Whether you want a portable workhouse with a tasty price tag or a powerful system that can play back Blu-ray video in HD, there's a laptop to suit you. PC Advisor rounds up 10 of the most practical portables on the market.

Things have changed in the world of portable computing. The humble laptop has been transformed from an underspecified and expensive substitute for a ‘proper' desktop PC to a highly capable and desirable item in its own right.

And the success of the portable PC concept means there's now a huge diversity of form factors, designs and price points in this market.

One type of system that has caught the popular imagination is the netbook, a smaller, cheaper, low-spec machine, often running Windows XP or Linux.

Click here for our mini-laptop and netbook reviews.

For the purposes of this group test, however, we've chosen two more traditional types of laptop. These offer the sort of spec that will suit most users as an alternative to a traditional desktop PC, or as a fully specified secondary PC.

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

  1. Group test: top 10 laptops reviewed
  2. Laptops group test: the categories
  3. Laptops group test: graphics and processing power
  4. Laptops group test: screen size and resolution
  5. Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras
  6. Laptops group test: how we test
  7. Laptops group test: Blu-ray laptops reviews
  8. Laptops group test: budget laptops reviews

NEXT PAGE: the categories

Whether you want a portable workhouse with a tasty price tag or a powerful system that can play back Blu-ray video in HD, there's a laptop to suit you. PC Advisor rounds up 10 of the most practical portables on the market.

Laptops group test: the categories

We've split our reviews into two categories: general-purpose ‘budget' laptops for home use and ones geared for HD entertainment duties.

The general-purpose laptops are all Vista Home Premium models with plenty of storage and a good overall spec for everyday use. While cheaper Vista models can be found, we don't believe there's much merit in choosing a Vista Home Basic laptop, as the hardware specs are fairly lowly and you lose out on the graphics acceleration of more advanced Vista versions.

We've also reviewed a selection of HD models. A Blu-ray machine needs to have a good video card, plenty of processing power and a generous amount of RAM - all things you get with any Windows Vista laptop.

All 10 systems reviewed here will be available well into 2009 - all too often, you see headline-grabbing bargain models that are offered for only a few days or weeks, then magically disappear from sale as soon as they've come to your attention.

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

When sourcing laptops for our budget group test, we set a price limit of £500 inc VAT and asked manufacturers to send in models with either 250GB or 320GB hard disks and 2GB of RAM. Some came with 3GB, but there's not much point in having more than 3GB with a 32bit (standard) version of Windows Vista - only 64bit computers can make sense of the extra RAM.

As you'll see from our reviews, most manufacturers are offering 250GB models for just under £400 and 320GB laptops for just over £450. We'd probably be inclined to choose one of the cheaper models with less hard disk space, then buy a separate 2.5in external hard drive and get into the habit of making regular backups. For £50 you can get a 250GB drive.

Click here for our external hard drives reviews.

  1. Group test: top 10 laptops reviewed
  2. Laptops group test: the categories
  3. Laptops group test: graphics and processing power
  4. Laptops group test: screen size and resolution
  5. Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras
  6. Laptops group test: how we test
  7. Laptops group test: Blu-ray laptops reviews
  8. Laptops group test: budget laptops reviews

NEXT PAGE: graphics and processing power

Whether you want a portable workhouse with a tasty price tag or a powerful system that can play back Blu-ray video in HD, there's a laptop to suit you. PC Advisor rounds up 10 of the most practical portables on the market.

Laptops group test: graphics and processing power

With the exception of the Toshiba, all the budget Vista laptops come with a 2GHz processor. Unless complex video-editing tasks are on your agenda, this level of processing power will suffice.

In fact, you'll notice that even the Recommended Samsung laptop in our Blu-ray laptops group test gets by with a 2GHz Intel CPU. However, that model distinguishes itself from the budget alternatives in its provision of a dedicated graphics chip.

All but one of the low-cost laptops feature an integrated Intel graphics media adaptor (GMA). Onboard graphics processing has come on in leaps and bounds, but if you can get even 128MB of dedicated video RAM, you'll get smoother playback and multitasking performance.

The 3GB of RAM and ATI Mobility graphics adaptor on the Medion model in this category ensured it shot to the top of the WorldBench performance table for the group.

The WorldBench 6 figure you'll see for each laptop is a mark of how efficiently it handles a range of everyday computing tasks. The higher the score, the better the overall setup.

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

Recently, Intel seems to have the mainstream laptop processor market sewn up - odd, considering that AMD has traditionally offered better value. Models with a faster front-side bus coupled with more RAM are a better bet, should you find yourself comparing models with a processor cited at the same clock speed.

All 10 of the laptops we've reviewed include a DVD rewriter for backups, so you can watch standard DVDs or load up games. The Blu-ray models can also play HD content, of course, but you'll pay much more for a model that can write or rewrite to Blu-ray discs. The Sony Vaio was the only one to come with a Blu-ray writer, and that costs a hefty £1,269.

  1. Group test: top 10 laptops reviewed
  2. Laptops group test: the categories
  3. Laptops group test: graphics and processing power
  4. Laptops group test: screen size and resolution
  5. Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras
  6. Laptops group test: how we test
  7. Laptops group test: Blu-ray laptops reviews
  8. Laptops group test: budget laptops reviews

NEXT PAGE: screen size and resolution

Whether you want a portable workhouse with a tasty price tag or a powerful system that can play back Blu-ray video in HD, there's a laptop to suit you. PC Advisor rounds up 10 of the most practical portables on the market.

Laptops group test: screen size and resolution

The other big distinction between the Blu-ray laptops and the general-purpose Vista ones relates to the screen: specifically its proportions and resolution.

The cheaper models all have a diagonal screen size of 15.4in. This is plenty for watching programmes streamed from the web or downloaded from BBC iPlayer, while the resolution support of 1,280x800 means you'll be able to zoom in and view fine detail on any digital photos you want to retouch. The Blu-ray models, meanwhile, have more unusual 15.9in and 16.4in screens (again, measured on the diagonal).

This is to accommodate the aspect ratio at which HD movies and TV programmes are recorded and broadcast, so the whole picture can be seen with no awkward squashing or part of the picture being lopped off.

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

  1. Group test: top 10 laptops reviewed
  2. Laptops group test: the categories
  3. Laptops group test: graphics and processing power
  4. Laptops group test: screen size and resolution
  5. Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras
  6. Laptops group test: how we test
  7. Laptops group test: Blu-ray laptops reviews
  8. Laptops group test: budget laptops reviews

NEXT PAGE: wireless capabilities and extras

Whether you want a portable workhouse with a tasty price tag or a powerful system that can play back Blu-ray video in HD, there's a laptop to suit you. PC Advisor rounds up 10 of the most practical portables on the market.

Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras

Wi-Fi connectivity is a given on all the models we get in our Test Centre these days. After all, who doesn't need to get online these days?

However, you won't necessarily get 802.11n, the very latest version of Wi-Fi. Wireless n offers more bandwidth (it can carry more data at once) and is especially suitable for streaming video, although even this will struggle if you're keen to beam high-definition footage around your home.

Finally, we expect all but firmly business-focused laptops to have built-in card readers and webcams these days. This makes it easy to import photos and other content from cameras, phones and other devices.

You should also expect to find several USB 2.0 ports - preferably not hidden at the back where they're awkward to reach. FireWire is useful for transferring raw video footage, while the Blu-ray models will come with an HDMI port so they can be hooked up to an HD TV.

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

  1. Group test: top 10 laptops reviewed
  2. Laptops group test: the categories
  3. Laptops group test: graphics and processing power
  4. Laptops group test: screen size and resolution
  5. Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras
  6. Laptops group test: how we test
  7. Laptops group test: Blu-ray laptops reviews
  8. Laptops group test: budget laptops reviews

NEXT PAGE: how we test

Whether you want a portable workhouse with a tasty price tag or a powerful system that can play back Blu-ray video in HD, there's a laptop to suit you. PC Advisor rounds up 10 of the most practical portables on the market.

Laptops group test: how we test

PC Advisor tests a number of laptops every month. We use the same testing criteria, regardless of whether we're reviewing a model individually or as part of a group test, such as our budget Vista laptop and Blu-ray laptop round-ups this month. This means we are able to provide an at-a-glance ranking of relative performance for each model.

Each laptop is put through its paces using the arduous WorldBench 6 testing suite. This assesses not just raw number-crunching power, but also how well its combination of memory, processor and other hardware translates into real-world performance. Everyday applications such as Microsoft Excel, Firefox, Adobe Photoshop and other well-known programs are used to emulate the way in which a computer or laptop might typically be used.

To ensure a level playing field for all laptops that arrive in the Test Centre, we isolate them from the network, strip them of accessories that could hobble or assist performance and turn off processes such as hard-disk monitoring and indexing that could interfere with the testing procedure.

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

Battery life is a big factor when choosing a laptop, so we also use a dedicated third-party application, MobileMark, to measure how long each machine will last when handling routine but fairly common computing tasks.

We use MobileMark's productivity test, since this most closely emulates typical users' cycle of intense bursts of use followed by lesser activity or inactivity.

Other criteria we use to assess a laptop's merits include the hardware it contains, the build quality and design, the usability of the keyboard, touchpad and access keys, and the number and positioning of its ports and sockets. We look at the screen quality and the resolution it supports, the connection options provided and whether we found it easy to get online using them.

Portability, ease and comfort of use and price are also factored in, as are the length and type of warranty and the operating system and software included in the package.

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  1. Group test: top 10 laptops reviewed
  2. Laptops group test: the categories
  3. Laptops group test: graphics and processing power
  4. Laptops group test: screen size and resolution
  5. Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras
  6. Laptops group test: how we test
  7. Laptops group test: Blu-ray laptops reviews
  8. Laptops group test: budget laptops reviews

NEXT PAGE: Blu-ray laptops reviews

Whether you want a portable workhouse with a tasty price tag or a powerful system that can play back Blu-ray video in HD, there's a laptop to suit you. PC Advisor rounds up 10 of the most practical portables on the market.

Blu-ray laptop reviews

NEXT PAGE: budget laptops reviews

  1. Group test: top 10 laptops reviewed
  2. Laptops group test: the categories
  3. Laptops group test: graphics and processing power
  4. Laptops group test: screen size and resolution
  5. Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras
  6. Laptops group test: how we test
  7. Laptops group test: Blu-ray laptops reviews
  8. Laptops group test: budget laptops reviews

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

Whether you want a portable workhouse with a tasty price tag or a powerful system that can play back Blu-ray video in HD, there's a laptop to suit you. PC Advisor rounds up 10 of the most practical portables on the market.

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

  1. Group test: top 10 laptops reviewed
  2. Laptops group test: the categories
  3. Laptops group test: graphics and processing power
  4. Laptops group test: screen size and resolution
  5. Laptops group test: wireless capabilities and extras
  6. Laptops group test: how we test
  7. Laptops group test: Blu-ray laptops reviews
  8. Laptops group test: budget laptops reviews