Had Apple not introduced a 27-inch iMac for $1,699, we'd have fewer reservations about Sony asking $1,999 for its new 24-inch Vaio L117FX. Yes, HP's TouchSmart 600 expanded on some of Sony's innovations from its previous generation all-in-ones. Sony also doesn't even attempt to match HP's creative multitouch software. But the guts of the Vaio L117FX are more robust than HP's, and thus Sony offers the most potent combination of home entertainment and computing capability among high-end Windows-based all-in-ones. Were it not for the 27-inch, aluminum gorilla on the store shelf, Sony would earn a stronger recommendation. Instead, for all of the Vaio L117FX's strengths, we can't help but feel that its price needs some trimming.
The Vaio L117FX's design is an interesting hybrid between Sony's last-generation cnet:link int="http://reviews.cnet.com/desktops/sony-vaio-js250j/4505-3118_7-33517630.html">JS and LV series. It retains the same size, wall-mounting capability, and HDMI input as the LV, but it also features the JS series' softer chassis design, complete with the rounded frame-style front support. The new design will work fine on a desktop, but if you mount the system on the wall, the front support becomes superfluous. Unlike the feet on HP's TouchSmart 600, there's no way to remove the front support from the Vaio. The support does no real functional harm, but it would make the Vaio look awkward mounted on the wall.
In addition to the new look, Sony includes the features we've come to appreciate in its all-in-ones, chief among them the HDMI input. Apple, Asus, and HP have all borrowed Sony's idea (Apple via its Mini DisplayPort input), which we first saw in the Vaio LV180J at the end of 2008. To distinguish itself from its recent imitators, Sony has added picture-in-picture capability to the Vaio L117FX's HDMI input. That means you can connect any HDMI-based video source to the Vaio, from a game console to a cable box, and either switch between screens or, now, watch them both at the same time. You still can't record from the HDMI input to the Vaio's hard drive (that's what the TV tuner is for), but the convenience of watching live sports in a small window while getting PC-based work done, for example, has obvious appeal.
Being a Windows 7-based all-in-one, the Vaio L117FX also comes with multitouch support. For traditional desktop use, the appeal of touch is minimal, but we can see an argument for touch if you mounted the Vaio on a wall or set it up in a kitchen. Sony joins Acer/Gateway and HP in introducing a multitouch-capable all-in-one this fall. With this Vaio you get the basic Microsoft Surface applications (some games, a 3D globe, and a few others), and Sony's Media Gallery for navigating digital media files, but there's no major innovation like we saw with HP's TouchSmart. With so many underwhelming touch-specific programs so far, we can't say we were looking forward to another half-baked note-taking program or redundant media browser. Thus, we don't really blame Sony for mostly including touch support as a situational convenience in the Vaio. If third-party touch software takes off, perhaps touch will become more useful.
|Sony Vaio L117FX||Apple iMac 27-inch|
|Display size/resolution||24-inches, 1,920x1,080||27-inches, 2,560x1,440|
|CPU||2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400S||3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7200|
|Memory||6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||4GB 1,067MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 240M||256MB ATI Radeon HD 4670|
|Hard drives||1TB, 7,200rpm||1TB 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray burner||Dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet. 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n, Bluetooth|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1|
Stack up as many new features in the Sony as you'd like, and you'll still have trouble reconciling it with the new 27-inch iMac. No, the iMac doesn't have touch support, nor does it have a TV tuner, a built-in Blu-ray player, or even a quad-core CPU. But the iMac's 27-inch screen, its price, and its performance (below), give Sony a substantial obstacle. The Sony's well-rounded specs make it a decent performance system as well as a digital media hub, but next to the iMac the Sony loses the battle for general speed. We also can't say the HP isn't a competitive system as a wall-mounted entertainment PC. If you want the Vaio's particular blend of performance and media-friendliness you'll be satisfied, but we can't give it an all-purpose recommendation with such stiff competition.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
Among Windows all-in-ones, the Vaio L117FX is a respectable performer, largely thanks to a fast Intel Core 2 Quad CPU. It rockets past the HP, and maintains a slight edge over the $1,400 23.5-inch Gateway One ZX6810-01, although given the price difference we wish the Sony had a more commanding lead over the Gateway. The obvious problem is the iMac. Both the $1,199 and $1,699 default iMac models (21.5 inches and 27 inches, respectively) outperform the Vaio on almost every test. The Sony will perform any mainstream task with reasonable speed for its price, but even among all-in-ones, you can find better ratios of price to performance in several other systems.
|1,920 x 1,080|
We're starting to see more robust graphics chips in all-in-ones lately, and the Vaio's GeForce GT 240M chip is no exception. We have no Unreal Tournament 3 test for the iMacs, but among the Windows all-in-ones, the Sony falls in the middle. For more recent games you'd likely need to dial the resolution and image quality settings down to achieve playable frame rates, but for less forgiving games like the Sims 3, World of Warcraft, and others, the Vaio shouldn't have much trouble.
The HDMI output is the standout feature among the Vaio L117FX's connectivity options, but Sony has done a good job filling out the rest of the ports. Alongside the HDMI port you also get composite video inputs, and there's a separate optical S/PDIF digital audio output on the back of the system. The system also comes with a TV tuner input and three USB 2.0 jacks on the back. The left side features a media card reader, analog audio jacks, a mini FireWire 400 input, and another pair of USB inputs.
We wish Sony had included eSATA somewhere for fast external data transfers. We should also point out that if you did wall mount the Vaio on a fixed mount (as opposed to a movable arm), you'd lose access to the rear ports, which include both the HDMI and composite video inputs. As much as HP's TouchSmart 600 has glommed onto Sony's video input idea, it actually made the wiser decision to put the inputs on the TouchSmart's side. Sony might consider that for next time.
Sony included a few other useful features in a home entertainment-oriented all-in-one. There's a dedicated display power button on the top of the case, along with reasonably intuitive display menu buttons that let you adjust the PIP, the brightness, and other settings. You'll find volume controls on both the wireless keyboard as well as the remote control.
For the audio/video quality, we found Blu-ray playback smooth and crisp, although the audio volume was relatively weak, a typical criticism of all-in-ones. Because the screen is only 24-inches, chances are you wouldn't ask the Vaio to anchor the video entertainment of a large room, but if you intend to use it as a music hub, you'll need further amplification to really fill out a big space.
|Sony Vaio L117FX|
|Raw (annual kWh)||236.56818|
|Energy Star compliant||Yes|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$26.84|
The Sony skews toward the power hungry side of recent all-in-ones, but, in relative terms, its energy consumption isn't so bad. The quad-core chip likely plays the largest role in demanding slightly more power than other all-in-ones. All told, it will add only a few extra dollars per month to your power bill--well within reasonable power draw levels.
Sony's service and support policies hew to the industry standard, granting you one year of parts-and-labor warranty coverage, and 24-7 toll-free phone support. There's plenty of support info on Sony's Web site as well, and you also get a few apps on the system itself for backup, restore, and general system maintenance.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Sony Vaio L117FX
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400S; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 240M; 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Apple iMac 21.5-inch
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1; 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7600; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400 integrated graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate Digital hard drive Apple iMac 27-inch
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1; 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7600; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 4670; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Gateway One ZX6810-01
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD4670; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
HP TouchSmart 600
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7450; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 230; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive