The NEC Versa M160 is cheap. It features stylish metal touches, a good ergonomic keyboard, and a bright and clear screen, making for a favourable first impression. The 15.4-inch screen is average and is large enough for comfortable use. It's a standard TFT panel, and colours lack vibrancy. There's plenty of space for working, with a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels (WXGA).

NEC has used Intel's 945GM graphics chipset, which, as a modern integrated adapter, offers all of the performance you'll find at this price, and will easily cope with office applications and DVDs.

Inevitably, corners have been cut to meet the aggressive price point. Performance on the NEC suffers more than most, and the Intel Celeron M 410 processor is the slowest in the group. Worse still, the NEC comes with just 256MB of memory, which severely hampers performance when running all but the most basic of applications.

The 40GB hard drive is half of what's on offer from the other manufacturers, and will fill up rapidly. We also found battery life to be unimpressive - on average it lasted for just under two hours between charges.

It's a shame performance is so lacking, because the NEC is a comfortable machine to use, and features the best keyboard in the group. The large keys move with precision, and are well-damped, making it easy to type at speed. The Versa also features an unsual separate number pad.

Build quality

Build quality is impressive for a machine of this price, with a strong chassis, sturdy plastics throughout, and neatly integrated buttons. The touchpad is recessed, so the cursor can't be moved unintentionally, and the buttons are finished in black brushed aluminium. At 2.9kg, the NEC is one of the heavier machines in this category, although it still remains semi-portable.

Despite having plenty of space for features, the only one you'll find is the addition of a DVD/CD-RW drive. This allows you to watch DVDs, and create CDs. Network features are average - a 10/100 Ethernet adapter lets you connect to the internet and networks. Thanks to the low price, impressive build quality and ease of use, the NEC makes an appealing choice for the beginner. What Laptop Staff