NEC Computers is providing its answer to Apple's much-hyped MacBook Air, with the launch of its 12-inch ultra-portable notebook, the Versa S9100.

A string of vendors, including Toshiba and Lenovo, have already waded in with their own featherweight offerings. NEC's Versa S9100 only weighs 1.25Kg (with a dual layer DVD burner), and is heavier than the 1kg Toshiba Portégé R500, but lighter than the 1.35kg Macbook Air.

The S9100 is equipped with the Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 processor. It also comes with 2GB of RAM and has a 160GB 5,400 rpm shock-resistant hard disk. It features a Li-Ion 6 cell battery that NEC claims will give six hours of battery life.

The S9100 is following a number of other machines to feature a 802.11n wireless network card "for maximum connectivity," as well as Bluetooth 2.0. It integrates Intel 1GB Turbo Memory which NEC says "provides a quicker start-up for Vista applications and also increases autonomy by limiting the use of the hard disk."

The chassis is a magnesium alloy frame, and the 12" SuperShine screen comes with LED backlighting to offer "excellent visibility" and 1280 x 800 resolution from the Intel 3100 graphics card. The Toshiba Portégé R500 also has a 12" screen, whereas the Macbook Air has a 13.3-inch TFT.

"The ultra-portable VERSA S9100 will appeal to sales people and management looking for a highly mobile machine that combines a modern design, durability, with performance and good autonomy," said David Newbould, UK product marketing manager in a statement.

The S9100 comes with 2 USB ports and 1 SD card reader. The Toshiba Portégé R500 meanwhile has three USB ports to Macbook Air's one.

According to the company, the NEC VERSA S9100 will be available from mid-April from the NEC distribution network, costing £1,099 excluding VAT. The Toshiba Portégé R500 costs £1,249, while the Macbook Air costs £1,199.

The S9100 comes Microsoft Windows Vista Professional installed, but as NEC did not respond at the time of writing, it is unclear whether Windows XP would also be offered.

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