- Generous warranty
- expansion bus
- integrated Wi-Fi
- effective horizontal/vertical scroll button on touchpad.
- Exposed power switch
- no floppy drive as standard
- noisy cooling fan.
NEC’s Versa P440 is a silver machine, with a slightly grainy metallic finish that lacks the gravitas of black or anthracite. However, it does help to make large notebooks like the Versa P440 look a little less imposing. Even so, with its 32cm by 27.1cm (W x D) footprint and 2.9kg standalone weight, this system should be regarded as a desktop replacement rather than an ‘anytime-anywhere’ portable.
This sits well enough with the core specification, which unites a 2GHz Mobile Pentium 4-M with 256MB of PC2100 SDRAM and a 40GB hard disk. The choice of nVidia’s GeForce2 Go graphics processing unit (GPU) and the provision of a DVD/CD-RW combo drive further strengthen the Versa P440’s case to be taken seriously as a potential desktop-killer.
A few aspects of this system’s design gave us pause for thought. For example, the size of the footprint could easily accommodate a 15in. screen, so we suspect the choice of a 14.1in panel has been made with price uppermost in mind.
The keyboard could be larger, too, and there’s no need for the Home and End keys to be reduced to secondary functions of PgUp and PgDn. Admittedly, the keyboard as a whole is big enough to get by, and sports sensibly-sized spacebar and Enter keys, but there seems to be an awful lot of unused space around it.
We like the touchpad, which benefits from a third button that provides horizontal as well as vertical scrolling depending on where you apply pressure. This is one of those ideas that works intuitively and leaves you wishing you had one on your own notebook.
We’re not too sure about the power on/off slider, which is exposed on the right-hand side of the case. It doesn’t lock, so there’s a chance of the notebook getting switched off accidentally when you’re handling it.
Build quality is middle of the road: everything is fairly tightly assembled, but the major mouldings aren’t terribly thick and the notebook has a somewhat plastic and creaky feel to it overall. To be fair, although the lid surface appears to be plastic rather than made from an alloy pressing, it is still unyielding and should protect the screen adequately during transport.
The screen itself is fairly brightly lit and without any visible defects, but it has slightly constricted viewing angles: if you don’t face it squarely, the edges can appear to darken or wash out.
After the Versa P440 has been running for a while, the internal cooling fan starts to kick in intermittently; the resulting unpredictable bursts of audible whirring rapidly become annoying.
Thanks to its 32MB nVidia GeForce2 Go graphics engine, the Versa P440 is capable of moderately effective 3D acceleration, although its 3DMark 2001 score of 2,427 is nowhere near the leading edge for notebooks – where scores are now approaching 7,000.
Of course, it’s arguable that the main purpose of this machine is business, in which case the degree of 3D acceleration is rather less important than features such as 802.11b wireless networking, and a built-in conventional 10/100Base-TX LAN adapter. Another potential point in its favour is the fact that the Versa P440 has an expansion bus for use with the affordable (£46) port replicator. Another optional extra is the external USB floppy drive, which costs £24.
It seems as though NEC has its eye on the small/medium-sized enterprise with the Versa P440, since it comes bundled with both Microsoft’s Word and Money on top of Windows XP Professional. You also get a copy of Sun’s StarOffice 5.2 office suite.
As far as support is concerned, you get a generous three-year collect and return warranty, which includes European rather than just UK cover.
Battery life is reasonable for this class of notebook, with BatteryMark 4.01 returning a rundown time of 2 hours 42 minutes. Performance is similarly fair, without being remarkable: application-based test scores of 38 (Business Winstone 2001) and 22.6 (Content Creation Winstone 2002), are solid but not stratospheric.
That pretty much sums the Versa P440 up: it does the job, but in no area does it really shine -- including value for money. This isn’t necessarily a major drawback where moderately conservative business buyers are concerned, but with so much stiff competition out there, it’s difficult to see how this notebook will make a big impact.