- Review Date: 12/21/2011
- Bottom line:
A bit pricey by PC standards but $500 under a MacBook Pro, the Samsung Series 7 is a winning desktop replacement.
Elegant design and feature set. Bright hi-res screen and backlit keyboard. Swift boot and resume times.
DVD, not Blu-ray, drive. Non-removable battery. No WiDi.
I'm a sucker for skinny chassis with slot-loading optical drives. The Samsung Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03) ($1,299 list) laptop combines an elegantly slim (under one inch thick) aluminum case with slot-loading DVD±RW drive; sunny 15.6-inch screen and backlit keyboard; quad-core Intel Core i7 power; 8GB of RAM; and a roomy 750GB hard drive yoked to a small solid-state drive or 8GB of cache storage to boost boot and application loading times—all in a package about as light as desktop replacements get, 5.2 pounds.
In size, shape, CPU, and slot-loading, it's impossible not to compare the Samsung Series 7 with Apple's MacBook Pro 15-inch (late 2011) ($1,799 direct, 4 stars), an equally elegant slab of aluminum with the same 2.2GHz processor. The slightly heavier (5.5 pounds) MacBook Pro comes with OS X Lion, the operating system PCMag.com praises as consumers' best choice, versus the business favorite Windows 7 Professional. It has a Thunderbolt port versus the Samsung's two USB 3.0 ports. And it has half the memory, a lower-resolution screen, and a smaller hard disk without solid-state assistance, for a price tag $500 higher. Lion is admirable, but it's not irresistible. For style, performance, and value, the Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03) replaces the MacBook Pro as our desktop replacement Editors' Choice.
Measuring 9.4 by 14.3 by 0.94 inches, the Samsung sports a DeLorean-like buffed aluminum body with black chiclet-style keys and a large Apple-style touchpad with virtual (lower left and right corners) instead of physical mouse buttons. The latter work as smoothly as any I've seen, though ordinarily I'm no fan of buttonless touchpads. The keyboard combines a full- or desktop-sized main area with a slightly condensed numeric keypad and small but dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys and cursor arrows. Its typing feel is a little shallow but precise—the space bar in particular seems to require a true tap instead of the light brush of a thumb that touch typists may be used to, but 15 minutes' practice makes one thoroughly comfortable.
The Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03) offers a 15.6-inch, matte-finish screen with 1,600 by 900 resolution; both figures are fractionally better than the MacBook Pro's, whose 15.4-inch display totals 1,440 by 900 pixels. The extra sharpness and application window space compared to the standard 1,366 by 768 screens of systems like the Dell XPS 15z (Microsoft) ($999 direct, 4 stars) and Toshiba Satellite P755-S5269 ($979.99 list, 4 stars) is most welcome. So is the screen's 300-nit brightness—sufficient to dial the backlight down to a battery-saving three-quarters or two-thirds intensity without eyestrain. The system's speakers pump out decent sound, though without exceptional highs or lows.
Besides the slot-loading DVD burner, the Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03) offers one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, a clever fold-down Ethernet jack, HDMI and mini-VGA ports (adapter for the latter not included), a headphone/microphone jack, and an SD/MMC card slot. Bluetooth and 802.11n wireless are included; Intel's Wireless Display screen-beaming technology, oddly standard on the NP700Z5A-S03's more affordable sibling the Samsung NP700Z5B-W01UB ($1,019 list at Best Buy, 4 stars), is not.
The 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard disk is divided into a 270GB C: drive and a 404GB D: drive, plus a system recovery partition. The 8GB solid-state drive on the motherboard doesn't appear as a drive letter, but makes the Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03) feel noticeably snappier than laptops without bonus flash—our test unit booted in 29 seconds and awoke from sleep in 3.5 seconds in unofficial stopwatch tests. The software bundle ranges from bloatware (WildTangent games) to useful if short-lived (a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security) to a mostly handy collection of Samsung-brand utilities, such as an Easy Settings menu that provides an alternative to poking through Windows' Control Panel for a variety of system options and an Easy Software Manager for centralizing drivers, versions, and updates. Samsung supports the Series 7 with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty.
With 8GB of RAM and a 2.2GHz quad-core, eight-thread Intel Core i7-2675QM processor, the Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03) is a strong contender in PC Labs' performance benchmarks, with its hybrid storage system helping it to a best-in-class score of 2,697 in PCMark 7 (ahead of 2,480 for the speedy HP Pavilion dv6-6173cl and 2,235 for the MacBook Pro). Its Photoshop CS5 time of 3 minutes and 39 seconds tied the Apple's, while its Handbrake video encoding time of 1:37 joined the Toshiba P755-S5269 and Samsung NP700Z5B-W01UB in a group just a tick behind.
As for graphics, the Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03) joined the 10,000-point club in 3DMark 06 (score 10,807, though both the MacBook Pro and HP dv6-6173cl scored higher still at 11,180 and 12,030 respectively) and posted playable frame rates of 49.0 frames per second in Crysis and 64.3 fps in Lost Planet 2 at 1,024 by 768 resolution. One note: While the system does let you switch between the power-saving Intel integrated graphics and the faster AMD Radeon HD 6750M adapter, it's a dorky affair of right-clicking on the desktop and choosing "Configure switchable graphics" to select specific applications, not the ingenious, automatic switching based on application needs of laptops with Nvidia's Optimus technology.
The Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03)'s battery lasted 6 hours 41 minutes in our MobileMark 2007 rundown test, which is fine for a desktop replacement—topping the MacBook Pro's 5:26 and Toshiba P755-S5269's 5:07—but not a record—trailing the Dell XPS 15z's 7:13 and Samsung NP700Z5B's 8:18. The sealed-inside-the-case battery can't be swapped for a spare, but Samsung claims an Easy Settings option that caps battery charge at 80 percent (not used in our testing) increases its life for many more charge/discharge cycles.
Users who want the smoothest integration of hardware and software on the market will forsake Windows for the MacBook Pro 15-inch, while those who balk at the Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03)'s price can check out its Samsung NP700Z5B-W01UB sibling (which subtracts 2GB of RAM, the backlit keyboard, and the solid-state cache and substitutes a tamer graphics chip). But if you're looking for a deftly engineered desktop replacement that combines cutting-edge tech with style and class, definitely check out our newest Editors' Choice.
This review is in partnership with Ziff Davis Media.