Style is at the heart of just about everything that Sony makes. Some products manage to look a little better than others, but as a general rule, you know that a Sony is going to be easy on the eye.

Given the firm's aesthetic track record, the XL100 was a bit disappointing. It looks bland, and it has sharp edges. It is, however, meant to be stacked with your DVD player and VCR, not displayed alone.

If the XL100 isn't eyecatching, your ears will have even more trouble noticing it's there. The operation isn't silent, but it's very quiet indeed – you wouldn't know it was switched on if it weren't for the lights on the front of the unit. Even these are easy to miss.

It's got two TV tuners – one analogue, one digital – so you can chuck out your old set-top box. Intel's Viiv platform (it rhymes with five) is central to the XL100's purpose, and it works well. There's a dual-core Pentium D 920 processor and support for 7.1 surround sound. You'll be able to find masses of content online.

The Vaio connects to the PC using either the new HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connection or the component video interface, but there's no VGA or DVI outputs. You do get a neat remote control, and the 250GB hard drive means there's lots of room to record your favourite programmes and movies. If that's not enough, you can free up space by burning to plenty of DVD formats.

The 128MB GeForce 6600 graphics card is by no means the most powerful on the market, but the Vaio should do a perfectly good job playing most games. Its 1GB of DDR RAM won't hurt, either.

It clearly isn't the primary purpose of the XL100, but using the Vaio as a conventional PC is a reasonable proposition, since a keyboard is included and Windows Media Center 2005 Edition is installed, giving much of the functionality of plain XP with all the additional entertainment features.

Sony Vaio VGX-XL100: Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 920 processor
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • 1GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB hard drive
  • 128MB GeForce 6600 graphics card
  • 8x/8x/8x/2.4x/4x/4x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/+R DL/-RW/+RW) 24x/24x/16x (CD-ROM/-R/-RW) drive
  • 802.11b/g facilities
  • Microsoft Works 8.0
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0
  • 1-year return-to-base warranty
  • 430x400x129mm
  • 10.5kg
  • 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 920 processor
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • 1GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB hard drive
  • 128MB GeForce 6600 graphics card
  • 8x/8x/8x/2.4x/4x/4x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/+R DL/-RW/+RW) 24x/24x/16x (CD-ROM/-R/-RW) drive
  • 802.11b/g facilities
  • Microsoft Works 8.0
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0
  • 1-year return-to-base warranty
  • 430x400x129mm
  • 10.5kg

OUR VERDICT

Everything the Sony Vaio VGA-XL100 is supposed to do it does well, but we were rather underwhelmed by the unit's styling, so often the company's trump card. The features on offer are impressive – especially Sony's embrace of Viiv technology – and the price is attractive. Just remember that this deal doesn't include a display.

Find the best price