Fancy a MacBook Air lookalike for half the price of the original? Pay your money and take your choice after seeing the Advent Altro.

As with most products from Dixon Stores Group house-brand Advent Computers, the Altro is a rebadge of a laptop sold elsewhere in the world under different names. In the case of the Altro, it's actually designed in Italy by one of the country's largest PC suppliers, Olidata, using the brand name U Leader Design.

A quick glance at the Advent Altro should certainly give you double-take déjà vu. It's the closest imitation we've seen yet of the MacBook Air, an unashamed clone of Apple's headline-catching thin'n'light ultraportable. Only here, the Advent Altro is built down to a price to tempt those drawn to Apple's original design but who find the four-figure price a little rich.

In fact, the Advent Altro is almost half the price of the cheapest Air, making it a tempting proposition for any laptop bargain hunters looking for an affordable silvery thin notebook. It has the same limited storage capacity at 120GB, but more RAM, not to mention more connection options once the supplied expansion dongle has been hung off the back.

Plug in this widget and you'll have two extra USB, ethernet and VGA video. Leave it at home and you get just the built-in selection of one USB, HDMI video and a headphone jack.

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Many of the styling touches of the Air are echoed here, albeit somewhat distorted and in chintzy materials. Instead of a lightweight carved aluminium shell, the Advent Altro uses painted plastic. The keyboard has a similar Scrabble-tile look but loses out on ambient backlighting and the precision feel.

A shiny trackpad provides some multi-touch control for pinch zooming and two-finger scrolling, and there's also a fingerprint reader included between separate left/right click buttons.

In size, U Leader Design's photocopier must have been misaligned; Altro and Air are both 227mm deep but the Advent Altro is 10mm wider and 3mm thicker at the widest.

The Advent Altro feels much thicker, though, due to the chunkier rear end. And despite using plastic for its chassis, the Advent Altro is almost a third of a kilo heavier. Picking up an Advent Altro is not as effortless as a MacBook Air, hindered further by its back-heavy balance. You'll also have to contend with a screen that disconcertingly wobbles everytime you move it.

NEXT PAGE: How the Advent Altro performed in our benchmark tests >>

Fancy a MacBook Air lookalike for half the price of the original? Pay your money and take your choice after seeing the Advent Altro.

To keep cost and heat down, Advent has gone with a single-core Intel Celeron processor, ticking along at 1.2GHz, and backed with 3GB of DDR2 RAM.

Another version of the Altro, the Altro Elite, substitutes this CPU for a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500, and is fitted with an Intel GS45 chipset in place of GS40. All other specs remain the same though, and Advent charges an additional £200 for the Elite, bringing the price up to £799. Other markets may see the Altro fitted with a 3G WLAN, since we saw a slot reserved for a SIM card in the battery bay.

One addition here not found in the MacBook Air is an accelerometer which can be used as an anti-theft alarm. Move the laptop when it's armed, and a car alarm-like noise blares out. Only much quieter than a car alarm.

In our lab tests of the standard Advent Altro, it mustered 46 points in WorldBench, placing it much closer to a netbook than a regular laptop in terms of real-world computing speed. Graphics performance was a tad more inspiring, as the Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics controller can at least wave a limp wrist at 3D gaming, playing FEAR at 5fps at Max settings.

That integrated GPU lights up a 13.3in glossy LCD, à la Air but an obviously cheaper and lower quality display, very reflective and with limited viewing angles. Move your head too far off centre, and contrast and brightness plummet to render the screen essentially unreadable.

Advent Altro

The Advent Altro has near-identical ports quota as the Apple MacBook Air, but adds a break-out expander for VGA analogue video, ethernet and two more USB 2.0

On the underside of the Altro is a slim removable 35Wh battery, and in our unplugged runtime tests with the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test we recorded 182 minutes of life off the mains. The limited three-hour battery life was probably not helped by an audible fan that was asked to blow warm air from the side most of the time the Advent Altro was left on.

There's a tiny sliding hatch near the battery bay which exposes an extra set of power terminals, said to be for an additional strap-on battery pack. At present, though, PC World does not appear to be stocking this item.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Advent Altro: Specs

  • 1.2GHz Intel Celeron 723
  • 800MHz FSB
  • 13.3in (1366x768) 16:9 gloss LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 32-bit
  • 120GB 1.8in 4200rpm SATA HDD
  • 3GB (1x1GB, 1x2GB) 800MHz DDR2 RAM
  • Intel GMA 4500MHD
  • HDMI
  • 1 x USB 2.0
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • fingerprint reader
  • headphone out
  • mic
  • webcam
  • 35Wh lithium battery
  • 335x226x22mm
  • 1656g (+154g dongle)
  • 1.2GHz Intel Celeron 723
  • 800MHz FSB
  • 13.3in (1366x768) 16:9 gloss LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 32-bit
  • 120GB 1.8in 4200rpm SATA HDD
  • 3GB (1x1GB, 1x2GB) 800MHz DDR2 RAM
  • Intel GMA 4500MHD
  • HDMI
  • 1 x USB 2.0
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • fingerprint reader
  • headphone out
  • mic
  • webcam
  • 35Wh lithium battery
  • 335x226x22mm
  • 1656g (+154g dongle)

OUR VERDICT

That sub-£600 price tag will be enough to close the deal for cost-sensitive buyers, but be aware that compared to its innovative inspiration, the Altro is slow and underpowered, heavier, thicker and gives only around half the battery life. Unlike those convincing knock-off Rolex watches, the Altro shows its low-cost compromises all too clearly once you peer below the paint veneer of its plastic shell.

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