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Sony VAIO PCV-RX740 review: Sony VAIO PCV-RX740

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MSRP: $800.00

The Good Huge software bundle; good features for the price; FireWire and USB ports on front and back.

The Bad Mediocre performance; poorly designed case.

The Bottom Line The Sony VAIO PCV-RX740 series offers the style, features, and software of a more advanced PC but disappointing perfomance.

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6.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Support 5

Sony sets its VAIO desktop PCs apart from the competition by adding multimedia extras. Even the budget-priced VAIO PCV-RX740 series, which starts at less than $1,000, includes both DVD and CD-RW drives, USB and FireWire ports, a wide range of CRT and LCD monitor options, and a huge selection of bundled software. Although it is billed as a system for digital media and 3D gaming, the VAIO PCV-RX742 that we tested couldn't deliver the level of performance required for these more demanding tasks. For more advanced applications, you really need the higher-end VAIO Digital Studio PCV-RX700 series, which looks identical but offers Pentium 4 processors, standalone graphics accelerators with dedicated video memory, and a DVD-RW option. But first-time PC owners shopping more for features than performance will appreciate the strong value found here. Aesthetically, the standard VAIO line hasn't changed much in the past few generations. The grey-and-lavender minitower case, with matching monitor, keyboard, mouse, and stereo speakers, no longer looks so unorthodox, now that many competitors have also dumped the beige box in favor of more creative color schemes. Nevertheless, the design of the VAIO PCV-RX740 has stood the test of time, and it still looks better than your typical budget PC, even if it is no match for Apple iMac in the style department.

A tricky latch gives way to a quick release.
On a more practical level, the design of the PCV-RX740 series is a mixed bag. Its tool-free, minitower case pops open with ease, once you figure out the rather convoluted latch mechanism, which requires you to remove the top of the case first. The open roof offers easy access to the upper drive bays, so you can easily reach the DVD and CD-RW drives housed there, but the power supply, mounted in the middle of the case, and an aluminum barrier provide obstacles to free-and-easy case access. For example, adding memory proves more difficult than it is on other systems, as the drive cables are crowded in front of the two DIMM slots. In addition, the cable connecting the hard drive to the motherboard on our evaluation model became disconnected during shipping, and plugging it back in was an awkward exercise.

The case design blocks certain components.

A FireWire port and two USB ports grace front and back.

Since the PCV-RX740 series isn't really designed for heavy-duty enthusiasts, it can be forgiven for providing only three free PCI slots, no AGP slot, and only a single 3.5-inch internal drive bay for expansion. You do get two 5.25-inch drive bays, however. On the model we tested, the VAIO PCV-RX742, both were occupied. Connectivity shouldn't be a problem, since Sony has wisely outfitted the system with a single FireWire and dual USB ports on both the front and back. If only the designers had thought to include front-mounted audio ports, as well.

As with other VAIO desktops and notebooks, the PCV-RX740 series is available in either preconfigured models, sold in both retail and online, or custom configurations. Sony doesn't offer nearly the level of customization that you'll find with ABS or Dell, for example. All models of the PCV-RX740 series use AMD Athlon XP+ processors, currently either the 1600+ (1.4GHz) or the 1800+ (1.53GHz). In addition, Sony sells a Digital Studio RX700 series that has an identical design but uses Intel Celeron or Pentium 4 processors. It also offers the option of a DVD-RW drive.

We tested the VAIO PCV-RX742, a budget system that comes with the Athlon XP 1600+, 256MB of DDR memory, and a 60GB hard drive. All models in the series use integrated graphics, the SIS 740 chipset, and share main system memory (up to 32MB). Though these are all perfectly adequate specs for a budget or even a midrange system, they seemed mismatched with the VAIO PCV-RX740 series' big bundle of digital audio and video software. As the results of CNET Labs tests demonstrate, the VAIO PCV-RX742 doesn't offer the optimal level of performance for some of these demanding tasks.

The VAIO's drives: DVD-ROM, CD-RW, and floppy disk.
The VAIO PCV-RX742 ships standard with both its external full-size drive bays filled with optical drives--a 16X DVD-ROM drive and a 24X/10X/40X CD-RW. The operation of the drives was exemplary, although the eject buttons on the two optical drives felt flimsy to us.

Sony offers a huge assortment of monitors--18 CRTs and 18 LCDs--sold separately from the PCs themselves. Our evaluation model came with one of the least expensive LCDs, the 15-inch SDM-S51, which maxes out at a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels at 32-bit color depth. It provided a crystal-clear picture and offered simple operation, although off-axis viewing (that is, viewing from an angle) wasn't as strong as it was with other models we've tested.

The speakers sound better than they look.
In addition to the aforementioned FireWire and USB ports, the PCV-RX740 series includes dual serial ports, an internal modem, and an Ethernet adapter. The included PS/2 keyboard has a great feel and quiet operation, as well as six easily programmable, one-touch Internet buttons. Sony also includes a pair of basic stereo speakers, which deliver better sound than their flimsy-feeling construction suggests.

The VAIO PCV-RX740 series' most impressive attribute is one that many buyers overlook: the bundled software. Comprising at least 10 proprietary and third-party applications, the PCV-RX740 series' software bundle includes Sonic DVDit for recording DVDs, MovieShaker for editing video on the desktop, and DVGate for capturing video and digital still images--among many other multimedia tools. The system ships with Windows XP Home and includes WordPerfect Office (granted, it's no Office XP, but it'll do) and Quicken 2002.

Application performance
The Sony VAIO PCV-RX742 won't get any speeding tickets, but it does have enough power under its hood to adequately perform most common office-productivity and content-creation tasks. The VAIO PCV-RX742's application performance compares favorably against similarly configured 1.6GHz P4-based systems, but the RX740 series' slightly slower hard disk hampers its overall performance somewhat. As long as your computing demands aren't too rigorous, the VAIO PCV-RX742's application performance should satisfy your needs. However, for more demanding tasks, such as digital video editing, we recommend a more powerful system.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 Rating  
SysMark2002 Internet Content Creation Rating  
SysMark2002 Office Productivity Rating  
ABS Sensation 1600 (1.8GHz Intel Celeron)
Gateway 300X (1.7GHz Intel P4)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX742 (AMD Athlon XP 1600+)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics and gaming performance
The RX740 series' integrated SIS 740 graphics engine delivers 3D graphics performance that's actually a shade better than what you typically see from integrated graphics solutions, but it's still not fast enough for most of today's games. The RX740 series is not the right choice for someone who's looking for a machine for 3D gaming.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)'s 3DMark 2001 Pro (16-bit color)'s 3DMark 2001 Pro (32-bit color)  
ABS Sensation 1600 (1.8GHz Intel Celeron)
Gateway 300X (1.7GHz Intel P4)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX742 (AMD Athlon XP 1600+)
Note: The ABS Sensation 1600 was unable to complete's 3DMark 2001 Pro test (16-bit).
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses's 3DMark 2001 Pro. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.

3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Quake III Arena  
ABS Sensation 1600 (1.8GHz Intel Celeron)
Gateway 300X (1.7GHz Intel P4)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX742 (AMD Athlon XP 1600+)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

ABS Sensation 1600
Windows XP Home; 1.8GHz Intel Celeron; 128MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 845G/GL 32MB (shared memory); IBM IC35L040AVVA07 40GB 7,200rpm

Gateway 300X
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel P4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated Intel 845G/GL 48MB; Western Digital W0400BB-53DEA0 40GB 7,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCV-RX740 series
Windows XP Home; AMD Athlon XP 1600+; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated SIS 740 32MB; Samsung SV6003H 60GB 5,400rpm

The most glaring problem with the PCV-RX740 series, and indeed with all Sony desktop and laptop PCs, is the company's lackluster service policy. You can't upgrade its limited, one-year warranty at any cost, and onsite service is not offered as an option. These factors alone may be enough for some to reconsider a Sony purchase. Despite this system's low price, we'd gladly shell out a little extra dough for the peace of mind that a three-year warranty provides.

Thankfully, Sony does provide 24-hour, toll-free technical support, as well as a thorough compendium of tutorials, FAQs, and driver downloads on its Web site. We were unable to locate live online support, however, or even an e-mail-based support feature.

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