Sony's VAIO RS desktop line has always offered a wealth of multimedia features at fair prices, but until now, Sony has never supplied the systems with the needed performance to smoothly run intensive audio- and video-editing apps. With the VAIO PCV-RS430G, Sony finally delivers a midrange system capable of its intended use. Though not for gamers, ATI's budget Radeon 9200 graphics card is a good fit for multimedia chores such as editing video and recording TV. The $1,399 system (the bundled 15-inch LCD adds another $329) ships with Sony's Giga Pocket software, a TV tuner, a 120GB hard drive, and a DVD+/-RW drive--letting the RS430G function as both a DVR and a TV-archiving solution. For creative types with a multitude of digital media, the VAIO RS430G is well worth considering.
Your external expansion options abound with the RS430G.
The VAIO PCV-RS430G wears Sony's familiar and eye-pleasing 7.7-by-15-15.4-inch white-and-silver case, complete with clean, rounded lines. The system provides an array of external connections for peripheral devices, with ports conveniently located on both the front and the rear of the system for easy access.
Rear ports include one six-pin iLink (Sony's name for FireWire) port, a parallel port, four USB 2.0 ports, a 10/100 Ethernet port, plus microphone, speaker, line-in, and S/PDIF ports. The ATI Radeon 9200 graphics card provides an analog VGA connector, which we used to connect the Sony SDM-HS53 flat-panel display, a DVI port for digital flat panels, and a composite TV-output connector. Just below the graphics card sits a TV-tuner card that provides an S-Video input, a coaxial (UHF/VHF) input, and composite audio/video inputs (red, white, and yellow RCA connectors), allowing the tuner to receive standard video signals from diverse sources, such as your TV cable, a VCR, or a camcorder. A 56Kbps modem port rounds out the rear connections.
|All full up: the system has a compact case and loads of features, leaving little room to grow.|
A small hatch on the lower front of the system hides another three USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin iLink port, and another set of S-Video and composite-video inputs. The media-card reader works with Sony's own Memory Stick, of course, and can also read CompactFlash Type I and Type II, IBM's MicroDrive, and SmartMedia memory.
The case's outer cover is bolted to the chassis as a single piece, so you'll need a screwdriver to remove it for upgrades. Once inside, however, you won't find much to work with. Of the system's two 5.25-inch drive bays, one external 3.5-inch bay, and two internal 3.5-inch bays, only the second internal bay is free for another hard drive. Similarly, only one of the system's PCI slots is free (one is used by the TV tuner; the other is obstructed by the modem). And even with three cooling fans inside, the box itself is quiet.
Based on Intel's 865PE (Springdale) chipset, a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, and 512MB of 333MHz memory, the Sony VAIO PCV-RS430G is no powerhouse, but it is a strong midrange performer that will get your multimedia work done in a timely fashion. Likewise, the system's ATI Radeon 9200 card is fine for gaming novices. The 120GB Seagate hard drive provides ample storage for games and other files, but extensive picture and video collections will consume that space quickly. The RS430G configuration is one of three ready-to-ship models in the RS series and therefore is not customizable. Sony offers a roomy 200GB hard drive, however, as an option on the custom configuration.
In addition to Windows XP Home, Sony ships the PCV-RS430G with an impressive multimedia software bundle that includes the company's own Click to DVD video-editing-and-creation software and Giga Pocket TV-recording software, as well as Microsoft Works 7.0. Working in tandem with the included TV-tuner card, Giga Pocket lets the system function as a DVR. The software walks you through the TV-channel setup and provides a timer/recording wizard that makes it easy to select the date, the time, and the channel to record, even while you're away from the PC. Giga Pocket then records shows to the hard drive; you need to use the Click to DVD app to burn TV content to disc. Sony also includes PictureGear Studio for photo editing and archiving and SonicStage for music management--two easy-to-use apps for basic chores.
The RS430G's multiformat DVD-recordable drive handles all CD and DVD burning, as it can burn DVD-R and +R discs at 4X speed and CD-Rs at 16X. The system's second drive is a standard 16X DVD-ROM drive, which you can use to watch DVDs or burn disc-to-disc copies with the DVD burner. Completing the picture is a floppy drive.
|The DVD burner records to both DVD+R and DVD-R.|
|The bundled 15-inch display is sharp and stylish.|
We were surprised by the sharp image on the 15-inch Sony SDM-HS53 flat-panel display that came with our test system. Sony sells its monitors separately, however, and the snappy SDM-HS53 adds $329 to the total cost of the system. The system does include a two-piece speaker set that we found strictly pedestrian but adequate for basic gaming, Voice over IP use, and MP3 playback. Audiophiles will want a system that at least includes a subwoofer; Sony offers a number of Creative I-Trigue 2.1 sets on the RS series' customizable configuration.
We generally don't expect much performance out of a VAIO desktop, simply because Sony seems more concerned with the user experience than with speed. After running the VAIO PCV-RS340G through our benchmarks, however, we came away pleasantly surprised. Considering that it uses 512MB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM as opposed to 400MHz memory, we expected to see below-average numbers. Instead, with a score of 277 in SysMark 2002, the RS340G performed slightly above average for its category. It was especially impressive in the office-productivity portion of SysMark 2002, performing almost identically to the Dell Dimension 4600, which runs on speedier 400MHz memory. Overall, the RS430G is an impressive midrange machine capable of handling a variety of multimedia tasks.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark 2002 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).
3D graphics and gaming performance
The VAIO RS340G uses ATI's low-end Radeon 9200 graphics card, which isn't built to run advanced 3D games. Hence, we weren't surprised by the low frame rates in our Unreal Tournament 2003 test. Its score of 51.5 frames per second isn't horrible, but you'll experience some hiccups on high-end games.
3D gaming performance (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
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 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled. At this color depth and resolution, Unreal is much less demanding than 3DMark03 and is therefore 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.System configurations:
Dell Dimension 4600
Windows XP Home, 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD800BB-75CAA0 80GB 7,200rpm
HP Pavilion a250e
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 128MB; Seagate ST380011A 80GB 7,200rpm
IBM ThinkCentre A50p
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9600 Pro 128MB; Maxtor 6Y120L0 1200GB 7,200rpm
MPC ClientPro All-in-One
Windows XP Professional; 2.8GHz Intel P4; SIS 645DX chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
Sony VAIO PCV-RS430G
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9200 128MB; Seagate ST3120022A 120GB 7,200rpm
Sony's stingy warranty for the VAIO PCV-RS430G lasts for just one year--and that's only after you register your purchase. Onsite service isn't an option: you must either carry the product into an authorized repair shop or pay to ship the product to the nearest facility for service. Extended warranties may be available for purchase through retailers such as BestBuy or CompUSA, but those are retailers' warranties, not Sony's.
Toll-free telephone support is also available for one year from the date of purchase (thereafter, you'll pay $19.95 per incident). Sony's online support site offers access to software downloads, a knowledge base, tutorials, and e-mail support, and a service locator (to help you find a local repair center). You won't find any system or application recovery discs, but you can make your own using the VAIO Recovery Wizard software and instructions that accompany the system. The included 43-page printed manual provides handy setup and troubleshooting information that should be more than adequate for most users.