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Sony VAIO LT19U review: Sony VAIO LT19U

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MSRP: $2,899.99

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.

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7.8 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Support 6

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.

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.

  Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.4GHz) Sony VAIO LT19U
CPU 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500
Memory 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400 GT
Hard drives 320GB 7,200rpm 500GB 7,200rpm
Optical drive SuperDrive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray burner
Networking 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet 802.11n, Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Apple OS X 10.4.10 Windows Vista Ultimate
Maximum display resolution 1,680x1,050 1,680x1,050
TV Tuner Optional tuner Integrated ATSC/NTSC tuner, external ATI Digital Cable tuner

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)
Apple iMac

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

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
HP Pavilion HDX
Apple iMac

'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.

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