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VAIO Z (2021) Review 2021

The use of carbon fiber instead of aluminum, magnesium, or plastic is a rare but not unprecedented thing for ultraportable laptops. It’s the namesake, after all, of Lenovo’s award-winning ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and part of the popular Dell XPS 13. VAIO would like to point out that it pioneered the practice with its X505 in 2003, and the company says it’s taken it to the next level with the 2021 reincarnation of its flagship VAIO Z. This 14-inch notebook is made out of contoured carbon fiber, rather than simply incorporating sheets of the substance, trimming its weight to 2.34 pounds with a 4K display. The new VAIO Z is also the lightest laptop with an Intel H-series Core i7 CPU—its competitors use lower-power U-series chips. Unfortunately, this technology doesn’t come cheap: The VAIO Z here will set you back a staggering $3,579. A comparable X1 Carbon may be slightly slower but costs $1,700 less, making the VAIO Z hard to recommend to any but the most well-heeled, mile-amassing content-creation pros.


VAIO, for those who may have lost track of the brand in recent years, is now an independent company, separate from its Sony roots. Resurrecting a model name last seen five years ago, the new VAIO Z may not be the first all-carbon-fiber laptop—Gigabyte claimed that for its 11.6-inch X11 in 2012—but it makes the most of the material’s mix of light weight and rigidity. The laptop has not only passed MIL-STD 810H torture tests against road hazards like shock and vibration but, the company says, survived more and higher drop tests than its rivals, though it flexes a bit more than they do if you grasp the screen corners or mash the keyboard deck.

The sleek black VAIO measures 0.67 by 12.6 by 8.7 inches, making it just as easy to slip into a bag or briefcase as the Lenovo X1 Carbon (0.59 by 12.7 by 8.5 inches) or the Dell Latitude 7410 (0.7 by 12.7 by 8.2 inches). It weighs a hair less than the 2.4-pound Lenovo and noticeably less than the 3.1-pound, aluminum-clad Latitude, though the Asus ExpertBook B9450 undercuts them all at 1.91 pounds. 

Four configurations are available, all with a quad-core, 3.3GHz (5.0GHz turbo) Core i7-11375H processor with Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics and a 3,840-by-2,160-pixel non-touch screen. (Core i5 and 1080p models are coming later.) Our $3,579 test unit has 16GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe Gen 4 solid-state drive; the $4,179 top of the line has 32GB of memory and a 2TB drive. Wi-Fi 6 and Windows 10 Pro are standard.

VAIO Z (2021) rear view

The Z doesn’t have many ports, but it doesn’t make you plug in a USB-C DisplayPort adapter to use an external monitor as some ultraportables do—there’s a true-blue, full-size HDMI video output on its right flank, along with a Thunderbolt 4/USB-C port on each side, plus an audio jack and security-cable lock notch on the left. The compact AC adapter plugs into either Thunderbolt port; VAIO adds that the laptop can also charge, albeit slowly, from a 5-volt smartphone pack.

VAIO Z (2021) left portsVAIO Z (2021) right ports


Comfortable Viewing and Typing 

VAIO says the HDR-capable anti-glare screen covers 99.8% of the DCI-P3 palette. Colors don’t pop like poster paints but are rich and well saturated. Brightness is sufficient if not dazzling. Contrast is good, with nicely white backgrounds and dark blacks, and viewing angles are wide. Fine details look as sharp as 4K resolution can make them. The screen opens 180 degrees to lie flat on your desk; pressing Fn+2 inverts the screen image for someone sitting across from you.

VAIO Z (2021) left angle

The IR webcam above the display features above-average 1080p resolution and a sliding privacy shutter. It captures slightly dark but sharp and colorful images with a bit of noise or static. My test unit’s copy of Windows 10 Pro said that not only face recognition but fingerprint login was available for Windows Hello, but I couldn’t find a fingerprint reader.

VAIO Z (2021) webcam

As with some Asus notebooks (in what Asus calls “ErgoLift”), the back of the lid hangs down to prop the keyboard at an angle as you open the system, which makes for convenient typing on a desk but an edge scraping your knees on your lap. The backlit keyboard has a snappy typing feel and a pleasant layout, though the cursor arrows and top-row Escape and Delete keys are small; you must pair the arrows and Fn key in the absence of dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys. The good-sized touchpad has two slim buttons; it slides and clicks smoothly.

VAIO Z (2021) keyboard

Stereo speakers (two tiny slits on the front edge) pump out tinny, hollow sound; volume is adequate but bass is minimal and overlapping tracks are muddled. Dolby Audio software offers music, movie, game, or voice presets or lets you try an equalizer. A VAIO Control Center utility lets you adjust battery and keyboard settings, as well as those for a proximity sensor that locks the system when you walk away.

VAIO Z (2021) touchpad


Benchmarking the VAIO Z: Near-Record Photoshop Performance 

For our benchmark charts, I stacked up the VAIO Z with four other 14-inch slimlines, ranging from the Dell Latitude 7410 (the only one to match its 4K screen) to the Asus ExpertBook B9450 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. While the Z is alone in boasting an Intel H-series CPU, it’s not the only path to processing power—the HP EliteBook 845 G7 has an eight-core AMD Ryzen 7 Pro. (IT departments will note that neither the Ryzen nor the VAIO’s Core i7-11375H have the Intel vPro manageability offered by other business notebooks.) You can see their basic specs in the table below. 

VAIO Z (2021) comparison chart

Productivity and Media Tests 

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.

VAIO Z (2021) PCMark

The VAIO Z delivers excellent productivity, breezing past the 4,000 points that we consider a first-class score in PCMark 10. Word and Excel are no challenge for it; nor is PCMark 8’s storage test for today’s speedy SSDs. The Core i5 Carbon performed well against systems with faster processors; the ExpertBook was an underachiever. 

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. 

VAIO Z (2021) Cinebench

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing benchmark, in which we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better. 

VAIO Z (2021) Handbrake

The HP’s eight-core Ryzen Pro dominated these CPU-centric tests but the VAIO was next best, though its cooling fans are audible when it’s working hard. Ultraportables aren’t usually called upon for video editing or image rendering, but the Z can tackle tough jobs. 

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each task and add up the total (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters. 

VAIO Z (2021) Photoshop

The VAIO Z posted one of the quickest times we’ve ever recorded in this test by a laptop. Its speed and attractive high-res screen make it a fine highly mobile Photoshop platform, though it shares the ThinkPad’s flaw of not having an SD card slot to import images from a camera card.

Graphics Tests 

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff. 

VAIO Z (2021) 3DMark

Intel’s 11th Generation CPUs’ Iris Xe graphics easily beat the UHD integrated graphics of older chips, though they’re miles behind the discrete GPUs of true gaming laptops. The VAIO can handle some casual gameplay, though not the latest fast-twitch titles. 

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene, this one rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets and reported in frames per second (fps), indicating how smooth the scene looks in motion. For lower-end systems, maintaining at least 30fps is the realistic target, while more powerful computers should ideally attain at least 60fps at the test resolution. 

VAIO Z (2021) Superposition

Again, the Z is the best of a humdrum lot in terms of graphics power. No one is going to try playing a demanding $60 game on an ultraportable with integrated graphics. 

Battery Rundown Test 

After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits. 

VAIO Z (2021) battery life

The Asus is in a class by itself, but any of these lightweight laptops will get you through a full day of work or school plus an evening of streaming entertainment. The VAIO showed the least stamina, but its battery life’s far from bad considering its pixel-packed screen and full-bore H-series processor.


A Powerful Contender, But a Poor Value 

The 2020 edition of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon holds our Editors’ Choice award among 14-inch ultraportables. The VAIO Z mounts a considerable challenge with its 11th Gen H-series versus 10th Gen U-series processor, but the Lenovo has a nicer keyboard and is just over half the price.

VAIO Z (2021) rear corner

Elite laptops are a splurge by nature, but the price differences at play here will make even the most extravagant buyers sober up. It might be cool to say, “Check out my laptop…it’s all carbon fiber,” but how much are those bragging rights worth to you? In these days of curtailed business travel and arm’s-length personal interactions, it probably isn’t worth a fortune.

VAIO Z (2021) Specs

Laptop Class Ultraportable
Processor Intel Core i7-11375H
Processor Speed 3.3 GHz
RAM (as Tested) 16 GB
Boot Drive Type SSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested) 512 GB
Screen Size 14 inches
Native Display Resolution 3840 by 2160
Touch Screen No
Panel Technology IPS
Variable Refresh Support None
Screen Refresh Rate 60 Hz
Graphics Processor Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Wireless Networking Bluetooth, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)
Dimensions (HWD) 0.67 by 12.6 by 8.7 inches
Weight 2.34 lbs
Operating System Windows 10 Pro
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes) 12:41

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