A fast-growing brand, Acer has regularly won awards in WL for its impressive and well-priced systems. The Acer Aspire 9423 WSMi (£799 inc. VAT) provides an affordable entry-level option.
Strong mobility is unrealistic for a media centre, but at 3.5kg the Acer is a fairly light laptop. You won't be able to carry it far, but its battery life of 159 minutes will keep you working or entertained on brief journeys.
Acer leans more towards functionality than style. With its wide keyboard and number-pad, the Aspire provides comfortable usability. However, the keys need to be struck quite firmly to register, which may restrict fast typists.
It has a 17-inch screen, which is ideal for watching films from the comfort of your sofa. However, no remote control is included. With its glossy Super-TFT coating, the screen is bright and colourful.
For online video messaging, a 1.3- megapixel camera is fixed above the screen. Movable though 225 degrees, you can also gain a first-person perspective if necessary. However, this really is the only extra multimedia feature on offer.
With no TV tuner, high-definition support or remote control, the Acer is merely a base on which to build your media centre. With a range of third-party peripherals offering all the functionality you could need in the future, the low price of the Acer is its main selling point.
Performance is another strength. Using an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, the latest dual-core CPU technology is used to good effect. Day-to-day ability is impressive and provides enough power for any home or office task.
Gaming ability is less capable. This is not a dedicated gaming system. Due to the nature of laptop technology, it can't be upgraded, so bear this in mind if PC games are a pastime of yours.
A more positive aspect is the Acer's enhanced software. Using a range of proprietary tools, all aspects of the system, from battery management to power use, can be easily configured, making it easier for users to get started.
Despite a poor multimedia specification, this is a good choice for users on a tight budget. With strong usability and the basic elements of a home entertainment system, the Aspire 9423 WSMi is a starting point which can be added to as and when your budget allows.