Novatech is based in the UK and offers a wide range of consumer machines at affordable prices. The B17 is its entry-level media centre, but while its large screen suits basic home entertainment use, it lacks the power of similarly-priced laptops.

The 17-inch screen is the largest of all the machines here and is built for watching DVDs and viewing photos. It features and increasingly less common 16:10 aspect ratio, rather than 16:9 full widescreen, however, so black borders sandwich the picture when watching movies.

The screen impresses, nevertheless. Sharp images are on offer, although it lacks the brightness of the screens used by Dell. As a result, colours don't pop from the screen with quite the same impact, but for most uses it provides a sufficient level of quality.

Due to the low price, graphics are basic. The integrated ATI graphics chip delivers enough power for running video and light photo editing, but not much else. While high-definition (HD) video playback struggles slightly, an HDMI port lets you connect the laptop to an external HDTV.

Office performance doesn't fare much better. The AMD processor is backed by 4096MB of memory, but simply struggles to provide enough power. Basic tasks, such as word processing and web browsing, run fine, but more demanding use proves too taxing.

Due to the large screen, the chassis weighs 3kg. At this weight, it's not built for any real degree of mobile use and is better suited to staying on your desktop. This is further illustrated by the limited 181-minute battery life – a basic result and the lowest we'd expect.

To keep costs down, a generic design has been used. While it lacks the flair of custom builds, the quality is excellent. The firmly-fixed panels and resilient plastics will keep the laptop well protected against the rigours of frequent family use.

Functional design

The user interface features a similarly staid yet functional design. The large keyboard is full-sized and provides a comfortable and responsive action. The keys have a longer degree of travel than we'd like, which can make typing feel slightly spongy at times.

More pleasingly, a good range of extras are on offer and add to the value of the B17. 802.11n Wi-Fi provides speedy wireless connectivity. An external mouse, USB hub and laptop carry case are also included.

At such a low price, the large screen and welcome list of extra features ensure that the B17 is a decent, if unexceptional, entry-level media centre. Its limited performance and slightly flawed keyboard may deter some though, so consider your needs carefully before buying.