NEC Direct – NEC Direction SM-1200A+ review

fast DDR Athlon machine
Photo of NEC Direct – NEC Direction SM-1200A+
£1,399 + VAT

Nothing serves so well to illustrate the progress AMD has made against its arch-rival Intel than something like the NEC Direction SM-1200A+. One of the first of its kind, the Direction features the new double data rate (DDR) memory technology supported by AMD’s latest Athlon processors, and combines 1.2GHz of engine room power with a 266MHz front-side bus linking the CPU to memory.

In this case you get 128MB as standard, which is enough for now unless you are working with big graphics files, and a decently large 46GB Ultra-ATA/100 IBM hard disk with a 7,200rpm spin speed. The spec is fleshed out by a 32MB AGP 4x nVidia GeForce2 GTS graphics adapter, a 19-inch NEC monitor, SoundBlaster Live audio, a 2.1 Labtec speaker set and a basic Conexant V.90 modem card. This will set you back a relatively reasonable £1,399 before VAT, and the bundle also includes a simple Logitech Webcam, an external Hauppauge TV tuner module, Windows 98 SE and apps including Microsoft’s Word, Works and Money, so it’s pretty comprehensive really.

The system is reasonably well put together, and the monitor coped well with resolutions up to the practical maximum for its size – 1152 x 864 – so this wasn’t a machine that shot itself in the foot over basic, avoidable problems. The Labtec speakers were okay too, but obviously if you want proper surround sound for gaming or full Dolby Digital you will need to replace them.

As you’d expect on a consumer-orientated machine like this, the Direction is kitted out with a 16-speed DVD-ROM drive rather than just plain CD. If you want to add other drives – CD-RW being a likely choice – there’s a spare 5.25in bay, and an empty 3.5in bay lower down the stack would do nicely for a ZIP or LS-120 drive instead if you didn’t fancy CD-RW just yet.

The Webcam and TV tuner are nice to have, but not compelling reasons for buying this PC. What will make the decision easier, however, is the blistering speed which it conjures out of its potent combination of fast Athlon CPU, DDR memory and very nippy hard disk and graphics sub-systems. The Direction will outperform typical 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz Pentium 4 machines costing between £1,800 and £2,000 ex-VAT, so you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out what a good deal it is at the moment. If Santa didn’t come through with the right stuff this year, you could do worse than treat yourself to the Direction as a consolation prize.

Company: NEC Direct

Contact: 0870 010 6325

This is a great value system which showcases the cutting edge performance of the latest Athlon and DDR memory technology, but manages to keep the pricing sane. It's definitely one for the shortlist.