Why now's the time to buy a cheap laptop

The new laptop platform from Intel means there will be plenty of bargains to be had

There will be no better time to buy a laptop this year. Intel announced its new version of Centrino yesterday, so it doesn't take a magician to work out that the next few weeks will see retailers shifting their old stock as new laptops hit at the higher price levels.

PC World , for example, has the Compaq C542EA laptop for £450 featuring a 1.6Ghz Core Duo processor. It might not be one of Intel's latest chips, but it's more than enough for most duties - and Windows Vista Home Premium is also included.

The Compaq has 1 GB of memory (which we'd definitely recommend for Windows Vista) and an 80GB hard drive.

The similarly specified Asus F3H-AP005C adds a 120GB hard drive for an extra £34. It's available from shoplaptop.co.uk.

Unless you want your laptop for just word processing and basic web functionality, don't go for Windows Vista Home Basic. It's supplied with many low-end laptops but it lacks a lot of the media functions - such as the Media Center interface.

If you really think a Vista Basic laptop is for you then Comet 's Fujitsu Siemens Amilo LI 1705 impresses for £349 - it has a 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron, 80GB hard drive and the all-important 1GB of memory.

As for XP machines, the Acer Aspire 5612WLMi is available from shoplaptop.co.uk. It has a 15.4-inch widescreen and 1.66GHz Core Duo for your £386, but only 512MB of memory - though that'll work fine with the included XP Media Center OS.

There are even better bargains to be had from other sites - if you don't want Vista or a powerful dual core processor. A 1.4GHz Celeron M (basic use only) Compaq is available from laptopshop.co.uk (a different site) for £300. Dual-core laptops at the site are around the £400 mark.