NEC PowerMate VL350 review

£599
Price when reviewed

NEC’s PowerMate Vector VL350 manages the double act of being both the fastest PC in our real-world 2D benchmarks and the quietest. It’s also very compact, which all combines to make a great machine for the office or even a living room.

The CPU fan is temperature-controlled and the power supply’s extractor sits just above it, taking hot air through the PSU and out the rear. There are no other fans and, together with a passive chipset cooler, this machine is virtually silent. Its 26dBA noise output isn’t much above the level of background noise in a bedroom at night.

The strong 2D score of 0.95 comes from an AMD Athlon 64 3400+ running at 2.2GHz, backed by 1GB of DDR SDRAM. But it’s worth noting that, while it convincingly beat the PC Nextday’s dual-core Pentium D overall, the latter showed its strength in the multitasking component of the tests.

Like the Evesham, the NEC relies on the integrated graphics of the ATi Radeon X300 chipset. This means the PowerMate is best used for 2D applications and not for games.

Unlike the Evesham, the NEC boasts Gigabit Ethernet, but this isn’t much of a consolation when you realise that the hard disk is a meagre 80GB compared to Evesham’s 250GB disk. It’s also the only one to connect via a ribbon cable rather than using a modern Serial ATA interface.

The NEC LC17m TFT is also a little basic. The VGA cable is captive and there’s no DVI interface, while it isn’t as bright as the competition here. However, the most important aspect of any screen is image quality, and the LC17m performed well here.

Arguably the highlight of this whole system, though, is Logitech’s Z-640 six-piece speaker system to go with the motherboard’s 5.1 output. In a small room, they’ll provide great sound and are the pick of the bunch here.

In spite of the compact chassis, there’s a surprising amount of room for expansion. With the solitary DVD writer, there’s a spare 5.25in bay along with three 3.5in bays. The bays all have tool-free mechanisms, although the hard disk cage is fiddly to work with. All of the expansion slots on the motherboard are free to use too, and the only real problem is a small tangle of wires over the memory sockets.

Due to its great 2D performance, three-year on-site warranty and expansion potential, the NEC is a sensible choice if 3D power isn’t crucial. But we recommend upgrading the hard disk at the time of purchase.

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