Sony VAIO VGX-TP1E review
Sony has released many media-centre PCs, most of which also happen to be perfectly usable desktop machines. The TP1E is different: this is practically an audiovisual component. It comes with no monitor, for instance, with Sony envisaging users connecting via the HDMI port to a flat-screen TV.
Using the HDMI port has the added benefit of combining audio and video on one cable, which keeps installation simple and cable clutter to a minimum. The keyboard and trackpad combo is wireless as well, and the inclusion of 802.11bg wireless means you could get away with only power and HDMI cables.
As a media centre, the TP1E’s most likely home will be your living room, and the good news is that it’s almost silent: there’s just one fan, and it’s barely audible even in the quietest of rooms. The design’s interesting, too. It’s striking enough that you’ll want this VAIO on show and, with a diameter of 270mm, it’s small enough to live on a standard TV shelf. The ports, both on the front and back, are cleverly hidden. A sliding, spring-loaded cover hides the two front-mounted USB ports, mini-FireWire, SD and Memory Stick slots. A panel on the back, held on with magnets, covers another two USB ports, the network port, HDMI and D-SUB outputs, microphone and speaker sockets, an optical S/PDIF out, a socket for the wall-mountable WLAN antenna and TV-in.
The TV tuner is a DVB-T hybrid model, which is useful if you live in an area with no digital reception. The actual hardware is a mini-PCI AVerMedia M115S tuner, but while the VAIO VGC-LT1S (web ID: 128831) had two built in the TP1E has just one. This is severely restricting for a modern media hub: you can only record a single channel at a time. With dozens of Freeview channels available, there are bound to be times when you want to record two channels simultaneously – and that’s assuming your TV has a digital tuner built in, otherwise you won’t even be able to watch one programme and record another.
Besides that, the optical drive is a mere DVD writer, with no Blu-ray capability, so the only way to watch high-definition content will either be to download it or wait until it’s available on Freeview. Internal storage takes the shape of a 500GB hard disk, which is plenty for a well sized standard-definition media collection, but when space runs out you’ll need to add external storage. The TP1’s small dimensions mean no space for a second internal drive bay, and replacing the existing drive is all but impossible thanks to the TP1’s tightly integrated nature.
The keyboard and mouse combo looks good, but is frustrating for extended use. We found key presses occasionally failed to register altogether, making long documents irritating to work on. Also, the trackpad was equally prone to occasional blips.
The TP1E offers plenty of power for encoding, courtesy of its 1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, and it scored 0.77 in our application benchmarks. And, while 1GB of RAM is fine for a system that’s unlikely to be used for high-end applications, it remains the thing you’re most likely to want to upgrade. This is easily done – a removable panel on the underside of the system gives access to the two 512MB SODIMMs. The downside is that they fill both available RAM sockets. The one area of entertainment where the TP1E falls down is gaming – Intel’s GMA 950 adapter is underpowered for 3D gaming, so you can forget about running Call of Duty 2.