The PC industry insists that the ever-elusive perfect hybrid of television and computer is both at our fingertips and something we really want. Enter the VAIO PCV-W510G, Sony's all-in-one wide-screen desktop with digital video recorder (DVR) functionality and remote-control operation. The 16:9 aspect-ratio display is gorgeous, and the three-position, fold-up keyboard is slick and attractive. Nonetheless, the system suffers from clunky hardware-software integration missteps. When used with digital-cable or satellite set-top boxes, the system's TV-recording capabilities are greatly reduced, while its graphics subsystem is a wimpy 32MB integrated chip. Sony preloads tons of multimedia software, adding value to the $1,699.99 cost, though that price feels high given the specs. Ultimately, this system is best for those who are willing to sacrifice function for impressive form.
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The VAIO PVC-W510G transforms from a PC...
Like the Gateway 610 Media Center, the Sony VAIO PCV-W510G features a wide-screen LCD panel flanked by stereo speakers in a sleek, metallic all-in-one housing. But while the Gateway mounts its unit on a stand and provides a wireless keyboard and mouse, the Sony VAIO's screen rests upon the desk, with a fold-up keyboard hinged to the bottom that folds out of the way when not in use.
The smartly designed keyboard folds into three positions: unfolded all the way for typing, folded halfway up for watching TV, and folded all the way up when not in use or when playing audio. The best part of this design innovation is the way it allows the W510G to look radically different depending on the situation. With the keyboard folded halfway, in which the lower half of the key tray flips around to obscure the keys and reveal simple channel, volume, and power buttons on the underside, the system looks and feels like a TV and wouldn't appear out of place in a living room. In audio mode, with the keyboard folded up obscuring the bottom half of the screen, the system becomes more unobtrusive, while the remote sensor remains active so that you can control the audio playback.
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...to a small-screen television...
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...to a low-profile audio device.
Sony markets this model as a "downstairs PC," one that style-conscious users won't mind having in public spaces of the house. Certainly students and other space-constrained users will love having one appliance do the work of two. But it's hard to envision the W510G's 17.5-inch screen replacing a full-size living-room TV.
Sony does a commendable job of cramming lots of doodads into the all-in-one VAIO PCV-W510G, all of which are hidden behind the wide-screen display. On the right side, there's a Matsushita DVD/CD-RW combination drive, a single PC Card slot for expansion, and tons of connectivity, including four USB 2.0 connectors as well as FireWire, Ethernet, modem, S-Video, composite-video, and optical and standard audio ports. The left side houses brightness and contrast wheel controls and a single Memory Stick slot.
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As long as your peripherals are up-to-date, you should have all of the ports you need on the right side.
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The left side features the Memory Stick slot and screen-adjustment controls.
Inside, Sony has outfitted its W510G with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of 333MHz memory, an 80GB hard drive, integrated sound, and integrated graphics with 32MB of shared video memory. Dual stereo speakers flank the gorgeous 17.5-inch-diagonal screen, which features a 16:9 aspect ratio and an HDTV-quality resolution of 1,280x768. This model is the most powerful of the entire W series, and it's the only configuration with DVR functionality. You'd better hope that one of the preconfigured W models matches your needs and budget, though, because Sony does not offer any customization options for the line.
Like many Sony systems, you'll pay a bit more than you would for the same specs from less stylish competitors. In addition to the system's good looks, Sony supplies a boatload of software to help justify the W510G's price premium. The bundle includes preinstalled apps for making movies, burning CDs, manipulating photos, working with audio, and accomplishing other media creation and management tasks.
Unlike the Gateway 610 and similar living-room friendly systems, the W510G relies on Sony's proprietary Giga Pocket software, rather than Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, for controlling TV and video functionality. Giga Pocket's intuitive interface makes it a snap to record live TV, make video stills, and play DVDs and audio files. But because this VAIO model does not allow you to control set-top boxes remotely, digital-cable and satellite users will be forced to change channels with a separate remote control and will find Giga Pocket's TV-recording functions, such as setting up scheduled recordings of your favorite shows, largely useless.
We generally don't expect much out of a Sony, simply because Sony has shown itself to be more concerned with the overall user experience than with raw performance. With an aging 2.4GHz P4 processor, 512MB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM (instead of the speedier 400MHz variety), and integrated graphics based on yesterday's SIS 651 chipset, the VAIO PCV-W510G's specs are more akin to those of a business PC rather than a multimedia powerhouse. With a SysMark 2002 score of 235, the VAIO W510G performed very closely to the corporate-aimed Gateway E-4100-C Deluxe. That is to say, it delivers performance that, though not blistering, has enough oomph for general office tasks.
|Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, 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
As soon as we saw that the W510G used the integrated graphics of the aging SIS 651 chipset, we knew not to expect great 3D performance. So we were not surprised when an unplayable 15.7 frames per second (fps) was the best result we saw from the Unreal Tournament 2003 test. Don't expect to be able to play high-end games on the W510G; it's not designed for that, which is indicated by our results. The low-end video chip did not, however, interfere with watching, recording, or playing back video.
|3D gaming performance (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled. At this color depth and resolution, Unreal is much less demanding than 3DMark03, and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.System configurations:
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated Intel 865G 64MB (shared memory); Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
Gateway E-4100-C Deluxe
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 256MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated Intel 865G 64MB (shared memory); Maxtor 6E040L0 40GB 7,200rpm
MPC ClientPro All-in-One
Windows XP Professional; 2.8GHz Intel P4; SIS 645DX chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
Sony VAIO PCV-W510G
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz Intel P4; SIS 651 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated SIS 651 32MB (shared memory); Seagate ST380011A 80GB 7,200rpm
Sony VAIO PCV-RS430G
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9200 128MB; Seagate ST3120022A 120GB 7,200rpm
Because Sony sells predominantly through retail channels, it typically offers only a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, which can be upgraded by the individual retailer. If you buy the system online direct from Sony, the W510G will be covered by the one-year standard warranty, which includes a year of 24/7 phone support.
You can, however, call Sony's phone sales center at 877/865-7669 to order warranty upgrades. A two-year warranty costs $150, three years is $230, and four years is $316. Each includes phone support for the life of the plan. And you might want to order your system directly from Sony anyway: when we called, the company offered several promotions, including a free printer, a free 128MB USB-based flash storage device, a free wireless keyboard and mouse, and a $100 e-mail coupon to be used for any purchase of $250 or more on Sony's Web site.
We loved that Sony preloaded electronic documentation. Sadly, no printed material came with the system. That format would have been valuable given the VAIO W510G's varied capabilities.