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The VERSA P8210 is a desktop replacement notebook that's meant for use as a gaming/entertainment system. As such, its large dimensions - 359mm by 255mm by 34mm -- and 2.9kg heft are unsurprising, limiting the notebook to "office mobility", in the words of NEC. Our interpretation of office mobility is that it's suited to being transported between work and home, but certainly not for use on the road.
Immediately noticeable upon popping the lid is that the notebook doesn't use a full-size keyboard. The letter and number keys are large, but the function keys have been squished -- a strange decision by the designers at NEC, considering the amount of unused space around the keyboard.
Bordering the 15.4-inch display are glossy, reflective black strips, which we found to be decidedly irritating. Somewhat making up for this flaw is the large, comfortable track pad and mouse buttons. We found the vertical scroll feature to be particularly useful when reading through long documents without an external mouse attached.
Curiously absent are quick-launch buttons, which typically lie in a row just above the keyboard. Instead, this part of the chassis is bare save for two stereo speakers and a power button.
Being pitched as an entertainment/gaming notebook, the P8210 is decked out with a powerful set of hardware components. It's based around the Intel Centrino Duo platform, and at the core of the system is a 1.83GHz Core Duo processor, 1GB of DDR2 memory and an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics chip. The X1600 is beginning to show its age when used with the latest games, but given the P8210's overall AU$3199 price tag, it's what we were expecting.
A 100GB hard drive provides plenty of storage space, and once that's filled you can back up data using the dual-layer DVD writer. The 4-in-1 memory card reader provides additional storage flexibility, proving particularly handy for avid photographers.
Ports abound, and among the more notable inclusions are four USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire port, an S-Video port (for output to a TV) and a DVI port (for digital output to an external monitor). Additionally, NEC has chosen to include a newfangled ExpressCard slot on the P8210, as opposed to the older PC-Card standard. The upside of this is that there's some degree of future-proofing, but the downside is that few add-in cards currently use the ExpressCard standard.
The integrated sound subsystem is head and shoulders above that commonly seen on competing notebooks. In addition to the mandatory set of stereo speakers, the underside of the chassis boasts a built-in subwoofer, improving low-frequency sounds immensely. This coupled with the bundled remote control makes the notebook highly suitable for headphone-less gaming and movie playback.
Finally, the P8210's networking capabilities are also top-notch, and include 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, 10/100 Ethernet, a standard 56kbps modem and Bluetooth.
With a notebook of this calibre, it's almost a given that non-gaming applications such as word processing, image manipulation and spreadsheet editing will run without any signs of slowdown. The P8210 doesn't disappoint here, churning out a score of 223 in MobileMark2005's productivity test, which we consider to be a good score given that the slightly pared down Sony VAIO VGN-FE15GP managed a score of 172.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
On the same token, desktop replacement notebooks rarely offer impressive battery life, and the P8210 is no exception. Even after considering the unit's "Eco-Mode" battery life extension feature, the P8210 maxes out at just over two hours. Having said that, this isn't below our expectations, and the laptop's size makes it a poor candidate for extreme mobility anyway.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 battery life rating
(Longer bars indicate more battery-life minutes)
The main reason most would consider purchasing the P8210 is for gaming or other multimedia applications, and here the notebook performs pleasingly, but not spectacularly. DVD playback is impressive, thanks to the large widescreen display and decked out audio system, but gaming is a mixed bag. In our Call of Duty 2 test -- with high detail settings and the resolution cranked up to the display's native setting, 1280x800 -- our average frames per second (FPS) score was 14.1. This is a playable frame rate, but it's noticeably slow at times and won't impress hardcore gamers. That said, Call of Duty 2 is quite a system intensive game, and older titles play much more smoothly.