The Samsung Series 7 in Practice

My initial impressions of the Samsung Series 7 were extremely positive; it has a very nice aesthetic and uses aluminum for the screen lid and palm rest rather than plastic (though the bottom of the chassis is still a plastic shell). I actually received the Samsung and Dell XPS 15 laptops at the same time, and I opened the Samsung first, and there are many similarities. In terms of materials, however, it must be said that the XPS 15 chassis is still clearly a step ahead, with a solidity that the Samsung chassis just doesn’t have. In fact, the Series 7 reminds me a bit of Dell’s XPS 15z in terms of build quality—it looks good and feels good, but there are aspects that still feel a bit out of place (e.g. the plastic shell on the bottom). The CPU and GPU are also similar (quad-core Ivy Bridge and GK107 Kepler), though Samsung uses slightly faster chips for both areas.

With such similar components and design elements, and having tested the XPS 15 already, there’s one thing that I need to immediately point out as being in Samsung’s favor: the CPU/GPU don’t throttle to extreme levels while gaming. That's not to say the CPU and GPU can run at maximum turbo speeds under a maximum 100% CPU and GPU workload, but at least typical gaming sessions won't trigger throttling. We'll get into the details later, so let's move on.

While there are similarities with the Samsung Series 7 and Dell XPS 15, like the thin (less than one inch thick) chassis and slot-loading optical drive, there are also plenty of differences. Samsung makes a 15.6” Series 7 (NP700Z5C), but we’re looking at the 17.3” model, so this is a larger notebook for sure. Interestingly, despite the extra 1.8” in screen size, the NC700Z7C is only about 0.6 pounds heavier (likely thanks to the use of thinner aluminum and some plastic). Samsung’s chassis exhibits a bit more flex than the XPS 15, but not anything I’d worry about, but when we get to some of the primary interface elements we encounter the most important differences.

Dell’s XPS 15 is a good laptop for the most part (assuming Dell can fix the throttling issues), but the LCD is merely good as opposed to great, and the keyboard layout isn’t quite ideal. Samsung one-ups the Dell in both areas, with a beautiful matte LCD that delivers far better colors overall, and Samsung nails the keyboard layout in almost every way. We’ll have the LCD metrics later, but suffice it to say that short of IPS panels and Apple’s Retina MBP, it’s about as good as you can find in a consumer laptop right now. It’s a bit odd to find a high quality Chi Mei LCD in a Samsung notebook, but by now it should be apparent that Samsung notebooks are more about delivering a quality notebook rather than just loading up with Samsung components everywhere they can. Still, I wish Samsung would take things a step further and start building and using IPS laptop and notebook displays; Samsung TVs and displays are generally well regarded, and if there’s a company other than Apple with the ability to move laptop displays forward it should be Samsung.

As for the keyboard, Samsung appears to understand how to do a keyboard layout properly, with a dedicated 10-key that has all the buttons in the correct locations and no half-size Zero keys or anything of that nature. The keys are also full size, though we’d expect no less from a 17” or larger notebook. The action can feel a bit soft (similar to most membrane-based keyboards), but key travel is good, you get LED backlighting, and the 10-key layout is perfect. The only item missing from the keyboard in my opinion is the context key, and you can use Fn+[Num0] as a shortcut instead of Shift+F10 so it’s a bit more accessible. There’s also one other very minor complaint with the keyboard, and that’s the backlighting; as far as I can determine, it’s always controlled by ambient lighting, so it doesn’t turn on if you’re in a well-lit area. That’s actually not a big deal, but I did have some moderately dark areas where the backlight wouldn’t turn on, or would turn on and off periodically; I wish I could just disable the ambient light sensor for the keyboard and assume manual control.

Despite a couple minor quibbles, as I’m sitting here typing this I find that Samsung’s keyboard is probably one of the best keyboard experiences I’ve had on a laptop in quite a while (though desktop keyboards are still preferable). Other OEMs take note: this is exactly how you should do a keyboard on a 15.6” or larger notebook. Apparently for some things, bigger is better. (YMMV)

The touchpad experience unfortunately isn’t quite as favorable. It’s large and supports all the latest gestures, but it’s also of the clickable variety with integrated left and right buttons, and I continue to find the experience less than perfect. It’s something I can adapt to and live with, and I haven’t had any inadvertent activation of the touchpad while typing so far, but clicking, dragging, scrolling, etc. all just feels a bit less precise than I’d like. Samsung is using an Elan touchpad with customized Samsung drivers, and you can configure nearly all of the typical features like gestures and multi-touch options, but I still feel like I’ve had a better overall touchpad experience with some of the Synaptics hardware and drivers. My personal feeling is that this current fad of integrated buttons and clickable pads can stop now, please.

Wrapping up the subjective evaluation, let’s quickly discuss performance before we get to the benchmarks. Not surprisingly, for the vast majority of tasks the Series 7 feels more than fast enough. The quad-core CPU has plenty of number crunching prowess, and the GT 650M is about as fast as we can get from GK107 before we hit the GPUs that are only of interest for the dedicated gamers. The GT 660M would be perhaps another 10% faster, while the GTX 680M roughly doubles the performance—along with the power and cooling requirements; meanwhile, the Fermi-based GTX 670M and 675M are recycled variants of GTX 570M/580M and are no longer very compelling.

The only problem with performance comes when we get to the storage subsystem; simply put, the 8GB ExpressCache with a 1TB 5400RPM hard drive winds up feeling like a 5400RPM hard drive. I’ve been using laptops with SSDs for the past year or more, and while I wouldn’t say SSDs are required, when you start talking about $1400 notebooks I would say that they ought to be. It’s especially noticeable when you first boot up a laptop, or resume from hibernation. While I appreciate having 1TB of storage in a notebook, I appreciate the responsiveness of an SSD even more. If Samsung had used Intel’s HM77 chipset and SRT with a 32GB (or even 64GB) SSD, I could live with the end result and be content, but for $1400 there are many times where this Series 7 performs more Acer’s $800 V3 notebook (albeit with a much better display, keyboard, speakers, and chassis).

At this point, most of you should know whether the Samsung Series 7 is something you want or if it’s going to fall short. After years of testing and using laptops, I’ve come to the conclusion that for many users, the subjective aspects of our reviews are often more important than the objective performance metrics. From that perspective, Samsung delivers one of the better consumer notebooks out there with very few shortcomings; the only catch is that, like a MacBook Pro or Dell’s XPS 15 (or other premium quality notebooks like Dell’s Precision workstations, Lenovo’s ThinkPad W-series, etc.), it’s going to cost you. The three main aspects to look for in laptops are performance, overall quality, and pricing; when it comes time to buy, you get to choose two of those. Now let’s get to the objective performance evaluation.

Introducing Samsung’s Latest Series 7 Notebook Samsung Series 7 General Performance
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  • nerd1 - Sunday, August 19, 2012 - link

    Exactly WHAT problems? I own 13" MBA and my friend has series 9 2011 model and I think s9 is better in almost all aspects. Reply
  • bennyg - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    Where are the comparison with the 95% AUO 1080p TN screens used in Clevo's high end gaming laptops
    B156HW01 v4, v7
    and the ones used in 17"

    Very ironic how AUO and Chimei are responsible for so many cheap crappy low res screens now they're the only ones turning out top notch high res TNs!
    Reply
  • rwei - Monday, August 20, 2012 - link

    (1) EVEN MORE SHALLOW KEY TRAVEL!!!
    http://www.engadget.com/2012/08/20/synaptics-enter...

    (2) Clickpads with NO BUTTONS AT ALL!!!
    http://www.engadget.com/2012/08/20/synaptics-force...

    Gonna be some good-@$$ rants coming up in the near future. Bet you're loving Synaptics today.
    Reply
  • jsa - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    My 2004 Dell Inspiron 8600 just can't keep up with some fairly basic tasks, so I've been following reviews here (and elsewhere to supplement--wish there were more here!) for the past few months to try to decide on a new machine. The Asus N56V is currently my top contender after being disappointed with the findings in the last couple of reviews.

    One thing I haven't gotten straight in my head is whether there is some benefit to having the discrete GPU for a nongamer (or occasional gamer at most) such as myself. I understand there may be some battery life disadvantages to having it; are there also some benefits I might reap? Perhaps the whole question is moot as I haven't really seen any interesting options for use as a main computer (not quite ready to relegate the optical drive to my secondary machine), that are limited to integrated graphics.

    One thing that seems important to me is having good sound, as I'd like to move around the house and, if I'm going to stay put for a while, listen to music from the notebook without dealing with external speakers; another is a high resolution display, because I like to fit a lot on that screen. The main other contenders seem to be the Series 7 reviewed here, which has a much nicer case and maybe better sound and keyboard, but not as good a screen, much more expensive, and some disappointments in the review; the HP Pavilion dv6, which also seems to have better sound than the N56V, but seems like it may have quality control issues (as well as a glossy screen); the Lenovo Y580, which I don't know much about, but doesn't seem quite as appealing as the N56V; and the Sony Vaio S 15", which generally seems like a good machine, but doesn't seem to have very good sound at all.

    Apologies if this isn't appropriate as a comment.
    Reply
  • infoilrator - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    The greatest difficulty is to extend performance, size, cost, and battery life.
    With speakers more sound is easier with larger speakers. Some of the USB plug ins do pretty well. Being small, light, and power efficient is a contradiction. Piezo tweeters can be loud and efficent if you sacrifice bass. There are dome speakers thar do better, these get expensive fast. Cone speakers are a possible answer, require space and magnets.
    Possibly someone makes cordless USB headphones for you, a possible answer.

    Every laptop is a marketing/price compromise.

    Recently SSD prices have dropped. Please remember lead time in choosing components for mass production. You can have "just in time delivery" but prices and choices can reflect over a year back. Or more. Contracts have to e signed so assembly lines are not idle for want of parts

    If prices of HDDs and SSDs continue to fall expect this first to appear with smaller producers.
    Reply
  • infoilrator - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    Around the house maybe a wireless connection to an existing sound system? Reply
  • jsa - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    Thanks for all your insights. I don't have an existing sound system, but it may be worth getting rid of the "good sound" requirement, since I won't get great sound, anyway. Then I can either implement a wireless system of some kind or check out USB speakers. (Cordless USB headphones are a pretty interesting option, but don't work when my girlfriend is over.)

    That opens up my options, and in particular makes the Vaio S 15.5" a more attractive choice.

    As someone who wouldn't be playing games much (if ever), is there a strong benefit to losing the dedicated GPU, or is it pretty much a draw?
    Reply
  • jemccloskey - Sunday, October 21, 2012 - link

    Sorry if I'm posting and this thread is already dead. I have a Samsung Series 7 17" - NP700Z7C-S01US and I am unable to frame rates even close to those mentioned in the benchmark results. I get frame rates between 8-12 @ 1366x768 on Batman Arkham City, Battlefield 3, Fallout: New Vegas. DX11 on and off etc..

    This is with drivers ranging from 296.87 through all betas and the current released version 306.97. In addition, I have tried every configuration and I have specified to use the nVidia discrete graphics: via context menu, Physx config, and 3D Settings. However, I am unable to pass the 12 fps threshhold. In addition I have installed, the latest BIOS update, Windows7(64bit ultimate and pro) 3 different times, and used Nivdia Optimus GPU Tools state viewer, GPU-Z and Throttlestop 500a.

    Just to sum things up: I get better fps average results from using the Intel IGP HD Graphics 4000. And I'm not confusing the nvidia with the intel when profiling. Verified harware ID's, throughput and bandwidth via 3 different utilities.

    I have played with all power management issues etc...In any case, I'm totally confused as to how to achieve the frame rates mentioned in your benchmarks. I must be doing something wrong. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Thank you,
    jmccloskey@gmail.com
    Reply
  • FlavioJuan - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    I have bought this great Computer a week ago.

    The GOOD ones
    It has a good design is lightweight (4 a 17" Laptop)
    Aluminum design is also great looking
    Battery last almost the 6 promoted hours,
    Bright is OK
    Multi touch pad works fine.
    Sound is also OK.
    Great Battery life extender feature in BIOS.

    The BAD ones

    For this kind of “high range” computer, I really do not understand why max RAM was designed up to 8Gb.

    Battery is not removable (not even a switch to turn it off).

    Boot from Pen drive not available in BIOS boot options.

    No Blue ray reader.

    No button to eject discs from reader, you can eject disc only from windows. (Not even an eject hole) so if you don’t have Windows running… there is no way to take a disc out.

    A lot of Samsung proprietary software must be loaded to get this machine full working,

    Several features are software dependent, like for example, keyboard backlight, controlled by Fn + F9 F10, so u have to wait till complete windows + driver properly loaded, to have this feature available.

    If you are on a non-dark environment then every time you wish the keyboard backlight ON, you will receive a warning telling you that you can just turn in ON only in dark environment.
    (In the other hand I tried to disable Light sensor from control Panel >Sensor but it didn’t works. So the solution I have found for this issue was covering the sensor with a coin or piece of tape. Really amazing!)

    But what I really hate, (and this seems not only belongs to Samsung laptops, but for most of suppliers) is all the garbage software pre-installed on a new machine.
    I buy a new laptop every year, and all I wish is a CLEAN computer installed just with SO + DRV.
    I spent almost a day cleaning it in order to get the machine working without all these pre-installed software. Because in this process, sometimes uninstall some vital soft, and as
    Re-installing doesn’t works properly, the only solution is perform a complete recovery then start again with the task.

    I would prefer my windows 7 working at full range just with my applications instead to waste resources with all the Samsung resident softs that degrades my machine's performance.
    But this kind of practice seems to be normal for all the laptop suppliers.
    Could we (the customers) do something to change it?

    Model NP700Z7C-S03US
    SN / HUY691DC800028
    Purchased on oct 30 2012 Tiger direct Miami, FL

    Best regards for everybody.
    Reply
  • Samsung Battery - Saturday, December 9, 2017 - link

    If you face any issue regarding Samsung Laptop Battery then feel free to visit.

    https://laptopbattery.ae/samsung.html
    Reply

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