If any single company can be thought to have driven the price of the average laptop down it is Acer.

In recent years it has been the most aggressive manufacturer of laptops.

Its budget machine is the Acer Extensa 5220-101G08Mi (£270 inc. VAT), which takes an older design with a five-degree curve to the keyboard, but adds a reasonable specification for the price.

Intergrated graphics

The chassis is made from plastic and feels incredibly solid to the touch.

Weighing 2.9kg, this isn't a machine you'll want to carry around on a daily basis, but it's more than usable for semi-regular use.

The screen is a 15.4-inch Super-TFT panel with a narrow brightness range. Whether running on battery power or the mains, we found the only way to get the most from the screen was to run it at full brightness.

Graphics use an integrated solution, so you'll find basic tasks such as playing DVD movies and online animations run fine, but you won't be able to use this machine for editing video or playing games.

Comfortable keyboard

The widescreen allows for a good-sized keyboard. Being an older Acer design, the keyboard has a curved design that is more ergonomic than a standard keyboard.

The keys feel solid to the touch, but there was a degree of rattle as we typed. The touchpad is of a good size and responds well.

The mouse buttons are small, but proved well built and reliable.

Sluggish performance

When it came to performance, the Celeron M processor and 1024MB of memory are sufficient to run Windows Vista Home Basic, but you won't be able to run multiple applications with this system.

We found it ideal for tasks such as writing emails and using the internet, but try anything more complex and you'll soon find this laptop slowing down.

Impressive software package

With a battery life of a little over two hours, this isn't the choice for regular commutes, but for use about the home or the office we found it usable.

Considering the price, Acer has bundled a number of software tools with this laptop. Norton Internet Security makes it easier to get online safely, and CyberLink PowerDVD and NTI CD-Maker & Shadow can be used with the built-in DVD rewriter.

Also, there are various Acer applications that make setting up a network and managing the performance of your laptop a little easier.

Great budget laptop

In terms of connectivity, you'll find the standard array of tools. 802.11g is fitted for wireless networks, while you'll be able to use the Gigabit Ethernet adapter for fixed networks.

The Extensa also sports a 5-in-1-card reader and S-Video and VGA-out ports for hooking up to external devices.

A budget machine, the Acer Extensa 5220-101G08Mi certainly delivers value. It's easy to overlook the ageing design, as this is a highly usable machine.