updated 08:50 pm EDT, Mon June 27, 2011
Sony VAIO Z repositioned as MacBook Air challenger
Sony chose Europe as the first venue to unveil a redesigned VAIO Z. The new system is now more consciously pitched as a MacBook Air equivalent and moves both the optical drive and even dedicated graphics to an external box, the Power Media Dock. The new PC is the first non-Mac to use Thunderbolt, albeit not in Mini DisplayPort form, and uses the high-speed cable to handle not just Blu-ray or DVD but AMD Radeon HD 6650M video, three USB ports, Ethernet, 3D-capable HDMI, and VGA.
Shifting the drive outwards also helps the system more directly compete with Apple on weight and thickness. It still has the 13.1-inch, 1600x900 display signature to the Z, but it now weighs just 2.6 pounds and is 0.86 inches thick.
Inside the main system, users get a full-speed, dual-core 2.7GHz Core i7 as well as two solid-state drives that combine to form 256GB in a fast RAID stripe. The configuration on show carries 8GB of RAM. When not in the dock, it has Intel integrated video, a 3G modem, and a 1.3-megapixel Exmor-based webcam. Sony's use of Thunderbolt puts it into a hybrid USB 3.0 and docking port that won't work with Apple hardware or others properly following the Thunderbolt spec.
Battery life normally lasts for as much as seven hours for the VAIO Z by itself, but it has a sheet battery like that on the VAIO S to double the battery life at the expensive of some weight and thickness.
At least in Europe, the new Z should ship by the end of July and will have options like the aforementioned Blu-ray and a 1080p screen. Although unconfirmed, this new VAIO Z is believed to be the one returning the lineup to the US. Apple is expected to counter the Z with a new MacBook Air in a matter of weeks or even days, but it may use low-voltage Core i5 and i7 chips to lower the price and keep the system slimmer.
Its use of Thunderbolt's underlying technology (Light Peak) is a partial surprise since, outside of leaks, Intel had claimed Apple had a year's head-start. Sony's decision to make its own proprietary adaptation is likely key as it doesn't require Intel's full support.