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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Samsung Series 3

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 Samsung Series 3

Overview

Hot on the heels of Samsung’s Series 7 and Series 9 laptops comes the more budget-friendly Samsung Series 3 NP305V5AI.

This AMD-powered portable PC uses less powerful components than its older siblings, but comes in at half the cost too, making it better suited to families and users with more basic needs.

After reviewing a long line of black and silver laptops, the Samsung Series 3 was immediately refreshing, with its friendly blue design. This colourful metallic finish covers the lid and the keyboard, with a white interior giving it a fresh appearance.

Anyone with small children will be relieved to hear it’s solidly built too, so can withstand a bashing by tiny fists. The Samsung Series 3 laptop’s palm rests are firm, and we only noticed a little flex around the DVD drive. The screen is held firm by some strong hinges, while the lid itself is rigid enough to absorb any bumps, to protect the display.

Samsung series 3 review

As usual, the laptop’s isolation-style keyboard is comfortable for all-day typing. Keys are firmly mounted and spaced apart to prevent typos, and none of them are particularly crushed – even the arrow keys are given generous space, instead of being crammed into a single row.

Spreadsheet lovers rejoice – the Samsung Series 3 laptop also has a numeric keypad for those sweaty number crunching sessions.

We did find the very centre of the board a little spongy, but while this cheapens the feel of the overall quality, it doesn’t impair your typing in any way.

The touchpad is similarly well-endowed, covering the full width of the palm rests. The smooth surface is responsive, and supports multi-touch gesturing for zooming in and out of photos and documents. If you rub your finger up and down the right-hand edge, you can also scroll through files.

At 2.5kg, the Samsung Series 3 is fairly average for a 15.6-inch laptop, proving light enough to throw in a backpack and carry around all day.

Specifications and performance

Specifications

Samsung series 3 review

If you’re constantly on the move and want a portable computer to keep you entertained or productive, the Samsung Series 3 is a great option. One massively useful feature is the matt 15.6-inch screen, which lacks the shiny gloss coating of many modern laptops. This might not seem like a big deal, but the difference when you’re outside is impressive.

While glossy Super-TFT displays are a massive pain to use outside, reflecting light straight back into your eyes, the Samsung Series 3’s screen is almost completely non-reflective. You can work on it even in hideously bright conditions.

This is also helped by the brightness levels of the display. Turned to maximum, the panel is comfortable to use even for extended periods. It’s vibrant enough to bring your photos and movies to life, although viewing angles are a little tight.

Cinephiles can enjoy HD movies on this PC laptop, with 1080p videos playing perfectly. Of course the 1366 x 768p resolution doesn’t produce the sharpest visuals, but we didn’t notice any grainy-looking images.

However, the Samsung Series 3’s built-in speakers are typically rubbish, lacking any real oomph. A gunfight in The Dark Knight sounded more like a barrel of damp firecrackers going off.

We love carrying our entire media collection with us wherever we roam, and the Samsung Series 3’s dual hard drives don’t disappoint. You get 750GB of storage – enough for hundreds of HD movies and hundreds of thousands of music albums. It’s definitely a generous amount, considering the relatively low cost of this laptop.

Features are a little slim on the ground, but you get three USB ports for hooking up your own peripherals, and both VGA and HDMI options for attaching an external monitor. Built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi means you can hook up to the internet.

Performance

Samsung series 3 review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 7,198
3D Mark ’06: 5,330
Battery Eater ’05: 136 mins

The Samsung Series 3 laptop slashes its price by using budget components, compared to the Sandy Bridge-powered Series 7. This laptop features an AMD A6-3410MX quad-core processor, running at 1.6GHz, backed up by 6GB of RAM.

Our Cinebench tests confirmed that the Samsung Series 3 isn’t much of a performance heavyweight. You can happily browse the web, tinker with word processing documents and enjoy your media, all at the same time, but anything more strenuous causes the odd stutter.

This will suit most families fine, but don’t expect a laptop that’ll last you for years to come.

The Samsung Series 3’s AMD chipset also handles graphics, and the integrated AMD Radeon HD 6480G GPU is surprisingly capable. Our 3D Mark score was comparable with many low-end dedicated graphics cards, and the Samsung Series 3 laptop can comfortably run older games.

New releases will struggle, however, so gamers should look to up their budget to find a computer with dedicated graphics.

On the other hand, if all you want to do is edit your photos and movies, and watch the occasional HD film, the Samsung Series 3 is a dependable laptop.

If you’re strapped for cash but want a more powerful machine, we’d recommend the Acer Aspire 5750G, which comes kitted out with Sandy Bridge processors. Not only that, it costs roughly the same as the Samsung Series 3.

Sadly, the battery life is less impressive. We were hoping for over three hours of life from a charge, as we got with the Samsung Series 7, but the Samsung Series 3 died after just 136 minutes of playing HD video on loop. This is below average for budget laptops like this, and means you’ll have to drag the adapter with you on longer journeys.

Limit yourself to less intensive activities, such as office software and web browsing, and you’ll eek out three hours. It’s still unimpressive, and definitely disappointing.

On a more positive note, the Samsung Series 3 is a quiet machine. And we didn’t notice any hotspots during use – keep the vents clear and it stays reassuringly cool.

Verdict

Samsung series 3 review

The Samsung Series 3 is a cut-price laptop that banks on the latest AMD quad-core technology, but does it set itself apart from the budget laptop hordes?

We liked

The Samsung Series 3 NP305V5AI’s design is appealing, considering so many laptops at this price point feature a dull black or silver finish. The metallic blue lid and keyboard stand out among its peers, and the Samsung Series 3 is solid enough to survive a reasonable amount of abuse.

Just as colourful is the 15.6-inch widescreen panel. It’s also comfortably bright and shuns a glossy coating, making it perfect for working outdoors.

The keyboard is comfortable to work on all day, or if you’d rather kick back with a film, the Samsung Series 3 plays HD films smoothly.

The integrated AMD graphics are surprisingly capable, and while you can’t play recent games, you can certainly waste hours on older or more basic titles.

Video editing is also perfectly possible.

Finally, you can carry a sizeable media collection, thanks to the 750GB of internal storage.

We disliked

However, the AMD processor is still highly limiting, and will quickly become out of date. This isn’t uncommon for a budget machine, but the likes of the Acer Aspire 5750G offers Intel Sandy Bridge performance for the same price.

We were also massively disappointed by the Samsung Series 3’s battery life, which barely lasts long enough for a two-hour film. If you suffer a long commute like us, you’ll need to carry your charger and power it up at work.

Final verdict

By cutting down the specs of the Series 7 laptop, Samsung has produced a more pocket-friendly laptop that should appeal to families and anyone looking for dependable budget performance.

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Lenovo Z570

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 Lenovo Z570

Fresh from Lenovo’s consumer-based IdeaPad stable comes the Lenovo Z570 which manages to hit a great balance between power and price.

There’s something about the faint, almost purple tinge to the brushed metal exterior that looks a lot better than the basic black designs offered by other more traditional laptops.

The metal is only an overlay, set into a plastic chassis, but it’s enough to make it stand out. We would say that in a line-up, only the Dell Inspiron 14z looks better.

Inside, the purple colouring is offset with Lenovo’s traditional black keyboard and several backlit hotkeys. Two rectangular speaker grills are present below the screen hinges which are themselves buried into the chassis.

The 15.6-inch screen is covered with a Super-TFT coating for extra colour depth and isn’t interrupted by a particularly thick bezel. It does wobble slightly on its hinges, although viewing angles are very good here. Because of the Super-TFT coating, however, the screen is reflective and in bright light these reflections are quite noticeable.

The Z570 has the same 1366 x 768 pixel resolution as its rivals, so although 1080p video is out of reach, you can still watch 720p high definition from sites like iPlayer.

Using the keyboard is a pleasant experience – providing you don’t use the Return key too often. For some reason Lenovo shrinks this key to a fraction of its usual size, which we find particularly irritating.

Lenovo z570

While it doesn’t beat the Sony VAIO VPC-EH2F1E’s keyboard, typing on the Z570 is still easy thanks to the well-rounded keys and plenty of space between buttons. The touchpad is large and well-placed and the extra hotkeys controlling volume, thermal management and video mode are a nice extra feature.

When it comes to connectivity, this laptop matches any of the other machines here, boasting three USB ports as well as an eSata port that doubles as a fourth USB. There are both HDMI and VGA ports for connecting to an external monitor as well as an Ethernet port and a 5-in-1 SD card slot for expanding on the 750GB of storage space. A DVD-RW optical drive lets you burn your own data or media discs for backup.

Graphical power

In our benchmarking tests, the Lenovo Z570 posted the best scores and also has some impressive specs on board. The Intel Core i5 CPU is part of Intel’s Sandy bridge family and the Z570 is the only machine to come with a dedicated graphics card.

The Nvidia GeForce GT520M adds an extra 1GB of pure video memory to the 6GB of standard RAM and lets you play basic games or run graphically-intensive programs like editing suites. We expected the extra graphical power to suck up more battery power, but this laptop lasted a solid 173 minutes during our tests. Although it fell short of the Dell Inspiron 14z, it equalled the Sony VAIO VPC-EH2F1E.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 173 minutes
Cinebench: 9720
3DMark 2006: 5346

It’s unlikely the average user will need more power than what is offered by the Lenovo Z570 but, at the same time, it gives you enough of a performance to avoid becoming dated in six months. Overall, it constitutes an extremely solid new year purchase.

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Acer Aspire 5749

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 Acer Aspire 5749

Keeping up with Acer is some task.

The Taiwanese company has come of age and is now one of the laptop manufacturers to be reckoned with. Its Aspire 5749 is another fine example of advanced features in a budget package.

From the outside, the laptop is uninspiring. Like many Aspires, Acer has concentrated less on the outward design and more on the technology inside. The light grey chassis is covered with a design that looks not unlike a sheet of metal flooring.

It’s a world away from the deep, luxuriant red of the Dell Inspiron 14z, but at 2.3kg, the Aspire 5749 is lighter than your average laptop. We wouldn’t have thought you’d have any problems carrying it around for a day.

There is a slight amount of flex around the edges of the keyboard, but this is minimal. The keyboard itself sticks resolutely to Acer’s previous models – each key is individually raised above the chassis. It makes for comfortable typing, but crumbs and dirt may easily find their way under the keys.

Acer aspire 5749

The touchpad is nicely sized and located slightly further to the left than we’ve seen on other machines. The two click buttons are melded together as two halves of the same button, while a small section on the right of the touchpad will act as a virtual scroll bar. It’s a nice feature that you might find yourself using often after a few experimental flicks.

Vast storage

Acer has seen fit to include 750GB of storage space on the Aspire 5749; a generous amount, considering the average we’d expect to find is 320GB. Even though you can buy external hard drives, it’s always reassuring to have plenty of room to install programs and back up data on your native drive.

Power comes courtesy of an Intel Core i3-2330M processor. It’s pretty standard for this type of laptop, but manages to kick out a decent amount of power without costing the earth.

Graphical ability is mediocre thanks to an integrated Intel card. You shouldn’t have a problem photoshopping your image collection or running high-def movies, but you’ll probably want to hold off on ordering Modern Warfare 3 for now.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 169 minutes
Cinebench: 7847
3DMark 2006: 3120

If you do want to dabble with multimedia then you’ll find this Acer’s 15.6-inch screen is quite accommodating. It’s not as bright as we’ve seen on other laptops, but there’s a Super-TFT coating that is always welcome when watching films. The viewing angles are also pleasingly wide.

Three USB ports, an HDMI and VGA port and Ethernet socket make up the connections on offer here. The Acer Aspire 5749 comes with 802.11n wireless connectivity, but there’s no Bluetooth support for wirelessly connecting peripherals. There’s enough speed here, thanks to 4GB of RAM, which should be the minimum amount you look for when buying a laptop.

On the few occasions that we found the Acer lagged, it was when trying to stream high-definition video from the internet with several programs running in the background. Overall, though, it’s a comfortably reliable and smooth performance.

Judging by the manufacturer’s track record, if you decide to shell out on the Aspire 5749, you can rest assured there’ll be a newer model out next week. But, at the same time, that shouldn’t matter too much. This is a solidly built, value-formoney performer with plenty of storage space, even if its design leaves plenty to be desired.

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Intel Core i7 3930K

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 Intel Core i7 3930K

Overview

The Intel Core i7 3930K is the cheaper alternative to the top-end Sandy Bridge E processor. But then many second hand cars are cheaper than the top-end Sandy Bridge E processor.

At nearly £500 it’s still an expensive CPU, but currently it’s the only LGA 2011 processor worth a look.

The Intel Core i7 3960X, that top-end Sandy Bridge E, is a positively preposterous processor. For in excess of £800, you get a chip that’s not substantially quicker than Intel’s own Core i7 980X of two years ago.

Not at stock clocks, at least. Admittedly, the Core i7 3960X does overclock very nicely indeed and in doing so opens up a gap from ye olde 980X.

But we’ve reviewed the 3960X elsewhere and deemed it disappointing, moderately sinister (it’s prima facie evidence of Intel carpet bagging in response to AMD’s failure to bring out a really quick chip) and largely irrelevant to human existence.

This then is the Intel Core i7 3930K and it’s not the same chip. Not precisely, anyway.

Benchmarks

You can see below just how small a gap, in performance terms, there is between the i7 3960X and the i7 3930K.

It’s also interesting just how close the latest traditional Sandy Bridge chip, the Intel Core i7 2700K, is in general performance terms too, especially in gaming and single-threaded speeds.

3D rendering performance

Intel core i7 3930k

Intel core i7 3930k

Video encoding performance

Intel core i7 3930k

CPU gaming performance

Intel core i7 3930k

Verdict

Yes, this Core i7 3930K is based on the same, quite colossal 2.27 billion transistor chip, known as Sandy Bridge E. So, it shares most of the same specifications as the Core i7 3960X. That starts with six cores in Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge-generation idiom.

Next up we have a new memory controller no fewer than four (yes four, count ’em) channels.

Intel core i7 3930k

Intel’s previous high end processors sported a triple channel memory controller. Even that looked like overkill for a desktop processor. Four channels is getting silly and merely serves to underline the real reason the new Core i7 exists.

It’s a thinly disguised server chip.

Whatever the merits of the quad channel controller, it forces the use of a new socket, the monumental LGA 2011. If nothing else, you are getting a satisfyingly massive chip for your money.

What’s more, thanks to the ‘K’ on the end of Intel Core i7 3930K, this lower priced alternative to the Intel Core i7 3960X gets the full unlocked treatment and also benefits from the newly introduced CPU strap, the better to make overclocking a bit more flexible.

At this stage, you may be wondering what on earth the difference actually is.

The answer is twofold. Firstly it’s clocked infinitesimally lower – 3.2GHz instead of 3.6GHz, along with a commensurate climb down in the maximum Turbo speed to 3.8GHz. The other bit is less L3 cache memory to the tune of 3MB. The 3930K makes do with 12MB.

Frankly, both of these compromises in the name of cost savings fall into the ‘who cares?’ category.

In terms of desktop computing, neither is going to make a blind bit of difference to experience your PC delivers. That’s reflected in benchmarks that are barely any slower. Even better, the 3930K overclocks very nearly as well as the 3960X. Again the gap is just 100MHz, 4.8GHz on airs plays 4.9GHz.

So, here’s the best bit. The 3930K costs over £300 less.

OK, £500 is still a big ask. But the difference in price alone is enough to buy a half decent desktop PC or a cheap laptop.

The point, then, is that this cheaper Sandy Bridge E gives you everything the top chip delivers for a lot less money.

There’s absolutely no reason to spend. We’re not completely convinced even this truly means the Intel Core i7 3930K is good value for money, but it’s still a very fast processor and the chip we’d buy if we had a big budget.

We liked:

The fact that you’re getting almost the same sort of performance out of this £500 Sandy Bridge E as the £850 Core i7 3960X makes it a more intriguing prospect.

The other boon of the Core i7 3930K is that it’s got the same huge amount of overclocking headroom sitting in that CPU package. You can reach extraordinary speeds out of this architecture.

We disliked:

As it’s still based on the same architecture as the Core i7 3960X it’s also got the same flaws, namely that it’s actually an eight-core CPU with a couple of cores turned off.

And despite the fact it’s over £300 cheaper than the top end chip, the Core i7 3930K is still an incredibly pricey processor.

Final word:

Much better value than the 3960X. The obvious choice if you’re thinking of the LGA 2011 platform.

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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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Asus Zenbook UX21

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 Asus Zenbook UX21

Overview 


The Asus Zenbook UX21 is the first 11-inch ultrabook to hit the shelves, joining the likes of the Acer Aspire S3 and its bigger brother, the Asus Zenbook UX31.

It expands the lineup of the new breed of super light and thin laptops, which has been nurtured by Intel. The ultrabook market is quickly expanding, with the Lenovo IdeaPad U300 and Toshiba Portege Z830 expected at the end of November.

The Asus Zenbook UX21 brings the exceptional power of the Intel Ultrabook to the small form laptop market, making it a different proposition to any existing netbook.

There’s Sandy Bridge power for starters, and power to match any full form laptop, but Asus has condensed all this technology into the smallest of chassis.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

Of course, comparisons will be immediately drawn with the Apple MacBook Air, which is one of the best ultra-portable laptops money can buy, and these two 11-inch portables are very closely matched.

The Asus Zenbook UX21 matches the Apple MacBook Air in every respect. It’s just as well-built, made out of a single piece of aluminium, just as light and oozes the same head-turning style and class that makes people cast admiring glances while you work in public.

It has the same Intel Core i5 low voltage 1.6GHz processor, and a 128GB solid state hard drive, which keeps the system really responsive and fast.

While they’ve slashed the size of this waif- Ultrabook, and retaining some top class tech, Asus has created the best netbook ever made.

Specifications

Asus zenbook ux21 review

Despite being only 11 inches in size, this netbook-sized ultrabook doesn’t scrimp on power. Under the Asus Zenbook UX21’s hood there’s a low-voltage Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 2467M processor, clocked at 1.6GHz.

Despite only having a clock speed of 1.6GHz, the low voltage Core i5 still packs plenty of power, and there are four cores to make mincemeat out of most tasks.

The Asus Zenbook UX21 has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It has 4GB of RAM, (the MacBook Air has just 2GB) and a 128GB SSD card that aids performance. And at £849, it’s a whopping £150 cheaper.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

The Asus Zenbook UX21 is a Windows machine, so there’s no sleek OS X 10.7 Lion, should you have a preference, and there’s no superfast Thunderbolt port, but one of the two USB ports is the brand new USB 3.0 standard.

This whole package weighs just 1.2kg and measures just 9mm at its thickest point, making it frighteningly portable yet strong.

It’s clear from the outset that the Asus Zenbook UX21 has the right to rival the Apple MacBook Air, and the build quality is superb.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

The aluminium body offers no flex, the lid rises smoothly from the body, the keys are tactile, comfortably spaced and easy to type on despite being on a netbook-sized portable laptop, and it’s comfortable to type on, although the reduced size did lead to more mistakes than a standard-sized laptop.

If you spend most of your day bashing out long documents, then you would probably want to opt for the Asus Zenbook UX21’s larger 13-inch cousin, the UX31, or the excellent Acer Aspire S3, which is available for £699 for the Intel Core i5 model.

The screen looks fantastic for such a small laptop, and it’s ideal for watching movies while you’re on the move. Colours were vibrant, the picture sharp, and this makes the Asus Zenbook UX21 a great media machine for regular business travellers who need a functional machine when they reach their destination.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

One bugbear we had is with the Asus Zenbook UX21’s trackpad. For an 11.6-inch laptop, it’s well sized and smooth, but it’s extremely sensitive. This led to some chaotic moments, where clicks were registered accidentally, so things were dragged accidentally.

This is one area where the MacBook Air prevails, and its multi-touch track pad is smart enough to work out what you’re trying to do, and is seamlessly integrated with every part of the operating system.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

We were impressed to find a handy protective sleeve in the package, because the brushed metal will scratch easily, but it will do little to help protect against crushes or bangs, so it’s worth upgrading to something more durable.

Performance

Asus zenbook ux21 review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 7297
3D Mark ’06: 4096
Battery Eater: 189mins

The Asus Zenbook UX21’s Intel Core i5 2467M processor scored well in our lab tests, notching up 7297 in Cinebench, making it easily as fast as chips found on most mid-range laptops. It’s fully capable of multitasking standard tasks such as web browsing, streaming online video, picture editing and playing HD video.

When you consider the waif-like form of the Asus Zenbook UX21, it’s incredible that it can compete with bulky portable laptops.

In terms of graphics performance, the numbers that denote the quality of games, video rendering and programs such as Photoshop show that the Asus Zenbook UX21 doesn’t stack up so well.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

There’s no dedicated graphics card here, so the processor handles the 3D effects instead. There’s enough power to watch video and make simple edits to video, but hardcore graphics programs and even mid-range games would test the system beyond its limits.

Battery life is also good, and we achieved 189 minutes using our lab software, which involves simulating document writing while looping HD video in the background. In real terms, you can watch a full HD movie before reaching for the charger, or expect around five hours of web surfing and writing before your laptop dies.

If you’re away from the mains all day, then you might not consider five hours to be enough, but you’d have to look to the Sony Z Series to get anywhere near the same power and portability as the Asus Zenbook UX21, and that would mean a huge jump in weight and price. The Sony Z Series and its external power pack cost in excess of £2,600.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

One of the most noticeable attributes of the Asus Zenbook UX21 is the speed in which it resumes from sleep. Using innovations from Intel, the Zenbook resumes instantly, without the hangs and loading periods that have historically plagued Windows machines. This is the most tangible benefit, and brings the fight to the host of tablets on the market.

The screen itself is excellent, and it’s one of the best panels we’ve seen in a small form notebook. With the resolution equivalent to that of a larger 15-inch laptop, you can enjoy text documents and web pages properly, not like on a netbook, where the lower number of pixels means that web pages look zoomed it, meaning you have to scroll every few lines.

If you’re a regular traveller, and you like watching movies, then the Asus Zenbook UX21 is perfect, and has enough power to play back high-definition video. The extra two inches over a tablet makes all the difference too, and this means it’s a fantastic machine for those who mix work and play while on the move.

Verdict

Asus zenbook ux21 review

At over £100 cheaper than the Apple MacBook Air, with 2GB more RAM and an almost identical chassis, the Asus Zenbook UX21 is a fantastic buy for anyone looking for an ultra-portable laptop.

Some will argue that £850 is too much for a laptop that is too small to be an effective primary machine, and will need to be used in conjunction with something more powerful.

We liked

The form and size of this petite portable laptop is mind-blowing, especially when you consider the Sandy Bridge processor that’s inside.

You can play HD video and enjoy most tasks short of gaming and HD editing without coming across any issues, which genuinely offers an alternative to tablets such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.

The extras that Asus has packed into the box are also worth a special mention, and getting a thin protective sleeve and carry case for the extremely small charger add an extra bit of detail to this excellent all-round package.

We disliked

The problem we have with the Asus Zenbook UX21 is that few people would want to use this little laptop as their primary machine, due to the uncomfortable size and lack of connectivity options.

At £850, it seems like a very expensive addition to someone’s portable armoury, and less versatile than its big brother, the Asus Zenbook UX31.

The trackpad also is also crossed off the Christmas card list, and while you do get used to it eventually, it seems designed to infuriate users who are starting out with this wonderful portable PC.

Final verdict

As a piece of modern laptop engineering, the Asus Zenbook UX21 is sublime. Only Apple has previously been able to make something this sleek, light, powerful and desirable, and for those who want to stick with Windows, this moment could not have come soon enough.

Any major faults are not with the Asus Zenbook UX21 itself, but with the merits of an 11.6-inch machine.

If you need something for long trips away, £850 seems steep when excellent 13-inch ultrabooks are available that could arguably be used as a primary machine. The Acer Aspire S3 Intel Core i5 version retails for just £699.

Up against a host of great tablets, including Asus’ own Eee Pad Transformer Prime, it’s hard to justify the outlay.

Despite this, the stunning power and portable body make this a great buy. As netbooks continue their rapid decline, this ultrabook could replace them, and with it show the world that laptops are here to stay.

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Toshiba Satellite Pro C660-1UX

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 Toshiba Satellite Pro C660-1UX

Toshiba’s Satellite Pro range is designed for business use, but solid build quality, strong usability and decent specifications make the C660-1UX suitable for home use.

Its sturdy plastic chassis has all the resilience you’d expect from a business machine. The textured, matt finish feels great and protects well against scuffs and scratches. Build quality is impressive throughout, with no flex in evidence on any of the panels. Even the thick screen is well put together and sure to withstand frequent family use.

The keyboard is fixed well to the chassis and there’s almost no sign of flex when typing. The keys respond accurately, although a long range of motion can cause occasional errors when typing at speed. However, by striking the keys firmly, it’s easy to avoid such problems.

The touchpad is small and narrow, making it awkward to navigate onscreen at times. It is far wider than it is deep, so it takes a few swipes to get from one side of the screen to the other. In contrast, the mouse buttons are huge but are recessed too far, so they too can be awkward to operate.

At 2.5kg this is not a laptop built for travel use, but it is light enough to be carried occasionally without too much discomfort. While the 159-minute battery life is average, it betters the Advent, Lenovo and Samsung in this group.

Sharp display

The most striking feature is the vivid 15.6-inch screen. The 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution means you can enjoy high-definition 720p content and the display is bright, sharp and vibrant.

Photos and videos look great and the Super-TFT coating is one of the least reflective we’ve seen. The Toshiba lacks an HDMI output, though, so you can’t connect to your TV. An analogue VGA – or D-Sub – port is fitted, for connecting older PC monitors and projectors, but the lack of HD connectivity is surprising for such a new laptop.

Performance is equally disappointing. The Intel Celeron 925 processor is vastly outperformed by the Core i5 and i7 chips of the Acer Aspire 5943G, Alienware M11x and Lenovo B570. Even the Celeron-powered Samsung doubles the power on offer here, making the Toshiba only suitable for basic use.

Graphics fare even worse and the integrated Intel graphics card struggles with the simplest tasks. All its rivals at least double the power on offer and, in some cases, provide almost twelve times the performance of the Toshiba, so consider your needs carefully.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 159 minutes
Cinebench: 2544
3DMark 2006: 703

Toshiba build

Storage is also disappointing. While the 250GB hard drive is average for this price, most rivals in this group better it. The Lenovo, for example, provides three times the storage. The DVD rewriter and five-in-one card reader compensate somewhat, letting you back-up files to DVD, CD and multimedia cards to save space on the hard drive.

The Toshiba continues to fall short when assessing its other features. The two USB ports limit the amount of peripherals you can connect; there is no Bluetooth for wirelessly sharing files; you only get 2GB of memory as standard and even the fixed Ethernet connectivity uses the older and slower 10/100 standard.

If you’re looking for a tough, usable laptop with a great screen, the Satellite Pro C660-1UX is a good choice. With such high-quality rivals, though, its limited power and features are far too pronounced. The similarly priced Samsung 200B5A provides better value for money, making the Toshiba hard to recommend.

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D-Link DIR-645

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 D-Link DIR-645

Overview and performance

The D-Link DIR-645 (or the Whole Home Router 1000 as it’s called in the US) is the latest D-Link push on injecting style into its home routers. Every networking company goes through this at some point, in an attempt to avoid yet-another-box syndrome. D-Link has done a good job of making this black totem of wireless technology look like it could have apes pawing at it seeking enlightenment.

On the face of it, this 2.4GHz-only device doesn’t seem all that, with 802.11n technology dating back to the

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Samsung 200B5A

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 Samsung 200B5A

Samsung has a great reputation for top-quality machines at great prices. The 200B5A adds to the list and is a usable and powerful business laptop let down only slightly by limited graphics.

While the staid, black chassis won’t win any awards for design, it provides a neutral look to suit all tastes. The hard-wearing plastics and firm panels provide a sturdy feel and the whole machine feels extremely well put together.

The thick screen panel is also extremely firm and Samsung claims it will withstand up to 500kg of pressure. As with all but the Alienware M11x, this is not a laptop built with portability in mind. At 2.5kg it is quite a heavy machine and you won’t want to use it as your main laptop if you travel a lot. This is backed up by a 136-minute battery life that provides only basic mobility.

The excellent user interface is a pleasure to work with and this is a great machine to use for extended periods. While the spill-resistant keyboard shuns the use of an isolated design, the firm keys, comfortable typing action and smooth movement ensure the board is quiet, accurate and responsive.

The touchpad is slightly less reactive and feels sluggish at first. Once you increase the pointer speed in Windows 7, though, it feels a bit sharper. The mouse buttons, on the other hand, are excellent. They are easy to access when working at speed and respond well, no matter how hard or soft you press them.

Another strength is the Samsung’s great screen. The 15.6-inch panel uses a glossy coating to improve colour and contrast, but it is the least reflective example we’ve seen. Whether working in direct sunlight or under harsh lighting, you can always see the screen clearly, with images rendered sharply and brightly.

Capable performance

The Samsung’s Intel Celeron P4600 processor means that it is outperformed by its Intel Core-powered rivals, but the difference is not as vast as expected. At no time did we see any notable slowdown and the Samsung runs quickly and efficiently at all times.

Graphics performance is where things fall down slightly. While not nearly as limited as the Toshiba Satellite Pro C660-1UX, the integrated Intel graphics card is very underpowered and won’t suit gaming or media editing. There is enough power for enjoying your photos and videos, however, which is sure to suit most people’s needs.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 136 minutes
Cinebench: 5209
3DMark 2006: 1237

Samsung 200b5a

In terms of storage, the Samsung is capable, if unexceptional. The 320GB hard drive will hold large collections of music, photos and videos, but is bettered by the Acer Aspire 5943G, Advent Monza E1 and Lenovo B570. Most users will be more than satisfied with the storage on offer, though, and the anti-shock drive protects against damage if the laptop is dropped.

You can also back up your files to DVD and CD using the built-in DVD rewriter, making it easy to create movie, music and photo discs. A seven-in-one card reader is also in place and offers broad media card compatibility, letting you share files with a wide range of the most popular multimedia card formats.

While the B200B5A is not the most stylish or powerful laptop, its resilience, great screen visibility and strong usability make it an easy laptop to like. If you need a tough and capable machine that will stand up to years of demanding daily use, then this is certainly a great choice.

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