Dirty Dozen : The Top 12 UK £299 laptops

Searching for a bargain notebook without cutting too many corners? ITProPortal.com has rounded up twelve of the best sub £300 laptop deals in the UK in this exclusive report.

Laptops have never been so inexpensive and you can now get a cheap, quality laptop for £299 including VAT and delivery or even less. A few years back, a sub-£500 laptop was unheard of.

Back in April 2006, the HP Compaq NX6110 was sold for £600, right now, a HP laptop with a similar configuration and a few bells and whistles is worth less than £270, 55% less.

And it is certainly not a coincidence that popular consumer website Moneysavingexpert has dedicated a recent report on Sub £300 laptop bargains.

There are a few gems amongst the ten listed but you can rest assured that anyone of them will be a capable workstation provided your needs do not go beyond traditional office chores.

Now is the right time for small businesses to invest in laptops, especially if their employees are asking for more flexible working scheme.

All the laptops listed have the following minimum requirements and features.
- 1GB memory
- Windows Operating System
- 80GB Hard disk drive
- Wireless accessibility
- An Optical drive
- New, factory reworked or refurbished models with one year warranty
- Price includes delivery and VATDell Vostro 1400 Laptop : No compromise, great Value Laptop with Vista Home Premium

Glance at the Dell Vostro 1400's main specifications and you will understand why it is probably one of the better laptops in the lot. It is priced just above the Vostro 1000 range and is slightly smaller than the aforementioned family of laptops.

Yet it is just as cheap, thinner and lighter. The cheapest Vostro 1400 costs only £293.82 including VAT and delivery.

It is marketed only to small businesses and comes without any unwanted trialware; something which has been a major complaint in the past.

The Vostro 1400 as configures comes with an Intel Celeron 550 which runs at 2GHz, two 512MB DDR2 memory modules (1GB in all), a huge 120GB hard disk drive, a 14.1 inch WXGA (1280x800) display - ideal for watching movies - and a DVD writer.

But there are several reasons why the Vostro 1400 stands out of the crowd: firstly, it comes with a 2MP webcam, very handy when making video conference, then unlike others listed here, the guarantee is next business day collection which minimises the disruption associated with any downtime.

The Vostro 1400 also carries a dedicated video card - in the form of a 128MB Nvidia 8400M GS model; this means that your operating system will have access to the whole memory footprint - 1GB in all, rather than around 896MB which you would see in other laptops.

Other features included are Windows Vista Home Premium, Microsoft Works 9.0 and the usual I/O ports.

Last but not least, the Vostro 1400 has a 6-cell Lithium-Ion battery, with 56Whr worth of juice; entry level laptops normally have a 4-cell battery which can last at most 60 minutes.

Toshiba Satellite Pro A210-1AZ : Dual Core Laptop from a Brand name and superb audio capabilities

Toshiba has been manufacturing laptops for decades now and is certainly one of the first names that leaps to mind when you think about laptops.

Misco is selling the Toshiba Satellite Pro A210-1AZ laptop, part of Toshiba's entry level range of laptops based on AMD's Turion Processors for only £339.56 all inclusive.

Unlike previous generation laptops which were built like tans and sounded like airplanes, this Satellite Pro is slimmer and ha a more sturdy screen hinge.

Then there's a £50 cashback which you can redeem at Toshiba until the end of April 2008, effectively bringing the price of the laptop to £289.56; an absolute bargain.

As Toshiba puts it, it is a great choice for small or medium sized businesses and a superb all rounder.

The A210-1AZ comes with a Dual Core AMD Processor, the TK55 which runs at 1.8GHz, and one 1GB memory module, great if you want to add another memory module next to it.

It also sports a big 15.4-inch screen based on Toshiba's own TruBrite technology, capable of displaying 1280x800 pixels and powered by an ATI Radeon X1200 integrated graphics module.

We were pleased to find out that the laptop comes with a big 120GB hard disk drive and a Dual Layer DVD writer; Other added bonus include Windows Vista Home Premium rather than Basic version and a 6-in-1 card reader.

There's a review of the laptop here which is ecstatic about the audio capabilities of this little laptop.

Toshiba Satellite Pro L40-17G : Another Tosh Dual Core notebook with a little something

The presence of yet another Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop in this top ten is a credit to the resurgence of the Japanese computer manufacturer which has had to bear the pressure of decreasing costs and increased competition from the likes of Acer, Dell or HP.

The Toshiba Satellite Pro L40-17G on sale at Ebuyer for £299.99 all inclusive is a superb example of what Toshiba can pull out of its laptop bag; the laptop is reassuringly solid and feels expensive.

What makes this laptop special is the Intel Dual Core T2330 processor which is the most powerful of the group, running at 1.6GHz and backed by 1GB memory.

Other specs include Wireless connectivity, a 80GB hard disk drive, a DVD writer, a 15.4-inch screen capable of displaying the default resolution of 1280x800 pixels.

Like other Intel based laptops, Toshiba is using the Intel GMA X3100 integrated video module, not as bad as the SIS one but still not as good as a dedicated video card.

The laptop is ideal if you're looking for a good uncomplicated laptop for work and home although the T2330 is a more than capable processor.

With a year's international warranty, this Toshiba laptop also comes with Windows Home basic and Ulead's DVD MovieFactory.

All in all, the Satellite Pro L40 is the perfect entry-level choice for the self employed or small to medium businesses.

(Note, the price of this laptop has been increased by £10 a few days after this article was written)

Fujitsu Siemens Esprimo Mobile V5535 : Cheapest 2GB laptop around with a Gargantuan hard drive

The Fujitsu Siemens Esprimo Mobile laptop is marketed as a versatile all-round professional notebook for the user who requires up to date technology within a tight budget.

Fujitsu aims at striking the balance between robust performance and mobility at the right price; Ebuyer has indeed grabbed a bargain here as they are selling the V5535 for only £284.99 delivered.

What makes that laptop special is the fact that it comes with 2GB memory, twice the amount of memory which will certainly bring an improvement when using withWindows Vista.

The catch though is that you have to install the memory itself, something which can be done simply by unscrewing a cover and popping in the extra memory module.

A high quality 15.4-inch widescreen TFT finishes off the sleek, minimalist design of this excellent machine.

The other specs of the laptop are fairly standard : Intel Celeron 540, a 120GB hard disk drive, Gigabit Ethernet, a Dual Layer DVD writer and wireless connectivity.

The v5355's three main flaws that we could find are (a) the fact that it uses the ageing SIS Mirage 3+ graphics - not ideal when using the resource-hungry Windows Vista OS (b) there's no modem and (c) the battery is a 4-cell one, which will prove roughly 60 minute worth of juice.

Fujitsu Siemens AMILO La 1703 : Superb entry level laptop at an affordable price

Like the Toshiba model we previewed a few pages before, the Fujitsu AMILO La 1703 laptop is a refurbished model (that means that it has been returned by a customer, for whatever reason, and then restored to original working condition after undergoing an intensive inspection process by qualified technicians).

This also means that the laptop is offered at a very discounted price : in this case, £263.48 including VAT and delivery at Misco.

The laptop features the only AMD Turion 64 processor of the batch; the MK38 runs at 2.2GHz and comes with 512KB L2 cache.

Other features include 1GB RAM, a 80GB hard disk drive, a VIA Chrome9 HCTM DX9 integrated graphics module (which can share up to 128MB system memory) and a dual layer DVD writer.

The decision to include a VIA chipset is certainly a surprise here as the AMD's own chipsets (like the Radeon X1150) would certainly prove to be a much better fit

The rest of the configuration is pretty standard : 802.11g Wireless accessibility, a 15.4-inch WXGA TFT LCD widescreen display plus Windows Vista Basic.

(image courtesy of Misco)

Dell Vostro 1000 : The Ugly little Dell-kling

The Dell Vostro 1000 series was the first family that used AMD processors and targeted specifically small and medium businesses; with prices starting at only £169 excluding VAT and delivery, the Vostro 1000 family ranks amongst the cheapest in the UK.

The Vostro 1000 has lately been living under the shadows of the more popular Vostro 1400 series, partly due to Intel's resurgence and price slashing strategies; however, there are a few features that Dell is using to make the Vostro 1000 a compelling choice.

Vostro notebooks are built exclusively for small business and are ready to be customized with the features and software you want without any unwanted trialware.

The Vostro 1000 laptop is on sale at Dell online for only £258.57 delivered, by far the cheapest of the batch.

There are a few corners cut though : the laptop is powered by a lowly AMD Sempron 3600+; it might not be the most powerful processor of the batch, but it will be sufficient for most office tasks, there's 1GB memory and a 80GB hard disk drive.

But this laptop is built like a tank and should last like one - Dell offers Next Business Day guarantee on its Vostro Laptops, the only company to do so in this list.

To round up the specs list, the laptop also features a CD/DVD combo - you won't be able to write to DVD disks plus Windows XP Home - the only laptop to come with the older Operating system which paradoxically will make your system feel faster; a 15.4-inch widescreen display powered by the ATI Radeon Xpress 1150 HyperMemory (integrated) graphics module - which allows you to allocate as little as 16MB to the display, more than enough for Windows XP, wireless connectivity and a 4-cell battery.

The Vostro 1000 might be the least powerful laptop in this dozen, but the fact that it is dirt cheap and comes with Windows XP Home means that it should be high in on your list.

Toshiba L40-14J : Don't judge that (note)book by its cover

A Toshiba Celeron notebook with 1GB RAM, 120GB hard disk storage, DVD Writer, widescreen display and WiFi; that's what comes within this Toshiba laptop.

One reason why it is so cheap - Morgancomputers sells the Toshiba L40-14J for only £270.24 delivered - is because it is a refurbished model that comes with a one-year warranty (MC doesn't say whether it is international warranty like most Toshiba laptops).

For unknown reasons though, the UK Toshiba website does not appear to carry this particular laptop which means that you have to rely on Morgancomputers (and this website) for all the specifications.

The processor is an Intel Celeron M 530 processor, is WiFi-enabled and comes with Windows Home Premium Edition installed.

Other than that, the L40-14J specs mirror what is available on the other Toshiba laptop on today's list, the L40-17G, which features an Intel Dual Core processor instead.

This is the third Toshiba laptop that made it to the list and it is the cheapest of the trio and looks to have been made specifically for a handful of resellers (like Scottish Hydro Electric)

Toshiba has done an excellent job of building a laptop that looks stylish with a black glossy 15.4-inch widescreen display, weighs only 2.7kg and doesn't cost the earth.

Note that PC World Business sells a similarly configured new laptop (Toshiba Satellite Pro L40-17F) with a slightly more powerful processor but Windows Home Basic for £286.71 delivered.

Acer Aspire Gemstone 5315 : The hidden laptop that offers great value for money

Acer's Aspire range of laptops differ from others here by their white layout; a break from the traditional black and/or grey outfit of other laptops; the Aspire family is actually the brainchild of the BMW design team (Acer has also partnered with the Ferrari Team for their laptops as well).

The Acer Aspire Germstone 5315 is the cheapest of the range at £289.96 delivered at Ebuyer and according to Acer, "it offers ultra affordable entertainment for students and home users, encased in Acer’s new, stylish Gemstone design."

Note that this is the model that sports the Celeron 540 which runs at 1.86GHz, not the slower Celeron 530 model. The 5315 also has 1GB memory, 80GB SATA hard disk drive and an optical drive.

Graphics is still handled by the ageing GMA950 which powers a 15.4-inch Widescreen monitor (ed : some confusion here as the Acer Website points to a better GMA X3100 graphic chipset).

Other features include a 6 cell battery, Windows Vista Home and Wireless Connectivity.

Acer has produced a high quality laptop that is not only affordable but also stylish.

HP 530 : For Business users, a laptop to be reckoned with

That's HP's cheapest laptop; the HP 530 only costs £289.97 at Ebuyer. There's not many frills and definitely no whistles and as one reviewer said, deliciously minimalist.

According to the manufacturer, The HP 530 Notebook PC offers low-cost computing without compromising mobility.

With the choice of processors, a 15.4-inch diagonal widescreen BrightView display, and ample hard drive capacity, this notebook helps keep you connected and productive around the office and on the road.

In our case, you should have just enough juice for bog standard computing tasks; the HP 530 has a celeron M 520 CPU which runs at 1.6GHz, seconded by an Intel 940GME chipset, with a 120GB hard disk drive and 1GB memory.

Apart from the usual display being powered by an Intel GMA accelerator, you will also have a 4-cell battery with the other features that you can expect from machines at this price : A DVD writer, wireless connectivity, Windows Vista Home Basic and a few USB ports here and there.

It is slightly larger than one can expect but space is judiciously used by the manufacturer and the palm rests are more than adequate.

There's a full review of the beast here at Tech.co.uk where it got a four stars rating with good reason.

The HP 530 overall represents great value for money especially if you are a HP aficionado.

Acer Extensa 4220-101G08Mi : A Business laptop with a sense of style

The Extensa represents the business range of Acer laptops and as such carry a more conservative and traditional design, compared to its more eye-catching Aspire models.

The Extensa 4220 is packaged in the streamlined Acer ProFile chassis, offering great portability and professional style.

Equipped with an Intel Celeron Processor, this notebook is designed for work in the office or on the road.

The 4220 has a 1.86GHz processor (a 540 model) backed by a single 1GB memory module and a 80GB SATA hard disk drive.

Acer uses Microsoft's Vista Home Basic OS to power the laptop; we would have prefered Windows XP Home instead.

The fact that the 4220 used a smaller screen (14.1-inch at 1280x800 pixels) means that it is slightly smaller than the rest of the competition, on par with the Vostro 1400 from Dell.

Video is handled by the newer GMA X3100 graphic chipset.

Interestingly, it does come with a Firewire port, four USB, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a VGA and a S-Video output.

The laptop is sold for £263.21 delivered at IT247.com.

Belinea O.Book1 : A surreal, beautiful laptop at a bargain price

The Belinea O.Book1 is certainly the best looking laptop of the lot and costs only £291.55 delivered from IT247.com.

You might not have heard of the Belinea brand before but it is a household name in Germany where it is known as Maxdata.

The O.Book1 comes with a white robe and has an integrated webcam, two features that appear on an Apple Macbook's feature list.

The interior of the laptop is more common : There's the same Intel Celeron 530 processor backed by 1GB of memory, a 120GB SATA disk with a 15.4-inch Widescreen, a DVD writer and Windows Vista Home basic OS.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of laptops here, this one comes with a VIA Chrome 9 Integrated Graphics module which should be as slow as the Intel GMA950 model.

It doesn't come with any integrated card reader but like others, have four USB 2.0 ports.

An undoubtedly great addition is the fact that Belinea has managed to squeeze in a two year warranty

(Image courtesy of Laptopsdirect.co.uk)

HP 6720s : a 2GB Business laptop at this price is a real stunner

This particular offer from Ebuyer could potentially be one of the better deals, especially if Ebuyer honours its part of the deal.

While the description of the laptop doesn't mention the 2GB offer, you are presented with an additional 1GB memory module when you check out and the price still remains at £289.99 which makes it astonishing deal.

The 6720s is HP's entry level for Business laptops and offers a great price-performance ratio although the rest of the configuration is similar to other laptops here.

You will get an Intel Celeron 540 processor with 2GB memory and a 80GB hard disk drive; backup functionality is covered by a DVD writer and a SD slot.

Connectivity include a Wifi Connection, Bluetooth, USB ports and Wired LAN.

The 15.4-inch screen is powered by the popular X3100 Intel Graphics Media Accelerator which is part of Intel's 965GM mogile chipset.

Like the other 2GB Fujitsu Siemens laptop in this list, you will have to install the memory by yourself which is not a very difficult task in itself.

(Image courtsy of Ebuyer.com)

Note that the laptops' prices as well as stocks do fluctuate quite a lot as we saw when writing this article; so bear this in mind when shopping around.

One reason why buying now makes sense is the Windows XP Operating System; by June 2008, you won't be able to purchase this popular OS from retailers and computer manufacturers.

Windows XP run faster on slower/older hardware and the laptops featured here will probably feel snappier with XP than with Vista

Laptop prices may not fall further but you can grab cheaper deals like the EEE PC laptop which costs around £220 or the £100 Elonexone PC.

However, both cannot compete with the laptops listed in our article in terms of sheer features but could provide with some interesting alternative for you to explore.

The next few month will also be interesting as Intel (and probably other manufacturers) announce smaller laptops (in the same vein as the EEE PC), based on the Atom processor family, will be cheap and cheerful, certainly retailing at £200 or less.

Another way to get cheap laptops is to buy second hand or refurbished laptops from Ebay or from Specialist refurbishes like EuroPC.

Unfortunately, depending on such sources is very haphazard and most items listed are available as single units only.