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RM's lean times have given it a competitive edge, intent on giving customers what they want. It now produces its own brand for those who want standard laptops with a decent sized screen and plenty of power and connectivity at a good price; the sort of PC you would move from building to building, rather than store semi-permanently in a briefcase. RM can brings in other brands like Sony and Samsung to provide lightweight, slicker machines.

Not that RM's machines aren't slick. Take the standard RM NoteBook 2500, with its Intel Celeron processor (1.4Mhz) 128Mb of memory and 20Gb hard disk, floppy and CD drives and clear 14.1-inch XGA TFT screen.

What is impressive for pound;699 is the range of connections: three USB ports keep you up to date; there is a high-speed FireWire port for activities like video editing; and serial and parallel connections allow continued use of older peripherals such as printers. There are also two PC card slots. For shared there are standard network and 56K modem connections.

The 2500's performance was impressive - useful for graphics work that might tax some of the sleeker laptops - and its battery life was good. Incremental payments give you other features like wi-fi (pound;60), 256Mb RAM (pound;40) and DVDCD-RW drive (pound;110).

For such a swift turn in policy, RM's results are creditable and good value and the company offers the opportunity to "build your own" laptop on its website.

Sony's Vaio range has already wooed some Online collaborators with cool design and attractive price-performance. The PCG-R600HMPD was no exception. It comes with a light docking station to house the bits you might not want to carry around (floppy and DVDCD-RW drives and a full range of connections).

And it's an extremely effective machine, with a 12.1-inch XGA TFT screen and connection for networking (Ethernet), modem (56KV90), two USB ports, FireWire for video work, a PC card and a slot for Sony's proprietary memory sticks.

The Vaio represents value for money (pound;1,450, including docking station). When it came to wireless networks, like the new coffee connections at places like Starbucks and Costa, the Vaio connected with ease and demonstrated the kind of flexibility that is now becoming available. And that's not even including Sony's bonuses, like its MovieShaker software for video work.

Merlin John

RM NoteBook 2500

Intel Celeron processor (1.4Mhz), 128Mb memory, 20Gb hard disk, floppyCD drives, 14.1-inch XGA TFT screen, three USB, FireWire, serial, parallel, two PC card slots, monitor and mouse ports, Ethernet, 56K modem. Can be built to order via RM website. Price: pound;699.

RM. BETT stands D50, E50. Tel: 01235 826000.

Fitness for purpose 5

Ease of use 4

Features 4

Quality 4

Value for money 5

Sony Vaio PCG-R600HMPD

Intel Pentium 3 processor (1.2Mhz), 256Mb memory, 40Gb hard disk, 14.1-inch XGA TFT screen, two USB, FireWire, PC card slot, Ethernet and 56K modem. Docking station includes floppy and DVDCD-RW drives

Price: pound;1,450 (pound;1,119 without docking station) or pound;1,679 with RM Curriculum Window Box XP

RM. Stands D50, E50 (Sony B104). Tel: 01235 826000.

Fitness for purpose 5

Ease of use 4

Features 5

Quality 4

Value for money 4

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