NEC Versa P8100

It’s a law of nature; technology gets cheaper in proportion to uptake. If you were one of the first to buy a DVD player, you’ll be kicking yourself now some of them are barely more expensive than the movies you play on them.

When you see a lot of notebooks, you see the same thing on a much quicker scale, and a system with a certain set of specs might suddenly look phenomenal for the price until you realise it’s simply because time has passed and the manufacturers have leveraged more buying power for more mass-produced components to squeeze the price down.

Every now and again, however, one comes along that’s way ahead of the curve, and you can’t understand what they’ve done (scrimped on, taken out, etc) to offer so much for so little money.

The P8100 is such a beast. Encased in a similar shell to its predecessor, the M540, the P8100 is simply unlike anything you’ve seen in a notebook before. The unassuming shell holds the best of the best in just about every department, including some you don’t know and won’t even appreciate for some time. After playing with one for a week we’d barely scratched the surface.

And choosing the standout features to talk about in a critical review of the machine is a similar bottomless pit. There’s simply too much to appreciate — before you even open the box. The RAM, Hard Disk and processor are accessible by the user and so fully upgradeable. Thanks to the single subwoofer underneath, it’s completely comfortable playing music and DVDs. The trackpad has a virtual scroller wheel. It’s got every kind of slot, connector port, jack, connectivity standard and internal modem.

One of the features that will prick up the ears of home entertainment enthusiasts everywhere is the dedicated TV and SPDIF out ports. Connected directly to both your TV and stereo, the P8100 can easily become your media hub, much like the machines Microsoft and Sony are crowing about that don’t even have full PC features. And if you’re not convinced, pop the little remote control out of its hatch and control your digital content from the lounge while the P8100 sits unobtrusively on the entertainment unit.

NEC haven’t been content with just the high profile add ons, either. At every stage, the P8100 makes working a better experience. One of the few laptops to feature dual channel RAM, it uses two DDR2 RAM chips in parallel rather than serial. What does this mean to you? It uses half the RAM to do the same amount of data crunching.

Likewise, the Centrino chip belong to the new generation — Sonoma — that gives you a 533 MHz bus speed rather than the standard 400MHz. Together with the fast-spinning disk, it adds up to much more efficiency where it counts.

nVidia, the defacto standard in graphics cards, have included a whopping 256Mb of graphics. You’re lucky to get a 128Mb card at this price. What’s more, it’s neither shared nor dedicated memory, shifting between states according to the needs of other processes.

All in all it’s a power hungry machine, and throwing graphics, games and everything possible at it gave us a battery life of a little over two hours, so it’s a more suitable desktop replacement than it is a travelling companion depending in your field.

But the most important thing about the P8100 (if you count patriotism among your reasons for buying a notebook), is that after the Australian success of the M540, the impetus for its release and design of its specifications have come not from the ivory towers of Tokyo, Seoul or Shanghai (as most laptops sold in the Asia Pacific region have), but from Australia. In fact, right here in Perth.

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