|Introduction and Specifications|
|Despite some fierce competition, Samsung has experienced an impressive level of success in the mobile space and has managed to nurture the Galaxy brand into a household name. Part of that success was due to the company unifying its ultra mobile products (phones, tablets, phablets, etc.) under the Galaxy brand, and thus, Samsung decided to take a similar route on the PC side earlier in the year. The ATIV brand is a relatively new one for Samsung, but it's definitely gaining traction. In addition, Samsung's pouring a ton of resources into industrial design, as evidenced by the ATIV Book 6.
This particular machine is obviously aimed at the masses, and not hardcore gamers or tireless road warriors. The ATIV 6 is hardly thin-and-light, and it doesn't pack a star-studded list of high-end components, but what it does is hit all of the major feature points that your average laptop consumer is after.
At $1,100, the ATIV Book 6 is certainly not cheap. It's billed as a premium machine, and it definitely feels like one. In a lot of ways, the ATIV 6 is a more modern looking and sleek desktop replacement, complete with some powerful components like a Core i7 processor and discrete AMD Radeon graphics. With that said, generally speaking, the public seems to be gravitating towards smaller, lighter, and more portable machines, so out of the gate it seems like the ATIV 6 might get lost in the shuffle of premium "Ultrabook" type designs. Does it strike the right balance or has Samsung made limiting design decisions with the ATIV 6? Those are questions we hope to answer on the pages ahead...
|Design and Build Quality|
|Given the proliferation of Ultrabooks and sub-13-inch machines, our initial reaction upon picking up the ATIV Book 6 was one of surprise. It just feels somewhat heavy at 5.18 pounds and it is one of the bigger 15" rigs to hit the market this summer.
On the plus side, the ATIV 6 is wrapped in an aluminum casing, which feels incredibly sturdy. The phrase "built like a tank" applies here. In the past, we've chided notebook manufacturers for overtly using cheap plastics and gaudy accents, but Samsung didn't do that. The charcoal finish is classy, and the company has resisted the urge to add chrome or colorful accents. While this machine isn't an enterprise workstation, business-minded consumers won't be turned off here. This rig is built for travel (with a little extra heft), built for business, and built for at-home use.
The texture of the aluminum is nice to the touch; it's cool and smooth, right down to the palm rests. Even after we taxed the machine for hours on end, the palm rests were only barely warm. While we're on the topic, the interior is equally stately. The black, chicklet-style keyboard is backlit, with the keys offering nice (albeit a little shallow) travel, and the Function keys offer plenty of useful shortcuts to volume, brightness, media, and so on.
Samsung couldn't resist the opportunity to slap four stickers onto the right palm rest, but other than those (and a tiny JBL logo in the top left), the ATIV 6 has a clean look. On the keyboard, there's no denying that the inclusion of a numeric keypad shrinks the feel of the keys themselves. For accountants and number crunchers, perhaps the numeric keypad is a welcome extra. For us (and the masses, we suspect), it just feels too cramped. It takes some getting used to, as well. We experienced a high amount of typos during the first few days of typing until we adjusted to the layout.
Beneath the keyboard is a large, wide trackpad. As has become the norm, there are no physical buttons; it's just a single pad that you can click down on or use multi-finger gestures. The pad itself is solid, and response time is laudable. That said, it still doesn't live up to the current gold-standard trackpads used on Apple's Macbooks. For whatever reason, Windows laptops still can't quite nail the trackpad experience. Irregularities still exist from time to time, but things are getting better.
As for ports, the ATIV Book 6 is well equipped. Perhaps that's not too shocking given just how much room there is on such a large piece of kit, but at any rate, you'll find Ethernet, an AC power port, a VGA port, 2 x USB 3.0, a full-size HDMI socket, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left edge. The front and rear edges are bare, while the right edge is home to a full-size SD card slot, 2 x USB 2.0, and a lock slot.
The final design point we want to harp on is the 1080p multi-touch display. Unfortunately, the ATIV 6's display was disappointing. Not only is it super glossy, which makes it mostly unusable in outdoor situations, but the touch layer is so noticeable that it feels as if you're looking through a thick piece of glass when you stare at the screen. Even under office lights, it's not ideal. The reflections are unlike anything we've witnessed before.
If you can get beyond those issues, viewing angles and colors are both satisfactory. The screen also supports touch, and the touch input works well for flicking through web pages, scrolling, zooming, and the like.
|Software and User Experience|
|Until Windows 8.1 ships in October, the ATIV Book 6 will come with a relatively clean version of Windows 8. We say "relatively," because there is definitely some bloatware installed in the factory image. Upon first boot-up, we noticed a Norton pop-up as well as a few other "protection" services eating up resources.
One unique software feature that we wouldn't classify as bloatware is SideSync. It's exclusive to Samsung, and it allows users to sync their Android phones to the machine, and essentially use either to interact with the other.
On the tile-inspired Start screen, you'll find an entire "Samsung apps" section, with Skype, Netflix, StumbleUpon, a 90-day trial of Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Music Maker Jam.
We suspect that Windows 8.1 will solve a lot of the quibbles that consumers and pundits have harped on for months with Windows 8, but until that time comes, any and all of the issues associated with Windows 8 are present here. Of course, that's not Samsung's fault, but it's something to consider nonetheless.
|Cinebench and SiSoft Sandra Benchmarks|
|We kicked off our testing of the Samsung ATIV 6 with Cinebench and SiSoft SANDRA.
Cinebench R11.5 is a 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation suite used by animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.
The ATIV Book 6 took top honors in the Cinebench test, but to be fair, many of its closest rivals are designed to be a bit more portable. Interestingly, the ATIV Book 6 sits in an odd spot these days; it's not exactly sleek and weak, but it's not a purebred gaming machine/mobile workstation, either.
We like SiSoftware SANDRA (System Analyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) because its suite of benchmark tools let us get a look at the performance of individual subsystems.
The ATIV Book 6 provided solid scores in these tests, as well. The CPU and memory tests are impressive, but the physical disc test exposes the unit's weakest point: a relatively slow 5400RPM hard drive. Without question, the sluggish hard drive is the bottleneck of this machine.
|Next, we fired up some benchmarks by Futuremark. The company, which is based just outside of Helsinki, Finland, started publishing benchmarks in 1998. Since then, Futuremark has developed benchmarks for testing standard PCs and mobile devices and continues to update its flagship 3DMark gaming benchmark suite (a test we run on the next page) and PCMark.
Futuremark’s PCMark 7 benchmark includes a suite of tests designed to measure the way your computer would perform during typical tasks. It includes an Entertainment Suite, which offers gaming scenarios and tests its media playback capabilities. The benchmark also has a Creativity Suite, in which the system processes images and video. Other tools include the Computation Suite and the Storage Suite.
With a score of 3880, the ATIV Book 6's biggest drawback shows itself. Despite some relatively powerful components, like a Core i7 and Radeon GPU, the 5400RPM hard drive pulls down the ATIV 6's overall score.
Futuremark recently launched PCMark 8, which has several separate benchmarks. The Home test measures a system's ability to handle basic tasks: video chatting, web browsing, photo editing, and similar day-to-day activities. The test is designed to be run on just about any Windows 7 or 8 computer. The Creative test offers some of the same types of tasks, but puts more stress on the system and is meant for mid-range and higher-end PCs. The Work test simulates the workflow of a typical office user. And the Storage test--you guessed it--benchmarks your computer's data storage performance.
Because PCMark 8 is so new, we're still building out a database with this test. Compared with the only other machine we've been able to test with PCMark 8 (Toshiba' KIRAbook; our full review is here), the ATIV Book 6 took top honors. That's not too surprising, however, given the more muscular innards that we're dealing with here. Next up are Futuremark's 3DMark tests.
3DMark 11 measures more than the graphics card’s performance (the processor can impact the score, for example) and is a good way to get a feel for a system both as a gaming PC and as a general-use computer. Futuremark recently updated 3DMark 11 to support Windows 8, so if you plan to run this test on your own Windows 8 system, be sure to get the latest update.
The ATIV Book 6 handled 3DMark 11 very well. Based on this test, you'll see performance that's roughly double that of your average Ultrabook, but roughly half of your average gaming notebook. Performance-wise, it hits right in the middle of those two sectors.
The flagship benchmark in Futuremark’s catalog, 3DMark is a popular choice for testing everything from gaming PCs to mobile devices. Of course, the technology differences between a game machine and a smartphone are significant, so 3DMark has a separate test suite for each device category. The Cloud Gate test is aimed at entry-level PCs and laptops, and has two subtests: a processor- intensive physics test and two graphics tests. We run the test suite at its default 1280 x 720 resolution and at default rendering quality settings. Keep in mind that 3DMark Cloud Gate scores aren’t comparable to scores from say, 3DMark Fire Strike (gaming PCs) or Ice Storm (smartphones and tablets).
The Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch was our first system through the new Cloud Gate test, and it makes for an interesting comparison. The mid-range laptop is outgunned by the KIRAbook, and the ATIV Book 6 topped them both. Of course, this is the first machine we've been able to test with a discrete GPU, so the result is not surprising.
When it comes to lush vegetation in a steaming, sinister jungle, no one pulls it off quite like Ubisoft does in its Far Cry series. Far Cry 2 uses high-quality textures, complex shaders, and dynamic lighting to create a realistic environment. The game’s built-in benchmark gives us a good look at a system’s performance with DirectX 10.
Here again, the ATIV Book 6 nearly doubles the performance of rival Ultrabooks, but couldn't come close to matching gaming notebooks that are outside of its class. The discrete GPU was no doubt helpful here; in our opinion, the ATIV Book 6 is perfectly capable of medium-duty gaming. It may not be billed as a gaming machine, but the speedy CPU + GPU combo keeps it in the game.
|Battery Life Testing|
|The lack of a replaceable or upgradable battery on the ATIV Book 6 makes its battery life all the more important. Testing battery performance is always a little tricky. The way you use the notebook is bound to affect its battery life, but you can get a good idea as to how the machine compares to some rivals in our results below.
The ATIV Book 6’s performance here was fairly impressive, though under load the machine can chew through a battery charge quickly. Remember, this is no petite machine.
The battery is rated for 4.7 hours, and our test came in just shy of that. However, if you take it a bit easier (no gaming, low screen brightness, etc.), you could definitely squeeze much more time out of it. That's middle-of-the-road in today's laptop market, but it's markedly superior to mainstream 15" laptops that were shipping just 1-2 years ago. So, at least we're seeing meaningful progress in the battery life department.
|Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance-wise, the Samsung ATIV Book 6 handled itself very well. In every benchmark we ran, the ATIV 6 ended up outperforming many of the ultra-books we've tested recently, though it couldn't quite catch some of the more powerful gaming-oriented machines. That's what we expected, however, since the ATIV 6 is aimed at mainstream consumers. The ATIV 6 is more powerful than your average thin-and-light machine, but obviously it's not on the level of bona fide gaming rigs that ship from Alienware and the like.
The Samsung ATIV 6 is designed to address all of the needs of mainstream notebook consumers looking for a relatively powerful notebook. With a mid-sized 15.6" panel, decent battery life (for its size), a discrete GPU for occasional gaming sessions, and a peppy CPU, the ATIV 6 can handle just about anything you throw its way. The design is also meant for the masses. It's sleek, understated, and rugged. The ATIV Book 6's aluminum frame is sturdy and remains cool to the touch, and while the numeric keypad leads to a cramped keyboard area, Samsung spruced things up by incorporating a backlight in there. Plus, the extra-wide, gesture-enabled trackpad is better than most Windows trackpads in terms of responsiveness and accuracy.
Essentially, this is a safe-bet machine. You could hand it to just about any Windows user, and it would probably satisfy them. It wouldn't blow anyone away, but it gets the job done well. The issue, however, is that Samsung may have cut a few too many corners for it to stand out in the crowded 15 inch laptop market. The touch-enabled LCD is very reflective and the included hard drive was somewhat sluggish. Yes, 1TB is a lot of space, but the spindle speed (5400RPM) makes the drive and system seem slow compared to more nimble offerings on the market today. In 2013, no laptop priced over $1000 should ship solely with a 5400RPM hard drive in our opinion. We would've preferred an SSD with one-quarter of the space, to be honest.
The ATIV Book 6 comes close to being an exceptional mid-range machine. It's classy, beautiful, offers good battery life, and has the potential to serve as a potent content creation machine or even a medium-duty gaming rig. But its exceptionally reflective LCD and the sluggish 5400RPM hard drive detracted from the experience for us. At around $1100, we simply expected a more fluid performance across the board. With that said, the Samsung ATIV 6 is good looking, sports a host of relatively powerful components, and it's built well too. It's not a home run, but the ATIV 6 is worth a look if you're in the market for a larger, touch-enabled notebook that'll be equally adept at running Office applications as it is playing mainstream game titles.