NEC – i-Select M4610 review

widescreen laptop
Photo of NEC – i-Select M4610
£799 + VAT

I’ve never really understood why you’d want a widescreen notebook. OK, I get the bit about watching DVD movies, but every time I try I still get large black bands at the top and bottom of the picture. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but personally I’d rather watch a DVD on something made for the job and which fills all the screen.

Likewise I can’t see much benefit when editing documents or reading e-mail, although widescreen does have its advantages when it comes to spreadsheets. Despite my personal reservations, though, widescreen notebooks are very popular and if you’re after such a beast then the i-Select M4610 from NEC has a lot to offer.

There’s the display of course – a very crisp 15.4-inch panel with a 6:10 aspect ratio, nestling inside a mock alloy (i.e. silver plastic) lid. This is powered by an ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 graphics controller with 64MB of dedicated memory. And that, in turn, means excellent 2D and 3D performance with a maximum resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels.

Unfortunately the screen itself can’t handle that many pixels, so unless you plug in an external monitor, you’re stuck with a more modest 1,280 by 800. Still that’s pretty usable, resulting in a good readable display even if, like me, you’ve mislaid your glasses, and it works well when watching DVDs.

Elsewhere the processor won’t win any speed contests but it’s no slouch, NEC opting for an Intel Pentium M processor 725 on this model. That’s a 1.6GHz Mobile Pentium 4 in old language, accompanied by 512MB of memory which can, of course, be added to using familiar SODIMM technology, up to a maximum 1GB.

There’s 40GB of storage on the hard disk and, although you don’t get a floppy drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive is built in as standard. Plus there’s a 4-in-1 memory card reader able to handle Secure Digital, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and Multimedia Card formats.

You also get an integrated dial-up modem, 10/100Mbps Ethernet port and Intel Centrino wireless connectivity. Moreover, the wireless interface supports both old-style 11Mbps (802.11b) and much faster 54Mbps (802.11g) technology and worked seamlessly with both on our networks.

Three USB 2.0 ports are provided to add peripherals, together with a FireWire port and a PC Card slot. Audio is also integrated, with built-in speakers and microphone plus the usual jacks for external devices if you want a more cinema-like experience.

On the software front the i-Select M4610 comes with Windows XP Pro pre-installed, together with a factory install on a separate partition that can be recovered using a special NEC utility. You also get Microsoft Works (Office is an optional extra) plus Norton Antivirus and PowerDVD 5.0 applications.

A 6-cell Li-Ion battery clips on at the back and can power the notebook for about an hour and a half. Your knees do get pretty warm, though, and the AC adapter isn’t the smallest we’ve seen. A carry case is another optional extra.

The keyboard is large and nice to use and the Glide Pad mouse very effective. Indeed I quite liked using the i-Select M6410 while I had it and was sorry to see it go. It’s competitively priced and I was able to use it both as a desktop replacement and for occasional forays into the outside world. At nearly 3kg it wouldn’t be my first choice as a mobile workhorse, but it’s a good compromise and very well made. I still don’t get that widescreen thing, though.

Company: NEC

Contact: 0870 0101 6328


Verdict
A well built widescreen notebook that can be used both as a desktop replacement and for occasional mobile use. Good basic specification with a DVD/CD-RW combo drive as standard plus 54Mbps wireless networking. It has average battery life and is not as portable as a notebook with conventional format display, but it's competitively priced and is a good widescreen notebook for both home and professional use.