.

Since I’m far from UK at the moment, I will have to wait until I get back to get a new battery. So far, Sony support has been so-so. They told me to try holding Power button for 15s while the battery and AC power are off, then to reinsert all back. Did that, no effect nor I have any idea what good would that bring in any case. After that they advised me to try with another battery or contact service.

Scouring through the forums at notebookreview.com yields more cases like mine, which is not very comforting. What is also worrying and might have something to do with the battery death is that laptop never stops charging the battery, even when its capacity is showing 100%. Or at least that is what Windows is reporting.

It’s not that much of a problem for me since I’m mostly working at home. But it is far from trust building experience for the Sony brand. Considering other properties of the machine, it is very unfortunate that this is happening. At least it is not exploding.


I would say 4.2/5 stars, 3.5/5 if you include the docking station into the picture.

But that is just me. There are many people all over the world completely satisfied with this machine. I realize that very few people would buy such small laptop and expect it to be development powerhouse (which is), media center (which is not) and highly portable (which is). The laptop itself is very, very good - again apart from battery, where I just got bad luck, as it seems.