If you're shopping on a limited budget, you can still get a laptop with a decent specification if you're prepared to make sacrifices in a couple of areas.
The HP 530 is an example of such a model, which despite its bargain price of £300 from LaptopsDirect.co.uk, still offers reasonable performance and features.
With a price tag of £300, you might expect the HP 530 to be fairly underwhelming, but in reality, it's anything but. Although its specification is relatively low compared to other machines available on the market, it makes the most of what it's got and managed to turn in some pretty impressive scores.
Its 1.6GHz Intel Celeron M 420 processor is a slow chip by any standards and with only 512MB of RAM available, we were only expecting a three figure PCMark05 score. However, the 530 managed to turn in a result of 1,704, which is nothing short of remarkable for its specification.
Gaming is a different matter, however, and despite its best efforts, its integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics chip only limped home with a 3DMark06 score of 164 -- but at least it managed to run through the full test without crashing, which is more than can be said for many machines in this price category.
It also features a decent 15.4-inch display with a widescreen 1,280x800-pixel resolution and comes with integrated Wi-Fi so you'll be able to tap into wireless Internet access without needing additional external add-ons.
Design-wise, it's pretty basic, but it doesn't look cheap and to the uninformed you could easily pass it off as a laptop costing twice as much.
The 530 may make the most of what it's got, but there are still areas where its budget price limit starts to pinch. You only get a copy of Windows Vista Basic edition, for example, and it's extremely sparse on the expansion front, with just two USB ports, modem, Ethernet, VGA and out-dated PC Card slot on offer. Both USBs are on the left hand side, so if you want to place any peripherals on the right -- like a mouse for example -- you'll have to have cables wrapped round the back.
It's also not particularly strong when it comes to battery life, only managing to last a feeble one hour 10 minutes running Battery Eater's intensive test. It fared slightly better with the less strenuous reader test, but only managed to add an extra half hour to its score, lasting one hour 42 minutes.
HP has also inexplicably chosen to abandon the standard smooth touchpad design and instead replace it with a pad covered with a grid of small dimples. The indentations add nothing to navigation and only serve to present an unpleasant surface for your fingers, not unlike rubbing the zest section on a cheese grater.
The 530 may have a low specification, but it makes the most of what it's got and with an extremely low asking price of £300 from LaptopsDirect.co.uk, it's a bargain if your computing aspirations are on the modest side. However, it's pretty poor when it comes to battery life and it doesn't offer much in the way of expansion.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire