Blu-ray is also not the only feature that Sony has that Apple does not. The new iMac is a more closed system than ever, with no visible seams on the case except for a small door on the bottom for adding RAM. The VAIO LT19U actually invites some user modifications. The smooth back panel pops off to reveal a secondary layer that's pocked with various screw holes and access bays. Mostly it leads you to two unique design elements. The first is screws for VESA-standard mounting hardware, which we're most excited about, because we can easily imagine sticking the VAIO LT19U on a wall in your den or bedroom. The other highlight is a removable sled for a second hard drive. With the dawn of Windows Home Server this fall, we're less enthused by extra internal storage, but the idea is still worthwhile. It could use one less screw holding it in place, though.
The VAIO LT19U has a few other features the iMac lacks. One of our criticisms of the iMac has always been the lack of a media card reader, and we're glad to report that this new VAIO has Memory Stick and SD Card inputs, as well as PC Card and ExpressCard 34 slots. We would have happily traded either of those inputs for an integrated ATI Digital Cable Tuner, rather than the clunky external model that really disrupts the otherwise clean profile of this system. The standard ATSC and NTSC TV tuners are both integrated, however, and while we don't love analog TV on the PC, all of the various tuners come standard with the VAIO and don't require an external third-party upgrade like the iMac.
What we wish Sony did include was Bluetooth. Instead, the VAIO LT19U relies on RF wireless for its mouse and keyboard. Sony said that it wanted to spare users the irritating Bluetooth matching process with Windows, which has actually gotten better lately. We miss it more for sending data to and from your various mobile devices. At least the RF receiver is integrated into the system, preserving the clean profile. Sony's input devices could also use a bit of sprucing up, as their clunky, plasticky design doesn't compare well against Apple's new keyboard, especially.
We also found Sony's software bloat annoying, and even more so with the LT19U than we did a few weeks back with Sony's TP1. In addition to a handful of shortcuts cluttering up the desktop, Sony had the poor taste to include a separate floating bar above the Windows task bar with offers for all manner of nonsense, from casual games to extended warranties. You'll find a few useful links to system tools in there as well, but mostly it feels like the built-in ad bars on one of those old giveaway PCs from a few years back. You can close the bar and even remove it from the system, but this ill-conceived implementation makes Sony the new leader of the purveyors of shameless crapware.
Along with the built-in ads, Sony also includes a few actual useful tools for maintaining and navigating your system, you just need to wade through a lot of redundantly named Start Menus to get to them. Otherwise, your service and support options from Sony are only average. You get a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, toll-free phone support from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Sunday, and a variety of resources on Sony's Web site.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX; 300GB Seagate 7,200rpm
Apple OS X; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics chip; 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows Vista Home Ultimate Edition (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7800; 4,098MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI HD2600 XT; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm / 100GB Seagate 7,200rpm
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 3GB 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 7350 LE graphics card; two 320GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drives
Sony VAIO LT19U
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400 GT graphics card; 500GB Seagate 7,200 rpm hard drive