NEC Versa S970 review

Price when reviewed

Since losing the personal records of some 25 million child-benefit claimants, the Government’s data-security policy has come under intense scrutiny. Every tiny transgression now warrants a newspaper headline and every stolen hard disk or laptop is criticised.

NEC Versa S970 review

If only they’d had the new NEC Versa S970 – a laptop with an interesting security trick up its sleeve. The standard hard disk has been replaced with a full-disk encryption drive (FDE) from Seagate, which transparently secures everything that’s saved to the drive.

The 120GB Momentus drive encrypts all data read from and written to it with an AES 128-bit encryption algorithm, the same standard demanded by the US Government. It’s invisible to Windows and the user, which removes the human element from the equation, so data can’t be accidentally left unencrypted.

The disk is resilient to tampering, too, and can’t be read by transplanting it into another machine – a simple step that can be used to break similar systems.

The drive’s encryption features also become very useful at the end of the laptop’s working life, when the contents can be instantly destroyed simply by wiping the encryption key. The data is still present, but it can’t be accessed. And to ensure you’re kept secure even while in possession of your laptop, the Versa is also equipped witha TPM chip, which can be used to hardware encrypt passwords while you’re logged in.

Alas, the rest of the Versa S970 is far less innovative. Function has always been far more important than form in the business sector, and NEC has wasted little time on the latter – this laptop isn’t going to win any design awards. Most of the case is constructed of thin greyish-silver plastic with matt-black highlights, and the build quality is mediocre. We found the keyboard to be a little springy and some of the keys are a bit too slim for our liking – the cursor and Enter keys were particularly annoying in this respect.

The thin plastic that surrounds the screen does little to protect it and the TFT distorts heavily when you change the screen angle with one hand. The quality isn’t wonderful, either: when we turned up the brightness as far as it would go on the panel, it still looked dull and lacked the clarity and brightness we’ve come to expect, even from a business laptop such as this. This may help squeeze a longer life out of the battery, but we’d have preferred the option to be able to turn up the brightness further when needed.

This is made worse if you press the Eco button just above the keyboard, which saves power by darkening the screen and slowing the processor. Ironically, when you activate the feature, an LED lights up to let you know you’re saving power. At least it’s green in colour.

There’s little in the way of extra features on the Versa, making it clear that it’s aimed squarely at business use. No media playback buttons, webcam or special shortcut keys are included,while more serious add-ons such asa port replicator slot and Wi-Fi switch are present. An infrared port is also included for legacy wireless connections, aswell as Bluetooth for synchronising smartphones and transferring small files.

Integrated Intel X3100 graphics don’t entirely put paid to any thoughts of playing games, but don’t expect great frame rates. It isn’t a particularly compact laptop, either. A notebook nearly 4cm thick isn’t going to impress anyone in the boardroom, let alone on the train home.

On the positive side, battery life is very good, lasting a strong 5hrs 3minsin our light-use tests – so if all you’re doing is tapping away in Word or browsing the web you’ll get plenty of life. It’s worth noting, however, that when pushed hard the S970 didn’t do nearly as well. Our more demanding intensive test drained the S970 of power in just 1hr 22 mins, which suggests that watching a video on the move probably isn’t advisable.

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