A better iMac than the iMac? A generously specified all-in-one PC. You might find a Sony laptop more versatile, though.
Apple’s iMacs are excellent all-in-one computers, and since they can now run Windows, they’re an option for PC buyers too.
They’re pricey, though, especially without Windows included, and that leaves a gap in the market for PC makers who are prepared to take on Apple’s legendary design team. Step up, Sony.
The VAIO VGC-JS1E/S immediately stands out thanks to its stylish silver design, although it’s also available in black and (sigh) pink. It’s made out of plastic, not aluminium like the iMac, but still feels sturdy. It’s quiet, too, even when churning through our demanding benchmark tests. It has an easel-like stand so you can tilt the entire PC for easier viewing, but it feels stiff and can’t be adjusted as effortlessly as the iMac.
We were immediately impressed by the integrated 20 inch widescreen display. It has the same 1680×1050 pixels as most 22 inch screens, so there’s plenty of room for working in multiple programs, even those with lots of windows and palettes. It’s very bright, and colours look rich and vivid. Viewing angles are wide, so colour accuracy doesn’t suffer if you’re not sitting front and centre. It’s just as well the built-in monitor is so good:as with previous Sony all-in-one PCs, there are no ports for connecting another screen. That’s a shame if you like a multi monitor setup.
The VAIO did very well in our benchmarks. Its Core 2 Duo processor and 3GB of RAM blitzed through the general (2D) tests quite comfortably. If you regularly need to edit HD video or process huge RAW format images from a DSLR camera, you might want more speed, but most users will be quite happy with the Sony’s Windows performance.
3GB of memory is fine for most tasks, and the installed 32-bit version of Vista can’t use any more, though up to 4GB can be fitted. You’d have to upgrade to 64-bit Windows as well as adding the extra RAM, which wouldn’t really be worth it.
Gamers will definitely want to look elsewhere. The integrated Intel GMA X4500HD graphics chip can’t manage modern graphics and only crawled to 5 frames per second in Call of Duty 2, which is unplayable. Older, less demanding titles should run OK if you turn down their video settings.
One thing this chip can do is play back high definition video, so it’s a shame there isn’t a Blu-ray drive in the VAIO, nor even an option to add one at extra cost. There’s no remote control or built-in TV tuner either, but you could easily add a USB model to make use of Vista’s Media Center, with its TV recording capabilities.
If you do want to store TV shows, or just have a lot of videos, photos or music, you should find the 500GB hard disk adequate, though a lot of PCs now come with bigger drives. As expected, there’s no room for another internal disk, but there’s a FireWire port and five USB ports to which you could attach external storage, though an eSATA interface would have offered higher speeds.
The DVD writer can burn all the usual formats. Like the iMac’s, it’s mounted vertically, but where the iMac’s drive is slot loading – you just push the disc in – this one has a tray, which looks flimsy and vulnerable when extended. There are also two memory card slots, one for Sony Memory Sticks and another for the more common SD type, so you can easily read cards from your digital camera.
We’re used to wincing when listening to the speakers built into all-in-one PCs. The VAIO’s sound better than most, but they’re still not ideal. They’re very loud, with a surprising amount of bass, but bass-heavy music can sound harsh and tiring. You’ll need external speakers for decent listening. Disappointingly, there are no analogue outputs for connecting a set of PC surround sound speakers directly; you’d have to attach a surround sound amplifier to the optical S/PDIF socket.