capsule review


At a Glance
  • Sony VAIO VGC-RA842G

    PCWorld Rating

Artwork: Rick Rizner

The Sony VAIO VGC-RA842G is a great multimedia system, best suited to the enthusiast who wants a complete audio, video, and graphics package out of the box. This VAIO offers a quiet, liquid cooling system, but even though it was configured with a dual-core 3-GHz Pentium D 830 CPU and 1GB of DDR2-533 SDRAM, it doesn't have the horsepower to appeal to graphics professionals or hard-core gamers.

Photographers and music fans will like the special features of Windows XP Media Edition 2005, which lets your PC double as an entertainment center by making it easier to organize, view, and listen to all kinds of multimedia files. A remote control lets you orchestrate music playback and slide shows or change the channel on the built-in TV tuner from anywhere in the room. The system is easy to set up, with clearly written documentation that should successfully guide even inexperienced PC users. Sony also provides extensive on-screen help covering all aspects of the machine's use.

Images on the 19-inch Sony MFM-HT95 flat-panel display that came with our review unit looked great when we viewed our Star Wars DVD, and during our document tests it clearly displayed tiny 6.8-point text at its native resolution of 1280 by 1024. Like the VAIO, the display comes with its own built-in TV tuner and remote control. Impressive as it is, the display's $800 price tag--half the cost of the whole system--suggests it may be a bit extravagant for most people looking for a budget PC. (You can order a less-expensive monitor with the system.)

One big money saver for the enthusiast is Sony's software package for managing and editing digital images, video, and sound. In addition to Sony's user-friendly programs for DVD-burning, photo editing, digital video editing, and music editing and mastering, the VGC-RA842G comes with Adobe Premiere Standard Edition and Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0. The system also comes with Microsoft Works 8.0, Intuit Quicken 2005 New User Edition, and 60-Day Student/Teacher Edition Trial for Microsoft Office 2003.

The VAIO VGC-RA842G has a simple but stylish dark-gray midsize tower case with a full complement of connectors for getting digital content in and out of the PC. Under a small sliding panel on the case front are three USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port (which Sony calls "I.Link"), a composite video port, and an S-Video port. The back of the PC duplicates the front ports (with a full-sized FireWire port) and adds coaxial cable and TV-out ports.

Thanks to the liquid cooling system, which makes the PC run quietly though not noiselessly, the interior of the case is seriously claustrophobic. Adding RAM to the two open sockets requires detaching a number of power cables, and even then, dexterous fingers would be a big help. On the other hand, adding another hard drive to the existing two 250GB drives is no problem; the drives face outward for easy access. No large external drive bays are free, but because the system has a double-layer DVD±RW drive and a DVD-ROM drive, you probably won't need one. There is only one open PCI slot.

Aside from its limited expandability, this VAIO lacks the performance muscle to satisfy graphics pros and serious gamers. Despite the dual-core CPU, the machine's WorldBench 5 score of 89 is what we'd expect of a PC with a 3.4-GHz Pentium 4 550 CPU. A frame-rate score of 143 on the Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Unreal Tournament tests was comparable to scores on other systems using the same nVidia GeForce 6600 graphics chip set, but far lower than the 240+ frames per second posted by top gaming systems.

This well-equipped and easy-to-use Media Center PC is a bit slower than we'd like, but it's a very good buy for the multimedia enthusiast who wants a turnkey solution.

Kirk Steers

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Media Center machine combines a reasonable price with strong multimedia components and software.


    • Strong on multimedia; good price


    • Lacks graphics horsepower
Shop Tech Products at Amazon