Two graphics processors and a fast Intel CPU drive this curvy 13-incher, but is that enough to award the Samsung SF310 the checquered flag?

Smaller than the popular 15in notebook and larger than a netbook, the 13in-screen portable remains a favourite size for laptops. And it’s certainly a crowded market at this size.

Samsung’s SF310 stands out from its unlucky-numbered peers with some unusual styling touches, and a particularly fast processor for the category.

At just under 2.1kg, it’s also on the fashionably light side. The use of thin plastics for its casing probably helps here, although it doesn’t add much to the feeling of quality. In fact, we found the SF310 a little insubstantial feeling, a sense of putting on appearances to impress the casual shopper.

New gloss in town

Our sample featured a gloss white lid back, which has the benefit of not showing fingerprint marks as readily as the high-gloss black plastic that Samung usually favours.

The shiny theme continues inside, with a highly reflective gloss display whose reflections made it particularly difficult to use, surrounded by a shiny carbon fibre-effect lacquered screen bezel. The wrist-rest area of the notebook is a thin sheet of brushed aluminium in black finish, slightly warped and rippled on our sample.

Some scrimping on the components was highlighted by a particularly weak trackpad. Placed in what we find to be an ergonomically unsound offset-to-left position, this Elan-sourced device takes the Mac-like buttonless form.

The entire surface is hinged at the back, but tended to rattle whenever pressed, betraying its cheap manufacture even before we tried to steer the cursor erratically around the screen. This part lists some multi-touch control, which it could achieve after a fashion.

The keyboard fared slightly better, a Scrabble-tile design that allowed easy and fast typing.

The styling touch that immediately catches the eye is the fins on either side of the keyboard, with curvy contours that swoop up gently, countered by some sculpting into the screen bezel to accomodate the protuberances.

Ranged along the left of the Samsung SF310 are the power inlet socket, ethernet, VGA analogue video, a pair of audio jacks and SD card slot.

In an unsuccessful attempt to make a line of ports more elegant, Samsung has hidden some away. A plastic flap wobbles down to reveal an HDMI digital video output, and two USB 2.0 ports.

On the right side of the Samsung SF310 is a tray-load DVD±RW optical drive and another USB 2.0 port.

Vent white underbelly

Turn the Samsung SF310 laptop over and you’ll find a random-looking assortment of air vents, and a hatch to access the 320GB hard disk and two memory slots.

These are filled nicely already with 4GB RAM. Conspicuously absent is any battery bay. Samsung has boldly copied Apple by making the Samsung SF310’s 60Wh battery non-removable.

It doesn’t have quite the stamina of an Apple MacBook though, but surviving a still-useful five hours in the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test.

Graphics performance is fairly typical for Intel’s new generation of integrated video acceleration, averaging 17fps in the game of FEAR at Maximum detail. We saw this framerate pick up to a playable 45fps at reduced Medium settings.

But the Samsung SF310 also packs a discrete nVidia GeForce 310M card, which kicks in for certain apps using nVidia’s Optimus auto-switching technology.

In the same FEAR game with the nVidia card you can expect to see around 33fps at Maximum detail. So the Samsung SF310 is very far from taking any gamesmeister laurel, but with nVidia’s help can push pixels about twice as fast Intel will let you.

Where the Samsung SF310 excels most is in raw real-world performance, thanks to its 2.53GHz Intel Core i5-540M processor. This chip, which revs to 3.07GHz when required, allowed the laptop to score 108 points in the WorldBench 6 speed test.

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict >>

See also: Group test: what's the best laptop?

Samsung SF310: Specs

  • 2.53GHz Intel Core i5-540M
  • 13in (1366 x 768) glossy LCD display
  • 320GB SATA HDD
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia GeForce 310M and Intel GMA HD graphics processors
  • tray-load DVD±RW drive
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • HDMI, VGA
  • SD card slot
  • webcam
  • mic
  • audio in/out jacks
  • integrated 60Wh battery
  • 331 x 235 x 26-30mm
  • 2056g
  • 2.53GHz Intel Core i5-540M
  • 13in (1366 x 768) glossy LCD display
  • 320GB SATA HDD
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia GeForce 310M and Intel GMA HD graphics processors
  • tray-load DVD±RW drive
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • HDMI, VGA
  • SD card slot
  • webcam
  • mic
  • audio in/out jacks
  • integrated 60Wh battery
  • 331 x 235 x 26-30mm
  • 2056g

OUR VERDICT

Samsung has puts its eggs into the performance basket, gifting the Samsung SF310 with a nippy dual-core processor. But this is at the expense of essential high-quality parts such as a decent trackpad. If outright speed tops your wishlist, or you fancy the curvy side styling, you may be seduced by the Samsung SF310.

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