By Peter Griffin
It's designed for people who require constant access to a computer wherever they are, run power-hungry programmes and can't be bothered with the no-frills, IBM Thinkpad look.
As more people use laptops for work and play, that market segment is increasing.
This is the first Core Duo laptop I've given a good test-run, and the benefits of the new chip technology are immediately impressive. The SZ Premium runs quieter than any previous laptop based on the Pentium M platform that I've used.
It boots up from sleep mode quickly and constantly adjusts to deliver the best power-performance mix for the type of application being used. The Core Duo, which consists of two processor cores on one chip, is the new big thing in mobile computing. If you're buying a laptop, you'd be well advised to consider paying the premium over Pentium M laptops.
With a 1.83GHz Core Duo processor, 512 megabytes of memory is standard, expandable to 2 gigabytes and an 80GB hard drive.
There's a built-in DVD writer and a 13.3-inch wide, 1280 by 800 resolution screen. The screen delivers a beautiful picture and, backed by a tough carbon fibre case, is incredibly thin. Website text and images are crisp, and it's perfect for video and gaming. The screen is particularly bright, a state that can be sustained for an impressively long time when running on battery power.
When it comes to graphics support, the Vaio SZ Premium is well placed, with an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 processor unit. It can handle multiple applications at once and is power efficient.
But the SZ Premium also comes with the new Nvidia GeForce 7400, which is a 128-megabyte graphics card with extra grunt for graphics-intensive programs or games. You can switch between the two graphics accelerators with a quick reboot, and it's a good habit to adopt, especially if you're using the SZ Premium out on the road a lot and want to conserve power.
The dual graphics option is also great for those who use a laptop for word processing and database crunching during the day but want it for gaming and multimedia applications at night.
There are other nice touches, such as the built-in digital camera that delivers great quality for video conferencing. A neat screensaver takes random images captured by the camera and turns them into a moving slide show.
With the flick of a switch you can change the laptop from 'speed' mode to 'stamina' mode to conserve power, and there's a good energy management console. Battery life is a stated seven hours, but you'll certainly get four on full-brightness, using a range of applications.
The security functions are of particular note. There's an embedded fingerprint scanner that prevents access to the computer by unauthorised personnel. There's also password protection for the hard drive itself, which is particularly useful for those carrying sensitive information.
But the SZ Premium isn't a complete design wonder. It's annoying that there's no built-in SD card reader. A Memory Stick slot comes as standard and Sony does supply a SD card adapter that can be slotted into the mini PC card bay. But SD card is the dominant standard, a fact Sony refuses to concede.
The lack of an S-Video port is also troubling as it prevents you from plugging the SZ Premium into an analogue TV. Sony also needs to ditch its annoying software suite.
But overall, the SZ Premium is the dream device for executives. There's enough power to get you through most of the working day, it's lightweight yet powerful, and that sleek black case will attract plenty of longing stares in airport business lounges.
Sony Vaio SZ premium
Pros: Powerful; stylish; good security features.
Cons: No S-Video or built-in SD slot.
Herald Rating: 8/10