Just two years ago, a desktop replacement laptop would have cost over £1,000. The Acer Aspire 9423WSMi (£799 inc. VAT) shows how far pricing has fallen. And the Acer has enough power and features to act as a complete family media centre.

Weighing 3.5kg, long-term mobility is out of the question, but a battery life of 151 minutes means you can work on short journeys if necessary. With a 17-inch screen and Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system installed, home is where the Acer excels.

This is a very well specified laptop. Using an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of memory, performance is strong. For all home and multimedia use, the Acer runs with impressive speed and stability.

3D performance may not be the best there is, but will beat most rivals with ease. Using a discrete Nvidia graphics card, many modern games will play on the Acer, although resolution will need to be reduced for optimum performance.

With a large keyboard and number pad, usability is excellent. All the keys are full-size, making typing comfortable. Quick launch keys around the keyboard make it easy to access email, internet and wireless features at the touch of a button.

With a 120GB hard drive, the Acer can hold large quantities of digital music, videos and photos. All media can be easily accessed via Windows Media Center software, but while a remote control is often included with multimedia laptops, Acer does not provide one.

Back-up options

Common at this price, a dual-format recordable DVD drive is fitted. Allowing you to copy data to both CDs and dual-layer DVDs, it's easy to back up your personal files. A 6-in-1 card reader is also provided for sharing data using external media cards.

One feature that few rivals have is a 1.3-megapixel camera above the screen. You can easily stay in video contact with friends and family using instant messaging software and take photos to be sent via email. The camera can rotate 225 degrees to gain a first-person perceptive.

With 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi and Gigabi Ethernet compatibility, the Acer allows networks to be configured and accessed at the highest speeds possible.

While its multimedia power and features aren't quite peerless, the Acer Aspire 9423WSMi still impresses on many levels. As a well-specified and usable home media centre, this is a bargain at an affordable price.