NEC Versa P8210

As part of their new marketing blitz, NEC has introduced a little mascot in the form of a cartoonish, alien-like character with green skin and eyes on stalks. Being a Japanese company and catering to Japanese aesthetics, he might look funny to us, but he represents something much bigger, and it’s the fact that NEC has had a phenomenal 12 months in the laptop market.

The Versa P8210 is the offspring of the P8100, the massively successful model for which Australia was the test bed of the entire Asia Pacific region. The release of that machine was based on the positive response Australian consumers showed to the Versa M540 almost a year ago. As a result of the warm welcome all three machines received here — hitting our shores in Perth before anywhere else — they’ve spread across Asian markets meeting similar success and NEC’s laptop business has grown by leaps and bounds.

So the first thing you should know about the Versa P8210 is the virtually proven level of quality it had before it was even released. It’s encased in a similar chassis to the M540 and P8100 and has similar design and keyboard layouts to them so it’s nothing new or special to look at, but there’s a lot behind the super shine view screen coating to be excited about.

It tests as one of the fastest notebooks on the market when all the components are taken as a whole, and they’re just as impressive alone. The first is the graphics card, the Radeon X1600. Twice as fast as the current standard nVidia chip and with 128Mb, it’s the most powerful card you could possibly use with any modern application, and despite this it supports 512Mb.

Impressive numbers, but what do they mean to you? All the beautiful visuals of Windows Vista you might have heard about need the power to display them. Together with today’s high-end gaming, multimedia or presentation software it soon adds up, and the current graphics card standards of 64 or even 32Mb will struggle to drive the computers of the next three to five years effectively.

NEC is also travelling gently down the same digital entertainment path as Microsoft and Intel, though not making nearly as much noise about it. With only a little tinkering, the most recent Versa models including the P8210 can double as your multimedia hub — replacing your DVD player, hi-fi and games unit comfortably.

The P8210 goes a step further. The PCMCIA slot has been replaced by the new standard called ExpressCard. It does much the same job — giving you a slot to add or remove devices much like you would a digital camera into a spare USB port, but with more software-based functionality.

The ExpressCard slot fits the remote control that can theoretically drive everything on the computer, from watching a DVD to playing slideshows or music. What’s more, the audio out port is S/PDIF enabled. That means you can transmit digital audio without converting to analogue, as most connections from your computer to audiovisual devices must do.

It’s all cutting edge stuff, but building a laptop with the most up to the minute technology comes at a cost. In the P8210, it’s got less to do with any deficiency of the system than with the race to the top of performance and demands by users as applications get more power hungry.

Under everyday conditions and with every function, option and tool enabled it runs out of juice in less than two hours. To our mind you can hardly call that a mobile computer — if you’re the sort of user who plays a game while rendering a huge 3D graphic, connecting to your mobile via Bluetooth, surfing the web wirelessly and burning a DVD you’ll want to either stay at your desk where you can have it plugged in or not bother.

Perhaps realising that a computer can reach a point where the benefits are overshadowed by such limits, NEC have introduced a system called Eco-Mode. It’s a simple switch that cranks the power right down and leaves you with a bare-bones computing experience that extends the battery life to just over three hours.

It seems a shame not to take advantage of everything the system has to offer in this way, but as notebook parts get more advanced, the challenge for manufacturers will increasingly lie in streamlining them together as well as just making everything more powerful. NEC are doing both effectively, and staking a little green alien’s life on it.

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