Samsung RF511

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 Samsung RF511

The Samsung RF511 is a mid-range laptop which offers solid yet unspectacular performance, at a less than inspiring price. With so many great laptop bargains on the market this year boasting new Intel chips, we reckon that Samsung has missed the mark with this middle-of-the-road outing.

With its muted grey metal trim around the keyboard and austere black-on-silver keys, the kind of room which would suit Samsung’s RF511 will have black leather couches and smoked glass tables. It’s a world away from the designer minimalism of something like the Asus Zenbook and a design that will repel as many as it attracts.

But once you look at the glossy baked plastic lid, you begin to wonder who exactly the RF511 is aimed at. Is it a workhorse machine for open plan offices? Or something that could be a desktop replacement for the family home? We’re just not sure – and the problem is that Samsung doesn’t seem to have the answer, either.

If you’re shopping around, there are two versions of the RF511 available: one has a discrete graphics processor supplied by Nvidia for extra gaming power; the other relies on Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 GPU that’s built into a Sandy Bridge chip. This is the latter incarnation, meaning that the latest games are going to be beyond your aspirations.

Like the Packard Bell TS13HR, you’ll be able to get some older games running at a playable rate, but forget your secret ambition to be a soldier in Battlefield 3 if you choose to arm yourself with the RF511. Far Cry 2 runs fairly well on it, though.

Samsung build

So, if it’s not extra games performance that Samsung is offering punters, how does it distinguish itself from the almost £180 cheaper Packard Bell TS13HR? For the extra outlay here you get a Core i5 processor (rather than the Core i3 in the Packard Bell) and an extra 250GB of hard drive space.

It’s not much lighter, though, and the battery life isn’t any better if you’re running video or doing anything more challenging than browsing the web.

We can report, however, that the RF511’s screen is an improvement over the TS13HR. The contrast levels are even better for richer colours all round, but it’s not that much better. Certainly not £150 so.

Limited benefit

So what about those differences between the Core i5 and Core i3? With the former, you get Hyper Threading and Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. That’s reflected in the benchmarks, but they don’t have as much real world benefit as you might imagine – certainly not unless you’re encoding a lot of video or doing the kinds of high intensity workloads that this laptop really isn’t otherwise designed for.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 168 minutes
Cinebench: 9960
3DMark 2006: 4740

As far as using the the RF511 or the TS13HR for photo editing, watching videos, surfing the web and office suites, there’s not a huge performance advantage to be gained by spending the extra money.

What you do get for the extra money is a lot of bundled software. Unfortunately, most of this borders on the intrusive rather than the genuinely useful. Internet security pop-ups and notifications about Wi-Fi also have a habit of knocking out other running applications. If you’re after a no-frillls 15-incher, there’s little reason to buy the RF511 over the cheaper TS13HR.

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Novatech nSpire 2760 Black Edition

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 Novatech nSpire 2760 Black Edition

There’s not a lot that surprises us, and when we unboxed the Novatech nSpire Black Ed 2760, we feared the worst.

A flimsy chassis and the lack of style that we’ve become accustomed to on high-end laptops indicated another lacklustre machine, but it appears that we were mistaken.

Under the hood is an Intel Core i7 2460M processor, which stormed our benchmark tests, scoring among the highest figures we’ve seen in our labs. This was also helped by the 8GB of RAM that makes this laptop positively sing.

Next up is the impressive Nvidia GeForce 555M graphics card, which is easily capable of playing HD movies and the latest games. It got strong scores in our lab tests, and while you might not be able to play Battlefield 3 on full settings, with the detail turned down, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Battery life also impresses, with our power hungry tests achieving a very strong 222 minutes. This means you could work away from the power for over four hours, and even watch an HD movie on the move.

While there’s enough juice for working on the move, at 2.8KG we wouldn’t recommend the Novatech as a portable laptop. It’s bulky, heavy and cumbersome, and not one for a day on your back.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 222 minutes
Cinebench: 18842
3DMark 2006: 11654

Screen burn

However, for all the impressive tech that’s packed inside, the poor build quality of the exterior does more than let this machine down aesthetically.

We tested a number of movies on the Novatech, and found the screen appalling. There was no vibrancy to the colours, it was grainy when playing back HD content, and there was substantial screen tearing. We hope this was just a problem with the review sample, but as the issue is caused by a disparity between the graphics card and screen refresh times, we think this is simply a gulf in quality between the two items.

The poor build quality manifests itself elsewhere too. The grey plastic wrist rest flexes when you push it, as does the lid. The keyboard is awful, with little refinement given to the black plastic keys. They’re barely cushioned and feel loose and spongy to the touch.

The trackpad is better and we much prefer it to the current trend of single buttons which are a nightmare to master.

What we have with the Novatech is a fantastic powered laptop, admirably capable of dealing with most things you can throw at it. There’s limitless performance power, great graphics and it even has a decent battery life as well.

Unfortunately, we’re still yet to be surprised by a laptop, and the Novatech is no exception; a model hobbled by cost saving and corner cutting, that more than explains its low price. It’s impossible to really enjoy movies or games on the poor screen, and if you have £750 to spend, we’d recommend saving up the extra for quality machines like the Dell XPS 15z.

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Review: Rock Xtreme 685

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Review: Rock Xtreme 685

See something familiar? That’s right, the Rock Xtreme 685 is yet another re-badged Clevo whitebook. On the downside, that means the styling is about as exciting as a Conservative Party Conference speech delivered by the Under-secretary of Dullness.

For a 15.6-inch notebook, the Xtreme 685 is a big old thing, too, with a hefty power supply. Put the two together and you have a dreary looking lump that’s also a pretty unpleasant package in terms of portability.

Appearances, however, are deceptive. This thing shifts. Partly, that’s because it’s got one of the most powerful processors currently available for a laptop. The Intel Core i7 2820QM is not only clocked a little higher than the quad-core competition with a 2.3GHz nominal clockspeed and 3.4GHz Turbo.

It also packs 8MB of cache memory where the Core i7 2630QM makes do with 6MB. All in, it makes the 2820QM about 15 per cent faster than the 2630QM.

In store Rock has also made an effort regards storage performance in the form of a pair of conventional magnetic 500GB hard drives in RAID 0. We’d rather have a smallish SSD and a large conventional drive, frankly. But as spinning magnetic platters in laptops go, Rock’s RAID’ed effort is about as good as it gets.

However, the real weapon in the Xtreme 685’s armoury is the AMD Radeon HD 6990M. It’s the fastest mobile GPU on the planet.

Just get a load of these stats: 1,120 shaders, 56 texture units, 32 ROPs and a 256-bit memory bus. No wonder the rendering and gaming performance is epic. The HD 6990M tears Dirt 3 a new one, even running in full HD.

But more impressive are the results in World of Conflict. It’s a great title for getting an idea of overall gaming performance thanks to heavily loading both the CPU and GPU. Get the balance of components in a laptop wrong and the result can be a system that spits out decent average frame rates in the WiC benchmark but scrapes the barrel in terms of the minimum frame rate.

But not the Xtreme 685. Running at 1,920 x 1,080 and with 4x anti-aliasing enabled, it cranks out an average 51fps and a minimum of 32fps. The latter, critically, is above 30 and that means smooth gaming at all times.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Rendering performance
Cinebench R10: Seconds: Quicker is better
MSI GT780 DX: 51s
Rock Xtreme 685: 46s

Battery life performance
Battery Life: Minutes: Higher is better
MSI GT780 DX: 141
Rock Xtreme 685: 108

DX11 gaming performance (1,280×720, 4x AA)
Dirt 3: Frames per second: Higher is better
MSI GT780 DX: 102
Rock Xtreme 685: 108

Industry standard 3D performance
3DMark 06: Index score: Higher is better
MSI GT780 DX: 16,634
Rock Xtreme 685: 20,497

DX10 gaming performance (1,280×720, 4x AA)
WiC: Frames per second: Higher is better
MSI GT780 DX: 57
Rock Xtreme 685: 74

Tessellation gaming performance (1,280 x 720, 4x AA)
Heaven: Frames per second: Higher is better
MSI GT780 DX: 28
Rock Xtreme 685: 40

rock xtreme 685

Of course, all of the above applies to current titles. Scope out the frame rates in the Heaven benchmark and it’s clear any future games heavy in tessellation effects aren’t exactly going to fly. And like nearly every laptop, upgrading the graphics card is a non-starter.

Finally, a word on the LCD panel. Thanks to the 15.6-inch diagonal and full-HD 1,920 x 1,080 native resolution, the image quality is super sharp. However, the panel is of the TN variety and it’s never going to match a VA or IPS for colours, viewing angles or contrast.

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Review: Zoostorm 3390-2012/A

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Review: Zoostorm 3390-2012/A

The Zoostorm 3390-2012/A is a good looking laptop, with a subtly lined black and grey chassis. While it’s certainly not the thinnest laptop we’ve seen – the new MacBook Air can sleep easy in that department – it’s not bulky either, and it’s perfectly easy to carry around.

The laptop’s chassis does feel slightly cheap and brittle, lacking the sturdiness of the Sony VAIO S Series VPCSB1V9E’s build quality.

As we’ve seen with other laptops, the inclusion of Intel’s second-generation Core i3, i5 and i7 processors gives them a big power advantage. The Zoostorm is no exception, and the model we tested comes with an Intel Core i3-2310 2.10GHz processor.

Backed up by 4GB of DDR3 RAM, this makes the Zoostorm 3390-2012/A a fast and responsive laptop that’s excellent at multitasking. Boosting performance even further is the inclusion of a solid state drive that drastically cuts down the time it takes for the laptop to boot into Windows 7.

Microsoft has designed its OS to take advantage of SSD technology, and this is evident in its sheer speed. The technology comes at a premium though, and the model we reviewed – which costs £479 – comes with only 64GB of storage. With Windows 7 Home Premium and the default programs installed there’s only 34GB of hard drive space left. If you need more then you’ll need to either use an external hard drive or opt for the 128GB model, which costs £549.

The only area where the Zoostorm 3390-2012/A is let down by its hardware is in the graphics department. Whilst the onboard graphics that come with second Intel Core processors is perfectly capable, it can’t compete with laptops that have dedicated GPUs. The Zoostorm’s 3DMark score was 7,564, compared with the Sony VAIO S Series’ 12,230.

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