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Sony VAIO RC310G review: Sony VAIO RC310G

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Blu-ray drives are capable of storing 25GB of data (and hypothetically 50GB in dual-layer discs). By comparison, a typical single-layer DVD is 4.7GB. Sony's own movie studios, as well as giants such as Disney, Warner, and Paramount, have lined up to support the format. You'll also find Blu-ray drives in the upcoming PlayStation 3 later this year, which means there should be a decent number of prerecorded Blu-ray discs for sale in the second half of 2006.

6.9

Sony VAIO RC310G

The Good

First Blu-ray burner we've ever seen inside a PC; typically slick VAIO design; HDCP-compliant video card.

The Bad

No Blu-ray movies available yet; slow Blu-ray burning speeds; hard to access internal components.

The Bottom Line

If you absolutely must be the first on the block with a Blu-ray device, the Sony VAIO RC310G is your pick by virtue of it being the first Blu-ray PC to hit the street. Slow burning speeds and the high cost of blank media, however, dampen our enthusiasm.
A format war is brewing for the hearts and minds of media fans everywhere. In one corner, Sony stands ready to do battle with its next-gen optical format, dubbed Blu-ray. In the other corner, Toshiba is prepared to wage war with HD-DVD. While both formats have been hampered by product delays and a generally indifferent public, HD-DVD hit the market first, in the form of stand-alone set-top players. Blu-ray is hitting PCs before set-tops, however, arriving in Sony's VAIO line of desktops and laptops. We got our hands on the first PC with a Blu-ray drive, the $2,249 Sony VAIO RC310G. Other PCs deliver more bang for the buck, but if you absolutely must be the first on the block with a PC equipped with Blu-ray (and you know who you are), you face a Hobson's choice: this VAIO desktop or none at all.

While 16X DVD burners are par for the course these days, the Blu-ray drive is still in its first generation. The RC310G's Blu-ray drive writes at 2X speed, and the blank media itself is rated only for 1X/2X burning.

Included with our RC310G test system was a blank rewritable Blu-ray disc (Sony plans to ship the system with one blank disc), but nothing in the way of an actual Blu-ray movie. (We expect to see movies on Blu-ray discs in short order, by mid-June.)

To test the capabilities of the RC310G's Blu-ray burner, we recorded audio and video files onto the included rewritable Blu-ray rerecordable disc. We didn't have nearly enough high-definition content to create a useful Blu-ray video disc, so we burned the massive files as data and used a stopwatch to time how long it took to burn.

We managed to nearly fill the disc with 22.5GB of data, leaving only 74MB of empty space. Our test data initially took 44 minutes, 30 seconds to burn, but then the system verified the data at the exact same speed it used for burning--thereby doubling our total disc-creation time to 1 hour, 29 minutes. This may seem like a long time to burn an optical disc, until you realize that we just burned nearly 25GB of data. We expect future drives to run even faster as the hardware rises above 2X speed.

The Sony VAIO RC310G is clearly a first-of-its-kind system. Windows didn't seem to know what to do with the Blu-ray drive and reported it as a CD-ROM drive from the My Computer window. When a burned Blu-ray disc was in the drive, Windows still called it a CD drive, but the OS did correctly see the disc and how much data it held. Roxio, on other hand, correctly identified the drive (a Matshita BD-MLT SW-5582) and the media.

Other than the Blu-ray drive, the Sony VAIO RC310G is very familiar; it represents an incremental upgrade to the last RC-series PC we looked at, the RC110G. The system shares the same slick industrial design as past VAIOs, and while powerful, it doesn't feature any sort of a cutting-edge CPU or video card. Still, the basic specs are nothing to sneeze at: a 3.2GHz Pentium D 940 processor, 2GB of DDR2 RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT video card, and a 300GB hard drive.

By way of comparison, the Dell XPS 400 has a similar 3.2GHz CPU (a Pentium D 840), and you can expect similar performance from the RC310G as the XPS 400 gives at basic computing tasks.

Inside the BTX case, you'll find a fairly cramped interior, and most of the internal components are hard to access. The memory is hidden behind a plastic cover, which is part of a huge passive cooling system for the CPU. This makes the four RAM slots (with one 512MB module in each) hard to get at and the CPU nearly impossible to reach without unscrewing several screws and breaking a blue tape seal that seems designed to keep prying hands off the CPU.

The hard drive cage is, in contrast, very easy to access. It's behind a small door separated from the rest of the case by the "wind tunnel" opening common to Sony VAIO systems. Behind the door, you'll find one 300GB drive and room for three additional drives.

As we'd expect from a VAIO desktop, the RC310G comes packed with preloaded software. For getting data files on our Blu-ray disc, we used Roxio DigitalMedia SE. The system also ships with Ulead BD DiscRecorder for creating Blu-ray video discs that should play in a set-top Blu-ray player. We'll test this feature once we get our hands on a set-top box. For playing back prerecorded Blu-ray discs, the VAIO RC310G includes a Blu-ray-compatible version of InterVideo WinDVD, one of the software titles Nvidia touted in the introduction of its PureVideo HD platform. Nvidia also cited the GeForce 7600 GT card included with the system as offering HDCP decryption for high-definition Blu-ray movies and hardware decoding to keep the CPU from getting overloaded by Blu-ray's 1080p video resolution.

In the end, the slow speed of the Blu-ray drive, along with high cost of both blank media (we've seen blank Blu-ray discs offered for preorder for about $22 per disc) and the Sony VAIO RC310G itself, keep this PC from being a better choice as a data backup or transfer tool than a portable hard drive or a recordable DVD drive (that burns more discs). But by sheer dint of its first-mover position in the market, those who want the ability to burn Blu-ray discs will find that the technology works as advertised and that Sony has built it into a well-constructed Media Center PC.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

6.9

Sony VAIO RC310G

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 5Support 6