It really is amazing what your money can get you these days. Take Toshiba's Satellite C650: a budget laptop to be sure, but one that comes well kitted out inside its rugged, textured exterior.
The 1366x768, 15.6-inch screen is glossy but looks gorgeous, while the Core i3 M370 @ 2.4GHz, 4GB RAM and 500GB hard drive will see a large majority of people through just fine. There are obvious corners cut in ancillaries — 100Mb Ethernet instead of gigabit, 802.11n wireless that only supports 2.4GHz, incredibly poor speakers, only two USB ports; although we'd suggest only the latter would really annoy the mainstream audience it's targeted at.
When you can get Core i3 for this price, we're surprised Pentium processors are still in the market.
It's otherwise modestly equipped with a VGA port, headphone and microphone jacks, SD card reader and DVD+-RW. This is all for AU$899, great value — still, another AU$200 will get you an extra USB port, HDMI out, Core i5, Bluetooth, gigabit Ethernet and dedicated graphics if you can spare the dosh.
Upon first load Toshiba gives consumers the choice of running Windows 7 Home Premium in either 32- or 64-bit, something it should be commended for. Once the installation is completed, you're hit with a fairly standard Windows desktop, although it isn't free of crapware.
Bundled is a Norton Internet Security trial and WildTangent games collection (adding subscription links in Internet Explorer to both as a result), a Bing sidebar gadget, Amazon's Kindle app for PC, a Microsoft Office trial, Skype and an annoying bar that flips out from the side that controls the webcam.
Toshiba's own tools are numerous, having accreted over the years until the pure volume has begun to scare small children and threatened to collapse into a black hole. They rank from the useful (pop down OSD when the Fn key is held) to the pointless (Toshiba Reeltime, a dock that just shows most recent documents), and are in desperate need of streamlining.
Performance-wise, the Satellite C650 definitely shows its entry-level status, giving a score of 1719 in 3DMark06 and 5640 in PCMark05. This indicates it's not a gaming laptop, but should be fine for day-to-day tasks. If you have modest needs or aren't big into computing, this will see you through most activities.
What it lacks in performance it makes up for in battery life, clocking two hours and three minutes with all power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and an XviD video played back full screen. This is a particularly harsh test, and casual use will see significantly longer life. Keep in mind this is the C650/028 model with the six-cell battery — some C650s ship with a three-cell, which will dramatically cut battery life.
The Satellite C650 is a perfectly fine budget laptop — but for a little bit more you can find better value elsewhere.