Top 12 laptops for less than £599

22nd May 2009 | 14:56

Top 12 laptops for less than £599

Every major manufacturer tested and rated

Laptop supertest: overview

It wasn't that long ago that you'd be forced to pay at least £1000 to buy a mainstream laptop that was as capable as a family machine as it was in the office or on daily commute.

Thankfully, cheap laptops are now a reality - prices have tumbled massively over the past two years and we're confident that for most regular users there's now simply no need to pay any more than £599.

That's why we've gathered 12 of the best and most affordable laptops currently available from the world's biggest manufacturers, and are certain we have all the bases covered, whatever your needs.

Within this group test, you'll find widescreen notebooks with dedicated graphics cards that are ideal for home multimedia use,tiny ultraportables for the daily traveller, and robust conservative machines ideal for the corporate user.

You will even find high-end features such as Blu-ray optical drives in place, along with the latest and fastest wireless connections and high-capacity hard drives, and there is more than enough performance on offer for all types of user, with up to 4096MB of memory making it easy to smoothly multi-task.

You'll also find the latest cutting-edge dual-core processors, including top-of-the-range chips, that prove you don't have to make compromises even at this truly affordable price point. Whatever your cheap laptop needs, read on to find your perfect portable.

Acer Aspire 6030G-583G

Acer Aspire 6930G-583G

A feature-packed media centre offering great value for money

The Acer Aspire 6930G-583G (£498) is aimed at those on a budget looking for an all-in-one multimedia package.

It's packed with features, boasting a decent graphics card, a Blu-ray drive and a widescreen display with a 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning you can play films without the intrusive black bars commonly seen at the top and bottom of the screen

The 3.2kg chassis is tquite heavy however. It is spacious and constructed from a rugged plastic that proves hard to scratch, but the lid is shiny and attracts both fingerprints and light cosmetic damage.

A row of touch-sensitive buttons just below a Dolby Home Theatre speaker allows quick access to applications and volume settings.

Read more: Acer Aspire 6930G review

Buy from out affiliates: Laptops Direct | Amazon

Asus X82Q

Asus X82Q

Comfortable usability, but its lack of key features makes it poor value for money

The Asus X82Q (£549 inc. VAT) is a smart, usable laptop built primarily for the business market. While not bursting with features, it gets the basics right, but compared to other laptops in this group, it's expensive for what's on offer.

The 14.1-inch 1280 x 800-pixel screen isn't the most impressive in this group, but it is bright and sharp enough to be used for reading word documents or analysing spreadsheets. There is a Super-TFT covering, which means reflections could prove distracting in bright lighting conditions – when on a train, for example.

The inclusion of an Intel GMA 4500M GPU means the laptop is not suited to either gaming or multimedia operations, although it does help to offer a reasonable battery life of over 200 minutes

Read more: Asus X82Q review

Buy from our affiliates: Laptops Direct | MicroWarehouse | dabs.com

DELL Studio 15

DELL Studio 15

The best all-round mainstream laptop currently available at this price

Dell's Studio range is aimed at the regular home user, with the Studio 15 (£599 inc. VAT) offering a great mix of affordable portability and power.

The 15.4-inch screen is the best in this group, with LED backlighting used to offer the most accurate colour reproduction currently possible. The resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels is among the sharpest here, and creates the crispest image quality. Reflections show up in brighter conditions however, as with other Super-TFT panels.

Graphics are handled by an integrated Intel graphics chip, which is the same GPU used in many of the Studio's rivals.

It gives this machine moderate 3D capabilities, and we had no trouble running presentations or watching DVDs, and photo editing was also carried out with ease. You won't be able to play anything more than the simplest of games, however.

Read more: Dell Studio 15 review

Buy from our affiliates: Dell UK

Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pi 3625

Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pi 3625

A large and comfortable desktop replacement flawed by poor performance

The Fujitsu Siemens (FSC) Amilo Pi 3625 (£599 inc. VAT) is worth a look for those seeking a desktop replacement machine.

Its 17-inch display is matched only by the HP for size, and features the same 1440 x 900-pixel resolution.

As such, it's ideal for working with multiple documents, spreadsheets or simply watching films, as there is lots of space onscreen. Images are bright and colourful, and reflections from the glossy Super-TFT panel were never too intrusive.

A little disappointingly for such a large machine, graphics are handled by an integrated GPU, so you won't find any more multimedia performance on offer than on smaller machines. It does help to keep costs down, however, and the battery life of over three hours is reasonable for a machine of this size.

Read more: Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pi 3625 review

Buy from our affiliates: Laptops Direct |

HP Compaq 6730s

HP Compaq 6730s

A competitively priced business machine, but slightly lacking in features

The HP Compaq 6370s (£496 inc. VAT) is aimed at the business market. However, unlike some similar laptops, it is competitively priced and boasts some sensible features that make it a good proposition.

Unlike the majority of comparable laptops, the HPs screen doesn't feature a shiny Super-TFT covering. This eliminates irritating reflections in bright light, making it much easier to view.

Also, the 15.4 inches available means there's plenty of room for you to work with multiple windows open. While brightness, colour and contrast aren't outstanding, the screen still manages to get the job done well.

Due to the screen size, the HP has the space to feature a large, comfortable keyboard. The keys feel solid and provide a nice action when typing at speed. The touchpad is a little small, however, and the buttons feature a clicking movement which might take a while to get used to.

Read more: HP Compaq 6730s review

Buy from our affiliates: Amazon | Laptops Direct

LENOVO 3000 N500

LENOVO 3000 N500

A good laptop, but lacks adequate performance and features compared to rivals

Lenovo is better known for its range of excellent ThinkPad business laptops, but it also makes a budget range for consumers and small businesses. The 3000 N500 (£400) is one such machine, and offers all the quality and usability we expect from Lenovo.

Despite its excellent build quality, the chassis falls behind many of the other machines here when it comes to style. The design is quite drab overall, compared to the stylish look of the Acer Aspire 6930G-583G, for example.

Chunky plastics mean good protection, however, and the daily commute shouldn't present any issues for the N500's durable plastics. It also remains relatively cool after prolonged periods of use.

The keyboard shares the same patented design as Lenovo's ThinkPad range. It's one of the most comfortable to use in this group test, but is bettered by the Dell.

Unlike some of Lenovo's more expensive models, there is no keyboard light, and there is also no backlighting. With lots of keys clustered in the corner of the keyboard, the layout also takes a little getting used to, particularly if you've never used a Lenovo ThinkPad before.

Read more: Lenovo 3000 N500

Buy from our affiliates: Amazon

MSI VR705

MSI VR705

Powerful multimedia credentials, but lacks the quality of its rivals here

With a 17-inch screen, spacious controls and a dedicated graphics card, the MSI VR705 (£509 inc. VAT) is a multimedia centre aimed at the home user.

The 17-inch screen is this machine's best point, proving bright and sharp. The glossy coating helps to add vibrancy to colours, although it does also result in more prominent reflections.

The resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels creates plenty of space onscreen, so you'll be able to easily work with multiple windows open. Being one of the largest screens here, it's also ideal for movie playback or photo editing.

The Nvidia GeForce 8200M G graphics card offers better 3D performance than most of the laptops here, even proving powerful enough to play entry-level games. It also copes fine with demanding multimedia applications and tasks, and is more than capable for everyday use.

Read more: MSI VR07-046UK review

Buy from our affiliates: Laptops Direct

PC Nextday Zoostorm 83-520

PC Nextday Zoostorm 83-5200

A no-frills design, but high-end components make this laptop more desirable

Unlike some of the larger manufacturers in this group test, PC Nextday uses a generic chassis on its laptops in order to cut costs, allowing more money to be spent on components such as the processor and memory.

As such, you'll find the Zoostorm 83-5200 (£599 inc. VAT) offers the fastest processor in this group test, making it an ideal choice for busy corporate users needing to multi-task.

The 15.4-inch screen is a pleasure to use. Its 1280 x 800-pixel resolution isn't any higher than the other laptops here, but images are sharp and colours are vibrant. As with the other Super-TFT screens, it can be reflective in direct sunlight, but we never found it too intrusive in use.

An integrated Intel GMA 4500M GPU handles the graphics, as with most of the other laptops in this group test. Reasonable office performance is provided, and we were able to edit photographs, run regular office applications and watch movies with ease.

You'll have to opt for one of the laptops with a dedicated GPU if you want to play the latest games, however.

Read more: PC Nextday Zoostorm 83-5200 review

Rock Pegasus 210

Rock Pegasus 210

A stylish and highly portable laptop, but unfortunately lacking in performance

The Rock Pegasus 210 (£599 inc. VAT) is a strong and stylish ultraportable which chooses to sacrifice power and performance for optimum mobility.

The 12.1-inch 1280 x 800-pixel screen provides bright and colourful images and is great for office work. However, it features a Super- TFT covering which can cause distracting reflections in changing light conditions.

The keyboard is small, and those with large hands may struggle at first. However, the keys move smoothly and accurately and feel solid to the touch. The touchpad is also quite small and it might be worth packing an external mouse in your laptop bag.

Unfortunately, the external quality is not mirrored internally. The outdated Intel GMA 950 graphics card is the least powerful variant here and performance scores drop accordingly. While basic image editing shouldn't prove a problem, gaming is not an option and only the lightest of multimedia use is possible.

Read more: Rock Pegasus 210 review

Buy from our affiliates: Laptops Direct

Samsung R510

Samsung R510

A good laptop with a strong specification, but it struggles to stand out

We've been frequently impressed by Samsung's range of low-end laptops, and the Samsung R510 (£549 inc. VAT) offers a familiar blend of usability, value for money and impressive mobility.

Colour reproduction on the 15.4-inch screen is good, aided by a glossy Super- TFT coating. Images are clear and sharp, although reflections can be intrusive in bright conditions or under direct lighting.

Basic office performance is provided by the integrated Intel graphics card, with enough 3D power to watch films or carry out light multimedia use. This machine isn't capable of playing games, however, and we'd also suggest opting for a laptop with a dedicated GPU if you intend to carry out intensive video editing work.

The keyboard is comfortable and offers good usability. While not the most robust in this group, there's very little flex under pressure, and the large keys move responsively and with a decent amount of travel. Unlike some of the other machines here, there are no shortcut buttons, and no media hotkeys.

Read more: Samsung R510 review

Buy from our affiliates: Play.com | John Lewis

SONY VAIO VGN-NS20J/S

SONY VAIO VGN-NS20J/S

An attractive, comfortable and well made laptop at a decent price

Sony's N-series has been around for a while, starting off as a considerably more expensive range. As a result, the materials and usability of the VAIO VGN-NS20J/ S (£479 inc. VAT) are representative of a much higher price tag, with costs cut through the use of budget components.

The 15.4-inch screen is vivid, bright and the best in the group for watching movies or editing photos. The 1280 x 800-pixel resolution is average, providing reasonably sharp images. As with all Super-TFT panels, it is reflective in bright conditions, but we didn't find it overly problematic.

The Sony copes fine with everyday use, such as editing photographs, browsing the internet and watching DVDs. You'll have to opt for one of the laptops with a dedicated graphics card if you want to play games, however, as the Intel GMA 4500 graphics card isn't up to it.

Read more: Sony VAIO VGN-NS20J/S review

Toshiba Tecra A10-16E

Toshiba Tecra A10-16E

An efficient business machine, but too bulky for the daily commute

The Toshiba Tecra A10-16E (£574 inc. VAT) targets corporate users, offering great build quality and comfortable controls that make it an ideal machine for everyday business use.

Unlike many consumer laptops, the Toshiba features a standard 15.4-inch TFT screen. The matt finish is a lot better when used out and about, as it doesn't highlight reflections or fingerprints, and it's also fine when used near a window or directly under a light.

It doesn't offer colours quite so vibrant as its rivals, but it's still one of the brightest panels here, making it an excellent choice for home and office work.

Toshiba has fitted an integrated Intel graphics card in order to keep costs down and to increase battery life. As such, you'll be able to run this machine for an impressive 318 minutes away from a power point, although multimedia performance is compromised as a result.

You'll still be able to perform basic photo and video editing, but nothing too graphically intensive.

Read more: Toshiba Tecra A10-16E review

Buy from our affiliates: Play.com | Laptops Direct | MicroWarehouse

Head-to-head: benchmark results

We test every machine that comes into our labs for both performance and battery life. Here are the results of our rigorous testing process for this group.

TechRadar verdict

With 12 affordable laptops on offer, we've proved you don't have to spend a fortune to get a great machine. While lots of these systems impressed, two were strides ahead of their rivals, providing the ideal mix of power, features and usability.

Both of our award winners offer impressive performance, powerful graphics capabilities, excellent build quality and a truly outstanding set of features, making them two of the best laptops you can buy.

WINNER: Dell Studio 15

This machine is a staggeringly good all-round proposition, offering quality, strength, outstanding usability and great performance that all make it a joy to use.

The 15.4-inch screen is also the best in the group, and details such as the backlit keyboard place it head and shoulders above its rivals here.

Read more: Dell Studio 15 review

Buy from our affiliates: Dell UK

Runner-up: Acer Aspire 6930G-583G

When we gathered together the laptops for this group test, we weren't expecting to find features such as Blu-ray optical drives, but few machines offer as good value as the Aspire.

Along with the Blu-ray drive, the impressive screen and powerful graphics make it the ideal budget media centre.

Read more: Acer Aspire 6930G review

Buy from out affiliates: Laptops Direct | Amazon

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