The sub-$600 notebook is a rare beast, and the few Windows Vista models we've seen at or around this price have been acceptable, if less-than-stellar, performers. In much the same mold, Acer offers five slightly different fixed-configuration versions of the 14.1-inch Acer TravelMate 2480, the company's entry-level business laptop. The models all sell for around $550 and--if the model we tested is any indication--should be suitable for Web surfing, basic office productivity, and light multitasking.
The Acer TravelMate 2480 models all have an ergonomically curved keyboard that help them stand out from other inexpensive systems, like the Gateway NX270S and the Everex Stepnote VA4101M. Still, the Gateway NX270S's strong battery life makes it our current favorite for budget laptops.
All five TravelMate 2480 models are substantially similar to the one we reviewed, the Acer TravelMate 2480-2153. That system featured Windows Vista Basic, a 1.7GHz Intel Celeron M 430 CPU, 512MB of DDR2 RAM (which is barely acceptable, even for Vista Basic), integrated Intel 950 graphics, a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive, and an 80GB hard drive.
The differences in the other configurations are minor at best, although two of the five models use Windows XP. The TravelMate 2480-2705 has Windows XP Pro and a slightly slower Celeron M 410; the TravelMate 2480-2779 drops the CPU to a Celeron M 420 and has a smaller battery; the TravelMate 2480-2551 has Windows XP Media Center Edition (an odd choice for a business laptop), a smaller 60GB hard drive, and a Celeron M 420; and the TravelMate 2480-2968 bumps up the processor to a Celeron M 440, but is otherwise identical to our review unit, making it (on paper, at least) the most powerful of the bunch.
These small changes in processor speed won't have any real-world impact on performance, and all five models are stuck with the same 512MB of RAM, so your choice comes down to operating system preference and availability. Retailers generally carry one model, but not the others, usually for within $50 of the TravelMate 2480-2153's price. To upgrade to a TravelMate with Windows Vista Business, you would need to jump up to the TravelMate 4200 line, which starts at $899.