Sony Vaio Signature Collection L-Series review: Sony Vaio Signature Collection L-Series

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MSRP: $1,999.99

The Good The Sony Vaio L21SFX boasts pleasing aesthetics with some unique touch features and an impressive array of digital media capabilities.

The Bad Due to its laptop CPU, this system is not as fast as we'd like to see for its price.

The Bottom Line Sony's Vaio L21SFX brings with it all of Sony's classic all-in-one tricks, as well as a few new ones in an expensive package of which the value falls just short of its price tag.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Support 7

Sony has brought two innovations to its all-in-one desktops with the Vaio L Series. The most prominent is the system design, with its tapered sides that create the illusion of pleasing thinness. The second, more subtle trick is a series of touch-sensitive points built into the display bezel. The latter is only marginally useful, and we'd like to see a more competitive set of computer components in a $1,999 all-in-one, but overall we recommend this desktop as a versatile, sufficiently powerful computer and home entertainment device that's attractive enough to display anywhere.

The best part about the Vaio L21SFX is its new design. The trick is in the Vaio's left and right edges, which slant toward the back of the system to such a degree that they create the illusion of thinness, and from a relatively wide viewing angle when you're sitting in front of the system. Combine that trim profile with a simple, pedestal-style stand and a clean, spare bezel ringing the display, and the new Vaio is now behind only Apple's iMac in providing a visually pleasing all-in-one computing experience.

That clean design is all the more impressive considering what Sony tried to accomplish on the edges of the display. In addition to offering a standard touch screen with this PC, Sony also installed touch-sensitive points around the display frame itself. The idea is that these points create a system of extra controls for basic interface functions like moving back and forth along your Web history, zooming in on the screen, or launching a specific application.

For some features, like the programmable application launch command that activates when you push the Vaio logo in the upper left corner, we appreciate the convenience of using a single press to launch a media suite, for example. The backward and forward commands on the bottom edge and the zoom-in and -out points on the right side of the display feel less necessary at first, but then hopefully you remember that you can use the primary touch screen for page scrolling, and the hard buttons on the side of the system for volume commands.

If that seems like a confusing number of input options, we don't disagree. Also, with no visual indicators on the bezel inputs, you have to be unafraid to learn by trial and error. Not everyone has that level of comfort with PCs, but fortunately the commands the touch inputs are tied to are all harmless enough that the results of a mistaken press shouldn't be too traumatic. You can also always ignore the bezel edge inputs, and use the system as you would otherwise.

Sony Vaio L21SFX Dell Inspiron One 2305 Acer Aspire Z5700-U3112
Price $1,999 $1,149 $1,099
Display size/resolution 24-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels
CPU 2.0GHz Intel Core i7 2360QM 2.4GHZ AMD Phenom II X4 610e 3.2GHz Intel Core i5 650
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5470 graphics card 128MB (shared) Intel GMA 4500 integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 2TB 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray burner Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

We haven't reviewed an all-in-one in the same price range as this Sony in a while. Apple's 27-inch iMac is the closest we've seen, but given the seemingly credible rumors of a new iMac on the horizon, it seems more relevant to focus on recent Windows all-in-ones, despite the rather large price disparity outlined above.

What we find interesting about the comparison above, as well with the sub-$1,000 HP Omni 200-5380qd, is that Sony remains one of the few all-in-one vendors that still uses laptop components. Laptop CPUs, graphics chips, motherboards, and RAM all tend to be more expensive than their desktop counterparts. The problem for Sony is that, unlike the other Windows vendors, Sony no longer offers traditional tower desktops. We can't say for sure, but we'd be willing to bet that Sony's dedication to laptops has cost it the purchasing efficiency necessary to make its all-in-one more price-competitive by using desktop parts. The Vaio L21SFX does offer a larger hard drive than its competitors. Its Blu-ray burner is unique, and the bezel-edge inputs and various other multimedia features around the system also stand out. We just wish it had more competitive computing guts.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Cinebench 11.5 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Sony Vaio L21SFX
HP Omni 200-5380qd
Acer Aspire Z5700-U3112
Dell Inspiron One 2305
Gateway One ZX6951-53

Our fundamental problem with the Vaio L21SFX's performance is that on most of our tests it's not as fast as the HP Omni 200-5380qd, a system that costs $1,050 less. The Vaio does use a true quad-core CPU, and a Sandy Bridge chip at that, but its slower, 2.0GHz clock speed keeps its performance below where we would like to see this system, considering its price. The quad-core chip kicks in on the multithreaded Cinebench test, which brightens this system's outlook somewhat, at least for now. For programs that use multiple processing threads, digital media creation applications in particular, this system should perform admirably.

We don't expect it will be too long before those power-efficient Sandy Bridge desktop chips show up in mainstream all-in-ones, though, and with desktop parts they will likely boast not only the same number of cores as this Sony, but also faster clock speeds. In all likelihood, it won't be too long before this system falls to the bottom in performance comparisons. The Vaio L21SFX is fast enough for frustration-free day-to-day use, certainly. Just know that its bang for the buck is less than impressive.

From a gaming perspective, we had positive results with both Crysis 2 and the older, but more demanding, shooter Metro 2033. We were able to play both games at 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, although with Metro 2033 we had to dial down the image quality settings to their lower values. We don't expect any all-in-one to compete with dedicated gaming tower systems, much less a PC like this Sony with laptop hardware, but we're still happy to see that it can handle modern PC games.

Like previous Sony all-in-ones, and systems from a few copycat vendors, the Vaio L21SFX allows you to input HDMI video sources to use on this system's display. That means this PC can serve as a digital media anchor for a cable box, a game console, or other external video devices, which makes it particularly well-suited for a den or a dorm room. It also includes an HDMI output for connecting a second monitor or for output to an HDTV.