Just a couple of years ago if you wanted a decent laptop you'd expect to fork out well over a grand, but now you can get your hands on a machine with an impressive specification for less than half that price. The Mesh MSI M670-S2 is a good example. Despite its lowly price of £499, it ticks almost all the boxes on the average buyer's checklist.
The only sop to budget considerations is its use of Windows Vista Basic, the entry-level version of Microsoft's new operating system. One thing to note is that although it's being sold by Mesh, it is in fact made by MSI and branded as such. You won't be able to buy it from the Mesh site until Monday 7 May, but until then you can ring 0844 736 0440 to place your order.
Budget laptops usually have as much style as the attendees of a comic-book convention, but the MSI is actually a rather snappy dresser. Its tasty matte-black finish gives it a certain air of sophistication and makes it look more expensive than it really is.
The styling isn't perfect, however, as when you open up the lid, a surprise awaits. Rather than sitting centrally under the keyboard, the track pad is shifted to the left. The reason for this is that MSI has fitted a full keyboard, complete with a numerical keypad on the right-hand side. However, the odd arrangement does give the machine something of an off-balance appearance.
In most other respects the laptop is quite traditional and while the build quality isn't too bad, we have to say it doesn't feel quite as sturdy as either the budget Evesham Quest or Toshiba Satellite Pro models we've looked at recently. Weight-wise, it tips the scales at 2.85kg. This means it's light enough to carry around on the odd journey, but it won't suit frequent flyers.
Despite its low price tag, the MSI boasts a good range of ports. As well as four USB sockets and a mini-FireWire port, there's also a very useful multi-format card reader that sits at the front under the lid latch. And while the VGA socket is par for the course, it's less usual to also find a TV output at this price point.
More impressive still is the 15.4-inch widescreen display. It uses a similar coating to that found on Sony's X-Black displays, so colours look exceptionally bright and vivid, making it ideal for watching DVDs.
When you get down to writing emails or typing out documents, however, the odd keyboard and trackpad arrangement really do start to jar. Because your typing position is shifted to the left, the keyboard initially feels quite cramped, as if you are being forced towards the edge of the laptop.
Budget machines often struggle to produce decent performance -- many have good processors and then skimp on memory. This can be a serious issue on machines running Vista, because the operating system is much more memory-hungry than Windows XP. Thankfully MSI hasn't made that mistake here. The laptop's AMD Mobile Sempron 4300+ processor, which has plenty of power to handle everyday tasks, is backed up by a decent 1GB helping of RAM.