It can be argued that Acer leads the way when it comes to budget, feature-packed machines. Its Aspire 9303WLMi (£699 inc. VAT) is a case in point, offering a large screen, good feature list and a near full-sized keyboard.
Acer has kept costs down by using an AMD processor, which offers the same benefits as Intel chips but costs less. It's a dual-core solution - the Turion 64 X2 TL-52, which runs at 1.6GHz. We found performance to be quick, and it compared well against the Intel-based machines. It was no doubt helped by having 1024MB of memory. Offering 160GB of storage, there's enough space here for all your media files.
You'll find a bright, widescreen 17-inch display that's ideal for watching movies. It has a Super-TFT coating, which helps to make colours stand out. Images lacked the vibrancy found on some rival laptops, though. Its large size makes it ideal for editing photographs, and a native resolution of 1440 x 900 (WXGA) helps to make your images look crisp and smooth.
The Aspire 9303WLMi uses a dedicated graphics card. This may affect battery life - we managed to watch an hour and twenty minutes of a movie between charges - but it gives the Acer better multimedia capabilities than its rivals. Nvidia's entry level GeForce Go 7300 is fitted, so you'll probably have to turn the resolution and detail settings down, or stick to older games. However, all the applications we tried ran with ease.
The large screen creates plenty of space for an excellent-sized keyboard. Acer has fitted a dedicated numeric keypad without compromising the main keyboard. We found the keys well spaced and it's very easy and comfortable to type at speed using this machine. However, it's not the most firmly mounted board we've seen, flexing under pressure.
This is a shame, as the rest of the chassis is well made and sturdy enough to live up to the pressures of everyday use. We found the touchpad large and precise, making it easy to navigate software, and the metal mouse buttons are a good size.
However, like the Zepto, this is a warm-running machine, with the palm rests heating up after an hour or two. This is partly explained by the dedicated graphics card although, considering the larger chassis, we were expecting it to be cooler.
If you are after a good multimedia machine, and are happy to make a few compromises, the Acer is a very useful laptop.