Sony didn't punch a hole in the middle of the RA810G just to be different. The tunnel through the middle of the case--above the motherboard and below the optical drives--is an air intake, and it's part of the system's unique cooling system, which uses liquid-cooled pipes to shuttle heat away from the processor and toward the large heat sink in the top half of the case. Behind the heat sink sits a large, relatively slow-spinning fan that blows heat out of the back of the system. Our test PC ran so quietly that we sometimes couldn't tell whether the RA810G was on or off.
Without the usual din of cooling fans, we were able to pick up every word and subtle joke of the BBC's The Office at normal volume levels. Good thing, too, because the bundled 2.1 Sony speakers have a limited range. They provide acceptable audio if you are glued to a screen at your desk, but if you integrate the RA810G to your home theater, you'll obviously want to use a more powerful speaker set.
You won't need a more powerful Media Center PC, however, than the Sony VAIO RA810G. With Intel's 3.4GHz Pentium 4 550 processor on the 915P Express chipset, 1GB of 400MHz DDR memory, and a 250GB Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive, the system can handle almost any multimedia task, including recording TV, burning DVDs, editing photos, and downloading and playing music. Its SysMark 2004 score of 194 is right on a par with that of other systems in its class, and its 225 score on the graphics-laden Internet Content Creation portion of the test speaks well of its multimedia capabilities.
With ATI's midrange PCI Express (PCIe) graphics card, the Radeon X600 XT, the RA810G is a good choice for running most graphics apps aside from the latest games. And for casual gaming at lower resolutions, the RA810G will suffice, as evidenced by its 132.5 frames per second on our low-end Unreal Tournament 2003.
The ATI graphics card occupies the RA810G's lone 16X PCIe slot, a 56Kbps modem takes up one of the two 1X PCIe slots, and the TV tuner card occupies one of the three PCI slots. The system ships with two 512MB DIMMs of PC3200 memory, and there are two empty memory slots, should you want to add more memory later. The 250GB hard drive provides ample storage, and you have room to add two more SATA drives, should you become a TV-archiving junkie.
You'll be able to clear up some hard drive space with the RA810G's double-layer DVD+RW drive, which can fit an entire uncompressed movie onto one (still very expensive) disc. A front-panel media-card reader makes it easy to import photos and MP3s, although we dislike the cheap plastic panels Sony opts to use to hide the drives and the media-card reader. We expected a more polished look on such a high-end system, especially from image-conscious Sony. The company claims that our preproduction review unit wasn't shipped with the usual care, but the fact remains that one of the panels snapped off during shipping, and the slide-down panel covering the media-card reader refused to rest flush against the case when closed. In addition, we would have preferred a wireless keyboard and mouse to the included wired units, since a Media Center PC isn't necessarily going to be rest atop a desk with you sitting directly in front of it.
Sony includes its own branded apps for managing your photos, music, and videos. Its GigaPocket software is redundant on a PC that's running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005--both apps perform the DVR functions of recording and pausing live TV--but we found use for Sony's SonicStage music suite, which includes Mastering Studio, an app that lets you input music from analog sources, such as vinyl records and cassette tapes. Sony's PictureGear is an easy-to-use photo editor, but if you're not satisfied with it, you can opt to edit with the bundled Adobe Photoshop Elements. The VAIO Media app lets you share the RA810G's data with other Windows XP machines on your home network.
Sony backs the VAIO VGC-RA810G with an average, one-year parts-and-labor warranty that includes depot service and toll-free, 24/7 phone support for hardware questions. Software and OS support lasts a measly 90 days.
|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||Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF|
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 resolutions 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).
ABS Ultimate M5-64
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Via K8T880 Pro chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X800 XT PE (AGP); two Maxtor 7Y250M0, 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated VIA Serial ATA RAID controller
Dell Dimension 8400
Windows XP Home; 3.6EGHz Intel P4; Intel 925X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X800XT PE (PCI Express); two Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801FR SATA RAID controller
Polywell Qbox 865T
Windows XP Home, 3.4EGHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz;128MB ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro (AGP); WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA
Shuttle XPC G2 7500M
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 3.4GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon 9800 XT (AGP); WDC WD2000JB-00FUA0 200GB 7,200rpm
Sony VAIO VGC-RA810G
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 3.4EGHz Intel P4; Intel 915G chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X600 XT (PCI Express); Maxtor 7Y250M0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA