Sony Vaio VGC-RM1N review: Sony Vaio VGC-RM1N

The Sony Vaio VGC-RM1N, also known as the 'R Master', is definitely not for the cash-strapped -- it's a high-price, high-performance desktop that's designed to edit high-definition video. It boasts a quad-core Intel CPU, and unusually has not one but two chassis

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There are two types of people in the world: those with shed-loads of disposable income, and the rest of us. The Sony Vaio VGC-RM1N, also known as the 'R Master', is definitely not for the latter group -- it's a high-price, high-performance desktop that's designed to edit high-definition video.


Sony Vaio VGC-RM1N

The Good

Blu-ray burner; performance; great storage solution.

The Bad

Comes in two separate units; enormous chassis.

The Bottom Line

The RM1N's dual-chassis setup is unusual to say the least. It's also pricey, as you'd expect for a PC that uses a quad-core CPU. Don't let that put you off, though. It's fast, has plenty of storage, and comes with all the appropriate software for high-definition video editing

It's the second consumer PC we've seen that uses a quad-core Intel CPU, and it's also the first (that we can recall) that depends on two chassis, not one. The RM1N is available online for around £2,400.

The Vaio RM1N is reminiscent of a bulky old component hi-fi system. The main base unit is of the horizontally oriented desktop variety, rather than the more common tower shape. There's also a secondary access unit that sits on top of the base unit, or to the side of it in a special cradle. It's not conventionally attractive, but it's far from ugly. We like the blue-grey and contrasting black colour scheme, and the thick vents at the front give it a powerful, industrial look.

The access unit is a strange addition -- it's connected to the base unit via a special cable and houses separate 5.25-inch Blu-ray and DVD rewriter drives. It's also home to four USB ports (two at the front, two at the rear) a PC card slot (also at the rear) and a memory card reader at the front. There's plenty of connectivity on the main base unit, too: four USB ports at the front, four at the rear, plus a four-pin FireWire port. That's more ports than you could shake a stick at.

The memory card reader in the access unit has more connectivity than you can shake a stick at

While the base unit is completely lacking in optical drives, it's positively teeming with hard drives. It can accomodate four in total, all of which can be crammed into a front-accessible drive cage. Each drive can be removed with relative ease thanks to a quick-release system, but you'll need to remove the plastic fascia on the base unit and flick a few other switches to do so.

Hit the power button on either the base unit or the access unit and the RM1N's cooling fans spin ferociously to life. Thankfully they settle to a quiet hum -- until, of course, you ask it to encode some video. All that noise is necessary because the RM1N's cooling fans have to contend with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU clocked at 2.4GHz. It's not as fast as the 2.6GHz Q6700, or the all-conquering Core 2 Extreme, but we assure you it's the processing equivalent of giving Einstein four brains and jamming his face into a motherboard. The 2GB of DDR2-667MHz memory is about the minimum we'd expect from a PC of this type, but there are a couple of spare DIMM slots in the PC and you can add up to 3GB.

The RM1N is all about multimedia, so it's no surprise it uses an Nvidia Geforce 8600 GTS card. This is a couple of rungs below the flagship GeForce 8800 GTX, but it's fast enough to run any game you ask of it, and of course, to handle other multimedia tasks. The card has a dedicated 256MB of dedicated memory and plenty of memory bandwidth, so playing and editing video is as smooth as you like.

You're unlikely to run out of disk space on the RM1N. The base model ships with two 500GB hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration. This setup, also known as striping, asks the PC to break data into fragments and spread it across all the disks in the array. This allows multiple chunks to be read in parallel, thus improving disk access times. It's like having four separate mechanics change the wheels on your car instead of one. But the danger is that if one drive becomes damaged, the entire RAID array is destroyed, along with all those terabytes of lovely data. If you're a tad insane, or your movie collection rivals that of Ron Jeremy's, there are two vacant 3.5-inch drive bays at the rear of the base unit so you can add even more storage.

The Blu-ray drive in the access unit comes in very handy. It'll let you create backup discs with up to 25GB capacity, but be aware each disc will set you back in the region of £10. More economical backups can be made with the DVD rewriter drive, although the process of making large backups involves swapping between lots of discs -- the maximum backup size per dual-layer DVD is 8.5GB.

The PC Card slot, mentioned earlier, is a rather strange inclusion as it's more often found on laptops. In the RM1N, however, it's designed to accept a DVCPRO P2 (Professional Plug-In) card. This is a special type of solid-state memory card consisting of several individual SD memory cards linked together.

The PC Card slot at the rear can accept DVCPRO P2 plug-in cards

The RM1N's primary purpose is to edit high-definition video, so it's no surprise to find plenty of media-manipulation software pre-installed in addition to Windows Vista Business edition. It ships with Adobe Premier Pro 2.0, worth £500, along with Photoshop Elements, SonicStage Mastering Studio, WinDVD 8 and DVgate Plus -- all you need to start editing your next high-definition blockbuster.

Interestingly, Sony has included a jog controller, which never fails to make you look as if you're a true professional -- even if you're not. This works much like the iPod's Click Wheel in that it allows you to move backwards and forwards through video or audio on a frame-by-frame basis. In the box you'll also find an infrared remote control, a stylish Vaio mouse and a PS/2 keyboard -- we guess Sony didn't want a USB keyboard hogging one of the 12 USB ports littered around the machine.

Yes, it's fast. But not as fast as you might think. The RM1N racked up an impressive 7,329 in PCMark 2005, which blows over 90 per cent of desktops clean out of the water. Unfortunately it's nowhere near as fast as the Dell XPS H2C 710, which uses an overclocked Core 2 Extreme CPU. For the record, that achieved an astonishing 9,251.

Gaming isn't this PC's forte, but it doesn't shy away from a few polygons. Its Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS graphics card helped it score 5,571 in 3DMark 2006, at the default resolution of 1,024x 768 pixels. That's extremely impressive, but again it's put in the shade by the Dell XPS H2C 710. Its twin GeForce 8800 GTX cards helped it score more than twice as much: 15,299.

The RM1N is a well-designed PC that will appeal to video editing and encoding enthusiasts. Its swappable hard drives, excellent software package and sheer speed make it very attractive. But if raw performance is all you need, there are definitely faster PCs out there -- notably the Dell XPS H2C 710.

Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide