Anybody who opens the newspaper supplements on a Saturday or Sunday will already be well aware that the prices of laptop computers are dropping. Where once the best part of £1,500 would have got you something decent, now the big High Street chains are happy to relieve you of less than £1,000 for a quality model.
Yet the logic always goes that if the High Street stores are asking for that much, then some smart shopping through more specialised suppliers will reap a better deal. True. The latest evidence for this is the ECS A535, a £600 machine that offers enough to keep the majority of users happy.
Let’s deal with the downsides first, though. For that kind of money, you could assume that you’re not going to get the most powerful beast of a machine, and you’d be absolutely right. A 1GHz mobile Athlon processor is ample to cover office tasks, Internet browsing, e-mail and the odd bit of DVD playback, but you’re unlikely to get too far if you push it much further.
Also, many of the unit’s component parts veer more towards workable than desirable. While the keyboard and screen are perfectly competent, for instance, they won’t be challenging for the end-of-year awards. And if you choose the 128MB RAM version, you’re likely to find it fairly restrictive.
Yet all that’s missing the point slightly. The idea behind the A535 is to provide enough functionality at an affordable price. It’s mission accomplished, then. Bundled with a copy of Windows XP, the unit supports LAN and wi-fi, has a built-in dial-up modem and USB 2.0. Plus it comes with a capable DVD/CD-RW combo drive and a 20GB hard drive as standard. Upgrade options allow the boosting of these specs slightly.
In operation, the benchmark scores generated by the A535 were predictably not that great, but proved perfectly adequate for the tasks that such a machine is likely to take on. It was quieter than we expected in operation, too, and unlike many modern laptops, didn’t seem keen to burn a hole in the surface it was rested on.
Where the machine really scores is with that price. A year or two ago, the idea of £599 for a laptop computer as capable as this one was laughable. Here, ECS has packed together a decent enough box of tricks that represents tremendous value for money; even more so when you consider it includes a full copy of Windows XP too.
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