In terms of connectivity, there are two USB 2.0 ports at the side, a four-pin Firewire connector and an Ethernet socket as well as a Type II PC Card slot. On the other side is a 56k modem connector but the rear is blank save for a power connector and a socket for the optional port replicator. The right hand side also features a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive, so you won’t be able to burn DVDs on this machine. At the front there’s a 5-in-1 card reader able to accept SD, MMC, XD, and Memory Stick including its Pro variant. The main hard disk NEC has chosen is 40GB in size, which is pretty much the smallest capacity we’re seeing these days.
Unlike recent notebooks we’ve seen, the Versa S940 isn’t based on Intel’s new Sonoma platform, but is instead based on the original Centrino standard. It may not be cutting edge but it’s nevertheless decent. The 1.6GHz Pentium M can still do the job and this is backed up by 512MB of RAM. The graphics are supplied by Intel’s Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile and share system memory – up to 64MB can be assigned in the BIOS. Take the word ‘Extreme’ with a pinch of salt though – it’s fine for general Windows work, but don’t even think about firing up the latest 3D games. We normally don’t bother with 3DMark testing on older graphics technology but I thought I’d try it anyway. In 3DMark 03, only the first test would run, and the score of 117 was inevitably laughable. That said, this isn’t really where NEC is aiming the Versa S940, so don’t read too much into its lacking 3D prowes.
Underneath the notebook is a fan, which only occasionally spun up after prolonged use to keep things nice and cool internally. There’s a heat vent at the left hand side though, and this did get fairly hot after a while.
In terms of performance the NEC is nothing to shout about, but it manages to keep its head up. The Sonoma based machines will give you more but the you’ll inevitably have to pay for the privilege. For what you’re getting, the £880 asking price seems fair. That said, MSI’s Mega Book S260 offers an even better specification for around the same money – it is Sonoma based and while the screen may be smaller, the resolution is similar and it features an X-Black type coating. MSi also promises a built-in DVD writer on production machines.
And it has to be said that the NEC branding wouldn’t convince me to go for this notebook alone. Overall, the chassis lacks class and NEC has done little to jazz it up. You won’t get the pride of ownership that you might from a Sony or IBM but then you’ll be saving hard cash instead.
The Versa is a solid if unspectacular notebook. It may be from a major brand but it’s very much a generic shell and is a step behind on terms of technology. However, its got the fundamentals right with a ‘that-bit-extra’ 13in diagonal screen size, a pleasingly large keyboard and impressive battery life, and this is what’s likely to win some buyers over.