Sony VAIO VGN-Z598U ultraportable laptop

The lightweight, ultraportable Sony VAIO VGN-Z598U has a base price of US$1499, but our review unit–packed to the gills with high-quality components–ballooned to $4450. Primary responsibility for the sticker shock goes to a pair of 128GB solid-state drives, which jacked up the original price by roughly two grand. But our test unit also jams a 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P9500 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a dedicated nVidia GeForce 9300M GS GPU into its tiny 12.4- by 1.3- by 8.3-inch frame.

The twin SSDs probably contributed to the VGN-Z598U’s eye-opening WorldBench 6 score of 107, the highest we’ve seen from an ultraportable. The next-fastest competitor in this class is the Asus U6V, with a mark of 93. And yet despite its powerful configuration, the VGN-Z598U weighs only about 3.3 pounds (4.2 pounds including the power brick).

In stamina mode, the VGN-Z598U switches from its nVidia GeForce 9300M GS graphics to its integrated Intel GPU), to prolong its battery life. Working with the integrated GPU, the laptop runs for 4 hours, 46 minutes–not bad, but far below the figure of almost 9 hours for the Lenovo ThinkPad X200. And unlike with a certain Mac-flavored machine, you can toggle between modes without either enduring a full system reboot or having to log out first.

The first thing you’ll notice upon lifting the lid of this VAIO is its beautifully backlit 13.1-inch wide-screen display. Even in direct sunlight, the LED image at its native 1600-by-900-pixel native resolution is crisp and clear. And the wide-screen design is great for positioning documents side-by-side and for watching movies at a 16:10 aspect ratio. Not coincidentally, the VGN-Z598U also houses an optional Blu-ray drive.

As on other high-end Sony models, the VGN-Z598U incorporates a cutout keyboard, in which the keys pop out through holes in the case. The design creates good key spacing between buttons and promotes solid tactile feedback. The only extra buttons on the keyboard are a large disc-eject button, a couple of programmable shortcut buttons that by default launch a presentation mode and Windows Meeting Space, and a performance toggle for switching between the integrated Intel GPU and the GeForce 9300GS chip. The mouse is suitably large and sensitive, but its two slim mouse buttons (with a fingerprint scanner between them) are like two landing strips for gnats. At least the buttons are firm and well-built.

The laptop’s layout is clean and simple, though some of its features are just a tad skimpy. Among the positives are two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire jack, and a PC Express card slot. High-end A/V-heads will appreciate the unit’s HDMI output, too. Though a Blu-ray drive is a configuration option, the base model comes with a modest VGA port.

Sony’s suffers from the same problem Like most ultraportables, the VGN-Z598U has a rather puny sound system consisting of two tiny, tiny speakers and no subwoofer. On the bright side, it does get loud enough to distract cubicle neighbors (sorry, mate!) or fill up a small room. Of course, most of the time you’ll want to use headphones anyway.

Preloaded software includes Microsoft Works, a video content exporter, a basic video-editing program, and the VAIO Control Center (which quickly breaks down all of the vital chores you’re likely to need instant access to on your computer.

High-flying businessfolk will have little to complain about with the VGN-Z598U in its fanciest configuration–except its price. And you can trim $2,000 off that scary number ($4,450) by opting for a platter-based hard drive in place of the dual SSDs. Or you might want to cast your eye toward Samsung’s tweener (part ultraportable, part all-purpose notebook), the X460.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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