The VAIO Z Story Continues…

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A challenge for VAIO’s “Z ENGINE®” to achieve the fastest response time.

The “heart” of the VAIO Z appeared on “Nico Nama” where it caused quite a commotion and set the comments on fire.

The day finally arrived and it was time to make the announcement for the VAIO Z at the new products showcase, “VAIO Meeting 2015”, a fan-oriented event held at Shibuya Hikarie in Tokyo. The venue was filled to capacity by 7PM with 200 feverishly excited VAIO fans selected by lottery. The highlight of the event was the VAIO Z disassembly demonstration. The casing, LCD screen, and even the battery were disassembled one after the other by hardware designer, Harada, and Kasai, to reveal the obsessive attention to detail shown by the engineers. The display was even streamed live on NicoNico, a popular video sharing website. “Are you sure we should do this?” was overheard more than once as the development team gathered around the company’s large screen. They were pleasantly surprised with the results.

Team members held their breath and watched closely as the device they had built from scratch with their own hands was stripped bare. And there was an audible gasp through the venue when the circuit board was taken out and placed beside the VAIO Fit13A’s circuit board. “It’s so tiny!” “Truly beautiful!” “That looks like it could fit in a smartphone!” were some of the comments from amazed viewers that streamed on Nico Nama’s screen too.
The surface area of the VAIO Z circuit board is approximately two-thirds that of the Fit13A. Why is it so much smaller? That is what happens when you create “the ultimate business tool with an unparalleled response time and mobility” – the concept driving the VAIO Z development team.

To do this, we had to equip our device with the most powerful CPU available. The TDP28W had been on our radar since the first stage of development, but with higher efficiency comes a cost, namely heat production and battery life consumption. A more robust cooling mechanism would be required, making the PC heavier and thicker. So, do we pursue efficiency at the expense of mobility?

Absolutely not. “We revolutionized the industry with high density hardware mounting and new heat dissipating technology that our rivals could not imitate,” explained Kasai. “We knew if we could do this, VAIO would have a competitive edge.” Shrink the circuit board and create the cooling technology for the most optimal use of space – this is how we came to create the “Z ENGINE” with a blazing fast response.

 

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Decisive action and a rapid response with less circuit board mass.

Why did VAIO choose to pursue high density mounting? The story actually goes back to over 12 years ago with the development of the “VAIO SZ”. Generally speaking, PC manufacturing is the most horizontal of industries. Each company builds devices from essentially the same technology, but it is important to create something unique that distinguishes you from the rest and highlights your own technological strengths.

VAIO can rely on making their own circuit boards 100% of the time, so being at the forefront of creating technology that reduces the space requirements of the circuit board provides a big reward. Not only does it differentiate us from competitors, it provides added value for customers. This is what VAIO thought back then, too, with various departments, including planning and manufacturing, allocating resources to develop a high density mounting for future devices. These same team members spent over 10 years incrementally improving and enhancing efficiencies, and the circuit board can be considered the crowning achievement of their efforts.

Tiny parts which you would not be able to distinguish without a microscope are aligned with minute precision, especially near the CPU, where a 0.6mm x 0.3mm chip is soldered with just 0.2mm of pitch. And although we developed the technology, it was not easy to create this compact and beautiful circuit board. At times we sought even smaller parts, but it’s not simply a matter of connecting different settings and wires. And because of the response time demand, we required the signal to travel at an incredible speed, which can create noise in such a tiny circuit board. We considered numerous options to resolve these issues such as size, electrical circuit path, and the layout of the cooling fan and heat exhaust.

“I think we reached the technological ceiling here,” explained Otaka, the designer of the circuit board layout, when talking about how each suggestion was thoroughly investigated and considered. “And to be honest,” he laughed, “there were times when we felt like we had hit the wall. But whenever difficulties arose, I could sense the support from the development team who also were motivated to provide the best response time.”

There are many things that were not compromised. One of them was the implementation of “InstantGo”, which allows you to return from standby mode in 0.3 seconds, and at an even higher speed with a PCIe SSD connection.

InstantGo debuted on the PC market with the VAIO Duo 13. We had abandoned using the PCIe SSD connection on the VAIO Duo 13 because of the delay it would have caused in development. The goal was to provide both to the customer on the VAIO Z by any means possible, but there was an issue. The platform vendor did not support the combination of InstantGo and a PCIe SSD connection. So the development team thoroughly inspected the power setting when these two were combined to resolve issues as they arose. We made InstantGo and second generation high speed SSD possible with our own innovation. “This circuit board is clearly the heart of the VAIO Z, while at the same time it holds our wishes for future development,” said Yasue, the electrical designer.

 

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Eliminating noise and the heat at the same time.

The VAIO Z uses a TDP28W CPU, and can increase power to 35W with its cTDP function. In order to accommodate the additional heat that would be created, we minimized the space needed for the circuit board and installed left and right side cooling fans to spread the heat dissipation. “Your average PC maker would have just added a second fan, but VAIO is obsessed with silent performance, so we created an asymmetrical dual blade fan,” explained Oike, the thermal designer.

When two fans are spun simultaneously at a high speed, a high frequency whine is generated. But if the number of blades on the left and right fan are two different prime numbers (41 and 31), and they spin with each blade filling the other’s intervals, the frequency at which the whine is generated should shift, eliminating the noise. Since sound perception varies with users, we solicited focus groups for their opinions on questions such as, “Are you able to hear a whine when the fan is activated?” “Does the fan sound abrasive?” Then, to resolve any noise that does not register for users in an open space, we tested the fans in a soundproof room and made any necessary adjustments.

The development team found themselves frustrated at how the prototypes were affected by condition changes. “Sound quality would be affected by a single, small hole added somewhere else on the device. Each casting of a prototype during the trial stage, depending on the situation, had rigorous comparison reviews when the smallest setting was changed,” said Oike.

Settings for fan speed and general control have changed through software updates in the past, and this proved to highlight VAIO’s strengths as well. Since the software design team is also based in Azumino, we can communicate changes to settings in real time, something impossible to do with an offsite software vendor.

Now, it may sound unusual to require every team leader’s desk to have an extra chair alongside their own, but situations arose where they needed to brainstorm together. For example, if members who are in charge of improving a certain part wanted to meet, whether from software or manufacturing, they could sit down together and resolve the issue together at the same screen. This concept trickled down, allowing the entire team to unite with an eye towards hitting production deadlines.

“There is no perceptible fan noise at all in silent mode, even if the device is used in quiet locations such as a library or bedroom. We believe we’ve made it impossible to discern if the fan has been engaged or not,” explained Yasue, the electrical designer. And in case you were curious, we know it’s pointless to create a silent mode that sacrifices response time by restricting the CPU usage. We tested dozens of usage scenarios such as accessing files, watching videos, and using the digital note feature, to understand how much electricity was used. We have achieved a response time that does not compromise ease of use for quiet performance.

 

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High performance even when at rest.

Because the VAIO Z is a model developed from the ground up by the VAIO Corporation, the amount of attention paid to the device by the media has been enormous. The announcement on February 16 generated numerous articles published across many tech websites. “Iris™ Graphics (Core i7) performance is 1.32 times of general HD Graphics (Core i7)”, “Second generation High Speed SSD data transmission speed is 3.3 times of SATA SSD”, “InstantGo has a quick startup of 0.3 seconds” were just some of the observations and results from in-depth reviews of the speed of the Z ENGINE. Some may say we aimed for those speeds, but that’s not how VAIO development works. In order to meet the needs of users, we considered what should be developed and then tested the veracity of those needs from all angles. The speeds are something we can be proud of as the world’s first and fastest, but those are just numbers in the end. “VAIO Z was created for the ultimate response time. It is important for the user to feel that their touch has an instant response that they can rely on while performing any task. That was our goal and benchmark for development,” explained Kasai.

If we can be faster by a second, don’t waste that second. VAIO’s high density mounting technology achieved an overwhelming response time with a 15.5 hour* battery life, the longest in VAIO history. To realize this revolutionary battery life, a focus and drive matching that of the Z ENGINE development was necessary.

Read more in Vol. 3.

See the VAIO Z here.

*Actual battery life performance will vary depending on conditions.