Most people don't need flashy, light Ultrabooks or monster gaming laptops – and many can't afford them, either. If that's you, then a laptop like the new Toshiba C50D-A-13G could be a much better bet. It costs less than £400, but it still has an AMD APU that promises to tackle work and play with equal aplomb.
The chip is the star of this machine. It's an A6-5200, which is the top part from AMD's Kabini range – a selection of APUs designed for use in cheaper, smaller notebooks.
The Toshiba's A6-5200 has four processing cores that use the Jaguar architecture – that's the same hardware that underpins the Xbox One and PlayStation 4's processors – and they're clocked to 2GHz, which is the highest speed of any Kabini chip.
Because it's an APU, those processing cores are partnered with a Radeon GPU. The HD 8400 uses the same Graphics Core Next hardware as many of AMD's current discrete cards and desktop APUs, and here the core runs at 600MHz – more than 100MHz quicker than any other Kabini chip.
The rest of the Toshiba's specification ticks the right boxes, too. Eight gigabytes of memory is ample, and the 1TB hard disk is similarly capacious. This machine has a DVD writer, which is something no Ultrabook can boast.
The Toshiba sounds good on the outside, but the Satellite hasn't been furnished with dazzling design. This machine is made entirely from plastic, and the lid and wrist-rest are both covered with a plain, lined pattern. The screen, meanwhile, is a non-touch 15.6-inch unit with a 1,366x768 resolution – about what we expect from this class of system, but hardly enough to truly impress.
It's not exactly a looker, but at least the Toshiba is sturdier than many other budget machines. The wrist-rest doesn't depress when it's pushed, and there's only a little give in the underside, too. The screen is weaker, with distortion visible on the screen, but it's a better showing than many other cheap notebooks.
The Toshiba's ergonomics are good, too, especially considering this system's sub-£400 price. The keyboard is a traditional, flat-topped unit with a sensible layout and a numberpad, and we like typing on the C50D.
The keys have a consistent action that successfully straddles the line between light and comfortable, and we were soon typing quickly. The flimsy base doesn't make much of an impact. The trackpad, too, is good, thanks to a smooth surface and two responsive buttons.
The C50D has a single USB 3 connection, a pair of slower USB 2 ports, D-SUB and HDMI outputs, and Gigabit Ethernet, and connectivity also stretches to single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Satellite exudes practicality, and that continues on the base: a panel is held in place with just one screw, and beneath lies the two memory slots, a single hard disk bay and CMOS battery, all of which are easy to access for upgrades or removals.
The low end of the laptop market is packed with contenders, many of which square up to the C50D with tempting specifications of their own. Spend a little more and you could buy Toshiba's own Satellite M50-A-11C, which swaps its AMD silicon for an Intel Core i5 chip and has a sleek metallic enclosure. Or, if that doesn't take your fancy, there's the HP Pavilion TouchSmart Sleekbook 15: a machine with similar AMD hardware and a more stylish exterior.
All of these systems have 15-inch screens, but smaller machines are available for similar money. TheAsus X102BA currently costs less than £300 – a significant chunk less than this machine – but still includes an 11.1-inch touchscreen. And, finally, there's another Toshiba. The Satellite NB15t is an 11.6-inch system that's got a touchscreen and, like the Asus, also dips below the £300 mark.