Put Sony's new whisper-quiet VAIO RC110G in the den where it can help entertain the family just as easily as it can help the kids with their homework. You can find more powerful PCs available for the money but few in such a sharp-looking package.
The media-friendly Sony VAIO RC110G will certainly find a home in dens and TV rooms across the country, but we can think of a better place: libraries. Thanks to its liquid-cooling system, the RC110G barely made an audible hum, no matter what task we set it to. It might not offer a lot of expandability, but the RC110G delivers an impressive hardware and software lineup for $1,300. Given this system's media capabilities, you might wish it came in a component-style case like Sony's new VAIO XL1 Digital Living System does, but as configured, the Sony VAIO RC110G is a quiet, capable desktop PC that provides strong multimedia entertainment features.
Despite its Microsoft Windows Media Center 2005 Edition OS, the RC110G and its midtower case aren't designed to replace any of your home-theater components. Thanks to its tasteful aesthetics, though, you shouldn't feel any shame displaying the system on a desk in your home. The VAIO logo lights up white when the system is turned on, and front-panel doors conceal the optical drives and the various ports, preserving the system's bold, pristine appearance.
The hole cut out in the middle of the case means the RC110G can push the airflow more efficiently and quietly around the processor and the hard drive. Sony debuted the forerunner of this BTX case design last year with the VAIO RA810G.
The rest of the VAIO RC110G's specs reflect its capability as an entertainment-oriented system. The dual-core Pentium D 830 CPU and 1GB of 533MHZ DDR2 memory (expandable to 2GB) at the center offer respectable performance for a system in this price range. On CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 benchmark, the RC110G finished in a statistical tie with two other similar systems with the same chip. We're assured that the RC110G's performance numbers live up to its specs, although you might reasonably look at the scores of the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+-powered Polywell Poly 939N4X2 and wish Sony offered AMD's chips. Unfortunately, it does not.
In addition to the dual-core CPU, the Sony VAIO RC110G's configuration is typical of a Media Center PC. We imagine a die-hard movie and TV watcher will fill up the 250GB of storage quickly, but the system can expand to 1TB with the three free 3.5-inch expansion bays. The Intel 945P chipset motherboard provides an optical digital audio port. A Sony TV tuner card takes up one of the two PCI slots inside the system and provides component and S-Video outputs, along with a coaxial input for an analog TV signal. Front-panel S-Video and composite-in ports dot the front of the system, which, along with the ports on the back, give you plenty of options for connecting the RC110G to a variety of home audio and video components. Sony also gives you a remote control and a remote sensor to plug into your PC. We're not enthused about the basic PS/2 keyboard, the wired USB mouse, or the bargain-bin speakers, but they do keep the price of the system low. Adding a monitor will cost extra; Sony offers a selection on its site.
Like many PCs we see these days, there are two optical drives in the front of the RC110G: the now-standard pairing of one double-layer DVD burner and a DVD-ROM drive. This match makes it easy for users to burn DVDs and CDs directly to the blank media, saving time by cutting out the step of storing the image on the hard drive while you swap discs. We're also glad to see a strong array of ports, including the aforementioned A/V jacks, seven USB 2.0 ports (three front, four in back), four-pin and six-pin FireWire (i.Link, in Sony's parlance) ports, and a multiformat media card reader. The front also has headphone and microphone jacks, and you'll find the typical 7.1-capable audio inputs on the rear.
If you're thinking about using the Sony VAIO RC110G for gaming, you'll need to make some aftermarket upgrades. The 128MB ATI Radeon X300 graphics card offers VGA, DVI, and S-Video ports, so if you want to operate two monitors or output to a TV, you should have no trouble, though you'll need to provide the appropriate cables and adapters. The Radeon X300 isn't much of a 3D chip, though. On our updated Half-Life 2 benchmark the VAIO RC110G posted barely playable frame rates of 23.2 frames per second on our 1,024x768 test. You might have better luck with less intensive 3D titles, but gaming is clearly not the RC110G's strong suit. If you want to upgrade the graphics card, you can, thanks to the x16 PCI Express graphics slot.
Like most VAIOs, RC110G comes with a vast bundle of media apps and other software. We're impressed that it ships with Adobe's Photoshop Elements 3 and Premiere Standard Edition, but we wish Sony threw in the manuals, as well. The bundle also includes Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition, Microsoft Works 8, Intuit Quicken 2005 New User Edition, InterVideo WinDVD, and Roxio DigialMedia SE for basic disc creation and backup needs. You also get 90-day trials of Norton Internet Security and Intermute Spy Subtract. Per usual, Sony doesn't provide the software on CD, nor is there any kind of system restore disc. You do get Sony's VAIO Recovery Wizard, which helps you make your own restore discs, but if your optical drive gets messed up, it won't help you much.
Sony is good at providing service, but less so about providing documentation. The company earns decent marks for its support options outside of including printed documentation. Our review unit arrived without any paper manual, which is consistent with other Sony desktops we've seen. We love that the company offers 24/7 phone support for one year, but--hint to Sony--customers wouldn't need to use it as often if they could look up basic issues on their own. This PC also comes with a one-year warranty on parts and service, typical of the current standard. The support Web site offers FAQs and electronic manual downloads among other useful features.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell XPS 400
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium D 840; Intel 945GP chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 (PCIe); (2) Western Digital WD160JD-75HBB0 160GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm; integrated Intel 82801GR/GH SATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 830, 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Intel 945GP chipset; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 (PCIe); Hitachi HDS722525VLSA80 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA (two separate drives no RAID)
Polywell Poly 939N4X2
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+; Nvidia Nforce 4 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (PCIe); (2) Western Digital WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Sony VAIO RA842G
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.0Ghz, Intel Pentium D 830; Intel 945G chipset; 1,024MD DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 (PCIe); (2) Western Digital WD2500JD-98HBC0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Sony VAIO RC110G
X300 (PCIe); Western Digital WDC2500Js-98MHBO 7,200 rpm Serial ATA Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.0GHz Pentium D 830; Intel 945P chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X300 (PCIe); Western Digital WDC2500Js-98MHBO 7,200rpm Serial ATA