Acer has impressed us on several occasions with its ability to cram features and performance into a machine costing less than its rivals, and the Aspire 1642WLMi (£550 inc. VAT) looks set to continue this trend.

With a black and metallic-silver finish to the chassis, 16:9 aspect ratio widescreen and Windows XP Home, the Acer is aimed at the home user. The 15.4-inch display features a glossy Super-TFT coating, and has a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels (WXGA).

The result is sharp, vibrant, and feels like it belongs on a machine costing more than £550. An Intel 915GM graphics adapter gives the Acer a score of 950 in our 3DMark 2003 benchmark, which makes the machine suitable for everyday office tasks but as with the other machines in the group, gaming is not a possibility.

Dimensions of 364 x 272 x 40mm enable a good-sized keyboard to fit within the Acer's chassis. Distinctive in style, the keyboard has a 5-degree curve. Although more ergonomic, those with small hands may not find it as comfortable.

Build quality is reasonable: the chassis is robust, and resilient plastics are used throughout, although the screen wobbles under the slightest movement to the chassis. A clasp keeps the screen shut in transit, and mobility is helped by a reasonable 2.8kg weight.

Power comes from an Intel Pentium M 740, running at 1.73GHz. You'll find 512MB of DDR2 memory, and a 80GB hard drive spinning at 4200rpm. The efficient design of the Acer is apparent as the MobileMark 2005 score of 217 places it fairly highly. Running multiple windows caused the Acer few problems. The speed does take a toll on battery life, however, and the Acer lasted for just 133 minutes, under test conditions.

At £550 it's unrealistic to expect the Acer to be filled with features, and the biggest compromises have been made to the feature list. With no Bluetooth, infrared or firewire, connectivity is restricted, although users can still configure wireless and fixed networks with the 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and 10/100 Ethernet adapters.

A dual-format DVD is standard, enabling users to back up their files externally, and three USB 2.0 ports enhance usability.

While the Acer lacks the connectivity of some other machines we've reviewed, it's one of the cheaper machines we've seen but also offers strong performance. With its Super-TFT screen, there's a lot to recommend the 1642WLMi. Philip Barker, Michael Browne