Gateway is an American company that sells its laptops in this country through retail outlets such as Toys R Us and, with the Gateway MT6917b (£499 inc. VAT), through large stores of Tesco.

The design of this machine is quite striking, with a textured plastic outer shell that opens to reveal a smooth finish. It's grey and black in colour, but the brushed aluminium palm rest gives it a hint of sophistication. When you start to use the Gateway, the telltale signs of this being a budget machine appear.

For instance, the keyboard is adequate, but it tends to rattle as you type and the keys need a solid touch in order to respond. We found there was a slight rise to the central keys, which means this is a clip-mounted board, so is very easy to replace.

Weighing in at 2.8kg, this is a semi-portable machine that isn't really intended to be carried on a regular basis. However, with a battery life of 210 minutes in High Performance mode, rising to 274 minutes when running in Power Saver mode, this machine is more than suited to being used away from mains power. We were also impressed with how cool it remained, even after long periods of use.

Media control

There is a row of media buttons above the keyboard for starting and running software media players, which proved responsive. This isn't a media centre though, shipping as it does with Windows Vista Home Premium. On paper the specification list looks rather impressive, as the Gateway ships with a dual-core processor and 2048MB of memory.

However, while the Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 does have two processing cores, it's worth noting that it is a budget chip, so runs at a slower clock speed than faster Core 2 Duo chips. This was borne out by a MobileMark score of 130 in High Performance mode, which is fine for everyday tasks.

The screen is a 15.4-inch widescreen display and was bright enough in an office environment with an even tone across its width. However, when running on battery power it was evidently quite low-powered.

When being used for the daily commute the screen was less reliable, as not only was it dim, but it has a very narrow viewing angle, so anything other than straight on gives it a silver haze. While this is fine for the single user, you won't want to share this machine or use it for presentations.

The Gateway MT6917b represents reasonable value for money with a specification that is fairly impressive for the asking price. While there is nothing particularly outstanding about the design or build of this machine, it proved reliable and if you can cope with a less than ideal keyboard, it will serve you well.