One of the most established manufacturers in the world, Dell produces laptops for all areas of the market. As its most affordable laptop, the Dell Inspiron 1300 (£399 inc. VAT) provides impressive performance, even if it is lacking in style and features.

At this price point, it's rare to find compact chassis designs. The Dell is one of the larger laptops around and the 3.2kg weight limits mobility slightly. This is compensated by an impressive 235-minute battery life.

Standard for a budget laptop, the Dell carries a 15.4-inch widescreen panel. The lack of a glossy Super-TFT coating reduces colour and contrast, but image quality remains strong. The 1280 x 800 pixel resolution limits screen space, but is sufficient for most tasks.

Using an Intel 915GM graphics chipset, multimedia performance is low. 3DMark 2003 tests produced a score of 986 points, making modern gaming an impossibility. However, for standard operation, as well as watching DVDs, performance is more than acceptable.

Where the Dell excels is in its day-to-day performance. Although powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron M 380 processor and 512MB of memory, test results were proficient. With a MobileMark 2005 score of 209 points, the Dell provides plenty of power for the home user.

Likewise, usability should please all. While not the widest keyboard we've seen, all keys are responsive and comfortable to type on. Similarly, the touchpad and mouse buttons have no discernible flaws and are ergonomic and usable throughout.

Limited features

A constraint of the Dell is its lack of features. With no built-in card reader and very few ports, expandability is limited. External monitors can be connected via VGA-out, but just three USB 2.0 ports complete the list of options.

More pleasing, although equally dictated by the budget price, is the networking ability of the Dell. 802.11g wireless connections can be set up for high-speed data transfers. Fixed connections run slower, at only 10/100 Base-T speed. This will still suit basic home networks.

A nice touch is the inclusion of a dual-format recordable DVD drive. Allowing users to write to DVD /-RW discs and all CD formats, creating data back-ups and music/video discs is simple. Dual-layer discs cannot be written to, but read-only access is provided as normal.

Although basic in its configuration and features, the Dell Inspiron 1300 is impressively powerful and usable for its low price.