Best Buys report card: ASUS A4L

This is the least expensive notebook to have ever made the Best Buys charts and is truly a sign that price points are dropping.

While it's a great idea for students -- or anyone on a budget, just remember that there are some things you need to keep in mind.

Firstly, this notebook uses a 2.8GHz Intel Celeron D processor (205 in SYSMark 2001) which provides good performance for the price, certainly -- but doesn't really charge out of the gates. Elsewhere, graphics are integrated, which means the latest games are off limits. However, you can opt to borrow up to 128MB of memory from the main 256MB DDR SDRAM. Lastly, this model features a fixed CD-writer/DVD-ROM combination -- which will let you burn CDs and watch DVDs, but not burn the latter.

So if all this, in addition the increased weight (3.8kg) and reduced battery life (64min worst-case scenario), isn't too much of a compromise, you're right to think that the A4L is worth a closer look.

You can connect peripherals using the four USB 2.0 or single FireWire ports, network using Ethernet, 56Kbps modem or 802.11b wireless networking and output to an external monitor with the VGA-out port or to a television via the S-Video TV-out port.

Nice little extras include a 7-in-1 multi-format card reader, Windows-independent CD playback and controls, free carry bag, optical mouse, and the great software bundle comprising ASUS DVD XP 4, Medi@Show 2 SE, Power Director 3 DE, Nero Express 6 and some games.

URL www.asus.com

VERDICT A budget buy that looks good and includes some nice options (FireWire, TV-out, card reader). You don't get a DVD writer and the processor doesn't help with battery life, but you do get a notebook that's quite capable, given its price -- $1499.

SPECIFICATIONS Intel Celeron D 335 (2.8GHz), SiS 964L chipset, 256MB DDR SDRAM, 15in display, Integrated SiS M661FX graphics, 40GB hard disk, CD writer/DVD-ROM, 10/100 Ethernet, 56Kbps modem, 80211.b Wi-Fi, Infrared, 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x FireWire, 1 Type II PC Card slot, 7-in-1 card reader, 3.8kg

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