Compaq Presario CQ57-366SA

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 Compaq Presario CQ57-366SA

The Compaq Presario CQ57-366SA won’t win any awards for its looks, but does offer the things we look for in a budget machine. It’s solid with a decent screen and great speakers, and the sort of internal specifications we’d expect at this price.

However, even though this is a budget machine, we’d still appreciate something a little nicer to look at.

The Compaq is a solid black brick seemingly devoid of colours, shades or textures. It’s boring and uninspired but, as mentioned above, solidly built – with only a small amount of flex detectable around the chassis.

We were also pleased to discover that it’s not as heavy as it looks, but it isn’t the lightest at 2.5kg.

Leaving the aesthetics behind, usability is perfectly acceptable. The keyboard has wide buttons and a good depth of travel but, despite the amount of space on the chassis, feels cramped. There’s no numeric keypad or quick-access hotkeys to be found, but, like most laptops, you can alter volume and media playback by holding down the Function key and using the F-keys.

While the touchpad is responsive, it’s also the exact same shade of black as the rest of the chassis and therefore wonderfully camouflaged.

Where the Compaq picks up again is with the screen. It’s got a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, meaning you can enjoy 720p HD videos – although the full 1080p experience is out of reach. We found that although the screen was very bright, it wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen elsewhere. The Super-TFT coating helps, but ultimately we’d pick this for working on documents rather than watching Avatar.

Having said that, the Altec Lansing speakers are very good indeed – so we’d definitely be listening to music while we worked.

£350 won’t buy you the greatest components on the market, but the basic user will find everything they require here. The first-generation Intel Core i3 processor is backed up by a capable 4GB of RAM and a standard integrated graphics chip that will handle video streaming from iPlayer or YouTube but stops short of advanced editing suites.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 184 minutes
Cinebench: 7839
3DMark 2006: 1464

There’s a DVD rewriter and a standard 320GB hard drive for storing programs and media.

Compaq

Better battery

Pleasantly surprising was the 184-minute battery life the Presario posted on our benchmarking tests. It’s good to see budget laptops lasting more than three hours and, with careful usage, we reckon you could squeeze even more out.

The only noticeable omission in terms of connectivity is the lack of an HDMI port for connecting to a high-definition external monitor or TV. You’ll have to make do with the standard VGA Out connection or buy an adapter for one of the three USB ports.

There’s an SD Card expansion slot and an Ethernet port in case you don’t want to use the 802.11n Wi-Fi connection to access the internet.

The Compaq Presario CQ57- 366SA is a perfectly acceptable budget laptop, with special mention going to the battery life and speaker system. It doesn’t look, or perform, like a standout laptop and there are alternatives – such as the Acer Aspire 5742 – but if you’re searching for a basic machine for the next year or two this is a good pick.

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ASUS B23E: 12.5 Inch Screen And Ultra-Thin Design

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ASUS B23E: 12.5 Inch Screen And Ultra-Thin Design

A new ASUS notebook hits the market with a 12.5 inch screen and an ultra-thin design. ASUS continues to present new developments in its product portfolio for the year 2012 already runs. The new release of the company is the ASUS B23E, this is an ultraportable that stands out for having a small but very interesting 12.5-inch screen, refined design and all the power of Intel hardware.

In spite of having dimensions and appearance of an ASUS ultrabook it apart from the rest and classified as an ultraportable. The model is as powerful as a ultrabook but with a much more competitive price. The format LED screen has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels plus a non-glare interesting resource. The design is simple with a black tone prevalent, the device is actually thicker at a traditional ultrabook.

In return this is much more powerful, this model receives second-generation processor line Core i Series models Sandy Bridge Core i3, i5 or i7. The speeds of the Intel chips can reach 2.7 GHz to complete the proposed maximum performance is a notebook with compact dimensions and low weight the ASUS B23E can receive up to 8 GB DDR3 RAM, Intel HD graphics, HDMI output , 750 GB hard disk storage, input Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b / g / n, Bluetooth 3.0 and USB 2.0 and 3.0.

The main focus of this notebook is a business market and data security resources prove this. The device features technology LoJack tracking equipment and password protection through the BIOS. The Asus B23E is available for purchase in the United States and its initial price is $ 922. Meanwhile Hewlett Packard launches a netbook with Intel Atom N2600 and the operating system Windows 7 Home Premium, HP betting on small laptops announced the launch of the new Mini 1104.

The netbook has a 10.1 inch display with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels and comes with the new generation of Intel processors. Atom N2600 processor has two cores and 1.6 GHz frequency besides GMA 3600 graphics card and up to 2 GB of RAM. The combination allowed the manufacturer to place the operating system Windows 7 Home Premium. The laptop has specifications simple, has the WiFi network connectivity and HSPA +, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS.

To store data, the netbook has a 320 GB hard drive at 5,200 rpm and a 6-cell battery that promises a range of up to 9 hours use. Hewlett Packard Mini Model 1104 is available for purchase in the North American market for the suggested retail price of $ 399.

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Acer TravelMate 8481T

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 Acer TravelMate 8481T

When it comes to battery life, Acer’s TravelMate 8481T is the laptop to beat. It’s not all that surprising when you see the battery protruding from the back of the chassis, practically doubling the breadth of the machine.

But, if you need to pack the TravelMate away, simply unclip the battery and it shrinks from 41mm thick to only 24mm. Our battery benchmark test – supplemented with looped high-def video – took 326 minutes to run down the TravelMate, so we’d expect that this machine would get you through a mains-free eight hour day with standard use.

Apart from the battery, there are other features that mark this laptop out as a travel device. Its 14-inch screen dispenses with Super-TFT reflective coating, instead opting for a matt-TFT finish. This means that, while movies and pictures won’t look as colourful or vibrant, the TravelMate can be used in bright environments – like airports or train carriages without annoying glare being reflected on the screen.

Even with the screen brightness set to maximum, the display is noticeably darker than other laptops. This is an extra way to maximise battery performance, as the biggest drain on any laptop’s power supply is keeping the screen bright.

There’s also a fingerprint scanner nestled between the click buttons below the touchpad, lending saved documents an extra layer of security.

Boasting Acer’s favoured raised keyboard, typing is also comfortable, thanks to a decent amount of travel, but not without some serious flex. Because the battery protrudes the way it does, you’re typing at a raised angle, much more comfortable than on a traditional flat laptop.

While we might be tempted to lump the TravelMate in with the Port

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Asus N55SF

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 Asus N55SF

At first glance, it’s difficult to get a handle on exactly what type of laptop the Asus N55SF is.

The powerful Core i7-2570QM processor, huge keyboard with numeric keypad and slab of speaker atop the keyboard suggest that it may be intended as a desktop replacement. But the weight and general lack of bulk suggest otherwise.

When all’s said and done, this is a out-and-out powerhouse of an entertainment laptop. There’s Bang and Olufsen ICEPower audio, 6GB of memory and a Blu-ray drive hidden inside that hefty case.

Indeed, this is a high performance family laptop with a gaming bent – the high end Nvidia GeForce GT 555M has a whopping 2GB of memory on board just for graphics, providing some of the best 3D performance you’ll find in a laptop.

While the chassis is big, it’s not as bulky as you’d think and is easily to move around the living room. Sadly the power brick isn’t so portable and is a bit of a lump. The chassis is a little plasticky, but is topped off by a lovely curved, glossy piano black lid with a smart looking chrome finish around the edge.

Unfortunately the lid does pick up fingerprints quickly, but that’s an issue with all such glossy laptop lids – particularly when they’re being used by kids. As a whole, the laptop looks very classy and we certainly wouldn’t be ashamed to leave it on the coffee table – the aluminium panel below the screen adds to this.

The chassis has been put together well and is strong – you can’t push down on the palm rest, although there is a little flex in the base of the keyboard and the main laptop chassis itself. There is more flex in the screen, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Key concern

We’re unsure about the keyboard though. It looks horrid compared to those of many comparable laptops, for a start. The letter keys seem a little compressed for such a large machine, and although they have a lovely spring to them when you’re typing, it’s easy to accidentally hit the wrong key.

This problem is exacerbated by the location of the volume control keys on the left-hand side. It’s very easy to hit one of them when going for Tab or holding down shift – largely because we’re so used to these keys being at the edge of the keyboard. A bad usability flaw there; suddenly you see a volume control graphic pop up in front of you as you type.

Sound, which has traditionally been a weakness for laptops, certainly isn’t neglected here. The B&O audio is nothing short of astounding. It was too loud for our living room, so we really gave it a challenge by bringing it into the office. Even on the other side of our large open plan office we could clearly make out the music. It’s great for watching Blu-ray movies as a result, and HDMI means you can output your display to a larger screen.

If you prefer to use the laptop’s built-in display, images are clear and crisp, and there’s an anti-glare coating to reduce refl ections when you’re watching video or working. The screen has great contrast and colours are also reproduced well.

Asus n55sf rear

Photo, video and music addicts will be pleased with the 640GB of storage, and USB 3.0 connectivity means that, even if you decide to add external storage, transfer speeds would be extremely snappy with a USB 3.0 drive. Ports are plentiful, while there’s a SD card slot underneath the front lip.

The trackpad is responsive, but we found the mouse buttons tended to click too easily and it can be difficult when doing more precise tasks such as highlighting text or files in a folder.

Powerful performer

The N55SF put in a really strong performance in our benchmarks – the gaming graphics put it right up alongside entertainment-orientated notebooks like the Toshiba Qosmio X770, as well as high-end gaming laptops such as the Alienware M14X and M18X. With the quad-core processor, advanced graphics and 6GB of memory, you’ll have no trouble running most games or performing demanding tasks like video editing.

The laptop uses Nvidia’s Optimus graphics switching technology, so you get great graphics performance when it’s plugged into the mains and decent battery life when it’s not. This is reflected in our battery benchmark score, which is great compared to many of its peers – the Toshiba’s Qosmio X770 only lasted 44 minutes by contrast.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 132 minutes
Cinebench: 18,323
3DMark 2009: 12,711

As with some other recent Asus laptops like the UX31 Zenbook, we found some of the software annoying. A reminder to register our details constantly popped up, and an update wizard kept appearing. Such add-on software seems to be a way of life now, but it detracts from the out-of-box experience.

That said, for extra unwanted software, the N55SF is better than most, with only the Bing toolbar really grating. And the benefit of the super-fast processor is that such additions don’t slow Windows 7 down.

The N55SF is a superb home entertainment laptop with only a couple of weak points in the odd keyboard, mouse controls and some irritating software alerts. Performance is excellent and the spec sheet as a whole is impressive.

Of course, all this doesn’t come cheap, but this machine compares extremely favourably to more stylised and costly entertainment laptops from the likes of Toshiba and Alienware. We’d definitely recommend it – if you can put up with the strange keyboard.

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Lenovo IdeaPad U300S

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 Lenovo IdeaPad U300S

Overview

The wait for the flurry of Intel ultrabooks is over, and the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is among the latest super thin and light Windows laptops to come to the fore.

It joins the likes of the Toshiba Portege Z830, Toshiba Satellite Z830, Asus Zenbook UX31 and Acer Aspire S3 in the ultrabook range, a new kind of laptop category that is critically important for the future of the entire market.

Ultrabooks are super-thin, light, sleek and powerful laptops that aim to emulate Apple’s recent gains with the Apple MacBook Air, and finally give consumers a reason to invest in PCs again.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is the last in the current line of ultrabooks to hit the shelves, and with a host of new models rumoured to be released at CES 2012 in January, it needs to offer a potent mix of power, great looks and competitive price to stand out among the early salvos from Acer, Asus and Toshiba.

However, our first impressions are underwhelming.

Lenovo hasn’t obsessed over aesthetics, and this laptop is no Apple MacBook Air clone. It seems chunky next to the wafer-thin Asus Zenbook, which features a wedge-shaped design that tapers off to a thin, blade-like point.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S retains its 16mm thickness across the chassis, giving it the impression of being squat.

The body is aluminium, and weighs 1.4kg, the same as the Acer Aspire S3, but much heavier than the Toshiba Portege Z830 and the Toshiba Satellite Z830-10U. If you’re looking for an ultrabook that will turn heads, you will most likely look elsewhere, but can the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S impress with power?

Specifications

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

Under the hood of the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is an Intel Core i5 processor, which we were slightly disappointed to see, when other manufacturers have managed to add Intel Core i7 processors to a smaller, lighter chassis.

The processor is one of Intel’s low-voltage chips, which balances power with decent battery life and enables system builders to keep their laptops svelte, and achieve the standard required for ultrabook branding.

The low voltage family of processors are part of Intel’s Sandy Bridge range, but don’t expect the same performance as on full laptop systems such as the Dell XPS 15z. These processors are clocked at a meagre 1.6GHz, but have some cunning tech built in to keep the system optimised.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

There’s Intel’s fast booting technology, which enables the Lenovo to resume from sleep and boot from cold in seconds, and makes a huge difference. It’s one of the best ultrabook features, but it’s not exclusive to the Lenovo.

We have seen better processors elsewhere, such as the Asus Zenbook with its Intel Core i7 processor, and this affects performance.

There’s also 4GB of RAM, which is standard across all ultrabooks and provides enough memory for keeping the system feeling responsive.

Finally, there’s a 128GB SSD drive, which we’re glad to say is becoming standard on ultrabooks, but whether you can live on that is debatable. Yes, you can employ an external HDD, but the question for many is whether an ultrabook can function as a primary machine, or whether it must be complemented by a full-form computer.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The lack of connections on the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S means using this as a primary laptop is difficult, which is a bugbear.

While the whole world goes wireless, and we start to store data in the cloud, 128GB of storage seems plenty. Cloud apps and storage are taking the strain off disc drives, but connectivity is the problem. The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S features just two USB ports, one of these being USB 3.0, and an HDMI port but no Ethernet or VGA.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is also the only ultrabook not to feature a media card slot, and with only two USB slots on offer, connectivity is severely limited.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The result is that it’s harder to get online, and we found it frustrating when hopping between offices and meeting rooms when wireless signal was poor, or non-existent. That’s not a problem for home users, but with the matt screen and less attractive lines, we feel this ultrabook is aimed at mobile workers.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S features a 13.3-inch display, and in a nod to true portability, the screen is matt, with a coating to stop reflections in direct sunlight.

Matt screens tend to polarise opinion, with many complaining that it makes the panel dull and lifeless, versus others who love the ability to work outside and near windows with them.

The truth is that both of these statements are true, and the Lenovo is totally unsuitable for those who want to enjoy movies and pictures, but it’s a great choice for people who want to work on the move.

Performance

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Benchmarks
Cinebench: 7,244
3D Mark: 3,394
Battery Eater: 232 mins

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S’s less powerful Intel Core i5 processor showed through in our lab tests, and the 7,244 score in Cinebench is on the low side when compared to the Asus Zenbook UX31 and Acer Aspire S3.

In real-world terms, this is more than enough processing power to run advanced programs such as Photoshop, although rendering will take longer than on full-powered Intel Core processors and ultrabooks with the Core i7 model. You’ll have no problem running multiple applications at the same time, though.

There’s no dedicated graphics card, so 3D effects are left to the GPU found on the Intel Sandy Bridge processor. As you might expect, it produces a poor score, and you won’t be playing any of the latest titles on the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

There’s enough graphical grunt to deal with HD video, so you can watch a movie on the move, but anything more demanding is out of the question, and the screen won’t make movies look their best anyway.

The battery life was decent, if unspectacular, with 232 minutes of use in our harsh lab tests. This translates to around five hours of web surfing and emailing, which equates to a good day on the move, but nowhere near the seven hours quoted by Lenovo on its marketing literature.

One of the major complaints across many ultrabooks is that they often feature poor, uncomfortable keyboards, and single button trackpads that are frustrating to use, and easy to skip across the page with unintentionally. Unfortunately, the Lenovo suffers here too.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

On the plus side the keys are as comfortable and natural to use as any ultrabook here, and they’re well cushioned and well spaced, with isolation-style keys jutting through the aluminium chassis.

However, Lenovo has made the Enter and Backspace keys very small, with the Home, End and Delete key to the far right.

This meant mistakes were common, and it took us a while to get used to the keyboard. The trackpad, however, is terrible, and often clicking and navigating led to chaotic moments, where clicks were mis-registered.

Verdict

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

When it comes to weighing up the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, “average” is a word that crops up too often. It looks average, performance is average despite being thicker and heavier than other ultrabooks, and the keyboard and trackpad are still awkward to use. It doesn’t have the power to turn heads, nor to blow away the likes of the Acer Aspire S3 in terms of performance, and that means it’s hard to recommend, even for particular niches.

The matt screen will make it attractive for business buyers, but the lack of a VGA and Ethernet connection mean that many will overlook this laptop.

We liked

Despite our gripes with the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, it’s still an excellent ultra-portable laptop. If it had come out before the other ultrabooks, we’d be applauding the excellent design and performance, and the Intel Core i5 is plenty powerful enough for image editing and advanced multitasking.

While we’d never recommend the screen for movies, we applaud Lenovo for offering a matt screen, which is great for people who want to work outside.

The keyboard is comfortable and easy to type on, with good travel between the keys, and good cushioning for long working sessions.

We disliked

Rather than complaining about poor trackpads, we’re going to get down on our knees and beg manufacturers instead. Please believe us that single button trackpads are prone to mistakes and frustrating to use. Stop mimicking Apple and adding them to your laptops.

We also would have liked the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S to be more visually striking. Ultrabooks aren’t just supposed to be thin laptops, they’re supposed to be a new category, where we can get excited about our PCs, take them to Starbucks and sit among our Apple-using friends with our heads held high.

There’s little here to boast about, and that’s a real shame.

Final verdict

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is a good ultra-portable laptop, but as an ultrabook, it doesn’t offer any compelling reasons to choose it over the competition.

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Lenovo Z570

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 Lenovo Z570

Fresh from Lenovo’s consumer-based IdeaPad stable comes the Lenovo Z570 which manages to hit a great balance between power and price.

There’s something about the faint, almost purple tinge to the brushed metal exterior that looks a lot better than the basic black designs offered by other more traditional laptops.

The metal is only an overlay, set into a plastic chassis, but it’s enough to make it stand out. We would say that in a line-up, only the Dell Inspiron 14z looks better.

Inside, the purple colouring is offset with Lenovo’s traditional black keyboard and several backlit hotkeys. Two rectangular speaker grills are present below the screen hinges which are themselves buried into the chassis.

The 15.6-inch screen is covered with a Super-TFT coating for extra colour depth and isn’t interrupted by a particularly thick bezel. It does wobble slightly on its hinges, although viewing angles are very good here. Because of the Super-TFT coating, however, the screen is reflective and in bright light these reflections are quite noticeable.

The Z570 has the same 1366 x 768 pixel resolution as its rivals, so although 1080p video is out of reach, you can still watch 720p high definition from sites like iPlayer.

Using the keyboard is a pleasant experience – providing you don’t use the Return key too often. For some reason Lenovo shrinks this key to a fraction of its usual size, which we find particularly irritating.

Lenovo z570

While it doesn’t beat the Sony VAIO VPC-EH2F1E’s keyboard, typing on the Z570 is still easy thanks to the well-rounded keys and plenty of space between buttons. The touchpad is large and well-placed and the extra hotkeys controlling volume, thermal management and video mode are a nice extra feature.

When it comes to connectivity, this laptop matches any of the other machines here, boasting three USB ports as well as an eSata port that doubles as a fourth USB. There are both HDMI and VGA ports for connecting to an external monitor as well as an Ethernet port and a 5-in-1 SD card slot for expanding on the 750GB of storage space. A DVD-RW optical drive lets you burn your own data or media discs for backup.

Graphical power

In our benchmarking tests, the Lenovo Z570 posted the best scores and also has some impressive specs on board. The Intel Core i5 CPU is part of Intel’s Sandy bridge family and the Z570 is the only machine to come with a dedicated graphics card.

The Nvidia GeForce GT520M adds an extra 1GB of pure video memory to the 6GB of standard RAM and lets you play basic games or run graphically-intensive programs like editing suites. We expected the extra graphical power to suck up more battery power, but this laptop lasted a solid 173 minutes during our tests. Although it fell short of the Dell Inspiron 14z, it equalled the Sony VAIO VPC-EH2F1E.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 173 minutes
Cinebench: 9720
3DMark 2006: 5346

It’s unlikely the average user will need more power than what is offered by the Lenovo Z570 but, at the same time, it gives you enough of a performance to avoid becoming dated in six months. Overall, it constitutes an extremely solid new year purchase.

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Advent Monza E1

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 Advent Monza E1

Advent’s Monza E1 is an eye-catching laptop aimed at first-time buyers. Despite offering a decent specification for the price, though, it is undermined by poor performance and flawed usability.

With its bright red lid and palm rest, the chassis looks great and the textured plastic finish and mock brushed-aluminium panels set it apart from the glut of plain black laptops on the market. The lid and main panels all feel firm and there are no noticeably weak points on the chassis.

At 2.5kg this is a laptop built for use at home, rather than on the move though. This was highlighted by the awful 107-minute battery life, meaning there’s not even enough power to watch a full movie.

That’s not to say that this is not a decent laptop for enjoying photos and videos, though. The 15.6-inch screen is sharp and bright and delivers gorgeous colour reproduction. Images pop from the screen and are rendered with stunning clarity, so as long as you’re plugged into a power point, this is a decent entry-level media machine.

Poor performance is the Advent’s Achilles heel. The dual-core AMD E-450 processor struggles with even the simplest tasks; applications run sluggishly and the laptop is brought to its knees by basic multitasking.

Graphics are equally poor and there’s little power on offer for media editing. The integrated AMD graphics card is fine for viewing photos or even watching high-def videos, but it shows its weaknesses as soon as you try to edit videos or run 3D games. If you’re after a powerful media laptop, there are far better machines available.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 107 minutes
Cinebench: 2305
3DMark 2006: 2706

Noisy keyboard

advent monza e1 detail

When it comes to usability, the Advent is a mixed bag. While the wide isolated-style keyboard is suitably responsive and functions well, it is not very well fixed to the chassis and bounces a lot when typing. This makes it a noisy board to use and we quickly found the rattle of the keys both distracting and ultimately annoying.

The touchpad fares better and proves accurate and responsive to use. It’s not quite as large as we’d have liked, but it is fine for quickly navigating the screen. The mouse buttons are slightly less functional and you have to press at quite specific points for them to register, which can get a little frustrating when trying to work quickly.

Where the Advent really stands out is its fantastic storage. The 640GB hard drive offers a truly staggering amount of space for such an affordable laptop and is only bettered by the Lenovo B570.

The built-in DVD rewriter lets you save files to DVD and CD and create your own music, video and photo discs. A 4-in-1 media card reader is also in place for quickly sharing files from your digital camera and smartphone. Located at the front of the chassis, it is easy to access and supports the most common media card formats.

While the gorgeous screen, fantastic storage and eye-catching design make the Monza E1 a decent entry-level laptop for those on a budget, the poor performance, flawed usability and awful battery life are just too prominent to ignore. There are far better laptops you can buy at this price and so the Advent is very hard to recommend.

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Review: MSI GT680

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Review: MSI GT680

The MSI GT680 is exactly what you want from a gaming machine. Raw power, great speakers and a chassis that looks like it began life as an X-Files prop.

The limited battery life and flimsy keyboard mean you won’t want to use this as a work machine but it’s excellent value for gaming.

Beginning with the design, the MSI GT680 continues the gaming laptop trend of aggressive styling, plenty of bulk and blinking LEDs. The black plastic chassis isn’t going for subtlety and the large speaker grilles next to the screen hinges are immediately noticeable. As is the chrome border around the touchpad and the banks of orange LEDs edging the screen and palm rest.

Unfortunately, while the LEDs look cool, they aren’t particularly bright and are easily forgotten when using the laptop in any brightly-lit environment.

The build quality doesn’t extend to the keyboard, which flexes horrendously. It looks nice, and there is plenty of space for typing, but it feels flimsy when working for any length of time.

The 15.6-inch screen is smaller than some of the other gaming and multimedia laptops we’ve seen, but this does mean you can fit the MSI into conventional laptop bags for some mobile gaming. At least, this would be the case if it didn’t weigh 3.5kg and have a battery life of 122 minutes.

The screen has a Super-TFT coating that adds plenty of colour and depth to games and movies. However, it isn’t nearly as bright as some machines we’ve reviewed, such as the Dell Latitude XFR.

The sound, meanwhile, took full advantage of the Dynaudio speakers and filled the room with gunshots, screeching tyres and the anguished cries of wounded henchmen.

Top specifications

Inside the MSI GT680 are some very impressive components. The Sandy Bridge Intel CPU is a top-spec Core i7 2630QM and the 8GB of RAM is twice as much as we’re used to.

Unsurprisingly the dedicated graphic card is one of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 460M models and capable of running the latest games on their highest detail settings without affecting the frame rate.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 122 minutes
Cinebench: 17212
3DMark 2006: 13936

MSI has included plenty of connectivity and the GT680 boasts two USB 3.0 ports for faster connections to external drives and peripherals. Elsewhere there are two regular USB ports, HDMI and VGA slots for external monitors, an eSata port and a Gigabit Ethernet connection if you don’t fancy using the 802.11n Wi-Fi to connect to the internet. We’re also pleased to see a Blu-ray drive included as standard.

In most cases, we can recommend gaming laptops because their superior spec means they are suited to almost any task. Not in this case. If you’re a gamer, we’d suggest the MSI because of the way it looks and the excellent performance from that Intel Core i7 processor. If you’re not a gamer the irritating keyboard and mediocre battery life all count against the MSI as an all-rounder.

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Review: Sony VAIO VPCCA2Z0E

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Review: Sony VAIO VPCCA2Z0E

If the powerful Z-series is the big brother of the Sony VAIO family, then the updated Sony VAIO C-series is definitely the attractive cousin.

We originally reviewed the VAIO C Series at the start of this month, but that iteration was packing a Core i5 processor and dedicated graphics. Now we have our hands on the more affordable VAIO-VPC-CA2Z0E Core i3 version.

Available in a choice of five different colours, this mid-level lifestyle laptop has a number of features that make it worth a look if you’re tired of the same old black or silver design of other machines.

Our review unit was a bright and attractive red, but the C-Series also comes in lime green, orange, pink, navy blue, white or black. Sony has given the laptop a material finish with a transparent effect – complimented by backlighting around the body of the laptop, such as the VAIO logo on the lid and around the touchpad.

Needless to say, whichever colour you choose, a range of similarly coloured peripherals is available, allowing you to accessorise your new rig.

Sony hasn’t stopped at the chassis when it comes to the light show. The isolation-style keyboard is backlit with a sensor called Auto Luminance Control which measures the ambient light surrounding you and adjusts the backlight accordingly. On a practical level, this is excellent for times when you’re working late into the night, but it also adds nicely to the overall design.

We ran several high-definition (HD) videos to test out the screen and were impressed with the bright, glossy screen that runs with a native pixel resolution of 1366 x 768. Understandably, it won’t match a dedicated games machine like the Asus’ Lamborghini VX7, but this is easily good enough for enjoying your pictures and videos.

Just beware the Super-TFT coating does give irritating reflections when you’re watching in a brightly lit environment.

Integrated graphics

Should you wish to play games on the C-Series, you will be limited to some of the older titles as the laptop only has an integrated graphics card. But, being that the CPU is a second-generation Intel chip – the Core i3 2310M – performance isn’t really a problem.We found web pages and HD videos on YouTube loaded very quickly.

The 4GB of RAM helps a lot and is the benchmark amount for a laptop at this level. A healthy 320GB hard drive means you can store plenty of HD video content here and still have space for office programs.

TechRadar Labs

Tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 251 minutes
Cinebench: 7529
3DMark 2006: 3440

What particularly impressed us, along with the great design, was the strength of the C-Series’ battery life. Sony has put the Auto Luminance Display from the keyboard into the screen as well, adjusting brightness depending on your surroundings to maximise performance. We’re always happy to see over 200 minutes on a battery life and the 251 we got from the Sony is a very respectable score.

Sony wants you to take this laptop out and about with you, and it has provided the battery life to make that possible.

Sony detail

The only real drawbacks we could find with this machine are a tendency for the keyboard to flex during typing and a pretty flimsy DVD drive. We would also have liked one of the four USB ports to have been upgraded to USB 3.0, but you can’t have everything sadly.

Sony has a great line-up when it comes to laptops. While we expect the business users to go for the ultraportable Z-Series and those on a budget to opt for the E-Series, we think anyone who wants a bit more flair will be happy with the funky C-Series as their next laptop.

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Review: Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1

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The Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1 (£1959) has been lauded as the Toughbook Tablet, but really it’s an underpowered Toughbook with some dubious touchscreen technology that only niche business users will benefit from.

The form of the CF-C1 is a traditional laptop with a swivel touchscreen which folds back to become a tablet, which is over an inch thick on the screen and base.

It’s been given a Sandy Bridge Core i5 2520 2.4GHz processor, which keeps it nimble, but it performed averagely in our lab tests. As this is a business laptop, the need for entertainment performance isn’t applicable and the Core i5 provides more than enough power to run commercial applications.

Aside from the i5 processor, the rest of the specs are disappointing, especially given the price tag. There’s only 2GB of RAM, which is the bare minimum needed to run Windows properly, and you do notice the lack of physical memory.

There’s not much in the way of storage either, with a minimal 250GB hard drive included. This is being upgraded for a MK2 version, which will feature 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive.

Average battery

The CF-C1 is extremely portable, and Panasonic should be applauded for making such a durable hybrid laptop so portable. It weighs just 1.7kg and it’s easily carried around. There’s some flex in the plastic, but this is the secret behind its ability to absorb shocks, and it can handle table-height falls and channel water away from the keyboard in the event of spillage.

There are two batteries in the CR-C1 to give you longer performance, but our Battery Eater test made light work of both, draining them in 128 minutes. This translates to around five hours of general business use, but it’s far from all-day computing.

TechRadar Labs

Tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 128 minutes
Cinebench: 6264
3DMark 2006: 1408

We’re not fans of Windows 7 with touchscreen technology, and the only good examples have been skinned for a more friendly interface. We found the screen to be extremely inaccurate and we were constantly struggling to hit the tiny buttons, even using the supplied stylus. We can’t think of any reason that you would use the device in its tablet form, unless you were using a bespoke business application where on-screen writing was essential.

The 12.1-inch screen with its 1280 x 800-pixel resolution is highly durable and is designed to survive drops of up to 76cm, but the rugged laptop design makes it dim and lifeless, and with poor viewing angles as well.

If you do regular presentations, you may want to seriously consider your purchase, especially as only a VGA Display Port is supplied for connecting to external displays or projectors.

In short, this is a disappointing device which left us thoroughly underwhelmed. The Toughbook is always going to be a bespoke PC for specific applications and situations, but that doesn’t disguise poor performance, a frustrating touchscreen experience and a lack of features.

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