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Acer Aspire Timeline 4810T-353
If you've been tempted by netbooks but find the performance and form-factor too inflexible, Intel's CULV (consumer ultra-low voltage) platform is the perfect tonic. Indeed, this equally applies to current netbooks owners, who might find CULV machines and AMD's competing Athlon Neo platform the ideal upgrade paths to something that has similar levels of portability, but with more capability.
Perhaps the best example of a CULV machine is the Acer Aspire Timeline 4810T, which received a Recommended Award and a well deserved 10/10 for value back in May. Now we're looking at another version of the 4810T, the 4810T-353, which for £200 less drops a core from the CPU and downgrades the hard drive. This results in a machine that costs just £549.99 yet maintains many of the benefits of its more expensive sibling.
This starts with the chassis which is (obviously) exactly the same. Despite being targeted at consumers the 4810T is a fairly conservative looking machine. Indeed, were it not for the glossy screen, one could easily assume it were a business laptop. This doesn't make it the most exciting thing to behold, but it does mean it's far more durable than 99 per cent of laptops that are beholden to glossy, dust-attracting, scratch-prone plastic.
This is particularly true of the aluminium lid, which adds a reassuring level of sturdiness. Indeed, overall the build quality far outstrips what you might imagine for a laptop that costs £550, with good quality plastics used throughout. In fact, the 4810T feels positively brick-like compared to the decidedly flimsy MSI X-Slim X340, though it does weigh more - just under 2.0kg. If weight is a concern the 1.6kg 3810T, the 13in version, might be worth looking at.
Connectivity is good but lacks a few niceties like eSATA or an ExpressCard slot. You do, however, get three USB ports, VGA and HDMI for video, line-in and line-out connections for audio, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a 5-in-1 card reader. This is still far more than your typical netbook, so only very picky types (like us) could possibly complain.
Another underwhelming feature are the integrated speakers, which are too tinny and lacking in power to be suitable for anything but basic audio needs. However, Acer seems to have thought ahead here by licensing Dolby Sound Room processing. This includes the audio firm's excellent headphone surround sound virtualisation, Dolby Headphone. Given this is a system meant to be used on the move this is arguably more important than the integrated speakers, which could easily be substituted for some speakers when at home.