The Samsung R540 seems to target a demanding audience, since its CPU, GPU, and all-around performance can drive powerful applications and games. But a mediocre display, a weak battery, and a stingy allocation of ports keep it from hitting the mark. If you're looking for a midrange laptop PC, the Samsung R540 is worth considering, but don't expect a high-end system on the cheap.
For about £589 inc VAT, the Samsung R540 delivers impressive specs, including a 2.2GHz Intel Core i3 350M processor, Intel HD Graphics, 4GB of system RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. The R540 fared well in real-world performance testing. From productivity software to demanding games, it can keep up with any program.
Regrettably, you won't be able to enjoy the Samsung R540 away from an outlet for long. The laptop lasted only 2 hours, 27 minutes in our battery test - a weak showing, but not sufficiently dismal to negate the machine's virtues entirely.
The input devices feel good in a plain, understated way. The Samsung R540's keyboard comes with a full number pad and no other extras. (We prefer this arrangement to laptops that are littered with special buttons.) Keys feel snappy enough for typing, and the matte texture beats too-stylish competitors that overlook substance in pursuit of slickness.
The touchpad sits slightly below the surface of the wrist-rest, so you can feel when you've moved off the active surface, without having to look down. Pointing feels responsive, and you get separate buttons for right- and left-clicks. In addition, you can click the entire button surface, beating competitors' see-saw designs that require you to push on the ends.
The big, 15.6-inch glossy screen doesn't quite have enough resolution, at 1366 by 768 pixels. Another drawback: the screen's contrast and saturation trail off if you reduce its brightness. Though the brightest setting may strain your eyes, colours lack commitment if you turn it down.
The adequate speakers favor high tones. Wide-ranging audio gets scrunched together, yielding extra treble and no bass. Compared to competing machines, the laptop offers average sound - but the bar for portable audio is quite low.
The combination Blu-ray player and DVD burner is the system's stand-out extra feature. Students on the prowl for a multimedia laptop might like this feature enough to overlook the average speakers and sound. Cyberlink movie-playing and -creating software controls the hardware intelligently.
The Samsung R540 strictly rations its ports and connections. At least it covers the crucial basics: HDMI, VGA, three USB 2.0 ports, audio-in and -out, and b/g/n Wi-Fi - but no eSATA or FireWire. The webcam with mic can capture clips or handle videoconferencing, and a flash-memory reader lets you import pictures. But you're limited to 100Base-T Ethernet, not gigabit.
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