Sony's VAIO line of desktop PCs has traditionally been a more of a showcase for new designs and technologies than a collection of workhorse systems for everyday use. In the past year, we've seen VAIO systems such as the XL1 Digital Living System, which paired a living room PC with a 200-disc DVD changer, and the RC310G, which included the world's first Blu-ray burner. The $2,100 Sony VAIO VGC-LS1 is another concept-car-like PC, a sleek all-in-one model, clearly aping the Apple iMac. With plenty of built-in features, such as a TV tuner and a Webcam, the VAIO VCG-LS1 offers plenty of versatility in addition to its flashy design, but its high price and limited adjustment and expandability mean it's better suited for high-end boutiques and art galleries than dens or dorm rooms.
This is not the first all-in-one system we've seen from Sony. Last year's VAIO VA11G was an ugly, bulky affair, with a thick chassis awkwardly hidden behind the LCD screen. In contrast, the VAIO LS1 is masterfully designed, with a 19-inch, 1,680x1,050 wide-screen LCD framed by a glass bezel. Measuring 21 inches wide by 14.5 inches high by 2 inches deep, the VAIO LS1 has a very small footprint and is nearly as thin as a laptop.
Unlike the Apple iMac and its built-in foot stand, the VAIO LS1 sits directly on the desk. This could cause visibility problems or at least some ergonomic concern. The Apple iMac screen starts a full eight inches from the bottom of the system, while the VAIO LS1 screen starts less than three inches from the bottom. There's an adjustable kickstand on the back of the VAIO LS1, allowing you to tilt the entire unit back, but some users will find it awkward to have the screen sitting so low on their desk. Using a dictionary or a plastic stand to raise the screen up off your desk defeats the purpose of owning this otherwise sleek piece of hardware.
Keeping with the laptop vibe, there are two PC Card slots along the left side of the chassis, but the system already has most of the devices you'd use a PC Card for, including a TV tuner and a Wi-Fi adapter. One the same side panel, there's also a multiformat media card reader, a mini FireWire jack, headphone and mic jacks, and a single USB 2.0 port. The right side panel features a slot-loading DVD burner, while the rear panel supplies TV tuner connections (S-Video, antenna, composite video, and stereo audio inputs), thee USB 2.0 ports, and an on/off switch for the built-in Wi-Fi.
The power button rests on the top of the system, behind the glass plate that frames the LCD screen. A small, green light built into the top panel glows through a power-on symbol etched into the glass, which is a nice visual touch. Similar indicators for Wi-Fi and hard drive activity are on the bottom of the font panel. Sitting directly above the screen is a built-in Webcam, which Sony dubs the Motion Eye.
Unlike most desktop PCs, the VAIO LS1 doesn't have any user-accessible parts inside. Instead you're stuck with the default configuration, but that's not a bad set of specs by any means. The system includes 2GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive (running at 7,200rpm, not a slower 5,400rpm laptop drive), and a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400 CPU.
That's the same CPU as in Apple's lower-end iMac (the $1,299 17-inch version), and it's a step up from the 1.6GHz Intel Core Duo T2050 we saw recently in the small-form-factor Shuttle XPC X100. The VAIO LS1 was slightly faster than the Shuttle in CNET Labs' Multimedia tests and was significantly faster than another compact system, the HP Pavilion Slimline s7500y, which relies on Intel's last-generation 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M 735 CPU.
With integrated Intel 945GM graphics, you're not going to be gaming on this machine, and no graphics upgrades are available. But for watching movies, playing music, and general computing, the VAIO LS1 performs perfectly well.
Packed in with the VAIO LS1 are a wireless keyboard and mouse and the same custom Media Center remote we've seen with other VAIO desktops. The low-profile aluminum-clad keyboard has a folding cover that doubles as a wrist rest, then flips up to cover the keys when the system isn't being used. Anyone who's had experience with a technologically curious cat will appreciate this feature.
In keeping with Sony's taste for proprietary technology, much of the bundled software is custom, including Sony SonicStage for managing music; Life Flow, a widget-like app with weather, news, and other useful tools; and Sony Click to DVD for burning discs. It's another point of reference to the iMac, but Sony's bundled apps aren't nearly as intuitive or attractive as Apple's iLife suite of tools.
Small stereo speakers are built into the case, and while they're perfectly fine for casual listening, you'll want to connect the 1/8-inch audio output to a bigger speaker system for a more media-friendly experience. We would have liked to see discrete RCA audio outputs for that.
Sony backs the VAIO VGC-LS1 with a standard one-year warranty, which includes 24/7 toll-free phone and Web site support, with FAQs and documentation. A built-in software app connects you directly to the support section of Sony's Web site and gives you easy access to system documentation and settings.