Sony VAIO SZ430N/B

Manufacturer: Sony
Model: Sony VAIO SZ430N/B - Core 2 Duo T7200 2 GHz - 13.3
Screen Size: 13.3 inches
Weight: 4 lbs
Processor Options: Core Duo, Core 2 Duo
Graphics Options: nVidia Go 7400 (Dedicated)
Description: Configure the SZ notebook to create your own perfect blend of functionality, portability and style. The ultra-slim VAIO SZ notebook delivers an uncompromising blend of intelligent mobile design, cutting-edge performance and contemporary style. The 13.3" widescreen display with XBRITE LCD technology, razor-thin LCD panel, long battery life, Intel Core Duo processor, 5400rpm SATA hard drive, advanced DDR2 memory and sleek charcoal black casing, come together in a package designed to let you work faster and play longer. Value added features, such as the built-in camera and microphone for convenient and fun communication or biometiric fingerprint sensor for premium security without the added hassle, round out this incredible package and equip you with a powerful tool for both work and play.
Specs: 4.1 lbs, Intel Core 2 Duo (2 GHz) , 2 GB DDR II SDRAM , 13.3 in TFT active matrix , Microsoft Windows Vista Business
Reviewed by swisstoni at on Thursday, July 13, 2006
The VAIO SZ is Sony's latest thin and light range of notebooks, available in a range of specifications all with dual Intel / nVidia graphics and Intel dual core processors.

I opted for the flagship SZ2VP model with the following specifications:
Intel Core Duo T2600 -- @ 2.16Ghz per core
120Gb 54000RPM hard drive
13.3" LCD with LED backlight, running at 1280 x 800 resolution
Dual Layer DVD +/- RW optical drive
Switchable Intel GMA 950/nVidia GeForce 7400 graphics
Being the limited edition prestige' model, this was only available to purchase through Sony Centres or Sony Style online. After a visit to my local Sony Centre and being told a very vague "we might be able to get one for mid September" I decided to pursue the online method!

Build and Design
My first thoughts on unpacking the SZ were "'s small!" This is my first laptop, yet with the top level VP' only weighing in at 1.69 kilos (3.7 lbs) I was very pleased with the size and weight of the unit.

The VP features a carbon fibre top casing, yet there is much discussion as to how much carbon fibre is actually present in the laptop! The casing does not feature the weave' you would expect from this material, yet it still provides an interesting effect and also contains blue metallic particles visible in certain light conditions.

The palm rest and keypad area have a brushed aluminium finish which makes a great change from the plastic of many other machines and gives great aesthetic appeal.
There are a total of 5 switches located above the keyboard; two shortcut switches, a wireless on/off switch, power button and the graphics switch. It's a shame you can't turn off wifi/Bluetooth independently with hardware switches but it is easily done from the software utility.

The LCD features LED backlight technology, which gives a very thin screen and lid -- only around 5/6mm thick. Whilst helping to reduce weight and giving a great look to the product, it does make the LCD seem slightly fragile with a little amount of twist (though probably not as much as you'd expect from something this thin).

The 1280 x 800 resolution works excellently on the 13.3" screen. Not having perfect eyesight, I was concerned about a high resolution on a smaller screen but I find it a pleasure to use with absolutely no problems.

It features Sony's X-Black technology, which gives the typical glossy effect to the screen. Not having a massive range of experience with various manufacturers, I can't really compare it to others, yet suffice to say it also seems to feature some kind of anti glare coating which is hard to describe but it seems to reduce the visible reflections from objects behind you. I am also impressed with the very large viewing angle on the screen, far more so than any other LCD's I've used.

The brightness on the screen is excellent and I find myself turning it down from the highest setting when indoors and only using the brightest setting when outside, which still gives a decent picture.

Features and Performance
I'm not a gamer yet I tend to run multiple applications at the same time, particularly resource hogs like Photoshop. The Core Duo seems to live up to the task very well though I can't say it's any faster compared to my desktop running an Athlon XP at 2.17Ghz with the same 1GB of RAM and a lowly graphics card.

The dual graphics are a fantastic feature and allow you to switch between the integrated Intel GMA 950 chipset, or the dedicated nVidia GeForce 7400 with 128mb dedicated memory. Use the Intel while running office applications to conserve battery life, or the nVidia for more extreme use. A restart is required to flick between the two chips, which is a bit of an annoyance yet it is still an excellent innovation and something I haven't come across in any other laptops.

The fingerprint reader is located between the two touchpad buttons and although I considered it a toy in the pre-purchase stage, I now consider it a godsend! It can be used for logging onto Windows, launching applications (assign an app. to each finger) or entering passwords into web windows. It does the job very well and recognises my fingers first go around 95% of the time. To check security I asked a co-worker to try and logon to my system but they were denied access even after 5 minutes of trying! While I'm sure it's not that secure, it is certainly a viable alternative to entering hundreds of passwords.

The optical drive provides pretty much every kind of functionality I could ever dream of with dual layer DVD +/- rewrite ability. My only gripe would be that the disc tray seems a little fragile, yet for the amount I use the drive this is only a minor concern. I suspect this is due to the thin form factor of the laptop.

Expresscard 34 and a PCMCIA slots both feature on the laptop, yet the Expresscard is filled with Sony's included card reader which seems to cope with all the main formats such as SD and MMC. A built-in Sony memory stick duo reader takes care of their own format, but it's a shame they shun the popular SD format to a separate reader in favour of their own cards.

It also seems Sony were a bit tight on room by only including two USB 2 ports, which although is adequate for myself, I'd have preferred to have seen more.

There's VGA out but no composite video for outputting to a TV, which I consider a major downside on a laptop costing £1800 ($3,000)! Also, my VGA to TV converter doesn't work on this laptop like it did on my Mac Mini meaning it will be difficult to output the image to a standard TV screen.

Heat and Noise
The laptop seems exceptionally quiet, and the fan noise is almost inaudible in anything other than total silence. I've yet to hear the fans totally shut down, but this may be because I primarily use the nVidia graphics. Shortcut button 2 is pre-set to drop fan noise and CPU clock, yet whenever I've used it the difference has been minimal.

The optical drive is far from quiet when in use and during start-up, yet again as I use it so little this is not a problem for myself.

It seems to produce a fair amount of heat when using the nVidia graphics, though no more than I'd expect from a performance orientated machine with dedicated graphics and it never gets annoyingly hot, just quite warm. Again this is something I can live with. Using the Intel graphics allows the laptop to run very cool and quiet.

Keyboard and Touchpad
After reading various forum reports of problems with the spacebar and keyboard in general on the SZ I was very sceptical. However after using it for a few weeks it seems to have none of these problems. I neither greatly like or dislike the keypad and assume it's something I'll grow to like over time but at the moment I'm still adjusting from my full sized Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard.

The key travel seems about right and it seems relatively quiet in operation. Being a touch typist, I still occasionally hit the wrong key but again, I'm sure this is something I will adjust to over time.

The touchpad has a slightly rough texture to it which works well, and it is easily configurable from within windows for scrolling and tapping speed, etc. Another neat feature is the ability to use the top left corner to maximise, minimise or close windows. Perhaps this is common to other laptops too, but I was still impressed by this simple feature. I later discovered, however, that I kept inadvertently tapping the top left corner while typing and this led to me closing the window I was working in! So this corner functionality has now been disabled; a shame really.

I was all set to purchase a cheap pair of speakers to supplement my laptop, yet I think I'll leave this for a while now given the quality of the built in speakers. Peering through the grille results in what looks like a pair of tiny (half-inch) diameter drivers which result in an exceptionally clear and loud sound. Of course, there's no bass but I really wouldn't have been disappointed had the speakers had JBL or similar logos on!

External audio is provided through a 3.5mm line out socket, though the output seems very quiet when using this into my amplified external speakers. There is also a massive amount of hiss/feedback that appears only when the AC power cord is plugged in. If someone uses the external audio a lot then this will prove annoying and the Sony representative I spoke to did not have any idea what it could be. SPDIF optical output would have been nice, especially as this one of the most expensive laptops on the market today!

Doing everyday tasks as I have been for the past weeks, using the nVidia graphics and wireless and Bluetooth on I reliably get just under three hours battery life. This is using a high/mid LCD brightness setting. I expect 4+ hours easily using the Intel graphics with wireless switched off. Sony offer an extended life battery, but it is far too expensive at around £240 and increases the size and weight of the laptop considerably (see the notebook review forums).

Bundled Software
This is by far and away the laptops worst feature. The amount of bundled useless software was unbelievable and performance out of the box was far below my expectations. Sony make it reasonably difficult to do a clean install, by not providing a separate windows CD (or any CD's... for that matter) in the box. They include a hidden recovery partition on the hard drive and there is an option to create your own recovery discs. The problem with recovery is that it would reinstall all the bundled nonsense!

I have a separate standalone copy of XP pro so I installed this on the laptop with no problems, using the drivers available to download from Sony's website. Though there are many forum posts relating to this issue, I had a problem free clean install and everything works perfectly.

I am very pleased with the SZ2VP. Is it a performance it a thin and it a desktop replacement? It combines extreme performance in an exceptionally lightweight package. I was after a super-fast notebook to take to university and the weight saving is a fantastic plus.

Spending an afternoon reformatting isn't much work for the machine you have at the end, but it shouldn't be a required step.

High speed -- T2600 dual core runs at 2.16 GHz
Battery life -- Expected around 4 hours with no wireless and Intel graphics
Lightweight -- only 1.69kg (3.7lbs)
Overall design -- the use of aluminium and carbon fibre make it stand out as something a bit special.

Terrible pre-installed software -- It shouldn't be there!
Lack of independent wireless switches
No TV out -- For £1800 ($3,000), it really needs this basic feature!
Lack of SPDIF -- Again, for £1800 it would be nice.
Shortage of USB ports

About Vaio

VAIO, an acronym for Video Audio Integrated Operation, is a sub-brand for many of Sony's computer products. The branding was created to distinguish items that encompassed the use of consumer audio and video, as well as being conventional computing products. One example of this was the Sony VAIO W Series personal computer, which functioned as a regular PC and a miniature entertainment center. Although Sony made computers in the 1980s for the Japanese market only, Sony withdrew from the computer business around the turn of the decade. Sony's re-entry to the computer market, this time globally, under the new VAIO brand, started in 1996 with the PCV series of desktops.

Sony is expanding the use of the VAIO label. It can now be found on notebooks, subnotebooks, desktop, and a hard-disk-based audio player that comes in both 20GB and 40GB variations (called VAIO POCKET player). Network media solutions by Sony will also carry the VAIO brand.

High-end VAIO notebooks are usually shipped with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium or Business, while low end laptops such as N series come with Microsoft Vista Home Basic. As of October 2005, VAIO notebooks and desktop are available upon request without pre-installed software at a slightly lower price. Most recently, some models no longer ship with a Recovery CD, but a special partition on the hard drive is used for the recovery information, including operating system and all bundled software. VAIO users are prompted to create a set of recovery CDs or DVDs immediately after purchase.

VAIO computers come with components from companies such as Intel processors, Seagate Technology or Fujitsu hard drives, Infineon RAM, Sony (usually made by Hitachi) or Matsushita optical drives, Intel or NVIDIA graphics processors and Sony speakers.

The VAIO brand holds many unique technologies to its name. Some of these are:
Some Sony VAIO models come with Sony's proprietary XBRITE (also named as ClearBright in Japan and Asia-Pacific region) displays. The first model that introduce this feature is the VAIO TR series. It is also the first consumer product to utilize such technology. It is a combination of smooth screen, anti-reflection(AR) coating and high-efficiency lens sheet. Claimed by Sony, the smooth finish provide sharper screen display, the AR coating prevents external light from scattering when it hits the screen, and the high-efficiency lens sheet provide 1.5 times the brightness improvement over traditional LCD designs, and meanwhile provide extended battery life witfhout increasing the use of extra LCD backlight. The technology was pioneered by Sony engineer Masaaki Nakagawa, who is in charge of the VAIO TR development. More information can be found on .

Recent model, e.g. Sony TX and SZ, had implemented the LED backlit ClearBright LCD, which further enchance power saving and color reproduction capability of the LCD unit.
The SZ series feature both an Intel graphics chip and an nVidia graphics chip. These laptops can cold-switch between the Intel chip, to preserve battery life, or the nVidia chip, to enhance graphics performance. Currently, these laptops are the only products on the market to do so.

The high-end AR Series VAIOs were the first to incorporate a Blu-Ray disc burner. These laptops were designed to be the epitome of high-definition products including a full-on high definition (1920 × 1200) screen, HDMI output and the aforementioned Blu-Ray burner. The AR series also include an illuminated logo below the screen that give the laptop a very prestigious feel.

Bundled software
VAIO computers feature a wide array of specially designed or bundled software, allowing the user to immediately use the laptop for multimedia purposes. Many of these applications have inspired similar software or integration into the Windows OS (e.g. an early application, Movie Shaker, may be considered precursor to Windows XP's Movie Maker). Some of these software products include:

  • Adobe Photoshop and Premier Elements. These products are bundled as part of the video and audio integration that Sony prides its VAIO series on.
  • SonicStage, a digital music manager. Integrated with Sony's Connect downloadable music service, it allows users to transfer music to Sony standalone music players, PDAs, or PSPs.
  • PictureGear, an image management software that predated popular programs like Picasa.
  • VAIO Zone / Do VAIO (in Europe and Asia), used for music listening, viewing photo slide shows, and watching TV (when a tuner card is present) and DVDs. VAIO Zone is an equivalent to Apple Front Row and Windows XP Media Center Edition.

VAIO notebooks were the first to feature a special screen coating called XBRITE™ or ULTRABLACK, which increases the brightness of the screen and makes the image more "lively." This effect is especially apparent when watching a movie on the computer screen. It is not as effective outdoors, however, where reflections limit image visibility.