- VPCEC1Z1E: the model we tested.
- VPCEC1S1E: Intel Core i5-430M CPU, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. No Bluetooth, but the performance and features are otherwise similar to the model we tested.
- VPCEC1M1E: Intel Core i3-330M, 4 of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. No Blu-ray and a 1600 x 900 pixel screen. The graphics card is a HD 5470. No Bluetooth. A much more entry-level model, and without Blu-ray or Full HD, its main advantage is its price. A less powerful graphics card means it can only be used for playing older, less demanding games.
Handling & Design: comfortable to use and well-made
The version we tested was entirely black, but the Sony Vaio VPCEC1Z1E is also available in a classy white finish which looks just as good. The good news is that the area around the screen has a matte finish, helping it avoid greasy fingerprints and other dirty marks. It's the same on the inside, with a stripped-down black finish. Only the wrist-rest area uses glossy finish, which feels smooth but does get dirty more easily than the rest of it.
We can't criticise the manufacturing quality at all: the whole thing is well put-together and feels very robust.
All of the small 15 mm-square keys on the keyboard are spaced out, which is becoming Sony's house style. On the right-hand side, there's a numeric keypad which makes typing a lot of numbers much quicker. Typing is a quiet, pleasant experience, and the firm, responsive keys work well.
Rather than being in the centre, the trackpad is off to the left-hand side, in front of the space bar. Because of the small lumps that stick out of the shell, it feels rather unusual. This design stops your fingers from getting stuck on the glossy area, but sliding across it is less easy. Thankfully, it's very accurate, and we didn't have any problems using it. The click buttons are both good and clearly well-made: pressing them is responsive and doesn't make an annoying sound.
Using the default settings, the video produced by the webcam is clearly lacking in contrast. After adjusting the settings (which pop up on screen automatically), you get a much better result, as you can see on the right. The results aren't perfect, but they're much more fluid and definitely useable.
This laptop remains relatively quiet even though the fan keeps turning the whole time. What's more noticeable is when it speeds up for working on more difficult tasks like gaming or video editing. Noise levels are still kept under control, and the cooling system is pretty effective, so it doesn't ramp up to turbo mode as soon as you start doing something a little tricky. In general, the outside of the laptop remains cool to the touch, which augers well for the longevity of the components.
Sony's choice of connectivity options is classic but all the bases are covered: there are VGA and HDMI video outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 2.0 ports, one of which doubles up as e-SATA, an SD card reader and one for Memory Stick cards, an ExpressCard 34 slot and an audio line in and out. WiFi and Bluetooth are also both available.
Underneath, a large panel opens to give access to two 500 GB hard drives, which another smaller flap protects the RAM, which in the case of our test model meant 4 GB + 2 GB modules.
|Sony Vaio VPCEC1Z1E
||3 USB 2.0 and optical drive
|Power, RJ45, VGA, HDMI, e-SATA / USB
Processor Power: this all-rounder can do anything
Windows 7 index: 5.5. Details: CPU 6.8 - Memory 6.8 - Graphics 5.9 - Gaming graphics 5.8 - Main hard drive 5.5.
With Intel's latest Core i5 520M, a mid-range processor, the Sony Vaio VPCEC1Z1E reached a CPU index of 110 in our tests and an overall score of 137. To make comparisons, our reference model, the Fujistu-Siemens Amilo Xi 3650, which has a Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 processor, was indexed at 100. That's a pretty decent score which means you'll be able to rely on this laptop just for office work but also photo editing and editing and encoding video. Of course, gaming is an option too, as we'll see later on.
Playing 1080p HD video--the same as you find on a Blu-ray disc--can be done either using the CPU or the graphics card, but we'd recommend that you rely on the power provided by the latter. You'll need software that can handle the hardware acceleration, like Power DVD 9 or Media Player Classic HC with the right codecs. Doing so takes a lot of work off the processor, and brings energy usage down from 44.5 to 34.5 W. The load on the CPU falls to an almost negligible 2% when using the graphics card for decoding, in place of 30% when it has to do all the work itself. When you're playing video from a Blu-ray disc itself, the energy consumption rises by about 3 W, which is entirely reasonable.
3D Gaming: recent games are fine, but be careful with greedy Full HD
The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 inside the Sony Vaio VPCEC1Z1E is capable of playing all of the latest games, as long as you're not too ambitious about the level of detail. Crysis and Far Cry 2 will be stuck at medium, especially if you're hoping to play in native resolution. With 1920 x 1080 pixels, there's a lot of work for the graphics card to do and it can quickly get overwhelmed.
Audio: decent sound, but we still prefer headphones
Although nothing special, the sound output from this laptop's small speakers is decent enough. Dolby effects are on hand to improve the output a little, but these do tend to muffle the sound. You're better off using the headphones socket, which gives very good quality sound in spite of a slight hissing at high volume settings (which is inaudible most of the time). For improved performances, you might want to connect to an external amp via the HDMI port.
Porability & Battery Life: don't forget the charger
Because it lasted just 1 hour 46 minutes in our standard test of looping video (WiFi turned off, headphones plugged in and brightness at 100 cd/m²), it's clear that the Sony Vaio VPCEC1Z1E isn't designed to be used very far from a power socket. You can only really rely on its batteries every now and again while you're looking for a better solution. A more longer-lasting battery than the 3500 mAh included here would have been better.
This Vaio is quite bulky and weighs a hefty 3.3 kg, so it's not really one to take on the road with you: it's a transportable, rather than a portable, computer.