- Attractive price (even without a monitor)
- stylish design.
- Moderate performance with high-end applications
- poor 3D acceleration
- no AGP slot for graphics upgrades
- no Ethernet connection as standard.
Sony's range of desktop PCs includes two form factors: the slimline LX series, which is designed to look stylish around the home and perform relatively undemanding Internet and productivity tasks; and the bulkier (but still stylish) RX series, which is equipped to handle multimedia content creation and editing. The last RX model we looked at was the high-end £1,499 (inc. VAT) RX203, built around a 2GHz Pentium 4 processor with 512MB of RAM and a 64MB GeForce2 Ti graphics card. The RX200 series has now been superseded by the RX300 series, whose entry-level representative, the RX301, we review here. The RX301 is notable not only for its competitive price (£799 inc. VAT, excluding monitor), but also for being based around an AMD Athlon XP processor rather than Intel's Pentium 4. The other, higher-specification RX300-series models will still use the Pentium 4, says Sony.
The RX301's Athlon XP processor is the 1800+ model, which runs at 1,533MHz (1.53GHz) -- several speed grades behind the CPU that currently tops the Athlon XP range, the 2100+. The motherboard chipset is SiS's 740, which features an integrated 2D/3D graphics accelerator complete with hardware DVD playback. Unfortunately the RX301’s ASUS A7S266 motherboard doesn’t have an AGP slot, so if you want to upgrade the graphics you’ll have to hunt down a PCI card –- and decent ones are pretty thin on the ground these days. Our review system came with 256MB of RAM in one of the three DIMM slots, 32MB of which is used as frame buffer by the SiS 650_740 graphics accelerator. The A7S266 has four PCI slots, but the bottom one is obscured by a 56kbps Lucent soft modem in an adjacent AMR slot.
Optical storage is provided by two drives, a 16X DVD read/40X CD read Pioneer unit and a 24X write/10X rewrite Sony CD-RW unit. The hard disk is a 40GB Seagate Ultra-ATA/100 drive with a rotational speed of 5,400rpm, and there are two removable media drives behind a drop-down flap on the front fascia -– a standard floppy drive and a Memory Stick slot.
As you’d expect from a Sony PC designed for multimedia content creation, there are plenty of ports and connectors dotted around the system unit. At the front, behind another drop-down panel, are two USB ports and a 4-pin IEEE 1394 port, while the back panel provides further pair of USB ports and a 6-pin IEEE 1394 port, along with standard interfaces like serial, parallel, PS/2 (keyboard and mouse), VGA and audio (headphone, microphone and line in). Curiously, although the motherboard carries an Ethernet chip, there’s no external connector, so you’ll have to use up one of the three free PCI slots if, for example, your broadband Internet connection requires an Ethernet link.
The remainder of the hardware specification comprises a well-appointed keyboard complete with wrist rest and quick-launch buttons, a pair of powered stereo speakers and a scroll-wheel mouse.
The RX301 comes with Sony’s customary generous software bundle, which includes applications for video and still image capture, editing and output, and audio manipulation. You also get Microsoft’s Works 2001 suite for general productivity tasks.
The VAIO PCV-RX301 looks good and has a more than reasonable specification for the £799 (inc. VAT) price (which doesn’t include a monitor, note). But does it live up to its ‘multimedia content creation’ billing? Only up to a point, according to our benchmarks. Its Business Winstone 2001 score of 43.4 is respectable enough and suggests there will be no problem running mainstream applications. However, its Content Creation Winstone 2002 score of 25.4 is well off the pace for a desktop system (our highest score to date is 40.3). Coupled with disappointing 3D graphics performance from its integrated chipset, this suggests that the RX301 might struggle to handle really demanding video editing projects, for example. However, it should certainly be up to more moderate content creation work.
Considering the price, Sony’s new entry-level ‘multimedia’ desktop is an attractive prospect -– so long as you don’t expect too much in the way of performance. You’ll have to pay for a monitor, of course, and the lack of a AGP slot is worrying, while the absence of an Ethernet connection is merely irritating. Despite all this, many people will be surprised that you can get as desirable a desktop PC as this for so little outlay.