NEC WA1320 workstation review

NEC's entry level 3D and graphics orientated workstation gets taken for a spin.

To say that the PC market is a varied one is easily an understatement of gigantic proportions. When looking at the shear magnitude of configurations of various components, case designs and every conceivable option under the sun it’s easy to understand why so many people become blind to the facts, figures, acronyms and other ‘computer speak’ that confronts them. The eyes glaze over and all of a sudden, nobody’s home. Even for the educated, the choice and breadth of information offered can be somewhat overwhelming.

And for this reason it’s pleasant when you come across a PC that has been designed for a particular area, a PC that knows what it’s going to be used for and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Far too many so called multimedia PC’s also try to be great gaming computers and most of them don’t fully deliver on that promise. The reason for this is a simple one, it all boils down to a sum of parts.

When NEC built the WA1320 workstation they obviously thought about it and came to the same conclusion. This isn’t a gaming or home computer but one that’s built for the business end of the spectrum. I’m not talking powerpoint and excel spreadsheets here - although the WA1320 could easily handle them - but the more creative end. NEC tell me that the WA1320 has been built specifically for those using graphics intensive jobs such as AutoCAD. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of that program lying around and nothing approaching it was supplied but I can very easily put my hands on a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS4 and there aren’t that many computer programs that will put a graphics card through its paces as CS4 will. When I did the results were impressive to say the least, the WA1320 ate CS4 and you don’t need to go any further than the spec sheet to find out why. This computer has a seriously nice specification, boasting 4Gb of RAM, an AMD Phenom 9550 Quad-core 64bit processor and a Nvidia Quadro FX1700 graphics card as well as the almost compulsory Business version of Vista.

The graphics card is this workstations ‘killer-app’ as it were, built by Nvidia specifically for the professional graphics market and in particular those working in a 3D rendering environment, such as CAD. The FX1700 is Nvidia’s latest mid-range solution and sports 512mb of memory, a 128bit interface and a bandwidth of 12.8Gb a second. It’s been designed to provide the highest possible processing performance while using less power than previous incarnations, which is good to hear nowadays. In other words, it’s pretty good at what it does and must have been an easy choice for NEC to decide on.

The WA1320 is a machine designed for practical use and NEC have obviously decided to buck the trend of creating overly simplistic computers at the expense of looks. The front of the WA1320 sports a DVD Rom drive, a separate DVD re-writer, two USB ports, audio in and out jack sockets and a floppy disc drive thrown in for good measure. In fact, NEC have crammed quite a lot into the rest of the WA1320 as well. Round the back we have four more USB ports, Ethernet, parallel ports, DVI and VGA monitor ports PS/2 for keyboard and mouse and some video and audio inputs as well. That’s not counting the supplied graphics card of course which has another two DVI ports as well as S-Video output. Inside there’s room for expansion via three available PCI slots, and a 3.5inch bay, the WA1320 can hold up to a maximum of 2.25TB internally by fitting three 750Gb hard drives. All this fits neatly into the workstations compact frame. Oddly, FireWire isn’t included but is optional. For the full specification sheet from the NEC site.

The WA1320 isn’t the prettiest of computers to look at, it certainly won’t win any awards but it’s not hideous either. In fact it’s quite conventional looking and will most likely suit its target market down to the ground. The fascia is sturdy enough and feels like it will survive sitting under the desk for some time. The two-tone black and silver/grey does the job but does feel somewhat plasticky. It does however provide a nice backDROP for the cool electric blue that emanates from the centre of the power button. The rest of the case is made from purely functional metal.

The review model came complete with 19inch Monitor, in this case an NEC 1990SX. I’m in the position of using the previous model on an almost daily basis and this monitor, like it forerunner stands up to the use magnificently. Image is sharp and colour precise straight out of the box and there’s no real hint of flicker. It’s my view that at the moment NEC are making some of the best monitors that graphics orientated professionals can get their hands on and this model accompanies the graphics heavy WA1320 beautifully, as it should.

That’s the output, now lets get to the input. Unfortunately I can’t be as enthusiastic here as I was with the monitor. The supplied keyboard and mouse are, quite frankly, cheap. If you’re serious about what you're doing and buy this computer you’ll also want to invest in a new keyboard and mouse. In a nutshell the keyboard sits too low - the supports underneath are next to useless – and the keys seem quite sharp as they have slightly raised edges. In its defence they are quite soft when depressed and therefore don’t sound too clunky when pressed, although an office full of them would probably be a bit too much. The mouse doesn’t fair much better, it shares the same black plastic finish as the keyboard and  the same feel of low quality production. The mouse is a three button affair with the central button also being a rather clicky sounding scroll wheel, all fairly standard really. One thing the mouse does have in its favour is that it’s comfortable to use which is important if you find yourself using one all day.

NEC’s WA1320 is a good solid workstation and those that buy it for themselves or their business will be pleased with what they get. The WA1320 will work for you all day long and boasts an impressive specification and in use feels responsive and snappy. It is somewhat let down by small issues such as the cheap feeling build quality and this lessens the users experience, which is a shame as this computer deserves better. That said with prices starting at £479 the WA1320 is hard to beat.