- ✓good battery life
- ✓successful styling and sound build quality.
- ✕A little large and heavy for the regular traveller
- ✕no expansion bus.
To judge from the Versa C150, the workaday corporate notebook is going up in the world. Despite an enticingly low price of £649 (ex. VAT) for the bare-bones model, the C150 not only looks slicker than many far more expensive portables, but it's also solidly put together.
Whatever configuration you opt for, the basic system is a fixed-drives, three-spindle affair, so there are no external modules to plug in. The case and lid surface are solid and unyielding, nothing looks liable to be accidentally broken off because it's in the wrong place, and all buttons, including the power switch, are safely covered when the lid is closed. The range of models on offer means that the Versa C150 can cope with most requirements. Our review sample illustrated this quite well, with its ambitious combination of a Mobile AMD Athlon XP1900+ processor (actually clocked at 1.6GHz), 384MB of fast PC2100 SDRAM, and a combo DVD/CD-RW drive. True, this bumps the price up to £1,179 (ex. VAT), but even that's not excessive for what can most definitely be seen as a business desktop replacement. It's becoming fashionable to kit out business portables with either Wi-Fi (802.11b) or Bluetooth wireless connectivity alongside the traditional 10/100BaseTX LAN and 56Kbps modem, but NEC leaves it up to you: if you need wireless, there's an empty MiniPCI slot next to the memory banks, or you can use one of the two Type II PC Card slots. Despite ongoing industry rumblings about 'legacy-free' computing, there are still manufacturers -- and NEC is one of them -- who find it worthwhile to retain some of the older ports. The Versa C150 has parallel and serial ports alongside its three USB connectors, so you're pretty well covered as far as wired connectivity is concerned. The Versa C150 also has an S-Video TV output (potentially handy for DVDs) and a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port, which is conveniently situated at the front where you can see it. There is no expansion bus for a tailored docking station or port replicator, which may be an issue for some potential purchasers, but that's about the only omission from the Versa C150. Once upon a time, lots of notebooks had little feet in the base to tilt the case towards the user and improve the typing angle. For some reason this handy feature seems to have fallen by the wayside, so we were pleased to see that NEC has fitted tilt stands to the Versa C150. With the feet down, typing is noticeably more comfortable, and the broad palm-rest comes into its own. The touchpad is enhanced by a very useful vertical scroll button, and the keyboard avoided the three major pitfalls of undersized modifier keys, unorthodox function-doubling to save space and a cramped main pad. All this makes the Versa C150 quite pleasant to use, and therefore a practical proposition if you need to do some real work on it. The effect isn't spoiled by the screen, which is no more than the standard 14.1in XGA TFT panel -- but it's bright, even and readable, and that's what counts.
At 3.15kg and with a 33cm by 27cm footprint, the Versa C150 is something of a handful if you're a regular traveller. If you do use it on the go however, you will be treated to another of its strong points, namely long battery life: Thye C150 kept the BatteryMark 4.01 rundown test going for 3 hours and 17 minutes, which is a respectable length of time. The Athlon XP1900+ CPU and 384MB of RAM powers the Versa C150 to an impressive score of 42 under the mainstream application-based Business Winstone 2001 benchmark. Everything acquitted itself well enough in the component-level tests, although the ATI Radeon IGP 320M graphics processor was much stronger in 2D than 3D -- which is acceptable enough in a business notebook at present. The overall impression we formed of the Versa C150 was positive -- in fact we were hard pushed to come up with anything bad to say about it for the 'Cons' part of the summary. It's certainly up to scratch as a corporate product, and there's no reason why it shouldn't do a perfectly good job in the home as an alternative to a desktop.