Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement | How we test computers
The shiny-black main chassis consists of a 20-inch, 1,280x768-pixel LCD mounted on a hefty base (a 17-inch model is also available, starting at $1,999). It's bulkier and deeper than most all-in-ones, measuring about 10.5 inches from front to back and nearly 22 inches wide. Even so, the screen tilts and swivels easily. On the right side of the VAIO VGC-V520G, there's a double-layer, multiformat DVD burner, a pair each of USB 2.0 and audio ports, and even a Type II PC Card slot. However, because the case tapers sharply to the rear, you have to crane your head behind the LCD to access any of this--very inconvenient.
Worse still, the VAIO VGC-V520G's remaining ports (among them two more USB 2.0, digital optical audio out, and S-Video) are located in recessed bays beneath and behind the LCD. To use any of them, you literally have to turn over the entire 29-pound machine--not an easy proposition given its unwieldy design. This aggravating configuration really quashes a lot of the V520G's appeal.
One major saving grace is the gorgeous screen, far and away the most vivid and lifelike we've seen in an all-in-one system. Equipped with Sony's Xbrite technology, it boasts an incredibly wide viewing angle and delivers dazzling color. We were particularly impressed by the sharpness of live TV, which tends to look fuzzy on media-center PCs. Alas, the VAIO VGC-V520G doesn't support HD--a missed opportunity on Sony's part.
Audio could also be better. Driven by Intel's High Definition Audio chip, the VAIO VGC-V520G's built-in speakers deliver vibrant sound and commendable volume--sufficient for dens and dorm rooms. But the lack of a subwoofer and surround satellites make this a system that audiophiles will definitely want to upgrade with their own speakers.
As a PC, the VAIO VGC-V520G offers just about every desirable feature, including a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 540 processor, an 800MHz frontside bus, 1GB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, and a 250GB hard drive. This configuration gives the VAIO VGC-V520G strong application performance; its score of 181 on the SysMark 2004 test places it right in the middle of the all-in-one pack, which includes competitors such as the MPC ClientPro 414 and other media-center systems. Its 3D performance proved adequate for older 3D games, scoring 96.5 frames per second (fps) on our lower-end Unreal Tournament 2003 test (anything over 60fps is excellent). You will likely find a significant drop-off with more modern games, however, especially if you crank the detail settings.
Among its other features, the VAIO VGC-V520G includes integrated 802.11b/g wireless networking technology, an excellent perk that preserves the sleek design and gives you freedom to place the unit wherever you have a wireless network set up. Sony's lap-friendly wireless keyboard includes a notebooklike touch pad so that you needn't use the mouse (also wireless) while computing from the couch. Regrettably, there's just one media-card slot, and--surprise--it's for Sony's Memory Sticks.
Sony's VAIO Zone strives to be a sexier, more modern version of Microsoft's Media Center Edition interface--and it succeeds, but at the cost of simplicity. A scrolling main menu provides quick-and-easy access to features such as TV, music, pictures, and CD/DVD playback. However, as you drill further into the interface, you'll find it nowhere near as intuitive as Microsoft's, mostly due to the busy, option-heavy screens. The electronic program guide (EPG) and TV-recording features in particular seem quite complex, and even after we learned the ropes, we found ourselves longing for simpler tools. Sony's bland remote didn't help matters, with seemingly redundant buttons such as Menu, Tools, and Controls. Nevertheless, VAIO Zone is a robust, feature-packed environment, and patient users will get a lot out of it.
Like most VAIO systems, this one comes with an abundance of software. In addition to InterVideo's WinDVD Click to DVD (which integrates with VAIO Zone for burning recorded shows), you get an abundance of audio and video tools, such as Adobe Photoshop Album SE, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, and SonicStage Mastering Studio. Sony also supplies Microsoft Works 8.0, a 90-day Norton AntiVirus 2005 subscription, and a DVD containing five high-profile movies (including Spider-Man and Men In Black II). However, you can unlock only one of them, and they're not DVD-quality files. Stranger still, you have to burn your own recovery discs--something we wouldn't expect in a system this pricey.
The VAIO VGC-V520G comes with a one-year warranty, including onsite service, and 24/7 toll-free phone support. Sony also offers robust online support, though at press time there was no system-specific information available. Even more puzzling, Sony supplies no documentation, printed or otherwise, for using VAIO Zone. And this is an app that could definitely use a manual.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, 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).
|Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768|
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 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X, respectively, during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides 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).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Alienware DHS-2 Media Center
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.0GHz Intel P4 530; Intel 915P chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X300 (PCIe); Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Gateway Profile 5.5
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.2GHz Intel P4 540; Intel 915P chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 64MB ATI Radeon X300 (PCIe); Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm
MPC ClientPro 414
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.2GHz Intel P4 540; Intel 915P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon Mobility X600 (PCIe); Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm
Shuttle XPC G5 9500g
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce3 250 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X800 Pro (AGP); WDC WD2500JD-00GBB0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Sony VAIO VCG-V520G
Windows XP Home SP2; 3.2GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5700; Maxtor 7Y250P0 250GB 7,200rpm ATA/133