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
2 x USB 3.0
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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  • creed3020 - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    "Dell XPS 15 results in yellow"

    The yellow bars show the Aver V3 and not the Dell. The Dell laptop has the standard ark blue colour.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    Fixed, thanks.
  • npaladin2000 - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    I own a 15 inch version of the previous generation, these are excellent machines, but yes, an enthusiast will not be satisfied with it as-is. I ended up throwing in a 512 Gb SSD and an Intel A/B/G WiFi card. Getting into these is NOT easy, so I'm not looking forward to any equipment failures, but these things are solid, compact, quiet, with a good layout, blowing all the exhaust to the BACK, as it should be. And I have to say the keyboard is the best one short of a Thinkpad that I've ever used.

    Never knock sleek and thin, particularly if you have to travel with the thing. I went from an Asus N53SV to this, the Asus was a real pain anywhere except at home on my desk, and on the occasional hotel desk (took up a lot of room there). The Series7, even the 17 inch, is a much more desirable travel companion.

    Samsung just needs to make service easier somehow.
  • knekker - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    Right now i am just waiting for a 17inch laptop with ips panel, that actually offers nvidia 680m in it, instead of those insanely overpriced quadro graphic cards. along with the Maximus technology.

    Zzzz Zzzz
  • aravenwood - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    I have an Alienware M17x R3. I bought primarily for the keyboard (best in class, in my opinion) and the screen secondarily, for the build quality tertiary. How does the Samsung stack up against the M17x R3 keyboard? All the keyboards I used before the Alienware caused pain in my fingers after five minutes of use programming. The two sore points for me are where I interact most with the machine - the keyboard (fingers/wrist/hand) and the screen (eyes).
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    Dustin did the M17x reviews, so I'm not sure personally how they compare. The Alienware is more of a traditional style key shape as opposed to chiclet, though, so I could definitely understand people preferring Alienware's keyboard. Interestingly, it's also missing the "context key" -- am I like the only person that uses that key? Also, anyone know if it's possible to remap something like right Alt to the context key? Might make me happier.

    In general, I prefer the size and weight of the Samsung to the M17x, and I think Samsung has a better display (matte for one). Alienware obviously has more GPU performance and better cooling, as it doesn't have as much difficulty with throttling under maximum load (AFAIK -- correct me if I'm wrong). Cost is also clearly in favor of Samsung, but if you play games I'd say it's an easy choice to go with Alienware. For those that just want a good keyboard, it's a personal opinion thing so you'd probably have to try both laptops out if possible. I still want to play with an MSI GT7 series with the Cherry MX switches (I think that's the one, right?) just to see how it feels.
  • durinbug - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    I have the 15" version, love it for the most part. The one thing that really bugs me is the trackpad. I constantly have issues with it misinterpreting a quick lift of the finger and move back to center as a left click, as when scrolling or going from one side of the screen to the other, something I haven't encountered with any other trackpad I've used. It also often doesn't manage a tap-to-doubleclick, instead selecting and then dragging things. Yes, I could push harder for the physical button click, but that just isn't very intuitive - and the pressure required often results in inadvertent movement of the cursor anyway.

    (I was also annoyed because they gave me inaccurate information about the hard drive; I was looking at two similar-but-slightly-different model numbers at two different retailers, one advertising 750 GB 7,200 RPM hard drive, the other advertising 1 TB HD. Contacted Samsung to find out how fast the 1 TB drive was, as the retailer couldn't tell me, and was assured that it was also 7,200 RPM after a very long wait for him to look up information. Turns out it's not, it is a slower 5,400 RPM drive. I'd have preferred less space w/ a faster drive, but oh well - some day I'll stick a large SSD in. Only after getting it did it occur to me to look at HDs offered separately, and it turned out no one was selling 7,200 RPM 1 TB laptop drives - should have clued me in).
  • abrowne1993 - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Anand said you'd be handling the UX31A review, Jarred. Any idea when that'll be out?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Next up on my hot list. :-) Short story: it's the best 13.3" Ultrabook, but it's still an Ultrabook. Keyboard key travel is better than any other UB I've used/tested, and the IPS display is obviously the huge selling point. Build quality is good as well. Only real issue is the price, battery life is decent but not exceptional, and you're still getting basically Ultrabook levels of performance -- fine for most apps, but not for serious number crunching or gaming.
  • abrowne1993 - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Thanks, good to know! I've got a desktop for gaming and other heavy usage, so performance isn't too much of an issue. Build quality, portability, and that wonderful screen were my main interests.

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