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Sony Vaio PCG-Z1A

When you hear the phrase, "Curves that captivate," you probably don't think immediately of a notebook PC. But that's what Sony Electronics' Web site promises for the new Vaio Z series portables -- Sony's first built around Intel's new Centrino bundle of a battery-thrifty chipset, Pro/Wireless 2100 WiFi (11Mbps 802.11b) wireless network adapter, and Pentium M processor.

Actually, svelte-design-wise, the Vaio PCG-Z1A tested here is fractionally thicker than the long-popular Vaio 505 models with older mobile Pentium 4 CPUs. But the Z1A has a bigger 14.1- rather than 12.1-inch screen, with 1,400 by 1,050-pixel SXGA+ resolution. And it has those curves -- notches carved out on either side of a recessed keyboard and covered when the screen is closed.

The notch on the left holds microphone, headphone, i.Link (Sony's name for IEEE 1394 FireWire) and two USB 2.0 ports; the right recess holds the 56Kbps modem (Ethernet and VGA ports are at the back) and a light-up power button. Along with an elegantly thin LCD, the design follows Sony's tradition of offering the closest thing to a conversation piece or status symbol you can get in this even-school-kids-have-laptops age ... and charging a premium for it. With a 1.3GHz Pentium M chip, 512MB of DDR266 memory, a 60GB hard disk, and DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, the sleek Z1A costs $2,400.

If you want Windows XP Professional instead of Home Edition, add $100. If you'd like to step up to the 1.5GHz Pentium M and 1GB of memory, you'll pay a hefty $3,000; a model with a 1.6GHz processor and double-capacity battery is a positively painful $4,000. (Note that the two upscale models use 512MB PC2100 modules; the Z1A comes with one fixed and one plug-in 256MB module, so its system ceiling is 768MB.)

But if you have a $2,400 budget and a busy travel schedule, the Vaio Z1A offers more than just a pretty face: It's slim and light enough to spoil you for more portly portables, at 9.7 by 12.4 by 1.5 inches and 4.7 pounds (even its AC adapter is trim at 12 ounces).

Its 1.3GHz Pentium M processor isn't the fastest in the portable class, but performs very well, thank you -- at least as fast as 1.7GHz or 1.8GHz mobile Pentium 4 systems. Battery life is a bit above average, too, if not the marathon run that Intel's Centrino advertising blitz boasts (let's remember this is a lightweight laptop with a relatively small lithium-ion pack). The 60GB Hitachi hard disk and Matsushita 8X DVD-ROM/8/4/24X CD-RW combo drive work swiftly and quietly.

Add an appealing software bundle -- with Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, InterVideo WinDVD 4, the McAfee.com security service, Microsoft Works, and both Microsoft Money and Quicken New User Edition as well as Sony's high-quality, house-brand image, video, and audio-file managers -- and you have a capable contender. Even with some minor gripes about its keyboard, touchpad, and screen, we find the Z1A's combination of capability, style, and slimness, well, captivating.

Reprinted from HardwareCentral