The success of Core Duo laptops has been down to their efficiency, quietness and impressive battery life. While you've always been able to get such attributes at the cost of meagre performance, dual-core processing finally means laptops can be powerful and capable while remaining compact.

But while manufacturers like Samsung and Asus have taken full advantage of the Core Duo's space-saving capacity in producing powerful yet small portables, the major trend seems to be for the 15.4in screen size.

Hi-Grade's D7000 is one such design, which offers a wide-format 1,280x800 display within a sleek chassis that weighs in at 2.8kg. It's a bright and roomy screen that, given the added width of the design, bestows a real sense of space to the work area.

Five quick-launch buttons reside by the screen hinge, granting access to email and web launches, sound controls as well as a neat option that allows you to vary the speed of the onboard fan. While we do rate this idea - which quietens the machine substantially - it's worth mentioning that CPU usage takes a hit once pushed.

From a design perspective, the D7000's shape is certainly appealing: it's slender, light and well proportioned. But it just doesn't look as classy as many of its competitors. Perhaps it's the characterless black border that surrounds the screen, the protruding case latches and a dull silver finish that led to our opinion.

Robust build

It certainly doesn't seem cheap, and the build quality is robust, but it lacks the visual oomph of some of its rivals. Either way, the D7000's look certainly seems to belie its power.

The power in question is driven via Intel's Core Duo T2300 running at 1.66GHz, with a 667MHz FSB and a 2MB cache. This, married to Intel's 945GM chipset and 512MB of DDR2-400 RAM, means the D7000 has some gusto of sorts for a laptop. In benchmarking, it records a MobileMark score of 219, which isn't lightning-quick but does puts it on a par with Dell's slightly better equipped Inspiron 9400 (reviewed PC Plus 242, page 33).

An 80GB hard drive is ample, but we would have preferred to see it running at 7,200rpm over the 5,400 on offer. Benchmarking would have been upped slightly, but for the price, the speed and size of the hard drive here is fine. One noticeable drawback - probably an effect of the variable fan speed and hard drive - is that the chassis does warm up considerably.

Whether this has a negative effect on battery life is uncertain, but clocking up 132mins in benchmarking puts it a few spots behind the other Core Duo machines we've tested of late.

The D7000 is well-connected. As well as the quick-launch buttons, the flanks of the case hold Gigabit Ethernet, DVI, S-Video, a memory card reader, fl ash media reader, port replicator and four USB ports. A lineout socket with S/PDIF and both powered and regular mic lines are provided at the front of the case, together with a further mini-USB port.

The D700's graphic make-up is taken care of by Nvidia's GeForce Go 7400 with 128MB of RAM. This is a wellchosen card for the D7000, yielding crisp and clear video and benefiting the spacious screen hugely. While it may have provided the greatest gaming setup on offer, HiGrade has spent its budget sensibly to ensure the D7000's graphics match the Core Duo's muscle.

Elsewhere the built-in DVD-RW drive is well positioned and a wise spending choice. Bluetooth is also present. Wireless connectivity is catered for with Intel's Pro 802.11g WLAN, and the two-year collectand- return warranty and pre-install of OpenOffice.org round things off.

Although we have some minor niggles with this machine, the D7000 remains a good-value if rather bland Core Duo offering. The trackpad and mouse buttons in particular seem cheap, though this may be simple personal taste rather than any kind of design oversight.

It's a well-considered machine that, with one or two cosmetic rethinks, could look beautiful. There are other options, particularly in the Asus and Dell Inspiron ranges, but in terms of performance and specifications, the D7000 represents a solid if unspectacular Core Duo offering. Tom Dennis