Combining high performance, strong mobility and multimedia power, the Dell Inspiron 1720 (£839 inc VAT) is well suited to use as a family media centre. The affordable price tag adds a particularly good selling point.

Dell's silver design scheme brings style to the chassis. The screen panel can also be customised from a choice of eight colours at the time of purchase. The chassis is tough enough for frequent travel use. The 227 minute battery life is outstanding for a 17-inch laptop.

The most obvious strength is the stunning screen. Bright, sharp and colourful, it allows photos and movies to look fantastic. With its sharp 1440 x 900-pixel resolution and Super-TFT coating, it's ideal for use as a home media centre.

Unfortunately, there are no digital or high-definition (HD) outputs. External screens or projectors can connect via a VGA-out port. This won't suit owners of digital displays and is a very unusual oversight for a multimedia laptop.

For storing large quantities of music, photos and videos, the 160GB hard drive is ample. A rewritable DVD drive lets you play CDs and DVDs and save files to recordable discs. An optional Blu-ray drive can be added for HD playback for £388 (inc. VAT).

Performance is average, however. Powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2048MB of memory, it runs fast enough for most home use. However, if you want to edit large home videos or HD files, the Dell may start to struggle.

Multimedia abilities

3D power is more impressive for gaming and other multimedia tasks. Using a high-performance Nvidia GPU, this represents great value for money for gamers on a tight budget, particularly as it's coupled with Dell's stunning screen.

Usability is very comfortable. With one of the best laptop keyboards Dell has produced, the keys are large, well-mounted and always accurate to type on. A full number-pad is also fitted alongside the main board, making gaming and data input use quick and easy.

Quick-launch media keys at the front of the chassis make it easy to control music and video. Another hotkey lets you access Dell's MediaDirect software for a one-stop hub for your media files. An integrated camera above the screen lets you capture video and photos.

Despite poor connectivity and lower performance than its rivals, the Dell Inspiron 1720 remains a good entry-level media centre. With a truly unique style, powerful graphics and impressive usability, this is a recommended choice for those gamers or media users on a tight budget.