First Microsoft brought us Readyboost in Vista. Then Intel introduced TurboMemory with Centrino notebooks. Now, finally, the flash memory revolution is complete as one of the last bottlenecks in the PC technology is addressed. Sony's chic ultra portable TZ18GN/X VAIO notebook is our first glimpse at a notebook running solely on a solid-state drive (SSD), rather than the long standing hard drives (HDD) that have been our only option for so long, and it's about time.
- 32GB solid state drive, 11.1in screen, Weight, Battery life
- Price, Small storage capacity
Although there's a notable premium on the solid-state hard drive and ultra-portables don't often come cheap anyway, this is a good little buy. It's got enough power to handle the most basic tasks and its implementation of flash memory should please those wanting to be on the cutting edge.
Price$ 4,299.00 (AUD)
The VGN-TZ18GN/X offers a tiny 11.1in screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution and weighs in at just 1.15kg without its power supply (1.5kg with it). It has an Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 ultra low voltage (ULV) CPU running at 1.2GHz, 1GB of DDR2 RAM and the piece de resistance, a 32GB SSD drive as its sole storage device.
Despite the advantages of SSD disks, 32GB is not a lot of storage, especially with 8GB hijacked for a backup and your operating system installed. In fact with all of our testing software installed the drive was verging on full capacity. Fortunately an internal DVD re-writer is installed, which is not only handy for offloading non-essential data, but a reasonable feat for such a small device.
However, we see this system as a solution for frequent travellers with only basic, business style uses for their notebook, such as email, Web surfing and flicking through electronic documents, and in that respect the TZ18GN/X is perfect.
The display is one of the nicer screens available in notebooks, offering good colour, brightness and contrast, as well as an excellent viewing angle. A media card reader supporting MagicGate, MS/MS-Pro and SD cards is installed. Meanwhile a fingerprint reader sits neatly between the mouse buttons and a set of media controls resides on the front edge of the chassis. There's also a VGA camera built into the screen. Watching DVDs was quite pleasant on the screen and the speakers mustered a fair bit of volume for such a small notebook. A set of audio jacks for headphones or a microphone are also available for when the speakers just won't cut it.
Solid-state or non-volatile flash memory and its benefits have been on our doorstep for a long time. Fitness junkies will know to buy a flash-based MP3 player, as it has no moving parts to damage when jogging. Photography enthusiasts will know how many photos can fit on their tiny 4GB memory stick, while speed freaks will know how much faster their PC boots when using Windows Vista's ReadyBoost or Intel's TurboMemory. Let's not forget the convenience of moving data from place to place using USB flash drives, which offer more portability than a 3.5in floppy disk and many times the storage space of some older desktop PCs.
Theoretically flash memory uses less power, emits less heat and is more reliable, not to mention they're less noisy than hard drives or optical drives. As well as being less susceptible to jolts and bumps SSD disks lack the mechanics which, with use, will eventually come grinding to a halt, giving birth to one of those horror stories about data loss we've all heard at some point. None of this comes cheap, which partly explains the hefty price tag.
Benchmarks and battery
The small frame of the VAIO TZ18GN/X makes a clear statement about its raw power; there isn't much. Although the U7600 is a dual core Centrino Duo CPU, it's built for low power consumption and low heat emissions, not speed. We were unable to obtain a score from WorldBench 6, however, the MP3 encoding tests showed just how slow a CPU can go.
Converting 53 minutes of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files using Cdex, a single threaded application, took 259 seconds. Using iTunes, a multi-threaded application, to compress the same data to a smaller 56Kbps took 143 seconds. Neither of these scores is impressive by overall comparison, but for a ULV CPU we can't expect much more.
Battery life tests returned far more impressive results. Our Sony TZ18GN/X ultra portable device exhibited excellent battery life, even when compared to other similarly sized ultra low voltage notebooks, such as the Toshiba Portege R500 (PPR50A-00V05C). Using a looping DVD to drain the battery this system lasted just over three hours at 186 minutes; an excellent result.
The DVD loop test is considered a worst-case scenario, as it utilises the optical drive and speakers, as well as the screen, CPU and other core components. Subsequently we expect the system to last longer still when running under normal load. The optical drive can be turned off from the system tray for added power saving.
Design and build quality
Although this unit is rather small it's not overly fragile. The screen does flex a little because it's quite thin, but it isn't overly disconcerting. The main body, which is built from carbon fibre, is sturdy enough and despite the light weight design it doesn't feel too toy-like.
With the exception of the lid, which has a dark brown, brushed metal finish the Sony VAIO TZ18GN/X is a reflective piano black. The keyboard is small, but still comfortable to type on for reasonable length periods of time and the touchpad is nice and responsive.
A pair of USB 2.0 ports joins a VGA out port, an Express Card slot, one gigabit Ethernet port and a 56k modem port on this rather barren chassis. If wired connectivity is not your thing this machine also offers Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g and Bluetooth.
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