The card is a fanless model that's cooled by a heatsink and heatpipe combination, so it operates in perfect silence. Bizarrely though, the card does not have D-Sub or DVI outputs. Only an HDMI port is present, although you get an HDMI to DVI adaptor in the box. Reassuringly, the card is a full-height PCI Express model so it's easily replaceable if it doesn't suit your needs.
Crammed into a housing on the left of the machine's busy innards is a pair of 250GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 hard drives in a RAID 0 (striped) configuration. This gives you 500GB of storage space, and faster disk access times than if you were to use a pair of independent 250GB disks.
Multimedia freaks will love the inclusion of a Freeview TV tuner card, but the flagship component in this PC is a Matshita BD-MLT UJ-215S Blu-ray disc drive. This slot-loading device brings several benefits over ordinary DVD drives, most notably its ability to play high-definition Blu-ray movies. When you're not playing movies you can use it to copy up to 25GB of data to an ordinary single-layer Blu-ray Disc (BD) or 50GB to dual-layer BDs.
It's fair to say this puts 4.7GB DVD discs to shame, but it's not a particularly fast drive. It runs at a Blu-ray speed of 1x, but is rather slow when writing to other formats: just 8x for CDs and DVDs. Avid disc burners who've grown accustomed to 52x CD-R drives will be slightly cheesed off about this.
Sony sent us Blu-ray copies of Tears of the Sun and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride to help us put the VGX-XL202 through its paces, but if you buy the VGX-XL202 between now and 1 January 2007, you can claim six free Blu-ray movies of your own, plus a blank BD as part of a special offer.
Don't try playing your Blu-ray flicks through Windows Media Center though -- it doesn't have the foggiest idea what to do with them, telling us in no uncertain terms that there was no disc inserted. You'll need to use the accompanying Intervideo WinDVD BD 5.0 software. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this but it's a pain having to swap between multimedia applications -- especially as Media Center was designed to negate this hassle. As a result you won't be able to use the Media Center remote to control Blu-ray playback -- you'll need to use the wireless keyboard.
As with most Vaios you get a fairly healthy software package, including Adobe Premier Elements 2.0, DVgate Plus 2.2, Photoshop Elements 4.0 and BD Discrecorder for Vaio to name a few.
The VGX-XL202 provides effective all-round performance. Its Core 2 Duo E6400 CPU has two processing cores each running at 2.13GHz, which gives it enough processing power to throw most Windows applications around like a rag doll. It's fine for all everyday office productivity or multimedia tasks, but you may want to upgrade it with an extra 1GB of RAM if you plan to do any heavy image editing.
3D performance wasn't bad -- it ran F.E.A.R. at 33fps and scored 2,922 in 3DMark 2006, which is a respectable total for a fanless, completely silent graphics card. By comparison, the fan-cooled GeForce 7600 GT in the Vaio RC204 scored 3,535.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield