Although the eMachines brand may not be as well known as others, its eMachines E520- 571G16Mi is a sturdy choice that provides great mobility. Unfortunately, performance is limited and restricts it to basic home use.

As with most laptops, the 2.6kg chassis is light enough for short-term travel use, but won't suit longer journeys. Its 206-minute battery life is excellent, however.

Tough build

The plain design won't win any awards, but its resilience makes it one of the tougher laptops here. The plastics used are hard-wearing and regular travellers are sure to appreciate its strength. The dark-grey colouring also means that dirt and smudges are slow to appear.

Unfortunately, this level of quality doesn't carry across to the user interface. The keyboard is large and suitably responsive, although it flexes a great deal when typing. The keys also respond with a noisy clicking sound, so speed-typists are sure to be quickly frustrated.

The 15.4-inch Super-TFT screen compensates somewhat. Its sharpness and vibrant colour reproduction are great for watching movies and basic photo editing. We found blacks to be slightly washed out, however.

Where the eMachines falls short is in its limited performance. As with the Advent 5712, its single-core Intel Celeron processor provides only enough power for basic home use. First-time buyers are unlikely to feel restricted, but your needs may quickly outgrow this laptop.

Graphics power is equally limited. The integrated Intel GPU is standard among laptops in this price range, but performance here is the lowest we have seen in some time. Video and DVDs play smoothly, and you can perform basic photo and video editing, but there isn't the power for much more.

BENCHMARK MACHINE: Samsung Q45

Storage is also limited in comparison to its rivals. The 160GB hard drive suits basic needs, but is vastly bettered by both the Advent and HP. The dual-layer DVD rewriter lets you back up data to CD and DVD, but there is no support for flash storage cards.

Connectivity is also poor. Only two USB ports let you attach external peripherals, and they're placed very close together, so it's difficult to connect two devices simultaneously. Bluetooth lets you wirelessly sync external devices, however.

On its own merits, the eMachines E520- 571G16Mi is a decent laptop at this price. Against its rivals, however, it's almost impossible to recommend, as both the HP Compaq Presario CQ60-214EM and Toshiba Satellite Pro L300-1FO are better options and outperform this laptop in nearly every way.

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