Students on a tight budget will find great value to be had from the Acer Aspire 5742G-384G64Mnkk. Strong performance is just the icing on the cake, with plenty of great features to speak of, although the short battery life is a pain.

The Aspire 5742G-384G64Mnkk looks immediately familiar with Acer's usual raised keyboard filling the interior. Anyone used to bevelled, rounded keys might be put off by the completely flat design, but we find them perfect for touch-typing, thanks to the generous key size. Only the arrow keys are a little cramped.

However, the gaps between the keys are a magnet for crumbs, so typing while eating crisps is not recommended.

The body features a matt-black finish, which prevents fingerprints and other marks from showing up, although we did notice some flex around the palmrests when we pushed down on them.

At just 2.4kg it's perfect for slipping into backpacks, thanks to the slender frame. Unfortunately, the battery dies quite fast, lasting just two hours when watching video.

Colourful screen

Like every laptop here besides the Packard Bell, the Aspire 5742G has a 15.6-inch screen. It's not particularly bright, but it is colourful and great for enjoying your photos and movies. The display also tilts back almost to horizontal, so you're bound to find a comfortable viewing angle even when the machine's resting on your lap.

However, the integrated speakers are rather muted compared to the likes of the HP G62-b32SA, so you'll need a decent pair of headphones or earphones to enjoy your music.

A previous-generation Intel Core i3 380M processor provides strong performance, despite being older technology than the new Sandy Bridge Intel processors. In our benchmarking tests, the Acer was beaten only by the Dell Inspiron 15r N5110 and HP G62-b32SA.

You can comfortably do all sorts simultaneously making it perfect for any multi-tasking student who needs to bash out an essay while doing web research and chatting with friends through instant messenger programs. The 4GB of memory keeps everything running smoothly.

Acer has included dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 520M 1GB graphics, which makes this the best multimedia laptop after the Dell Inspiron 15R. If you need to edit video or perform other complex media tasks, or simply want to play games, this is a great option. Just bear in mind that you'll need to turn down detail levels on some of the more recent games to keep things running smoothly.

Tech Labs

Tech labs

Battery Eater '05: 120 minutes
Cinebench: 7836
3DMark 2006: 11,935

You can fit a huge number of games and high-definition (HD) movies on the 640GB hard drive, which offers twice as much storage space as most other laptops at this price. A 2-in-1 memory card reader can also be found on the side of the laptop for backing up important files.

This laptop also features built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi support, so you can quickly access the internet by connecting to a wireless network. You also get HDMI and VGA ports for attaching monitors or televisions, and a DVD drive for watching films and installing software.

Acer detail

Despite the short battery life, the Aspire 5742G-384G64Mnkk is still a great-value laptop that will suit almost any student. The strong multimedia performance, huge hard drive and excellent keyboard make it an option well worth considering.

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