Sony Media Center PC Well-Suited for the Office

Sony's new media PC offers a high-performance CPU, middling graphics, and Intel's HD audio. It's billed as a Media Center PC, but may be better suited to the office than the living room.

When we heard that Sony was shipping a "liquid-cooled" PC, visions of pumps, hoses and thermal fluid danced in our heads. As it turns out, Sonys new VAIO RA-810G uses a more prosaic heat-pipe solution to cooling the 3.4GHz, Prescott-based Pentium 4 processor.

We were also intrigued, however, because the RA-810G uses Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition as its operating system. Weve reviewed Media Center PCs in the past, including the Gateway FMC-901X and Dell 4600C. Alas, Gateway seems to have stopped shipping the FMC-901X, which was one of the better living room PCs weve encountered from a major OEM. Dell offers Windows Media Center edition now on most of its PCs, with the apparent exception of the trim 4600C.

Home theater PCs (HTPCs) are becoming less viable as time goes on, mainly due to the growing number of standalone DVRs and digital set-top boxes that will do the same thing and look better in the living room to boot. So this new Sony VAIO seems targeted squarely at home offices and dorm rooms, where a "do-everything" PC makes sense. Does Sonys Swiss Army Knife approach work? We take the 810G for a spin to find out. The new VAIOs chassis offers clean, spare lines, without much embellishment. Its most distinguishing feature from the outside is that it appears to be a small box atop a larger box, separated by a channel nearly large enough to pass an arm through.

Heres the VAIO RA-810Gs component inventory:

CPU

Intel Pentium 4 Processor 550 3.40E GHz

Operating system

Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition 2004

Motherboard chipset

Intel 915P

Power Supply

Delta 400W

Graphics card

ATI Radeon X600 XT 128MB Video Memory

Memory

1GB PC-3200 400MHz DDR (expandable to 2.0GB)

Hard drive

250GB 7200rpm SATA

Optical drives

DVD+R Double Layer / DVD+-RW Drive; and a DVD-ROM Drive with 16X DVD-ROM Read, 40X CD-ROM read

TV hardware

16x PCI Express Giga Pocket MPEG2 Realtime Encoder/Decoder board with TV Tuner

User input

VAIO Keyboard / PS/2 Optical Mouse, IR Remote Control and Receiver / IR Blaster

Video inputs

2 S-Video (front and rear), composite video, coaxial

Video outputs

VGA/DVI monitor port / TV-Out Port, S/PDIF Out

Audio processor

Intel High Definition Audio

Speakers

Stereo with subwoofer.

Additional I/O

Seven USB 2.0 (three front/four rear, FireWire

Memory card support

Memory Stick, Compact Flash Type I and Type II, and IBM Micro Drive

Software

Giga Pocket (PVR), Click to DVD, SonicStage Mastering Studio, PictureGear Studio, Oxford Labs Studios, DVgate Plus (digital video), SonicStage (digital music), Adobe Premiere LE, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, VAIO Media network file sharing, Microsoft Works 7.0, and Quicken 2004

The top section holds the optical drives and power supplies. The lower section houses the motherboard, hard drive and expansion cards. The gap between upper and lower sections is real, but the top and bottom are connected via sturdy channels.

In fact, its really a single case with a gimmicky pass-through rather than two discrete halves joined together. If you look inside the case, youll note that it looks more like a single unit that external appearance might suggest.

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