Vaio Z (2021) review: carbon tax

Vaio Z is, in practical terms, a proof of concept.

There are two groundbreaking things, at least on paper. The first is that it is made entirely of carbon fiber. Many high-end laptops, including the Dell XPS 13, have carbon fiber sheets on the palm rest and other materials on the sides, but the Vaio Z has contour Carbon fiber, i.e. the material is molded around the edges and everything is carbon fiber. (Vaio says the Z is the first laptop to use contoured carbon fiber, but the 2012 Gigabyte X11 also claims a full carbon fiber build.)

Second, the 2.11 pound Vaio Z is the lightest laptop to include an Intel H series chip. (This represents the lightest configuration possible. I received a slightly heavier configuration of 2.32 pounds.) The H-series processors are the most commonly used high-performance chips in gaming laptops and workstations. It’s very rare to see one on thin and light laptops, especially laptops weighing just over two pounds. Machines of this size typically include low-power U-series.

This model includes the quad-core Core i7-11375H, the current flagship of Intel’s new “Tiger Lake H” series. When announcing the chip at CES, Intel claimed it would deliver the fastest single-threaded performance on the market with a boost clock speed of up to 5GHz. This is an impressive outlook, especially on the 2.3-pound chassis.

But the third thing to understand about the Vaio Z is that it’s not cheap. The base model — no joke — is $3,579 for the Core i7-11375H, 14-inch 4K screen, 16GB RAM and 512GB storage. You can use systems up to $4,179 with 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. I sent a model with 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage in the middle.

Laptops at that price, albeit great, aren’t a realistic buy for most people. Instead, I used this review to answer two questions related to the future of the high-end notebook market, namely, a question that Vaio Z has set up to answer: One is, is outlined carbon fiber the future? Second, can a 2.32 pound laptop with an H-series processor work?

Unfortunately, as of this writing, the answer to both questions is “not yet.”

Let’s start with the build. Vaio’s elevator pitch is that the contoured carbon fiber is stronger than other common materials used in other premium laptops (such as magnesium alloys and aluminum alloys) and is ideal for combining rigidity and light builds. In addition, the use of carbon fiber allows manufacturers to adjust the stiffness and flexibility to suit specific areas of the laptop (using the number of layers and the orientation of the stacking). As a result, Vaio claims that the Vaio Z is sturdier and feels better than other laptops close to its weight.

On the left, Vaio Z is half open.

Carbon fiber laminate on all four sides.

Robustness and stiffness are arguments that are difficult to confirm on a review basis for obvious reasons. Vaio says the Z has passed the MIL-STD 10H torture test, including drop test, pressure test, and body torsion test. There aren’t many 2.3-pound laptops, and there’s no doubt that the Vaio Z could be objectively crafted better than other classes.

But I feel durable? not really. There important The amount of flex on the keyboard and screen. In general, you have to press quite hard to bend the keyboard, but the area under the Shift key was treated as a trampoline by hard pressing your thumb. The display was so bent that I was legally afraid to split it in half, so I was careful when tightening. I know most people don’t actively bend their laptops, but putting too much weight on this device can damage the screen and keyboard over time. Vaio said the product is still in the pre-order stage and the chassis quality may be close to the delivery date.

Vaio Z keyboard viewed from above.

The key top is concave.

The texture of the carbon fiber is definitely unique. I love the feel of the palm rest. However, the lid and bottom are plastic texture. I don’t think the Z is a $3,500 laptop. This is especially true right after carrying a MacBook or XPS 13. Another thing to note is that the entire chassis is a fingerprint magnet. Cover, side, palm rest, keyboard. I could easily erase my fingerprints, but after a few hours of use it always came back in abundance.

Carbon fiber contributes to one important advantage, but Vaio Z is incredibly light. It’s so light that if you pick it up it messes up your mind. It’s hard to believe what’s inside. If you are looking for the lightest one, this is definitely the best laptop. But if you’re looking for a sturdy and solid form factor, I doubt it.

Vaio Z lid viewed from above.

Vaio has been using multi-layered carbon fiber in their laptops since 2003.

Second question: Has Vaio put H-series power into the U-series form factor?

Literally it is. The laptop works. And one thing I’m grateful for is battery life. With a 200 nits bright display and battery saver turned on, I did an average of 6 hours and 57 minutes of continuous office multitasking. It has less juice than what you get on the M1 MacBook Pro, but with Intel H-Series processors it’s getting better.

However, in terms of raw power, the results are mixed.

I ran a few benchmarks to see how this new chip compares to some of the more powerful thinner systems, specifically Apple’s M1-based MacBook Pro and the Razer Book 13 powered by one of Intel’s top Tiger Lake U. -Series chips. Both of these models are heavier than the Vaio Z, but not even half the price. So I was hoping that the H-series processors would solidly outperform the heavier loads I wanted.

Vaio Z (2021) benchmark

standard Vaio Z
standard Vaio Z
Cinebench R23 Multi 6693
Cinebench R23 single 1577 years
Cinebench R23 Multi repeated for 30 minutes 6673
Geekbench 5 Multi 5988
Geekbench 5 singles 1611 year
Geekbench 5.3 OpenCL / Computing 19199

Z beat the Razer Book in less than a minute in the Adobe Premiere Pro export test. It was definitely a win, but there was no room for home use. Even more disappointingly, it lost to the MacBook Pro in this test by a similar difference. Apple’s laptop also came out ahead of Cinebench’s single-core benchmark, as well as all other tests that were run separately. (Expected. Single-core performance is what Intel claims to be very good for this chip.) Even with an impressive chassis, investing thousands of dollars more in Vaio Z isn’t a good argument.

One problem is that Vaio Z’s 65W charger isn’t good enough for the type of load most users want an H-series processor. While running multiple Adobe Premiere Pro exports and multiple Cinebench multi-cores, the battery drained even when the laptop was plugged in. (Nothing else was running during this test.) This can be a problem if you are trying to run intensive loads for long periods of time. Especially if you don’t always start with a full charge. More importantly, the power supply may have limited Vaio Z’s performance for these tasks. (Vaio says this is by design. He wanted the charger to be small and portable.)

The Vaio Z on the table has three pots in the background and is tilted to the left.  The screen displays red flowers on a blue background.

The folding hinge provides a more ergonomic typing experience.

According to Vaio’s credit, the Z offers impressive cooling for these small machines. Neither the chassis nor the CPU has reached worrisome temperatures. However, the dual fans were incredibly noisy at high loads, and sometimes even lighter fans. My mother was able to listen to the device in the next room while running the Premiere export. She later said, “I thought it would take off.”

For those with generous pockets who are considering buying this laptop, let’s take a look at the rest of the specs. The highlight is a backlit keyboard that offers 1.5mm of travel. That’s great. Comfortable, soft and not noisy. It also comes with a webcam with a convenient physical privacy shutter that supports Windows Hello.

The Vaio logo in the lower left corner of the Vaio Z keyboard viewed from above.

“We aimed at comfortable keystrokes that felt like absorbed by your fingertips,” says Vaio.

Vaio Z, seen from the right, opens.

The charger provides up to 65W and weighs 0.36 pounds.

Audio is a standard laptop charge. It is impressively loud, without audible distortion, but percussion and bass are hardly present. You can switch between “Movie Mode” and “Game Mode” in the Dolby Audio software preloaded on Vaio Z, and I preferred to listen to my music on this profile. Enhances the background music under the vocals and brings a stronger surround quality to everything.

Connectivity includes two USB Type-C ports (Thunderbolt 4, powered and DisplayPort 1.4 support), headphone jack, security lock slot and HDMI. I know Vaio’s space is limited, but I wish it had a USB-A port. You’ll also get a nice 3840 x 2160 non-touch display and a generous touchpad (there’s a physical clicker at the bottom that’s always a big pain).

I have two strong opinions about Vaio Z. One is an impressive achievement in engineering, and the second is still too expensive.

Vaio’s work on contoured carbon fiber is commendable. It’s rare to see whether Vaio is doing it for the first time. And the fact that I have a 2.32 pound laptop on the shelf and a laptop that accommodates H-series processors makes me feel optimistic about the future of the market. It was a very cool device to use and thanks for the first-hand experience.

However, the performance boost that the Core i7-11375H offers in this form factor is the M1 chip, the AMD chip, or Intel’s own chip. The same goes for the outlined carbon fiber. It’s cool, but doesn’t bring any specific benefits to most customers. For half the price, Vaio Z will join the conversation. I’m happy to compliment it from afar for $3,579.

Monica Chin / The Verge’s photo

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