Sony's new VAIO RC110G
The media-friendly Sony VAIO RC110G will certainly find a home in dens and TV rooms across the country, but we can think of a better place: libraries. Thanks to its liquid-cooling system, the RC110G barely made an audible hum, no matter what task we set it to. It might not offer a lot of expandability, but the RC110G delivers an impressive hardware and software lineup for $1,300. Given this system's media capabilities, you might wish it came in a component-style case like Sony's newdoes, but as configured, the Sony VAIO RC110G is a quiet, capable desktop PC that provides strong multimedia entertainment features.
Despite its MicrosoftOS, the RC110G and its midtower case aren't designed to replace any of your home-theater components. Thanks to its tasteful aesthetics, though, you shouldn't feel any shame displaying the system on a desk in your home. The VAIO logo lights up white when the system is turned on, and front-panel doors conceal the optical drives and the various ports, preserving the system's bold, pristine appearance.
The hole cut out in the middle of the case means the RC110G can push the airflow more efficiently and quietly around the processor and the hard drive. Sony debuted the forerunner of this BTX case design last year with the VAIO RA810G.
The rest of the VAIO RC110G's specs reflect its capability as an entertainment-oriented system. The dual-core Pentium D 830 CPU and 1GB of 533MHZ DDR2 memory (expandable to 2GB) at the center offer respectable performance for a system in this price range. On CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 benchmark, the RC110G finished in a statistical tie with two other similar systems with the same chip. We're assured that the RC110G's performance numbers live up to its specs, although you might reasonably look at the scores of the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+-poweredand wish Sony offered AMD's chips. Unfortunately, it does not.
In addition to the dual-core CPU, the Sony VAIO RC110G's configuration is typical of a Media Center PC. We imagine a die-hard movie and TV watcher will fill up the 250GB of storage quickly, but the system can expand to 1TB with the three free 3.5-inch expansion bays. The Intel 945P chipset motherboard provides an optical digital audio port. A Sony TV tuner card takes up one of the two PCI slots inside the system and provides component and S-Video outputs, along with a coaxial input for an analog TV signal. Front-panel S-Video and composite-in ports dot the front of the system, which, along with the ports on the back, give you plenty of options for connecting the RC110G to a variety of home audio and video components. Sony also gives you a remote control and a remote sensor to plug into your PC. We're not enthused about the basic PS/2 keyboard, the wired USB mouse, or the bargain-bin speakers, but they do keep the price of the system low. Adding a monitor will cost extra; Sony offers a selection on its site.
Like many PCs we see these days, there are two optical drives in the front of the RC110G: the now-standard pairing of one double-layer DVD burner and a DVD-ROM drive. This match makes it easy for users to burn DVDs and CDs directly to the blank media, saving time by cutting out the step of storing the image on the hard drive while you swap discs. We're also glad to see a strong array of ports, including the aforementioned A/V jacks, seven USB 2.0 ports (three front, four in back), four-pin and six-pin FireWire (i.Link, in Sony's parlance) ports, and a multiformat media card reader. The front also has headphone and microphone jacks, and you'll find the typical 7.1-capable audio inputs on the rear.
If you're thinking about using the Sony VAIO RC110G for gaming, you'll need to make some aftermarket upgrades. The 128MB ATI Radeon X300 graphics card offers VGA, DVI, and S-Video ports, so if you want to operate two monitors or output to a TV, you should have no trouble, though you'll need to provide the appropriate cables and adapters. The Radeon X300 isn't much of a 3D chip, though. On our updated Half-Life 2 benchmark the VAIO RC110G posted barely playable frame rates of 23.2 frames per second on our 1,024x768 test. You might have better luck with less intensive 3D titles, but gaming is clearly not the RC110G's strong suit. If you want to upgrade the graphics card, you can, thanks to the x16 PCI Express graphics slot.