Hi-Grade is a UK-based manufacturer known for its well-specified and affordable laptops. The Ultinote A9900R (£699 inc. VAT) is an entry-level desktop replacement with enough power and software for the whole family.

The 17-inch chassis, with its 3.8kg weight, makes home or office use the main focus. When using Vista's Power Saver feature, we were able to work for 168 minutes on battery power, so basic travel use is possible.

Hi-Grade hasn't fitted a full-sized keyboard. The lack of a numeric keypad is unfortunate, but the rest of the keyboard is well made. The keys are responsive with a firm typing action, and day-to-day use is comfortable.

The 17-inch screen provides ample room for office and multimedia work, as well as gaming and watching DVDs. Colours aren't as accurate as we'd like, but are adequate for home use. Screen brightness is also high, so strong visibility is provided.

Top 3D performer

Although Hi-Grade has used an older ATi graphics card, it delivers decent 3D performance. Mid-level gaming power is provided and media editing tasks run smoothly.

The 240GB hard drive is generous and even avid collectors of photos and music will struggle to fill it. The dual-layer DVD rewriter lets you create your own music and video discs and you can save as much as 8.5GB of data to dual-layer DVDs.

Day-to-day performance is also strong. To keep costs down, an older Intel Core Duo processor is used, rather than the latest Core 2 Duo CPU. With 2048MB of memory, there's enough power for effective multi-tasking and all test software ran quickly and smoothly.

High-speed connectivity is provided by 802.11a/g Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet for the fastest wireless and fixed networks. Unfortunately, extra hardware features are limited, as the Hi-Grade has no integrated camera or external mouse.

Where Hi-Grade has excelled is in the inclusion of OpenOffice software. A free office suite compatible with Microsoft Office, it provides full functionality and free updates for life. Nero and CyberLink tools are also included for creating your own CDs and DVDs.

With its strong specification providing impressive performance and graphics power, the Ultinote A9900R makes an affordable entry-level media centre. Although extra features are limited, this is a great family laptop and provides excellent value for money.