NEC Versa E680

December 15th, 2003 Mobile Computing, Tech, The West Australian

The NEC Versa Series continue to occupy a fairly middle of the road place in business-ready notebooks, a mantle the Versa E680 takes up with gusto through its mostly vanilla-flavoured features.

Two things make it stand out. The first is that it comes with a DVD burner rather than the usual Combo Drive. The second is the price tag. Usually a DVD burner would send the price through the roof, but somehow NEC have managed to release it at a fairly miraculous $3495 — usually a machine containing hardware like it will set you back around $4500.

It’s a pretty comfortable machine to work on. NEC call it a lightweight but there’s both a lot lighter and a lot heavier machines in the notebook market.

There are no nasty little adjustments likely to bring on RSI that you have to make to be comfortable typing or navigating — as some Notebooks force you through — mostly because of the large flat area, giving your fingers room to move between the trackpad and keyboard. The layout is simple — an obvious ‘on’ switch and that’s it — giving you the feeling it’s a no nonsense corporate tool, an impression the specs back up.

The screen, while only 15′, has a minimum of clutter around it and likewise gives you the impression of space, making you think it’s bigger than it is.

If you’re an executive on the run, you’ll write a lot of email, work in a lot of spreadsheets, look at a lot of websites and write a lot of notes. To do all that, the E680 is more than enough. It’s got the latest Intel Centrino chipset, which allows its streamlined and (relatively) light design, an inbuilt Wireless 2100 802.11b Connection and Windows XP Pro preinstalled.

Some things you won’t do if you’re a typical corporate user is listen to a lot of CDs, watch a lot of DVDs, or play Quake over a LAN with your friends — even though the E680 has the capability to do all this and more without a hitch.

And it’s a good thing, because the one aspect that lets it down badly is the speakers. Curling around the top of the keyboard, they sound as if they’ve come straight out of one of those Hong Kong made sets of mini speakers you can get to plug into an analogue Walkman for $4.95.

Watching a DVD was nearly impossible during testing because even at maximum volume, it was barely audible (your average David Lynch movie would be virtually silent). A music CD fared slightly better in the volume stakes, but the sound is also so tinny it’s nearly unbearable. The cost saving made on the DVD burner was obviously a trade off with the ultra-low quality sound output system.

Along with XP, you get plus Norton Anti Virus and software for the DVD burner, so it’s ready to go straight out of the box.

One change to the usual limitations is the expandability. You can upgrade the 40GB hard disk and it comes with 256Mb of RAM, which is expandable to 1024Mb. In an ironic Catch 22 though, a lot of the tasks you’d need that much memory are very sound intensive (like high end game playing or video editing, in which you’d have plenty of use for the DVD burner) and you’d need a separate speaker system. And if you’re in the market for a machine to play games or edit video on, there are better suited portables out there.

There’s 4 USB slots, 10/100 Ethernet, a Firewire port, internal modem and an S video output port. NEC claims a battery life of 5 hours, but it rarely rose above 4 during even simple usage while under tests.

The bottom line is that it’s a clean, attractive, simply designed computer with the comfort of usability and specs for a business-oriented user.

The DVD burner is pretty astounding for the price, but you’ll only use it for mass data backup and nothing you need good quality sound for. As such, it’s a bit of a mystery why you’d need one in the first place. A simple CD burner would have sufficed for the sort of work you’ll do on it, and it might have cost a few hundred dollars less and been a very straight-laced Notebook with no pretensions or ideas above its station.

Price: $3495

Technical Specifications: 256Mb Ram, 40GB HD, Intel Centrino 1.6Ghz chipset.

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