Acer has built a reputation as a manufacturer of laptops with strong specifications at great prices and the Aspire 5612WLMi (£399 inc. VAT) is a good example of this.

For your money, you'll find an Intel Core Duo processor at the heart of this machine which, in itself, sets it apart from its peers. It may not be the latest variant, being a Core Duo T2300, but it's dual-core and offers excellent value for money.

It's paired with 512MB of memory, which is the minimum you'll need to run most applications. In reality, this is satisfactory, as the machine comes pre-loaded with Windows XP, which is less intensive than the more power-hungry Windows Vista OS.

As you would expect, performance is strong, with enough power to handle most tasks with ease. We were equally impressed with the build quality of the machine, as the body is solid and robust.

The 15.4-inch Super-TFT screen is a good size and it proved to be bright with a clean even sheen across its width. It's not the brightest but it has a good contrast, so documents and websites look crisp and even DVDs look impressive. There is sufficient strength in the lid and the hinges are firmly mounted.

Less impressive was the keyboard, which seemed to have a slight bend to it, making it feel less firm than it should be. The keys themselves are of a good size and are well spaced. So if you can live with a bouncy keyboard, it's a small sacrifice for the price. The responsive touchpad is a good size and mirrors the widescreen panel. The mouse buttons were small, but solid to the touch.

There are a variety of quick buttons on the front of the case that flag up 3G and Bluetooth, as well as Wi-Fi. However, at this price, you only get 802.11g wireless LAN. A switch allows you to turn off the Wi-Fi functions when not in a hotspot, which can help preserve battery life.

The laptop comes with Acer's own battery management software, which we found easy to set up and alters the performance of the machine depending on whether you're on mains or battery power.

The Aspire weighs in at 2.8kg, so is semi-portable and with a battery life, under test, of 189 minutes, you'll be able to take it with you for reasonable amounts of the working day. With a built-in DVD rewriter

The Acer Aspire 5612WLMi is a great machine for its asking price and you won't be disappointed with the specification or the build quality. It's not without flaws, such as the keyboard, but as a first-time machine this is a great laptop at a truly bargain price.