Samsung is a well-known and generally respected brand within the computer and consumer electronics world, but we actually haven’t had a chance to look at very many of their laptops. We’ve reviewed many of their smartphones, some of their displays, and quite of few of their storage offerings (including HDDs and SSDs) over the years, but this is the first time in a long time that we’ve had a chance to review one of their upscale consumer notebooks. Given what we have in our hands, that’s unfortunate, as Samsung’s latest Series 7 notebook has plenty to offer.

We’ve praised the build quality, aesthetics, and design of Apple’s MacBook Pro offerings for several years, and more recently we really liked the way Dell’s XPS 15 looks—though we’re still waiting for the throttling issues to be addressed. The Series 7 certainly isn’t a direct attempt to copy a MacBook Pro, but it does have quite a few similarities in terms of the overall design. The aluminum and magnesium chassis is definitely a cut above average, and while the it isn’t a machined aluminum block and the metal isn’t as thick as on the XPS 15 (leading to less rigidity), the weight is actually quite reasonable for a 17.3”-screen chassis. The notebook itself is of a nearly-uniform z-height, eschewing the wedge shape that we’ve seen in many other laptops and notebooks over the years, and that’s something else I can appreciate. In terms of feel, the Series 7 chassis is a bit closer to something like the Dell XPS 15z rather than the MacBook Pro 15, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The design and aesthetic of the new Series 7 is really nice, driving home the point once more that you have to pay more for better designed products. Samsung uses aluminum for the LCD and palm rest, and the profile of the 17.3” model is still very thin and sleek. It’s nowhere near as close to looking like a MacBook Pro as the XPS 15 is, but it does follow some of the same design language where it makes sense. Moving on to the spec sheet, here’s what Samsung shipped us for our review unit.

Samsung Series 7 NP700Z7C-S01US Specifications
Processor Intel i7-3615QM
(Quad-core 2.30-3.30GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 45W)
Chipset HM76
Memory 8GB DDR3-1600
Graphics Intel HD 4000
(16 EUs, up to 1200MHz)
 
NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M 2GB GDDR5 (Optimus)
(384 cores at 745MHz/835MHz Boost, 128-bit GDDR5-4000)
Display 17.3" WLED Matte 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(Appears to be Chi Mei Innolux N173HGE-L11)
Storage 1000GB 5400RPM HDD (Seagate ST1000LM024) with
8GB caching SSD (SanDisk iSSD P4)
Optical Drive DVDRW slot-load (Matshita UJ8A7AS)
Networking 802.11n dual-band 300Mb WiFi (Intel 6235)
Bluetooth 4.0 (Intel 6235)
Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Audio Realtek ALC269
Stereo Speakers plus Subwoofer
Headphone/Microphone combo jack
Battery/Power 8-cell, ~16.5V, ~4600mAh, ~77Wh
90W Max AC Adapter (19V, 4.74A)
Front Side Memory Card Reader
Left Side Headphone/Microphone jack
Mini-DisplayPort
2 x USB 3.0
HDMI
VGA
Gigabit Ethernet
AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Right Side 2 x USB 2.0
Slot-Load Optical Drive (DVDRW)
Back Side 2 x Exhaust Vents (Behind Hinge/LCD Cover)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.9" x 10.3" x 0.98" (WxDxH)
(404mm x 262mm x 24.9mm)
Weight 6.26 lbs. (2.85kg)
Extras 1.3MP HD Webcam
102-key Backlit Keyboard with Dedicated 10-Key
Memory Card Reader (MMC/MS Pro/SD)
Price $1500 MSRP, online starting at $1400(8/15/12)

Samsung equips the Series 7 (specifically, the NP700Z7C-S01US) with several components that are becoming standard fare on modern mainstream notebooks. The CPU is a quad-core Ivy Bridge i7-3615QM (basically the same as the i7-3610QM but with a slightly higher 1.2GHz maximum IGP clock instead of 1.1GHz) while discrete graphics come courtesy of NVIDIA’s GeForce GT 650M Kepler chip—with Optimus Technology to improve battery life, naturally. While the CPU is reasonably high-end, the graphics are more of a mainstream offering, and that same dichotomy exists in many of the other components.

For a relatively high-end notebook, the storage subsystem is going to be something of a sore point. Yes, Samsung provides some SSD caching, but frankly it just doesn’t feel particularly snappy in practice. I’m not sure if the fault lies with the 5400RPM hard drive, the pitifully small 8GB SanDisk SSD, the ExpressCache software, or some or all of those elements. We recently got our first taste of Intel’s Smart Response Technology in a laptop with the XPS 15, and while 32GB wasn’t enough to completely mitigate the slower HDD performance, overall the experience was quite good. With the Samsung, I’ve been shocked by how frequently the HDD activity LED goes solid, particularly during Windows boot and post-boot as well as post-resume. There were times where the HDD light would be lit up for minutes on end, and applications wouldn’t respond to user input. Given that Samsung makes an excellent SSD in their PM830 series, I can see no good reason—other than penny pinching—to not include a better storage subsystem.

That penny pinching extends to other areas—and explains the use of the ExpressCache software rather than Intel’s Smart Response Technology. The HM76 chipset only supports two USB 3.0 ports and no SRT, and that’s what Samsung is using. The price difference between HM76 and HM77 is very small—Intel lists the HM77 at $48 and the HM76 at $43—and yet the impact on the final product is definitely felt. I’m not sure many people will actually need more than two USB 3.0 ports during the life of this notebook (since they’re mostly of benefit for external storage right now), but SRT with a larger and faster SSD would significantly improve the responsiveness.

As mentioned earlier, the matte LCD is quite good and is another highlight of the Series 7, and considering that’s where your eyes will be focused any time you’re using the notebook we appreciate the use of something better here. We’d still prefer to see companies push for good IPS displays, and Apple’s MacBook Pro Retina is leading the charge in the high-quality display arena, but at least the LCD isn’t going to drag down an otherwise good experience.

When we get to the bottom line is where things start to get a bit dicey. I mentioned in the XPS 15 review that you can get very similar performance if you’re willing to give on the build quality and materials for $1000 from the ASUS N56VZ. The Series 7 is built better than the N56VZ and I prefer the keyboard as well, but this particular model is also slightly larger and it costs $400 extra. Samsung’s notebook looks and feels better, but is it $400 better? If Samsung had equipped the notebook with a 256GB PM830 SSD I’d go for it, no problem, but with the lackluster HDD/SSD combination (basically no better than a Seagate Momentus XT in my experience, and actually worse according to our benchmark results), the decision isn’t quite so clear cut. Let’s dig a little deeper into the design and overall experience before hitting the benchmarks.

The Samsung Series 7 in Practice
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  • Darkstone - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    You can ctrl-c ctrl-v a chart from excel into mspaint ;). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    You get an extra 1px border around the graph doing that, which isn't terrible I suppose. (As a side note, older versions of Photoshop/Office *sucked* if you tried the Copy/Paste trick, which is why I got in the habit of doing the screenshot, paste, crop). I still need to upload and put it into the CMS, though, which is honestly the more painful part. Reply
  • MadMan007 - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    No problemo, it's a great review and details like the 'real speeds' as affected by thermals are very important. Seems like we are moving toward form over function in the pursuit of thinness. Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    The LCD page has a gallery for the Lenovo M92 desktop pc. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    Weird. I guess there was a glitch in the gallery engine, because I know I created the LCD gallery! Dustin must have done his gallery at the same time and somehow it overwrote my LCD images. :-( Anyway, thanks for the heads up; the gallery has been recreated. Reply
  • nerd1 - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    In the article you suggests retina MBP is way better in cooling, but it actually is not. Some german benchmark sites (including notebookcheck) reports exactly same throttling issue when they load CPU and GPU at the same time. (GPU running fine but CPU throttles down to 1.2Ghz, AND core temp exceeding 100 degree Celcius)

    Practically it is perfectly fine as most 3D games are bottlenecked by GPU performance, but you should update your article. I think thin laptops just cannot cool enough.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    I guess I didn't make that entirely clear; I mention the $2100 rMBP as an example of a more expensive laptop (with a better display and materials) that still has potential thermal issues. I've updated the paragraph to better reflect my intention. Pretty much you can't get thin, fast, quiet, and affordable -- and in many cases, you can't even get three of those items without a bit of compromise. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    I can't find much reference to it throttling online , and Anandtechs own review points out how much better it is than the old models at that.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6023/the-nextgen-mac...

    I'm curious how the non-retina current 15" model is.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    The fact that performance drops by 5% running just a game over time suggests there's at least some throttling taking place. Push the CPU to 100% while playing a game (e.g. by running Cinebench on three of the CPU cores) and we should see a greater drop. I'm going to ping Anand and see if he can run that stress test, just to confirm/deny the potential for throttling. Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I appreciate that, a quick article on whether both new Macbooks throttle would be interesting. Seems like a wider problem than I expected.

    I wonder of a small drop like 5% could just be lack of thermal headroom to turbo to the highest frequencies?
    Reply

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