Those with only basic needs might find the £399 Toshiba Satellite Pro A210-1AZ acceptable. It's a low-priced laptop with modest performance.

Rather slow and with short battery life, the Toshiba Satellite Pro A210-1AZ is easily outshone by most competitors. However, if pinching pennies is paramount, this Windows Vista Home Premium laptop can get mainstream work done without too much fuss.

A laptop with an AMD processor (a 1.8-GHz Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core TK-55), and just 1GB of RAM, the Toshiba Satellite Pro A210-1AZ achieved aWorldBench 6 Beta real-world score of just 54. Although this will handle everyday computing tasks, sub-£500 laptops average around 19 percent faster. As for battery life, the Satellite Pro A210's 2.2-hour performance runs out 1.7 hours sooner than the average.

Performance aside, this black-and-silver unit does have some nice features, including a DVD writer, a FireWire port, and an ExpressCard/54 slot. There are even two surprises. One is an empty bay inside the notebook for adding a second hard drive, if you're so inclined. (One 120GB hard drive comes standard.) The other is ebullient, crystal-clear sound. This plain little laptop belts out music like Ugly Betty channeling Celine Dion.

But the keyboard, while easy to type on, looks and feels cheaply made, and the 15.4in, 1280-by-800-resolution screen is on the dark side and prone to glare. The brightness controls seemed to have no effect whatsoever.

OUR VERDICT

Considering that much better notebooks cost only a little more, it's hard to recommend the Toshiba Satellite Pro A210-1AZ with much enthusiasm. On the other hand, we've never heard a better-sounding notebook at this price. Music lovers, at least, could score a real deal here. And if your budget tops out at £399, you could be on to a winner.