|Introduction and Specifications|
Samsung has not traditionally played a huge role in the evolution of notebooks. Companies such as Dell, Lenovo, HP, Acer and Asus have all done noteworthy things to push the envelope, with the Adamo XPS, ThinkPad, IdeaPad and Eee PC all coming from this group. Even those who don't follow technology on a daily basis would probably associate those names with notebooks, but we wonder just how big a following Samsung has in the mobile computing sector. It's not like Samsung is a newbie in the notebook world, but they've definitely played a more "low-key" role over the past few years.
Taking all that into consideration, we have to commend Samsung on the launch of their R80 series. These machines were just introduced this month, and we have managed to grab one of the first R580 notebooks (the 15.6" in the R80 series, which is accompanied by the 14" R480 and the 17.3" R780) to leave the production line. Samsung's making quite a bold move here. This is one of the first mobile Core i5 machines out there, particularly when you're looking for a Core i5 machine with both style and a full number pad.
This is also one of the thinner and lighter Core i5 machines available; at just under 6 pounds, it certainly isn't a lightweight, but given just how powerful the Core i5 silicon is, we expected the chassis to be even thicker, the weight even higher and the heat/noise output to be substantial versus thin and light offerings. The swirled red design is also one of the more stylish choices available, though we understand that this won't work for everyone. Business users who need an understated machine will obviously have no interest, but those looking for a dash of personality without the overkill as seen on some of the gamer-centric notebooks may see this as a perfect sweet spot.
Another area where Samsung impresses is the price point. It's clear that Samsung is aiming to take on the competition here in a big way by pricing a Core i5 notebook at under $850. This kind of MSRP will certainly grab attention (and having the R80 line in Best Buy shouldn't hurt matters, either). It's easy to see where corners were cut though. The screen resolution is low for a panel this large, and the 5400RPM hard drive is also sluggish. And then there's the 32-bit OS coupled with 4GB of RAM, but because of 32-bit limitations, only ~3GB can be seen and used by the OS. We'll break down the pros and cons in the pages to come, and we'll toss out a slew of benchmarks to help you get a better idea of what the R580 is capable of.
|Design and Build Quality|
Samsung notebooks don't pop up too often around here, so having the opportunity to test one from top to bottom was interesting to say the least. It's hard to compare the R580 to any other Core i5-based notebook on the market right now, and we think that's a great thing for Samsung. Being able to differentiate yourself in the crowded laptop market is no easy feat, but it's vital if you hope to get noticed amongst the throngs of other offerings. It's even more important if you don't have the pedigree of a Dell, HP, Lenovo or Asus compensating for potential shortfalls, and it's clear that Samsung took a ground-up approach to designing this machine.
On the right side of the rig, there's a DVD/CD optical drive (pull-out tray type) along with two USB 2.0 ports. That's it. We really wish Samsung would've went with USB 3.0 (as we hope for on every new notebook these days), but given the low price point, we understand the decision to use last year's technology. And for most people shopping in this price category, USB 2.0 will be more than enough for their needs.
There are no ports at all running along the back, only an exhaust vent. On the left, you'll find a Kensington lock slot, an AC power input, VGA output, Ethernet jack, eSATA port, two more USB 2.0 sockets, an ExpressCard slot and audio in/out jacks to close things out. Along the front you'll get an oddly recessed SD/SDHC/MMC slot that's frankly hard to get to, and underneath you'll find a removable 6-cell Li-ion battery. Open up the lid, and you'll find one of the more intriguing trackpad options that we've seen. The pad itself is simply integrated into the palm rest. It's perfectly flat, and the only notice that it's even there are four dots outlining the edges (and the plastic sticker that ships on the machine). The solid, single trackpad button below it clicks down on the left and the right, but neither feel large enough given the ample space available across the palm rest.
The inside of the machine is delightfully simple. A trackpad, a trackpad button, a keyboard, two speakers and a power button. Along the front edge you'll find small LEDs that show Caps Lock status, hard drive activity, Wi-Fi on/off and power on/off, but otherwise it's a clean slate. We wish those darn palm rest stickers weren't cluttering things up, but otherwise this is a refreshing change from the usual cluttered insiders that we see.
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We can't help but note that this machine has a chicklet-style keyboard, which is becoming ever more common on notebooks regardless of size. What's unique about the R580's keyboard is that the keys are squashed somewhat and arranged interestingly in order to make room for a numeric keypad. We'll touch more on the effects of this later, but suffice it to say, it's a keyboard that took some getting used to due to the funky layout.
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The 15.6" LED backlit panel is glossy in nature and has a 1366x768 resolution. We would've much preferred a few more hundred pixels on each axis if we had our druthers, but again, this comes down to cost. These panels are cheapest, and adding a high-res screen would've probably pushed the MSRP over the $1000 mark, and we get the impression that Samsung was doing their best to keep that from happening.
|Software and Accessories|
It's becoming the exception rather than the rule to find anything "extra" in a notebook box these days. Call it an affect of the recession, or call it just plain cost cutting. either way, you won't find any extra goodies within your R580 box, save for a small microfiber cloth that's badly needed to keep the fingerprints and dust away from the glossy, red swirl lid and the glossy LCD. Other than that and the notebook itself, we only found a 6-cell battery, an AC power cord and an AC power brick inside the box; not too surprising given the sudden dearth of bonus items everywhere, but we can't help but wish for a sleeve or at least a cable or two thrown in just to show us that our business is valued.
On the software side, we found one of our biggest gripes with the system. Samsung includes Windows 7 Home Premium, a fine OS in and of itself. Problem is, they included the 32-bit version. Yet, they shipped it with 4GB of DDR3 memory. Due to limits of the 32-bit architecture, only around 3GB of that memory can actually be seen and addressed by Windows, so roughly 1GB of the RAM you purchase has little value whatsoever with this OS. If you were to upgrade to the 64-bit version, you'd obviously get to take advantage of all 4GB, but as it stands, you'll constantly be left wondering why in the world Samsung chose to include both 4GB of RAM and a 32-bit OS; those two just don't make sense together.
We also found way, way too much bloatware on this rig. Bootup took far too long for a Core i5 machine, and we found the reason just as soon as the desktop appeared: extraneous software. Samsung went on an installation spree before shipping this machine out, bogging it down with McAfee anti-virus software, CyberLink's YouCam, a 60-day trial of Office, AnyPC, Samsung's own Recovery Software, a Samsung "Support" app, Easy Network Managed, an automated Samsung Update app, GamePack, FailSafe and CyberLink's DVD Suite. We have no issues at all with Samsung including this software, but we want it on a CD or USB key in the box, not installed on the HDD nagging during boot. There's no doubt that having this all crammed on the machine significantly hindered the bootup speed and the overall snappiness of the system.
Using Samsung's R580, to put it bluntly, is a mixed bag. We don't really think the machine has an identity crisis on paper; it's a multimedia machine at heart, with a low-powered discrete GPU that should be good enough for light-duty gaming. It has an enclosure that's relatively compact given the high-power Core i5 inside, and it's got plenty of style. At a glance, and for under $850, the R580 looks to be a great choice if you have room for a 6lb. machine and don't mind having a 15.6" panel with a low 1366x768 resolution.
But there's more (or less, we should say) to this machine than its specs. As far as usability goes, we were underwhelmed by the R580's performance. We've had equally enjoyable experiences on Core 2 Duo machines; it's hard to believe a Core i5 is in here. It seems Samsungs choice of components (i.e, the slow HD) and OS held the machine back somewhat, and that we never truly got to experience what the mobile Core i5 is capable of. Bootup took between 25 and 40 seconds, and while we suspect this could be made better if you delete some of the bloatware, that's not something an end user should have to worry about.
We also question Samsung for loading a 32-bit operating system onto this machine. There are 4GB of DDR3 RAM here, but users can only take advantage of ~3GB. We think it was a poor choice to equip a machine with a Core i5 CPU, a discrete GPU and 4GB of memory, yet only provide a 32-bit OS. This machine is begging for a 64-bit OS, and frankly, we have to believe that it would have performed better should that have been the case.
All in all, performance was less than impressive. Bootup took longer than expected, applications loaded more slowly than expected (though the 5400RPM hard drive didn't help matters), and while multitasking seemed decent, the machine wasn't as snappy as some others we have tested, with less powerful components. It's also worth noting that multimedia playback was fantastic (720p and 1080p material never took the CPU utilization above 25%), and even gaming was fine (Half-Life 2 hummed along fine at the panel's native resolution). Still, everyday tasks took longer than they should, and we blame Samsung's decision to load the machine up with resource-hogging bloatware.
As for the hardware? We didn't think the glossy panel was particularly stunning, with colors feeling a touch muted. We also felt that the 1366x768 resolution was too low for a spacious 15.6" screen, but those with eyesight issues may appreciate this. The trackpad was actually really nice. We loved the flat (non-recessed) design, and even the click bar had a nice amount of travel. Unfortunately, the keyboard wasn't nearly as user-friendly.
What has happened here is that Samsung has squeezed the keys down in size and tweaked the standard layout somewhat in order to fit an entire numeric keypad. If you badly need a number pad, this may be great for you. If not, you're stuck with an oddly arranged keyboard. The keys are smaller, and although we like the chicklet-style and the lack of overall flex while typing, we never did quite get used to the downsized Shift key and how the Arrow Keys were smashing into the standard keys. The Enter key also has a very strange shape, another thing which takes some getting used to. Overall, it's just not a very enjoyable typing experience, which should never be the case on a 15.6" laptop with so much area to get a keyboard right.
The port selection was satisfactory. The LCD hinge was also fairly solid, but there's no doubt that you'll notice a lot of glossy plastic (as opposed to metal or some other sturdy material). Thankfully, the machine itself felt really rigid, and we wouldn't hesitate to cram this in a bookbag or briefcase.
|Test Setup and 3DMark 06 CPU|
The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.
And here we have the first benchmark that proves our assumptions: the R580 is slower than the Core 2 powered Dell machine. This is a test that really focuses on CPU horsepower in order to notch its score. You'll see that the Core i5 chip actually scored worse than the Core 2 Duo chip in the Studio XPS 16, but the numbers speak for themselves. We realize the clock speed is a touch lower on the Core i5 than the Dell's Core 2 Duo, but with Turbo Mode and its architectural advantages, the Core i5 in the R580 should have been able to catch the Core 2.
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage|
We ran the machine through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including HD TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.
As we alluded to earlier, this machine is a real number cruncher. It handled multimedia with aplomb, and gaming was also strong. It seemed perfectly capable of handling complex tasks. But ask it to do something simple like boot-up or load Microsoft Paint, and we're stuck waiting for an inexcusably long amount of time. The R580 managed to beat every machine in this list save for the Core i7 rig (expected), proving that it has no problems with multi-threaded workloads.
|SiSoftware Sandra & Multimedia Benchmarks|
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic,
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge
CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge
Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge
Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge
As we mentioned earlier, our Samsung R580 didn't feel like it was powered by one of the most cutting edge mobile CPUs currently available. It just felt like the processor was hamstrung in most cases, and SANDRA's numbers confirm our impessions. Though, we were surprised to see the hard drive doing as well as it did given the sluggish 5400RPM spindle speed.
To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip. We've also included two screenshots of the 1080p clip from prior test rigs to give you a better idea of CPU utilization from rival systems.
Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264
Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD
Click To Enlarge; 1080p
Click To Enlarge; 1080p on HP Mini 311 w/ Ion
Benchmarks be darned; the R580 can cut through multimedia like a hot knife through soft butter. Loading up and enjoying both 720p and 1080p content was a breeze, and the machine never seemed taxed. It did get a bit warm after extended play, but that's not surprising given the Core i5 CPU and discreet GPU. We have zero complaints about the R580's ability to handle multimedia; we just wish it were as snappy everywhere else.
To touch on gaming performance
We knew the graphics looked smooth as butter at the screen's native 1366x768 resolution, and the FPS numbers proved our assumptions correct: this little GT 330M gets the job done. We wouldn't expect it to crank through Crysis 2 at a maximum resolution or anything, but most of yesterday's titles should run just fine here. Both of these games looked great, and we suspect you could hook up an external monitor and push 'em at even higher resolutions while maintaining playability.
|Power Consumption and Battery Life|
We used BatterEaterPro's "Real World" option to test the Samsung R580's battery life. With it's Core i5 CPU, relatively large screen, and discreet GPU, along with a thin 6-cell battery, we weren't expecting any miracles...
Ouch. There's just no other way to put it. A 6-cell battery is pretty small to begin with when you're looking at a Core i5 notebook with a discrete CPU, and during our real-world battery drain test (which has the screen brightness set at 65% and Wi-Fi on), we only saw 1 hour and 49 minutes of life. If you were watching a DVD or otherwise using the optical drive, you'd see even less. If you were gaming, we suspect you'd see even less.
There's the possibility that the life could be extended to 2 or 2.5 hours in a pinch, but this is in no way a true road warrior's machine. The battery life proves that Samsung expects you to keep the R580 near a power outlet most of the time; you might as well consider this a desktop replacement in terms of battery life. But at least you can buy a spare 6-cell or two and swap them out if need be.
|Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the Samsung R580 didn't fare as well as we expected in the CPU department, but hung in there nicely in the physical disc and memory tests. The CPU continued to put up mixed results throughout our tests; it performed ell in PCMark Vantage and in our gaming benchmarks, but it lagged behind in other tests and the machine didn't seem too speedy when it came to boot-up and application load times. The Core i5 performed best in multi-threaded applications, but we've seen equal performance from older Core 2 Duo chips in everyday tasks. We also think the machine was held back due to its memory configuration and the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium; we wish the 64-bit edition has been installed on the machine to fully take advantage of the system's 4GB of RAM. The large amount of bloatware pre-installed on the machine also slowed things down right from the start. Multimedia playback and gaming were both excellent, with the 4GB of RAM and discrete GT 310M GPU able to help the Core i5 power through.
The R580 had some serious pros and some serious cons. It's priced really well for what it is, and its specifications are worthy of praise. But the real-world performance just wasn't there (application loading, specifically). We felt that the CPU really shined during intensive tasks, but we would've preferred a more snappy desktop experience to go with it. Also a 64-bit OS should have been included since it ships with 4GB of RAM, and we would've preferred a somewhat less vivid design. Overall, the sub-6lb. frame wasn't too heavy given the horsepower available, and the amount of ports were acceptable for a machine of this price (under $850 starting).
One of the more curious design choices was the keyboard. We didn't appreciate the cramped feeling it had due to squeezing in a numeric pad, and this also caused some keys (Shift, Enter, Arrow Keys, etc.) to be tweaked, re-sized and repositioned. We didn't enjoy the typing experience very much, though the multi-gesture trackpad was extremely nice. The glossy 15.6" panel was only average (some of the colors were muted, and the reflections were intense), and the 1366x768 resolution is too low for an LCD of this size. All in all, the sub $850 price tag along with its cutting edge CPU make the machine worthy of consideration, but in the end we just don't think the pros outweigh the cons. It's a fine machine, and it'll serve you well if you end up with one, but we think there are better choices out there in the $800 to $1000 realm if you really hunt.