First on the hit parade is this Acer Aspire 5633WLMi, which is available for just under Â£500. For your money you get a notebook with a 15.4in, 1,280 x 800 display, a 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 with 2MB L2 Cache and 667MHz Front Side Bus, a generous 160GB hard drive, DVD Re-writer, integrated graphics, 802.11a/b/g wireless, 10/100 LAN, a 1.3MP camera and Windows Vista Home Premium.
All the systems featured include 15.4in displays, and you'll find a lot of the cheaper notebooks with this configuration due to the economies of scale. This particular model weighs in at 2.7kg, is nicely proportioned and is well catered for connectivity wise with four USB ports, a memory card reader, PC Card slot, D-Sub and 7-pin component S-Video out. What it does lack though is a FireWire port, and while there's a switch on the front for Bluetooth there's no actual Bluetooth device in the notebook â€“ doh!
Probably the best feature of the notebook is its display. It has the now near ubiquitous high contrast finish, and overall the brightness, colour vibrancy and contrast levels are very impressive. This makes it perfect for watching TV or movies on, which can often be the best form of entertainment between lectures unless you consider work a form of entertainment. Obviously, you'll need a separate tuner for TV viewing, of which there are many available.
Design wise the Acer is attractive enough. The whole chassis has a simple silver and black two tone finish, with the outside finished in silver and the bezel and keyboard in black. There are plenty of pleasant curves throughout, while in a nice touch the 1.3 megapixel camera rotates to point outward.
Another nice touch is the 5-way joystick that sits between the two touch pad buttons, this adds scroll control on each axis as well as a middle click button. Unfortunately the keyboard isn't the best. The layout is fine, but the keys are a tad stodgy and will slow you down somewhat. It's not quite a deal breaker, but a separate keyboard for desktop use would be a wise investment.
For performance testing we've run PC Mark 05 to test performance, and a timed idle battery test. In PC Mark the Acer performed solidly, with an overall score of 2,921 that sat somewhere near the middle of the notebooks tested. In subjective terms performance was perfectly acceptable, and the system would have few problems running the usual office programs, media players and internet utilities. With integrated graphics there isn't much in the way of gaming performance, being just good enough to play some old classics.
Unfortunately battery performance wasn't quite as impressive. The system was left running idle, using the balanced performance profile, 100 per cent brightness and with the Wireless module enabled and active. Under these hardly demanding conditions the Acer managed two hours and 13 minutes, making it the worst of those tested. To be fair, the Acer does suffer somewhat by having the brightest of the screens but nonetheless it's a fairly average performance.
Solid design and a good spec make this a good example of what to look for. Poor battery life may count against it, but it does make up for this with a generous 160GB hard drive and a very good display.