For mobile computing, a strong yet lightweight notebook is essential. It's also important that it has enough built-in features to tide you over until you reach the office. NEC's VERSA S9100 ticks those boxes and adds great battery life to the mix, too — you could almost watch Scarface, all the way through to Tony Montana's demise, without a recharge!
It's a 1.3kg ultraportable notebook with a built-in optical drive, and its case is made from magnesium alloy, which contributes to its overall strength and helps keep its weight down. The toughness of the notebook is immediately apparent when you pick it up: its 2cm thick base feels very solid when you squeeze it, as does its 12.1in screen when you put pressure on it (it has an 8mm thick case). The screen's hinge is easy to move, yet it will hold any angle perfectly; we did find the screen to be a little washed out, and there was noticeable backlight seepage at the top and bottom of the screen.
On the inside, the S9100 features a 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 Ultra Low Voltage CPU and 2GB of RAM, so it's well equipped to handle basic office tasks. This was reflected in our WorldBench 6 tests, where a score of 53 was achieved. It recorded adequate benchmark times in the office productivity and Firefox tests; it was also relatively good in the multitasking test, but it didn't have enough power to adequately complete the 3-D rendering tests and it was slow in the Photoshop tests. In our MP3 encoding test, it took 2min 30sec to convert 53min of WAV files to 193Kbps MP3s. This is a few seconds faster than what we expected of the 1.2GHz CPU. Understandably, the unit's 3-D gaming ability is poor, as it uses Intel's X3100 integrated graphics controller.
The notebook lasted 2hr 47min in our worst-case scenario battery test (where we loop a DVD). This is an outstanding result, but not surprising considering the notebook has a 7800mAh-rated battery. It'll last much longer if you employ a conservative power management profile.
For storing documents, as well as media files, its 160GB hard drive is more than ample. We would've been more impressed had NEC included a solid-state drive, which wouldn't be prone to damage from knocks and drops. However, NEC has implemented a motion sensor that can be set to a specific profile: stable, shaky, unstable or manual. It's crucial to set the right setting depending on your environment (for example, if you're walking around the office, or on the train) as the hard drive will lock if it detects too much sudden movement.
While the built-in DVD burner is very convenient, we would've liked a slot-loading optical drive for this unit instead of the tray-loading device that has been installed; not because it would make the unit thinner (it probably wouldn't) but because a tray-loading drive makes notebooks feel a little clunky and less refined.
The left-hand side of the unit contains most of the notebook's connectivity: D-Sub, Gigabit Ethernet, microphone and headphone ports, an SD card reader and a PC Card slot. The PC Card slot implementation is also a little clumsy; its ejection lever is located on the front of the notebook, instead of being inconspicuously hidden beside the slot. At first we thought the PC Card lever was a latch for the screen, but the screen is latch-less. A couple of USB 2.0 ports reside on the right-hand side.
It's a shame that an ExpressCard slot isn't present instead of a PC Card slot, but this unit is aimed at business users, many of whom probably still have PC Card devices (such as data cards). For modern connectivity, you get the aforementioned Gigabit port plus 802.11 draft-n wireless networking. Bluetooth 2.0 is present, so you can easily synchronise your phone with your notebook.
For security, there is a fingerprint reader and the unit has a built-in Trusted Platform Module.
Navigation is taken care of by a touchpad — which was sometimes sticky in its operation — and has a very comfortable to use keyboard, with big keys. The unit doesn't get very warm during prolonged use. The cooling fan kicks in only when the CPU is under a heavy load, but it's not overly loud.