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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  • lbell - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    It seems to be a PERFECT laptop if the user replaces the HDD with a SSD, plugs a gaming mouse and uses it in ACed room. Reply
  • nerd1 - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    I think the biggest drawback of this laptop is the lack of secondary HDD bay. Many laptops now provide mSATA slot where user can easily put 128GB boot drive (and they cost as low as $100 nowadays too) while keeping ~1TB data drive. With a single 2.5" bay such setup is not possible. Small SSD cache is just a gimmick and generally not comparable to true SSDs. And they should provide slower 35W CPU option as well - which should help overheating a bit.

    Anyway I think this laptop is actually one of the best 17" laptops out there for general public, and one good replacement for 17" MBP which is now discontinued.
    Reply
  • .Hg. - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Hi Jarred,

    thanks a lot for your review. Since we cannot trust specification sheets anymore when we choose a laptop, the work of good reviewers is essential.

    If manufactures decide that performances don't really matter, we will gladly spend more on the monitor and less on the CPU/GPU, or we will buy tablets instead of notebooks.

    I hope you'll improve your testing methodology about the impact of the cooling system on the performances, because if when a laptop "falis" the stress test, it "doesn't really matter", then the stress test doesn't really matter itself.

    I'd like to suggest testing an heavy CPU load with the GPU turned on but idling. This is the Adobe Premiere Video export scenario or generic cpu load using an external monitor. My XPS15 throttled badly with the A04 bios after 2 min during this test, because the heat from the CPU triggered the GPU temperature threshold. Manufacturers should find a clever way to balance TDP than temperature thresholds.

    Also, please keep in mind that a CPU at 1.2GHz has a lot of impact on the gaming experience, much more than average fps shows, and that a GPU continuously throttling between 800 and 200 mhz has higher average fps than a GPU fixed a 400 Mhz, but it gives a lot worse gaming experience.
    Reply
  • nerd1 - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    No, CPU power rarely affects gaming experience, as most of the games are now developed multi-platform and ivy bridge@1.2Ghz is still WAY better than any console out there. On the other hand, GPU power directly affects framerate. Reply
  • .Hg. - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    It does, I experienced an awful control lag with Assassin Creed II and Prince of Persia.

    Games that are not properly multi-threaded will suffer the low frequency. Ivy Bridge can't do miracles.

    And games that are properly multi-thread will show much greater power absorption even at low frequency because of the higher load, and if the cooling system is not good, the system will try to reduce the GPU frequency.
    Reply
  • nerd1 - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    No, I don't think such an ancient game can load CPU to maximum. It ran fine with core 2 duo processor, which has much lower power-per-clock than new ivy bridge processor. The only cpu-consuming task I can imaging for computer game is heavy physics simulation, which is done with GPU now. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    It's not that the stress test doesn't matter at all, but I would say it's not a make or break situation for most people. Obviously (I would think, but maybe not?), a laptop that runs cooler right now should hold up better over the long term than a laptop that is hitting thermal limits right from the start. The XPS 15 is horrible when it comes to throttling; the Samsung is only throttling under extreme loads -- in a rather warm 80-85F environment, I might add (curse my lack of AC).

    If you happen to live in a place like AZ and take your laptop outside where it's 105F, and then you put a 100% load on the GPU and CPU, I'm not sure any laptop would cope with that sort of testing without throttling. It's the way things are supposed to work. The real question -- and it's a question that's difficult to answer -- is how much a laptop can handle before it starts to throttle. That's what the stress test is there to help evaluate.

    If you need a notebook that can run both CPU and GPU at 100% simultaneously in a 70F AC regulated environment, that's fine. In that case, the Series 7 falls short, but it's still a lot closer than the XPS 15. If you're a typical user that plays games, on the other hand, then that's the metric you should look at, keeping in mind that certain titles will likely stress the CPU/GPU more than others.
    Reply
  • nerd1 - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    I think the only laptop that can withstand full load for a long time is thick gaming laptops. Reply
  • seapeople - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Jared has it right here, the only way to really fail a stress test is for the computer to overheat and brick itself. Everything is a gray area.

    If the Samsung did so poorly that it throttled instantly to ultra poor performance levels the moment a game was started *cough Dell cough* then it would deserve a thrashing, but it handled high performance gaming with only limited throttling issues, so therefore deserves better than a unilateral no vote.

    Besides, if the computer throttles during gaming too much to suit you, then you can reduce the settings/CPU speed to suit. You would lose performance, sure, but we're still talking about something that would destroy ultrabooks or entry level graphics cards.
    Reply
  • gandralf - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    My company has bough four samsungs (expensive, supposed high end series 9 ultrabook). Three of them had problems. Terrible built, mega fragile. Reply

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