Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 Review

The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A notebook is what the Centrino CPU and concept is all about.
The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A notebook is what the Centrino CPU and concept is all about.
The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A notebook is what the Centrino CPU and concept is all about.

Highs

  • Strong performance
  • long battery life

Lows

  • Weak graphics performance

DT Editors' Rating

Home > Product Reviews > Laptop Reviews > Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 Review

Key Specifications

Type
All-Purpose
Operating system
Microsoft Windows
Form factor
Mid-size
Screen size
14.1"
See All

Summary

The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 notebook is what the Centrino CPU and concept is all about. The system is incredibly quiet, puts out almost no heat and is extremely portable and long lasting. While the graphics adapter is fairly weak, we would gladly trade gaming performance for a system that is more compact with a longer battery life. The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 is a great system for those that are looking for a Centrino system with a little style. The price is relatively high at $2400 so the PCG-Z1AP1 may cater to a less money conscious audience. Those that are saving their hard earned money for a system with both features and style will finally be rewarded with the Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1.

Introduction

Sony attempts to mesh form, function and features into their new VAIO PCG-Z1AP1, a Centrino based laptop. Typically there is a trade off that we are faced with when purchasing a new notebook computer. Do we go for the large and bulkier system so we can have all of the power and features we desire, or do we go for the smaller and more streamlined laptop which is typically underpowered; all in the name of a more stylish and compact system. Sony proves that you can have both in the new VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 series notebook. What they have produced with the PCG-Z1AP1 could be possibly the best Centrino based notebook computer currently on the market.

Intel’s new Centrino processor and associated chipset promise better battery life, better CPU performance and integrated 802.11b WiFi wireless networking. The first thing we noticed about our Centrino based PCG-Z1AP1 notebook is the lack of heat that it puts off. Because there is less heat put out of the Centrino CPU than any previous Intel x86 based CPU, you can now have decent performance in a more compact design.

Features

The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 is Sony’s first notebook built around Intel’s new Centrino CPU and 855 chipset. Those that are fans of the VAIO PCG-505 series will be happy to know that the PCG-Z1AP1 is only slightly thicker that the PCG-505 while offering a larger screen; 14.1″ inches over the 505 series 12.1″. The first think you will notice about the PCG-Z1AP1 are those sexy recessed curves carved out of the sides of the system. On the right side you have the 56K modem and power button and on the left side, there is an audio output and microphone input, (2) USB 2.0 ports, a single Fire Wire port and Sony’s popular Memory Stick port. The recessed curves offer a higher level of protection to the ports than a design with ports on a flushed system chassis; while giving off a better look. Also located on the sides of the system is Sony’s DVD/CD-RW combo drive and a single PCMCIA expansion port with a spring loaded door. Located on the back of the PCG-Z1AP1 is VGA output and an Ethernet port.

While the lack of more expansion ports may upset you, the hardware under the case will put your worries to rest. The PCG-Z1AP1 features an Intel Centrino processor at 1.3 GHz, an  ATI Radeon Mobility 16 MB video adapter, 512 MB DDR SDRAM, a 60 GB hard drive, and of course the integrated 802.11b wireless networking card. The RAM is upgradeable to 1 GB of total system memory between 2 memory slots (provided you take out the included (2) 256 MB modules and replace them with (2) 512 MB modules), and the LCD display is incredibly thin and very bright with a native resolution of 1280×1024 at 60 HZ.

Setup and Use

Setup of the PCG-Z1AP1 is the same as any other Sony desktop or notebook system; simply follow the setup screens provided by the operating system. Our PCG-Z1AP1 came preinstalled with Microsoft’s Windows XP Home Edition. If you would prefer Windows XP Pro, there is an upgrade charge of $100. Preloaded on the PCG-Z1AP1 is Sony’s VAIO software including Sonic Stage (Sony’s own version of a media player) as well as their own VAIO graphical user interface which gives you a categorized menu system for the other preinstalled software. 3rd Party preinstalled software includes McAfee’s security center, WinDVD4 DVD playback software, Adobe Premier 6, Microsoft Works, and Microsoft Money 2003. While we like the idea of having preinstalled software, we would like it to be preinstalled on the basis that it is useful. McAfee’s security center is both useful and incredibly annoying. We like having anti-virus software, but the associated pop-up registration and reminders gets old very fast. There are also more trial versions of popular software packages than some of the other systems we have tested. AOL, Quicken 2003, McAfee, and Real Player are just a few of the plethora of trial programs installed. You would be wise to uninstall any software which you will not be using. This will save you time and confusion in the long run.

The PCG-Z1AP1 boots up very quickly and feels brisk and powerful in all but the most strenuous of programs such as advanced 3D games.  In our Mobile Marks test, the PCG-Z1AP1 performed valiantly, scoring a total of 134 points; just a tad lower than our competing 1.5 GHz Centrino and Pentium 4M systems. In our 3DMark 2001 tests, the PCG-Z1AP1 really struggled scoring a weak 1678 in our 32-bit 1024×768 test. This is no doubt due to the 16 MB ATI Radeon Mobility Video adapter. The 16MB graphics adapter is part of the trade-off you get in a system of this compact size. Fortunately for those that do not plan on playing hardcore games, there is a fast 60 GB Hitachi hard drive and an 8x DVD-CDRW Mitsumi drive giving you plenty of multi-media options.

While we liked the screens brightness and sharpness levels, it is very easy to notice that the light is radiating from the bottom of the screen because it is more washed out in that location. We have yet to see a screen that matches the clarity of the Apple Power book and VPR Matrix displays. Overall the screen on the PCG-Z1AP1 is above average and while we may gripe about the washed out look at the bottom of the screen, overall you will be more than happy with it. In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, PCG-Z1AP1 only slightly trailed the Gateway 450XL equipped with a speedier 1.5 GHz CPU but beat out our IBM ThinkPad which uses the Intel Pentium M at 1.4GHz. We found that the PCG-Z1AP1’s 1.3 GHz Centrino CPU performed at about the same level as a regular Pentium 4M at 1.8GHz, if not a little faster.

Performance

In our Mobile Mark 2002 tests, the Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 trailed both the IBM ThinkPad and the Gateway 450XL systems. What we did expect was for the Gateway system to take the lead here because of its faster CPU and more powerful video card. The IBM surprised us because the ThinkPad configuration is very close to that of the Sony, they both share the same speed CPU and video card.

Sony PCG-Z1AP1 Mobile Mark 2002 Scores

In our 3D benchmarking tests however, the Sony PCG-Z1AP1 was able to outperform the IBM ThinkPad but still trailed the Gatway system. This was no surprise since the Gateway system has a more robust video adapter with twice the memory.

Sony VAIO PCG- Z1AP1 3D Mark 2001 Pro Scores

SiSoftware Sandra CPU Arithmetic Benchmark

SiSoftware Sandra CPU Multimedia Benchmark

System Configurations:

Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A
Windows XP Home; 1.3GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm

Gateway DS 450 XL

Windows XP Home; 1.5GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK4018GAP 40GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad X31
Windows XP Pro; 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EB-40 40GB 5,400rpm

Setup and Use Continued…

We had no trouble getting the PCG-Z1AP1 setup on our network and all of the included software worked without any hitches. The integrated wireless 802.11b networking worked great and the range was better than most laptops with an integrated antennae. We were able to push 300 FT through several house walls and still get a connection. The 8X DVD/CDRW drive burned our media without any problems and while we would have liked to have seen a commercial CD writing software program installed such as Nero or Easy CD-Creator, Microsoft’s and Sony’s CD writing software worked fine.

The keyboard layout on the PCG-Z1AP1 is a little different than what we are used to. For one, the right shift key is half the size of other laptops. It takes a little finger training to recognize its position. The touchpad is also smaller than most laptops on the market but works fine nonetheless and is relative to the PCG-Z1AP1’s compact size. The look of the touch pad and the mouse buttons below it are reminiscent of the Apple PowerBook line. Key travel is short and precise and we encountered no problems with the keys falling off or not working. The keyboard feels very firm, great for those that type fast.

Battery life on the PCG-Z1AP1 is nothing short of phenomenal and really shows off the Centrino’s abilities. In our Mobile Mark 2002 battery tests we were able to squeeze out 184 minutes (about 3 hours) of battery life before the system died. We expected the battery of the PCG-Z1AP1 to be smaller due to the system’s compact size, but closer inspection showed us that the PCG-Z1AP1 comes with a power packed 4400 mAh battery pack. Click on the Performance tab above and below this review to see how the PCG-Z1AP1 compares to other comparable systems.

The Sony PCG-Z1 series starts at $2099.99 and comes in several configurations. With the PCG-Z1 being completely decked out, expect to pay somewhere around $3999.99 for a system with an Intel 1.6 GHz Centrino CPU, 1 GB of memory and a dual powercell battery.

Conclusion

The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 notebook is what the Centrino CPU and concept is all about. The system is incredibly quiet, puts out almost no heat and is extremely portable and long lasting. While the graphics adapter is fairly weak, we would gladly trade gaming performance for a system that is more compact with a longer battery life. The Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 is a great system for those that are looking for a Centrino system with a little style. The price is relatively high at $2400 so the PCG-Z1AP1 may cater to a less money conscious audience. Those that are saving their hard earned money for a system with both features and style will finally be rewarded with the Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1.