Acer produces more bargain and entry-level notebooks than just about any other company out there. Because of its aggressive reseller chain, you can find the company's products on just about any high street or Web site store.

It achieves this by offering a basic design, but with a wide range of specifications. So, while the variant we've reviewed here comes in at a highly affordable £329, you can find the same machine at a price and specification that meets your needs and budget.

At this price, it comes as no surprise to find that the device is powered by an Intel Celeron M processor. But it's a fairly well specified 1.73GHz version, so you'll see a reasonable performance.

That's not to say that the Aspire is ideal for all occasions, but as long as you're looking at running basic functions - such as surfing the Internet or writing emails - then you'll find that it runs more than adequately. In keeping with this basic design you'll find that while Vista is present, it's the Home Basic edition, which Microsoft actively promotes as being aimed at those whose needs aren't too taxing.

Older design

Acer has released what it calls its Gemstone design of late, but this version uses the older "folio" design. Made from black and silver plastic, this two-tone notebook is compact and semi-portable with an overall weight of 2.8kg.

The design may have been around for a couple of years now, but it's still a sturdy and reliable laptop.

Although it isn't designed with the daily commute in mind, you can certainly take this machine on shorter journeys because we found that the battery lasted 145 minutes under test.

At this price point, we were happy to see a Super-TFT screen included, but it turned out to be not the brightest one around. Images appeared washed out, especially when watching movies.

Because it's been designed to meet a range of price points, there are features that are unoccupied, such as the Bluetooth switch on the front of the chassis or the empty jack socket.

The functionality that you do find at this price are the standard features, such as 10/100 Base-T Ethernet and 802.11g wireless LAN. This all works perfectly as expected and we experienced no problems when hooking the machine up to our test network.

Acer provides a wide range of tools with its machines, which help the user get the most from their new laptop, covering everything from setting up a wireless connection to security and managing updates for the OS.

The Acer Aspire 3693WLMi offers good value for money, but its price is reflected in the rather slow performance that we squeezed out from it. If your budget will stretch to it then you can opt for a higher specified version, but because this is now a notebook reaching the end of its life cycle, we'd suggest looking elsewhere for a real bargain.