Packard Bell – NEC Chroma review

stylish notebook for the home
Photo of Packard Bell – NEC Chroma
£2,382 + VAT

Some notebooks are made for travel, and virtually all are made for business, but the iconoclastic Packard Bell Chroma (the company spells it ‘Chrom@’) is intended for neither. Instead, Packard Bell has come up with a computer which is aimed primarily at the home user who doesn’t want a thumping great desktop – or a compact but adolescently-styled iMac, come to that – but does want a machine with a pronounced consumer slant.

Its proposed solution is the Chroma, which is effectively the guts of a typical, moderately powerful business portable wrapped in chic clothing and garnished with some fancy extras to tempt the wavering punter across the threshold.

Visually, the Chroma is undeniably striking. It’s trapezoidal in plan, with the shorter of the parallel sides forming the rear, and the tapering spaces this creates either side of the screen and keyboard are emphasised by wedges of exotic bluish panelling. This looks good against the silver matte of the rest of the casing, not to mention the semitransparent keyboard, but also provides camouflage for no less than six speakers (tweeter, midrange and bass down each side).

These, and a set of dedicated play controls just above the keyboard, are supposed to be used with the built-in Panasonic 6-speed DVD-ROM drive to turn the Chroma into a portable DVD player as well as a notebook. This works up to a point, as the sound quality is better than usual for a notebook, but of course you’ll need external speakers to get anything like the best out of a film soundtrack.

The good news here though is that the notebook has an S/PDIF audio output, so you can hook it up to an AC-3 decoder and 5.1 speaker system if you so choose. There are also composite (RCA) and s-video outputs for hooking up to a TV to complete the home cinema setup, not to mention a Firewire port (IEEE1394) which can be used to import clips from a digital video camera for editing, or to hook up a scanner if it has a suitable port.

Graphics are handled by an ATI Rage Mobility-M accelerator with 8MB of local memory which drives a 15in TFT screen at 1024 x 768 XGA resolution. The screen is bright and readable, and will do for normal work, but as ever the Rage chip isn’t going to deliver the 3D performance needed to keep gamers happy – you still very much need a desktop PC for that.

The Chroma has an integrated V.90 modem for comms whether at home or on the go, but as noted earlier, this very large, very heavy (4.2kg!) notebook really isn’t designed to travel, just to be relatively discreet and compact in a domestic setting. Compounding this, the battery life isn’t great either, averaging about 2 hours 40 minutes of continuous use on a full charge.

Interestingly, performance wasn’t especially impressive for a PIII/700 SpeedStep-based portable, especially not given the standard issue of 128MB of RAM. There’s plenty of room in the 20MB hard disk, but for this kind of serious money, more raw power would have been nice.

And that’s the crux of it: the Chroma is really quite expensive, but when you look past the style, it doesn’t really deliver enough substance to justify its price.

Company: Packard Bell

Contact: 01628 508200


Verdict
The Chroma is a classy looking desktop replacement notebook aimed mainly at the consumer, but aside from aesthetics and beefed up audio, it doesn't really offer enough extra to justify its rather steep price.