It's pretty rare to find a laptop with a large, 17-inch screen available for under £300, but eMachines has just managed it with the G420. Our review model was supplied by Save on Laptops, where you can buy the machine for £299.
It's safe to say the G420 won't be taking home
any awards for design. It's very large, measuring 404 by 298mm, and is quite
chunky at around 50mm deep. Weighing in at a hefty 3.7kg, only a starring actor
The vast 17.3-inch screen is definitely the laptop's best feature. It's got a glossy coating that encourages colours to come across vivid and punchy, and its resolution of 1440x900 pixels is impressive given the laptop's low price tag. Its immense size means you can easily work on two documents side by side. While glossy screens are usually very reflective, this one isn't too bad. Reflections are only really noticeable when you're using it under very bright indoor lighting or near a window with sunlight streaming through.
The keyboard uses traditional tapered keys which are very comfortable to type on thanks to their swift action. The large size of the keyboard helps here, too. eMachines has even found space to fit a full-sized numerical keypad on the right-hand side. The keyboard does flex a little bit towards the middle, but, thankfully, this isn't noticeable when you're typing, so it's not a major issue.
The trackpad has a very traditional design, recessed slightly into the keyboard surround. It is pleasantly large and its matte finish makes it comfortable to the touch. There's also an integrated scroll area to the right that you can use to quickly zip up and down through longer Web pages and documents. We like the springy and responsive trackpad keys, too.
One annoyance with the design is the large light that circles the wireless button to the top-right of the keyboard. This blinks whenever there's any network activity and, because it's relatively bright, can be quite distracting when you're working on documents or viewing Web pages. We couldn't find any way of turning it off, save for actually disabling Wi-Fi. Nevertheless, connectivity isn't bad. You get four USB ports, a VGA socket and a Gigabit Ethernet port.
Elsewhere, there's plenty of evidence of cost-cutting -- the most obvious and puzzling is that the laptop uses Windows Vista Home Premium rather than the newer Windows 7 operating system. Presumably, this is to save money, but surely it wouldn't have cost that much extra to use Windows 7 instead. eMachines has kitted the laptop out with just 1GB of RAM, which is a little cramped for Vista and has a detrimental effect on the laptop's ability to multitask. On-board storage is rather limited, too, with just 160GB of hard drive space -- a little stingy by today's standards.
On the other hand, the G420 didn't fair too badly in our PCMark05 benchmark, given its low price. The task force of 1GB of RAM and an AMD Sempron SL42 processor (clocked at 1.2GHz) managed to return a score of 3,297. That's not exactly a blistering pace, but it's not too embarrassing, either. The laptop does slow down noticeably when you're running a couple of applications at the same time, so we recommend buyers upgrade the memory to at least 2GB to improve multitasking performance.
Gaming isn't so hot, either. The laptop uses an Nvidia GeForce 9100M graphics chip. This only managed to clock up a score of 1,167 in the 3DMark06 benchmark, which indicates it hasn't got the grunt for the latest first-person shooters, although you will be able to use it to play older 3D games.
Given the size and weight of the G420, it's not a laptop that's likely to be used on the go and, as such, its battery performance isn't too important. This is lucky, as it's quite a thirsty machine -- it kept running for a meagre 54 minutes in our Battery Eater test.
The eMachines G420 isn't pretty and it's certainly not portable, but £300 is very cheap for a 17-inch laptop, especially as it also has a reasonably powerful processor. If you are thinking of buying this model, we'd recommend you take advantage of Save on Laptops' offer to upgrade the RAM to 2GB for an extra £25.
Edited by Emma Bayly