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Sony VAIO LT19U review: Sony VAIO LT19U

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Even after our hands-on of Sony's new VAIO LT19U, we'd go with Apple's iMac for a general purpose all-in-one. If, however, you're considering one of those monstrous pseudo-laptops from Dell or HP, you'll find the VAIO LT19U offers many of the same features, and with a $2,999 price tag that's a relative bargain. As with most of Sony's desktop efforts these days, this new all-in-one is a niche product to be sure. Still, we imagine a handful of well-heeled shoppers might take interest. If you fit into that category, and you don't need portability (practical or otherwise), the VAIO LT19U should be first on your list when it goes on sale in October.

7.8

Sony VAIO LT19U

The Good

Only all-in-one PC with Blu-ray (or any HD) player; VESA-mount compatible; removable media and mobile expansion card inputs; can accept a second internal hard drive; better deal than competing HD-capable laptops.

The Bad

Can't compete with the iMac as a day-to-day computer; only OK performance; no Bluetooth; offensive level of adware; clunky mouse and keyboard.

The Bottom Line

We don't recommend Sony's new VAIO LT19U as an all-in-one PC for everyday computing, but if you're shopping for a flexible, self-contained, HD-capable digital entertainment center, look no further. It has its flaws, and it's not cheap, but this new VAIO makes up for its shortcomings with sheer capability.

As we said, the VAIO LT19U can't compete with the iMac as a basic computer. The 20-inch, 2.4GHz iMac we reviewed costs $1,649 (counting the extra memory), making it much less expensive than the $3,000 VAIO LT19U. But even the 24-inch, 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme-equipped iMac starts at only $2,299, giving you more monitor and more processor for $700 less than this new Sony and its 22-inch wide-screen display and its slower, 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T7500 chip. Given the iMac's better core specs, it's hard to argue that Sony's Blu-ray drive makes up the difference. Our handy chart outlines the differences between the Sony and the lower-end iMac that we reviewed. Even here you can see some disparities in Apple's favor, although, again, no Blu-ray.

If Apple takes the mainstream ground, leaving a specific HD-capable niche to Sony, we should also consider the various HD-equipped laptops out there, especially the larger ones such as Dell's XPS 2010 and the HP Pavilion HDX. Those two models are portable in name only, as their size and modular design severely limit battery life and on-the-road usability. For the Dell, a Blu-ray-equipped XPS 2010 starts at $4,400, and you get an out-of-date graphics chip, less memory, and a smaller hard drive. The closest we could configure HP's more recent Pavilion HDX brought the price to $3,475, giving Sony the advantage there as well. Of course, Dell, HP, Toshiba, and others all offer 17-inch laptops with HD movie capabilities. As you go smaller, you gain portability, but even those systems also cost more than the Sony. If you're looking for a self-contained Windows system for primarily home entertainment purposes, we don't think you can find one that competes with the VAIO LT19U in price or features.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony VAIO LT19U
179 

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

CineBench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Sony VAIO LT19U
923 
503 
HP Pavilion HDX
794 
431 
Apple iMac
754 
400 

'Quake 4' performance (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024 x 768 (4x AA, 8x AF)  

Performance, however, is another issue. Sony maintains the price and features lead, but it's also a fixed configuration. Laptops offer at least some flexibility, with faster CPU and graphics chip options, and you can also find desktops that give you more speed for your dollar. The Pavilion HDX and Alienware laptops in our comparison charts each cost over $4,000, so it's perhaps no surprise that they can beat the $2,999 VAIO LT19U. But the Pavilion m8120n is a desktop that only costs $1,150, and in the online model you can upgrade its 3D card, add-in a Blu-ray/HD-DVD combo drive and a 22-inch wide-screen LCD and still keep the price below $2,500. The VAIO LT19U is not a terrible performer, and it can even play a game or two. We just wouldn't depend on it as your primary system for digital content creation. For those tasks, the iMac shines brightest, especially considering its price.

But what the iMac can't do is play Blu-ray movies. Yes, you're limited to 1,680x1,050 screen resolution with the VAIO LT19U, which is shy of 1080p, and means that your video image will always look a bit soft due to downscaling. Still, from a reasonable distance, say, 6 feet or so, we found the playback quality clear and sharp. Sony added a 5-watt subwoofer to accompany the two 3-watt speakers, although however full the sound, it doesn't overcome the fact that it simply can't get loud enough. Thankfully, there's an optical audio output, although using it sort of defeats the purpose of an all-in-one computer. There are no separate video outputs, so you can't pipe movies out to a larger screen.


You can remove the support leg and swap in other VESA-standard mounting hardware.

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's removable hard drive sled lets you expand the internal storage.

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.


If you squint, you can make out the crapware bar floating above the taskbar. The ad in the active window wants to sell you parental control software.

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.

System configurations:

Alienware Area-51 m9750
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 iMac (2.0GHz, 22-inch)
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

HP Pavilion HDX
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

HP Pavilion Media Center TVm 8120n
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

7.8

Sony VAIO LT19U

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 6Support 6