Review Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C Subnotebook
Light noble subnotebook with two graphic adapters
Others will definitely begrudge you the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C, one of those light, compact, and fast subnotebooks. Designed in a preciously way, it combines performance and mobility in a new way. Furthermore, the VGN-SZ61WN/C attracts attention by modern and precious composite materials, additional security features, a switchable hybrid video solution, and a very bright 13.3 inch X-Black display.
Precious, slim, solid, and expensive: Sony enhances its successful SZ subnotebook series by the Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C. Weighting only 1.8 kg the very powerful 13.3 inch notebook is especially designed for business customers. However, those interested should be able to afford it, because the list price is as high as 2,300 Euro. Due to its compact dimensions, i.e., 31,6 x 23,3 x 2,1 to 3,5 cm³ (length x width x height) you can easily put this mobile ultra-light notebook together with the power adapter in every briefcase or standard bag.
Even at the first glance you'll notice that the VGN-SZ61WN/C is of high quality. Sony did not use striking colours. Instead the look of the Vaio VGN-SZ61 is dominated by dark anthracite - it's simply elegant. The italic chrome Vaio nameplate on the lid is an important highlight. The VGN-SZ61 does not require a transport hook, because the strength of the self-locking hinges is sufficient.
Opening the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C it gets obvious that the lid is very thin, nearly graceful. Despite its extremely thin design of only six (1) mm the lid is surprisingly stable. Slightly pressing the lid with the finger does not lead to changes in the picture displayed by the turned-on screen. The only part which is slightly sensitive to applied forces in the right part of the LCD frame next to the web-cam.
The opening angle of the lid can be adjusted without problems. Due to the light-weight lid the hinges, which are able to keep every position without problems, have it easy. Even during a bumpy train ride the display should only slightly see-saw. Furthermore, the Vaio VGN-SZ61 comes with a web cam and a microphone, which are both in the upper edge of the display frame. The recording quality of the 0.3-Mega Pixel camera is sufficient for standard video conferences, however, it does by no means equal photo-quality.
At the right side of the case you'll find a flexible WWAN-Sub-antenna (WWAN, Wireless WAN) which provides a fast Internet access via HSDPA. The main antenna is, invisible for the user, located in the upper right area of the LCD frame.
The case of this noble notebook is made of high-strength composite materials. The robust and at the same time light carbon fibre guarantees a stunning stability. So, picking up the notebook won't lead to any creaking noises. The Vaio VGN-SZ61 demonstrates workmanship at its best. The palm rest areas, which are made of roughened aluminium, emphasise the first-class materials used - simply brilliant!
Considering the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C is a subnotebook it is adequately equipped with interfaces. However, there are only two USB-2.0 ports available. So, some users might require a third USB-2.0 port, because there are USB sticks and numerous USB peripherals available nowadays. The optional docking station enhances among others the number of available USB ports.
DVI- and/or HDMI port, and a S-Video-out (TV-out) are not available. But, the Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C provides a PCMCIA slot (PC-cards) and an ExpressCard slot for new expansion cards with 34 mm width. By means of a provided memory card adapter for ExpressCard/34-slot the user can also use the following flash memory models: MemoryStick (MS), MemoryStick Pro (MS Pro), SecureDigital (SD), MultiMediaCard (MMC), and xD-Picture Card (xD).
The Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C supports wireless communication by integrating Intel's Wireless-LAN-module 3945ABG. Due to supporting all three WLAN standards (IEEE 802.11a/b/g) the travelling person can also use WLAN technology outside Europe. Wireless Bluetooth technology is also integrated. But, an infra-red port for supporting older mobile phones or PDAs is missing. Both, Wireless LAN and Bluetooth, can by easily turned off respectively on by a switch in front of the display. Furthermore, communication is possible via 1000-MBit-LAN-Port and usual 56K-modem, but these require cables.
Due to WWAN (Wireless WAN) the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C supports uninterruptible and fast communication via mobile radio, which makes transfer rates of up to 3,6 MBit/s possible. The VGN-SZ61WN/C utilizes the broadband technology HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Address) in order to do this. According to Sony, firmware upgrades should make transfer rates of up to 7.2 MBit/s possible later on. It's easy to start using WWAN: After simply inserting your SIM-Card into the card slot (which is in the battery slot), Sony's Smart Network-Software will display all available mobile networks.
Provided that there is an adequate network coverage, the user can comfortably exchange big data volumes, e-mails, or browse the web. Furthermore, even video conferences are due to integrated MotionEye web cam and microphone possible.
The Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C is equipped with security features for business users, a fingerprint reader and a TPM security chip (Trusted Platform Module). Once the user has recorded one or more of his fingerprints, he can utilizes the authentication by fingerprint, which has some advantages. Instead of keying in the password, the user can be user-friendly authenticated by fingerprint, whenever authentication is needed, e.g., after power-on, the windows password, or passwords for hard disk access.
Even though the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C is expensive, it cannot boast generous accessories. Ex factory the Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C, which cost above 2,000 Euro, provides only a memory card adapter, nothing else, not a notebook bag, also no cable for the modem port, nothing. Even data carriers for the operating system, drivers, and additional software, CDs or DVDs, are missing. What a shame!
The indicator LEDs for Wireless LAN, Bluetooth, battery/mains operation, and mass storage access are highly visible and ergonomically reasonable located below the display. Unfortunately the indicator LEDs for the key locks (caps lock, num lock, etc.) aren't very bright. It's especially difficult to recognize whether the small LEDs are on in bright environments. But, there are two hot keys (S1, S2) which are user-definable. Beside them there are two sliding switches which can be used to control WLAN or switch to the energy saving "Stamina" mode. Overall, the VGN-SZ61WN/C is user-friendly in this regard.
Considering the notebook class, the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C offers quite a high number of 87 keys. Due to a standard layout the keyboard is user-friendly and typing mistakes rare. Alike the keyboard of predecessor models of the SZ series, also the keyboard of the reviewed VGN-SZ61WN/C does not appear to be especially solid. The keyboard area does no longer spring, however, the side stability of the keys (especially of the space bar) still needs to be improved.
In addition, the 1,6 x 1,6 cm² big keys emit a clattering noise during fast typing. Especially the noise of big and frequently used keys should be quieter. Also the haptics of this keyboard are a matter of taste. Furthermore, we did not really like the indifferent key feedback. Ergonomic drawback: The contrast of the draw-blue Fn symbols to the black key heads is to low to guarantee that they are legible always and everywhere, regardless of the brightness of the environment.
On the contrary the black touch pad of the SZ61WN/C is user-friendly. This mouse replacement is nearly seamlessly integrated into the brushed metal surfaces of the palm rest areas. However, due to a small surrounding groove it is still easy to feel the border of the navigation area. Both of the touch pad button are quiet and have a short key travel. In between them the VGN-SZ61WN/C provides a fingerprint reader, which makes authentication more user-friendly. The user can recognize the sensor itself by a small horizontal stripe in the sensor vat in between right and left touch pad button.
Even at the first glance the 13.3 inch WXGA display attracts attention, because it is extremely thin. This extremely thin design was made possible by an innovative LED background lighting. Instead of standard fluorescent tubes Sony uses white LEDs. According to Sony, low-energy demand is another advantage of the LED technology. So, the battery runtime should also profit from it.
While early LCD models were characterized by an uneven luminance distribution, our measurements proved that the flat LCD of VGN-SZ61WN/C is quite alright. The average brightness, whereas we divided the screen in 9 measurement areas, of 220.4 cd/m² is very good. In this aspect the Sony display, which utilizes X-Black technology, outperform nearly all comparable subnotebook panels.
In mains operation the luminance amounted to 235.7 cd/m² in the left middle area and to 210,5 cd/m² in the upper middle area. So, the proportional deviation is only 10.7%. This matches our subjective impression that the luminance is quite even when using bright backgrounds. We could not detect any obviously darker areas. Pro: Due to a special coating the X-Black display does not reflect as heavy as other glare displays.
Furthermore, the contrast of the 13.3 inch wide-screen LCD is good and the colours are vivid. Even the reference pictures, including portraits, which sometimes cause problems regarding colour neutrality, look good, if directly compared to our reference screen, the high-quality 20-inch MVA-LCD Viewsonic VP2030b. However, compared to the Viewsonic VP2030b the colours are "cold" (blue dominates). The viewing angles are average.
The light and compact VGN-SZ61WN/C impresses by powerful core components. It is even equipped with an innovative hybrid video solution with two video cards. So, the very mobile VGN-SZ61WN/C provides stunning calculation performance and also respectable video performance. The SZ61WN/C is based on the Mobile Intel 965GM Express chip set. So, the GMA X3100, an integrated video chip by Intel, is also available.
Intel's Core 2 Duo T7500 (codename Merom) with 2,20 GHz clock frequency per core, 4 MByte Level-2-Cache, and 800 MHz fast FSB guarantees high performance. Also regarding RAM the VGN-SZ61WN/C does not pale in comparison to bigger notebooks. The two RAM slots at the bottom side of the notebook are each occupied by a fast DDRII-667-memory module (1.024 MByte/PC5300). So, the total RAM capacity is 2.048 MByte. So even Windows Vista Business runs smoothly.
CPU-Z Information about the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C
The hybrid video solution of the slim Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C is, even compared to 15.4 inch notebooks, stunning. The user can easily switch between Nvidias dedicated video solution, the Geforce 8400M GS and the integrated GMA X3100 by a performance switch, which is located right beside the S-keys.
STAMINA mode is for low energy demand and utilizes the integrated video chip by Intel. So, the battery runtime is enhanced. For higher performance demand the user can select SPEED mode and the Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS provides higher video performance. However, after changing the performance profile you need to restart the computer in order to utilize the selected mode. Luminous displays left and right of the performance switch indicate the currently used mode.
While the Geforce 8400M GS covers multimedia, the GMA-X3100 ensures lower energy demand. Overall, the hybrid video solution of Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C is a nice feature for mobile business work. The Geforce 8400M GS makes even playing a quick game possible. It is even sufficiently powerful for playing current 3D games with quite passable performance. High-resolution HD videos are also no problem for the 8400M GS.
Benchmarks and GPU-Info of the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C: GPU-Z, Cinebench R10, Crystalmark 2004, and Vista Performance Index
|Rendering Single 32Bit||2190 Points|
|Rendering Multiple CPUs 32Bit||4182 Points|
|Shading 32Bit||2183 Points|
|Crysis - CPU Benchmark|
|800x600||Med, 0xAA, 0xAF||5.1 fps|
|800x600||Low, 0xAA, 0xAF||17.5 fps|
|Crysis - GPU Benchmark|
|800x600||Med, 0xAA, 0xAF||7 fps|
|800x600||Low, 0xAA, 0xAF||23.3 fps|
|1024x768||GPU: max, CPU: max, 0xAA, 0xAF||16 fps|
|800x600||GPU medium, CPU medium, 0xAA, 0xAF||54 fps|
|640x480||GPU min, CPU min, 0xAA, 0xAF||300 fps|
Regarding mass storage the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C offers some nice details too. Inside this compact notebook there is a 160GB serial ATA hard disk, model ST91608220AS. The Seagates Momentus 5400 PSD is a Hybrid-HDD with 256 MByte flash memory. It should buffer frequently accessed data for quick data access. Due to flash memory the energy demand of the ST91608220AS is as low as 0.2 Watt, if data is buffered. Despite the data cache, the performance is not clearly superior to usual 5400 hard disks. HDTune shows an average transfer rate of 35.1 MB/s. By comparison our 7.200 rpm reference hard disk, a ST910021A (Seagate Momentus 7200.1) reaches an average transfer rate of 41.0 MB/s).
The optical UJ-852S by Matshita is another mass storage devices of the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C. Thereby it is important, that the burner supports DVD RAM, an format used for professional data backup. If a compatible blank CD is available, a backup of a high amount of data is also possible, if you are away on business.
|3DMark 2001SE Standard||13802 points|
|3DMark 03 Standard||4910 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||2107 points|
|3DMark 06||1105 points|
|PCMark 05 Standard||4845 points|
The fan of the reviewed notebook ran nearly all the time regardless of the chosen profile (stamina or speed mode). So, there is always a clearly audible noise level. The noise level is low, i.e. about 35 to 36 dB(A), when running office application though. However, if the fan runs at a higher frequency, it emit a somewhat high-frequency noise.
Vaio's power management supports various levels in the fan control. It should also be possible to decrease the clock rate of the CPU and therewith also the noise of the fan. Running idle or while reading longer PDF documents, the noise level can be rather low this way. Nonetheless, the fan is despite the availability of different profiles clearly audible under load. This is also true in stamina mode.
The hybrid hard disk, a ST91608220AS, is only audible with a bright clicking sound when it is activated. On the contrary, the DVD drive, a UJ-852S by Matshita, is quite loud. During continuous video playback the noise level is about 41.7 dB(A), during searching about 45.6 dB(A). Annoying: Even during video playback the noise of the DVD drive rises and falls frequently.
35.5 / 35.9 / 37.5 dB(A)
||39.1 / 49.6 dB(A)|
||41.7 / 45.6 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
The temperature increase of the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C is rather low. At the top side we measured a maximum temperature of 37.1°C near the hot keys and the sliding switches. The left and the right palm rest areas get only hand-hot. We measured 30.4°C respectively 28.°C. Overall, the average temperature of 32.4°C at the top side is agreeably low.
The average temperature of the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C at the bottom side is 37.4 °C. The temperature clearly increased next to fan and heatpipe and where gets as hot as 46.7 °C. Next to the vent holes we measured about 43 °C. If you want to work lap top, this might be uncomfortable even after a short time. If you do so, you should also take care that the vent holes aren't covered by anything.
If you'd like high-quality sound, you should definitely use high-quality earphones or headphones. Although the VGN-SZ61WN/C is equipped with tiny speakers left and right of the hot keys, their sound is pale. However, this was clear a priori, because the very thin design required really small speakers. If the volume is low the sound of the speakers is thready. If the volume is higher, the sound is distorted.
With active 8400M-GS video card we measured an energy demand of 18.3 Watt in idle mode. In stamina mode, i.e. when the Intel video card is active, and when turning all energy saving settings on, and screen dimmed at most, the energy demand is as low as 11.8 Watt. However under full load, the energy demand is 67.5 Watt in stamina mode and 76(!) Watt in speed mode.
If the energy saving setting for lowest energy demand is activated via Vaio power management and stamina mode is run, the battery runtime can be as high as 8 hours and 40 minutes according to the Reader's test by BatteryEater. However, with these settings it is hardly possible to read anything displayed on the screen, even if the environment is not really bright. The highly dimmed display is simply no longer legible.
If you use a well-conditioned battery, work with medium bright screen, and efficiently utilize the energy saving modes, the battery runtime can be about 5 to 6 hours during standard office work. However, additional load like Bluetooth, WLAN, and using the 8400 video card are not possible. Under full load the battery runtime is only 70 minutes.
Therefore, it is in practice hardly possible to work unplugged a whole day, even if you utilze all energy saving possibilities. If you do not want to reduce performance of mobility you should consider buying a supplement battery from the very beginning.
Stromverbrauch im Stamina-Modus
|Off / Standby||0 / 0 Watt|
|Idle|| 11.8 / 22.1 / 35.7 Watt|
47.1 / 67.5 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max:
The Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C is a light, compact, and fast ultra-portable notebook. Its design is noble and it is equipped with powerful components. So, it can even outperform some bigger notebooks. To summarize, so far the VGN-SZ61WN/C combines performance and mobility in a new unmatched way.
Made of modern, high-quality composite materials, equipped with additional security features, like fingerprint reader and TPM, a switchable hybrid video solution, fast wireless WWAN, and a very bright and ultra thin 13.3 inch X-Black display, it is a brilliant portable notebook. But, of course this costs. At the time of writing the price is about 2.300 Euro.
If you want to save energy, you can use the integrated video chip by Intel, which is alright for office applications. For watching a high-resolution HD video, you can simply switch to the more powerful Nvidia Geforce 8400M GS. Despite being equipped with high performance components, the battery runtime of the small VGN-SZ61WN/C with standard battery is about 5 to 6 hours. If you use a supplement battery, it is possible to work unplugged a whole day.
In summary, the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C is a notebook for demanding well-off business customers, who attach importance to up-to-date technology, high system performance, low noise emissions and really compact dimensions. But, the noise and temperature emissions of the fast VGN-SZ61WN/C are due to its design higher than those of similarly equipped 15.4 inch notebooks. In return the Vaio VGN-SZ61WN/C combines portability with excellent performance.