The MSI VR-601 made an instant impression, first with the distinctive MSI logo on the case, then the wide keyboard that takes up almost the full width of the chassis.

This means that there's enough room for a numeric keypad, which is unusual for a laptop. Unfortunately, one you start typing, though you'll soon spot problems. These include the tiny right-hand [Shift] key that frequently left us fumbling, and the relatively small [Return] key.

Use the system a lot and you'll probably get used to these, but we suspect that they'll always be at least a minor annoyance.

Well-featured for a budget laptop

There's plenty of compensation in the sharp, glossy screen, though, and a 250GB hard drive. The two-year warranty is more generous than most and this is the only system to include a Gigabit Ethernet port - a real surprise at this price point.

The VR601-258UK proved to be a mild disappointment in most of our benchmarks. Dire 3D graphics performance was exposed by its score of 435 in 3DMark 06, memory bandwidth was low and PCMark Vantage wouldn't run at all for some reason that we never quite figured out.

Exceptional battery life

The news was better in the hard drive tests, though, where the system was outperformed only by the Samsung and Zoostorm offerings.

Better still, battery life was exceptional, as the system survived 104 minutes even when under very heavy load. With lighter use you can expect more than three hours' battery life.

If you're not looking for extreme performance, and can put up with the keyboard annoyances then this has to be one of the best budget laptops around.