Evesham Voyager C350 review

£498
Price when reviewed

IMPORTANT NOTE

This review was written before PC Pro became aware of the current situation at Evesham, now run by a different management team. Currently, PC Pro does not recommend anyone buys an Evesham system.

Last month, the superbly specified Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Li1718 raised the bar in the budget notebook stakes. For a smidge under £500 inc VAT, this Tesco special managed to squeeze in 2GB of RAM, a 1.73GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a 120GB hard disk and Windows Vista Home Premium. Evesham’s Voyager C350, which comes in bang on the same price, looks to have its work cut out.

At first glance, there’s nothing to mark this machine out from the crowd. The C350 is housed in a bog-standard chassis from OEM manufacturer Mitac, which means it’s boxy and plain, with the only remarkable feature a silver topping to the screen. It’s by no means shoddy in terms of its build quality, with thick and robust-feeling plastics all round, but it won’t draw envious looks when you whip it out in the boardroom.

The plain-Jane theme continues elsewhere, with a look at the rear and edge panels. The C350 has a reasonable four USB ports, a 10/100 Ethernet adapter and an ExpressCard/54 slot, but there’s no FireWire connection and, for video output, just a solitary D-SUB connector. Annoyingly, there’s no flash card reader of any sort either, so getting pictures off your digital camera is going to be just a little more of a pain than it should be.

At least the keyboard and touchpad are of acceptable quality. The 358mm-wide chassis gives it plenty of room to breathe, allowing a sensible, well-spaced layout. The key action is positive and not too clacky, while all the important keys – Enter, Backspace, and left/right Shift – are of a good size. In addition, the touchpad is accurate and pleasant to use and the buttons are responsive, if a little on the small side.

The large 15.4in screen is pretty good, too. It’s clearly at the budget end of the scale, as revealed by lacklustre viewing angles, and has that glossy showroom finish that so many manufacturers seem to favour these days; we didn’t have too many problems with reflections in practice. It’s bright and evenly lit, too.

Alas for the C350, its core components don’t quite pass muster these days. Running the show is an older-generation Core Duo T2080 1.73GHz processor and this is complemented by a relatively stingy – at least by recent budget notebooks’ standards – 1GB of RAM. Compared with the Amilo’s Core 2 Duo T5300 and 2GB this is way behind, and it shows in our benchmarks, adding up to a lowly overall performance score of 0.66 (the Amilo scored 0.79).

In addition, the integrated VIA Chrome9 graphics mean you won’t be enjoying too much gaming out of hours, either. It didn’t even manage to finish our Call of Duty 2 3D test; even if it had, we’d hazard a guess that its average frame rate would have barely broken into single figures, so even older games will be severely limited.

To compound all this, the C350 comes with only Windows Vista Home Basic, which is the most limited version of Microsoft’s new operating system. Buy this laptop and you’ll be missing out on the features that really show off Vista’s flair: you’ll get no flash Aero graphics (not that the graphics card would run them anyway), no Media Center and no scheduled backup facility.

The hard disk is at least more generous at 160GB, and after Vista has been accounted for there’s nearly 150GB left free on the C350’s single NTFS partition. The optical drive is fine, too. Samsung’s SN-S082H is able to write to all formats of DVD, including DVD-RAM and dual-layer discs. Taking care of wireless-networking duties is Atheros’ AR5006X chipset, which can connect to 802.11a/b/g networks, but it doesn’t have draft-n capabilities.

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