NEC Versa P9120 (2401DR)
- Very fast, Blu-ray player, digital TV tuner, good speakers
- Webcam and digital TV tuner drivers had to be installed manually, remote can't fully control the Blu-ray player's software interface, cramped palm rest
A powerful desktop replacement notebook, which doubles as a media centre with a Blu-ray player. It needs some refinement, but as it stands, it's a functional unit for productivity applications and entertainment endeavours.
Price$ 3,499.00 (AUD)
Amongst its notebook peers, this 3.5kg Versa is an impressive physical specimen that has plenty of substance, too. The big 17in screen, the full-sized keyboard and a wide gamut of connections are just the start, for, on the inside, this desktop replacement has a Core 2 Duo T7700 (2.4GHz, dual-core) CPU and 4GB of RAM.
It's powerful enough to run any application you throw at it, from office productivity, to photo and video editing suites, and this showed in our WorldBench 6 benchmark, in which the P9120 scored 93. This is a high mark for a notebook and there's no doubt that the extra serving of RAM was a key contributor; indeed, it's rare to find a notebook with more than 2GB of RAM as standard. It compares well to similarly-configured notebooks we've seen, such as Zepto's Znote 6625WD, which scored 91.
Even in our MP3 encoding test, where we convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, the P9120 was swift. It completed the task in 1min 15sec, which is exactly what we expected of a notebook with a T7700 CPU and 4GB of RAM. However, as well-equipped as it is to handle productivity and creativity applications, the P9120 is relatively weak in the graphics department. Its NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics adapter, which has 512MB of on-board memory, but can also use up to 2GB of system memory, scored 3069 in 3DMark06, this indicates that it won't comfortably handle current games, if at all. But it should be able to run older games smoothly.
That said, the P9120 isn't designed for gaming; instead, it's designed for users who want a powerful desktop replacement notebook, which can also be used as a media centre solution for the lounge room. This is aided by the inclusion of a Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive and an HDMI port, which allow the P9120 to be used as a Blu-ray player when connected to a high-definition TV. The 8600M GT graphics adapter has the ability to accelerate the decoding of Blu-ray movies, and is HDCP-capable. If your high-definition display is also HDCP-capable, then you'll be able to watch Blu-ray movies at their native 1920x1080 resolution; otherwise, you'll have to use the notebook's 1680x1050-resolution display to watch movies, or you can connect an external display to the notebook's D-Sub port, to watch them at a lower resolution.
Apart from Blu-ray though, you can get an HDTV experience through the P9120's included digital TV tuner card (it's actually a Hybrid card, which means it can also tune in to analogue channels). This can display HD and standard-definition free-to-air digital TV channels, and NEC supplies a remote control so that you can change channels and record programs without vacating the couch. Unfortunately, the receiver for the remote isn't built-in, so you have to plug it in to one of the notebook's USB ports.
The digital tuner is only a single one, so you can't watch another channel while recording, and vice versa. It can be set-up through Windows Vista's Media Centre interface. It worked well in our tests, as it found all the channels in our area, and we were able to timeshift and record programs without any problems.
The only drawback to the P9120's media centre capabilities is its 250GB hard drive, which is relatively small for housing all your regular data and programs, as well as digital TV recordings. We would've liked a second hard drive to be installed, or perhaps a slightly larger 320GB drive. There probably isn't enough space in the P9120's chassis for a second hard drive though, especially as it already houses five speakers. These produce loud, clear and dynamic sound for music and TV, and they're adequate for watching DVD movies in a quiet room.
For actual work, the P9120's keyboard is easy to type with and its touchpad is responsive; however, the touchpad's buttons are a little stiff, and the left palm rest is a little too small. The screen is vibrant enough for viewing photos and videos, and its widescreen aspect ratio is useful for lining up windows side-by-side while multitasking. Some heat travels up through the keyboard after the notebook has been running for hours, but it's not excessive; meanwhile, the extraction fan might be a noticeable distraction in quiet environments.
Away from an outlet, the P9120's 9-cell battery lasted for 1hr 42min in our DVD run-down test, but you'll be able to extend the battery life if you only use productivity applications and implement a Windows power-saving scheme.
Connecting to a network is easy via the included gigabit Ethernet port or 802.11 draft-n wireless adapter and, for old-time's sake, a 56Kbps modem is included, too. Except for e-SATA, all the ports and devices you should need are present: three USB 2.0 ports and one mini-FireWire port, Bluetooth, an ExpressCard slot, a memory card reader (for SD, MS, MMC and xD cards), and a webcam.
Overall, there's a lot to this desktop replacement/media centre notebook – it has all the necessary features for watching movies and TV, but it could use some refinement: an internal remote control receiver, the ability to launch and re-size the Blu-ray software player with the remote, and more hard drive capacity, for example.
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