The Samsung R580 is a luxurious and powerful 15in-screen laptop, sporting Intel Core i3 processor and new nVidia graphics, and available for less than £600 - UPDATED 3 May 2010

While you can find some well-equipped laptops for under £500, spending a few pounds more can bring real dividends.

In the case of Samsung's new 15in performance all-rounder here, the Samsung R580, you get the latest Intel Core i3 dual-core processor - plus a quite capable graphics card in the shape of the nVidia 310M.

While our benchmarks of the Samsung R580 have shown that these components successfully lift performance to create an under-stated hot-rod of a laptop, Samsung crucially hasn't forgotten how to combine such technology into a well-made chassis that's comfortable to live with.

At a shade over 2.5kg and around 35mm thick, the Samsung R580 sits in the space between home-bound desktop replacement, and something you might want to tote around more regularly. And given the stylish red-to-black fade finish, it's certainly an attractive portable companion to show off.

The display back has this line-detailed and colour gradient finish all under a high-gloss lacquer. It's appealing enough but it will look slightly less smart after it's been handled a few times and smeared with the inevitable fingerprint marks.

Lift the lid, and you'll find more of the same red-black colouring on the top deck, this time with more obvious yet still discreet swirling pinstripes.

Touch and Go

Once powered up, the touchpad – just discernible from its matt texture embedded into the deck – comes to life with four tiny blue LEDs that light up each corner.

The effect could have been tacky – but combined with a series of matching pinpoint lights below the single-bar mouse clicker that give feedback on wireless status, charging, disk activity and caps lock - the final result can be quite pleasing.

And those touchpad landing-lights only illuminate when it's in use, staying on for around 30 seconds after last digital contact.

Thanks to the very wide aspect of many a modern notebook LCD display - in this case a 15.6in panel of 1366x768 resolution - it's now common to find a full number keypad sitting alongside the usual Qwerty keyboard on the stretched casework. The keys of the Samsung R580 are all Scrabble-style and have an easy, if far from slient, action.

The screen itself is victim to the usual distracting reflections found on cheap high-gloss reflective panels, and combined with poor off-axis lateral viewing angles, you'll need to be facing this screen head-on and in a darkened room to get best viewing results.

In other words, don't try and present a film to friends or spreadsheet to colleagues, especially when there are many lights or windows in the vicinity.

NEXT PAGE: Measured performance >>

Measured performance

In the lab, the benefits of the improved processor were readily apparent, with a final WorldBench 6 score of 94 points. That places it effectively level with the R580's sibling in this month's group test, the Samsung R530, which take an older 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo processor. And battery life was quite close too, here stretching to just over 4.5 hours (MobileMark 2007 Productivity: 271 mins) against the R530's slightly longer 4.75 hours (284 mins).

Samsung R580

The Samsung R580 comes wrapped in a gorgeous red-black gloss lacquer

But aside from improved build quality, larger storage, and more and faster ports, the Samsung R580 has one major trump card to play. Its graphics performance.

Intel offers a built-in graphics controller on its new Core i-series chips for mobile use; but despite the measurable upgrade over Intel's previous half-baked integrated solutions, Samsung has forsaken this and plumped for a step-up beyond this.

The Samsung R580 takes a dedicated graphics card with real gaming potential. The nVidia GeForce 330, with its 512MB of RAM, proved capable of playing FEAR at 34 frames per second at Maximum quality settings.

There was still a little stuttering evident, mind, with 27% of the action falling below 25fps. Dropping the settings to High gave super-smooth 66fps action.

Even though nVidia's mobile GPUs don't support the fledgling DirectX 11 graphics interface, we rolled out the STALKER: Call of Pripyat benchmark, using instead its DX10 settings at the screen's native resolution, and Medium quality rendering.

Here we saw average framerates of around 19fps, in all but the most taxing test using SunShafts effects (9fps). At a reduced 1280x720 high-definition resolution, screen play was closer to a 21fps average.

In conclusion, this nVidia graphics solution is up to playing most modern games providing you drop resolution or rendering quality, or both, just a little.

NEXT PAGE: The PC World Australia review

This Samsung R580 was tested by our colleagues at PC World Australia. The exact model tested is not available in the UK - the UK R Series laptops we link to here have Intel Core i3 chips.

It weighs only 2.5kg and the Samsung R580 feels very well built; it also looks stunning with its gradated, burgundy body. While it's best suited as a desktop replacement notebook, you'll still be able to take it with you to the office or the classroom - provided you have a bag that's big enough to accommodate it.

Samsung R580: specs

Inside the Samsung R580's chassis is an Intel Core i5-520M CPU, which runs as 2.4GHz. In the UK you get an Intel Core i3 Dual Core (i3-330M), at 2.13GHz 3MB (L2 Cache).

Either way, the CPU has two cores as well as Hyper-Threading, so it's perfect for multitasking and for high-end tasks such as video editing and encoding.

The Samsung R580 also has Intel's Turbo Boost function, which can make the CPU go faster when a demanding task is running, and slower when the machine is idle. In the Blender 3D rendering test the CPU ran at up to 2.662GHz when using four threads. When rendering using only one thread (therefore employ just one of the CPU's cores), its speed peaked at 2.793GHz. Using four threads, the R580 recorded a time of 55 sec to complete the workload, which is a time that has (so far) only been beaten by ASUS G60J Republic of Gamers notebook (which runs an Intel Core i7 CPU and can process up to eight threads simultaneously).

Along with the fast CPU, the Samsung R580 notebook has 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M graphics. This grouping of components amassed a score of 102 in our WorldBench 6 benchmark, which is a zippy figure and only five shy of what the ASUS G60J achieved in the same benchmark suite. The GeForce GT 330M graphics adaptor gives the Samsung R580 the ability to run plenty of games - even newer titles - although you might have to forego some of the eye-candy they offer in order to get very smooth frame rates. The R580 scored 7412 in 3DMark06, which is a solid, middle-of-the-road result.

Samsung R580: plenty of grunt

As far as everyday performance is concerned, the Core i5-520M CPU really gives this Samsung notebook a lot of grunt, and this is great for productivity. We could easily rip a DVD (and the DVD drive was practically silent while doing so!) while encoding an already-ripped DVD to the Xvid format, while browsing the web, while writing this review; the CPU never maxed out during these tasks. (It took just on 55min to compress a 3.88GB VOB file to a 1.36GB Xvid file.) The hard drive got a very good workout during these tasks; it's a 5400rpm drive and although its file transfer rate of 26.83 megabytes per second isn't a fast one, it was still able to churn through heavy workloads in a zippy manner.

Samsung R580: Build quality

We love the feel of the Samsung R580; not necessarily it's finish - which we think is too glossy, slippery, and will get marred by fingerprints - but its build quality. The keyboard feels rock solid, the palm rest is big and comfortable and the chassis doesn't bend when you pick up the laptop from either end. The lid feels strong, too, and its hinges hold the screen stiffly in place.

When the CPU and hard drive have been working hard for a couple of hours, the base will get noticeably warm, and some heat will also be felt through the palm rest. If you don't use the Samsung R580 on your lap then the heat on the base won't an issue, but the heat through the glossy palm rest can lead to slightly slippery palms if you type for long periods.

When you use the Samsung R580 on your lap, you have to be mindful of one of the air intake vents for the CPU cooler, as it sits underneath the laptop and it tapers upward; it can easily be blocked when the laptop is rested on a soft surface. A vent higher up on the side of the laptop would have been better. The SD card reader is also in an awkward position on the front of the unit, as it sits too low and isn't spring-loaded. The latter makes removing SD cards difficult.

Samsung R580: bright screen, but low resolution

The Samsung R580's screen has rich colours and will display photos nicely. It's bright enough to use while sitting near a window on a bright day, but because it is glossy, reflections will be annoying - especially while looking at photos. As is the case with most laptop screens on the market, the vertical viewing angles are narrow. You'll have to adjust the screen frequently if you're the type of person who shifts around in their seat regularly.

One thing about the Samsung R580's screen that's a bit of a let-down is its resolution. Despite being a big, 16in screen, its resolution is only 1366x768. It's okay for multitasking and using Windows 7's Aero Snap feature to line up programs side by side, but if you have two browser windows open then most Web pages will require you to scroll horizontally (unless you make their text smaller).

Samsung R580: touchpad lights

The Samsung R580's touchpad is very responsive. In fact, it's a little too responsive and sometimes it will think you want to horizontally scroll when all you want to do is move the pointer. This is because the scrolling area is located a few millimetres in from the touchpad's edges, rather than right on the edge. It's just a matter of getting used to it and knowing where not to place your finger.

Samsung has introduced touchpad lights on the Samsung R580 notebook. In the same way a runway lights up for a pilot at night, there is a light on each corner of the touchpad so that you can see where its boundaries are when you use it at night. The texture of the touchpad feels dull compared to the glossy finish of the palm rest, so these lights really aren't necessary. They switch off if you don't use the touchpad after a short period of time, and only light up when you start using the touchpad again. (They can be disabled in the BIOS.)

The lights on the corners of the Samsung R580's touchpad are nice, but not overly useful.

NEXT: battery life and software >>

See also:

It may look big and bulky, but the Samsung R580 16in laptop is surprisingly light.

Samsung R580: battery life

The Samsung R580 ships with a 6-cell battery that lasted 1hr 35min in our rundown test. In these test we loop an Xvid video while the screen brightness is maximised, power saving is switched off and the wireless radio is enabled. Considering the 16in screen, it's not a bad result. We managed to get 2hr out of it by using Samsung's custom power saving profile. There is a physical indicator on the battery that lets you know how much charge is left; you are unlikely to want to use this notebook while on the road or away from an outlet, so it's probably not something you'll be checking regularly.

Samsung R580: installed software

The battery utility that Samsung has installed can be used to limit the battery's charge to 80 per cent, which is said to prolong the overall life of the battery (the amount of charging cycles it can go through), especially if the unit will be plugged in to an outlet most of the time and constantly on charge.

The Battery Life Extender mode can be selected either in the BIOS or using the Windows 7-based utility.

Samsung has also installed backup software (Recover Solution 4) and CyberLink DVD Suite disc creation software. When you first start the notebook, you are prompted to partition the hard drive. If you choose to do this, then you can use Recovery Solution 4 to store a backup of your system drive on your D drive.

Samsung R580: USB charging

Another utility you'll notice is Samsung's ChargeableUSB port. When enabled, the notebook will be able to charge USB devices even when it is switched off and unplugged. Only the USB port on the left side of the notebook works for charging. There are two other USB ports on the machine, as well as an eSATA port that doubles as a USB 2.0 port.

You can enable USB charging through the BIOS or through the Windows 7-based utility.

The PC World Australia verdict

With its abundant speed and good build quality, we are happy to recommend the Samsung R580 if you're after a desktop replacement notebook. It has four USB 2.0 ports (one is also an eSATA port), an ExpressCard/34 slot, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, a VGA port, a webcam and a DVD burner; these are standard facilities for a modern laptop. We just wish the screen had a higher resolution and that the keyboard was backlit.

NEXT: The PC Advisor verdict >>

See also:

Samsung R580: Specs

  • 2.13GHz Intel Core i3
  • 15.6in (1366 x 768) 16:9 LED-backlit display
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit
  • nVidia GeForce 310M with 512MB RAM
  • HDMI, VGA
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1066 RAM
  • 500GB 5400rpm SATA 3Gb/s HDD
  • DVD±RW DL tray-load
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
  • SD card slot
  • ExpressCard 34
  • 75 x 44mm multi-touch touchpad
  • stereo speakers
  • audio in and out jacks
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • built-in mic
  • 48Wh removable Li-ion battery
  • 380 x 256 x 30-37mm
  • 2520g
  • 2.13GHz Intel Core i3
  • 15.6in (1366 x 768) 16:9 LED-backlit display
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit
  • nVidia GeForce 310M with 512MB RAM
  • HDMI, VGA
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1066 RAM
  • 500GB 5400rpm SATA 3Gb/s HDD
  • DVD±RW DL tray-load
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
  • SD card slot
  • ExpressCard 34
  • 75 x 44mm multi-touch touchpad
  • stereo speakers
  • audio in and out jacks
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • built-in mic
  • 48Wh removable Li-ion battery
  • 380 x 256 x 30-37mm
  • 2520g

OUR VERDICT

If you’re on tighter budget than the circa-£600 retail price of the Samsung R580, and don’t plan to play many computer games, look for something like the £499 Samsung R530. But if you do need better graphics potential, or just appreciate the classier build quality and slick finish, the Samsung R580 is an easy choice for performance notebook computing at a reasonable price.

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