So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Samsung Q330-JS03AU notebook
A 13.3in Samsung notebook that offer great portability at an affordable price
- Stylish, good size for travellers, built-in optical drive, good performance, big hard drive
- NVIDIA graphics card doesn't provide much of a performance boost, SD card slot awkwardly located at the front, touchpad not centred under space bar
We love the style and size of the Samsung Q330 and think it's a great notebook for travellers. Its performance is good and it has a useful set of features, but it also has two graphics adapters that provide similar performance to each other. We'd prefer it if there was a bigger performance gap between the adapters (or for the notebook to only use Intel HD graphics).
Price$ 1,199.00 (AUD)
Samsung's Q330-JS03AU is an attractive, sub-2kg 13.3in laptop that's slim, well-featured and competitively priced. It's the perfect size for users who want a notebook that's easy to carry around but has a roomy design. The configuration of the notebook is a little puzzling though: it ships with NVIDIA Optimus graphics that don't make much of a dent in the performance. We'd like to see this model offered strictly with integrated Intel graphics because the extra speed offered by the extra NVIDIA chip is not worth bothering about and omitting it would bring the price down.
NVIDIA's Optimus technology automatically switches between the integrated Intel HD graphics adapter and the dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GT310M; there is no physical switch. This means the NVIDIA card kicks in when you run a game, and the Intel card remains at the helm when you type up a document. There is scope for modifying which card your applications use (you use the NVIDIA driver for this), but this doesn't always work in an obvious way.
During our battery test, during which we turn off power-saving schemes, enable Wi-Fi and turn up screen brightness then loop a video, the notebook lasted 2hr 51min when we let Optimus select which graphics card to use. When we forced it to use the NVIDIA card the notebook returned an identical result, but when we forced it to use the integrated Intel graphics it only lasted 2hr 42min.
This is a topsy-turvy result: the NVIDIA card should have given us the lower time. The moral here is, don't mess with Optimus: let it select the graphics card on its own and you'll get optimal battery performance. This is unlike what we experienced when we tested the MSI FX600, where we had to select the graphics card manually in order to get the longest possible battery life.
Either way, the inclusion of two graphics cards isn't really justificed given the negligible difference in battery life. Furthermore, the difference in 3D performance between the two graphics adapters is not dramatic enough for an extra graphics adapter to be of any real usefulness. In 3DMark06, the Intel HD card recorded a score of 1729, while the NVIDIA card recorded a score of 3667. This is similar to what we saw from MSI's CX420, which is a hybrid notebook that uses ATI graphics. These results tell us that the Q330 is not a gaming machine by any stretch of the imagination and you shouldn't be roped into buying it by thinking you'll be able to play many games on it just because it has an NVIDIA graphics adapter.
However, if you want to buy this notebook because it looks good, has a relatively small size and a thin profile, has a built-in optical drive, is comfortable to type on and costs less than $1200, then go right ahead. You'll get good CPU performance too.
The laptop ships with an Intel Core i3-350M CPU that runs at 2.26GHz and it has Hyper-Threading. Along with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM and a 640GB, 5400rpm hard drive, the notebook offers a nice all-round configuration for productivity applications and the storage of media files. In our Blender 3D test, it recorded a time of 1min 5sec and in our iTunes MP3 encoding test it recorded 1min 8sec. The Blender time is exactly what we expected from a laptop running the Core i3-350M CPU, while the iTunes time was a little quicker than expected. For example, the Medion Akoya E7214, which runs the same CPU, recorded a time of 1min 10sec in the iTunes test.
You can also use the Samsung Q330 for more processor-intensive pursuits such as video encoding. In our video encoding test, in which we use AutoGordianKnot to turn a DVD file into a 1.5GB Xvid file, the laptop took a respectable 1hr 14min. This is 18min faster than the Medion and actually very competitive with the Core i5-based Acer Aspire 5741, which also runs at 2.26GHz and took 1hr 15min in the same task.
Design and features
The Q330 has a silver, brushed finish on its palm rest and a dark, glossy lid; it looks rather nice and many people told us so. Its keyboard has chiclet-style keys and is reasonably comfortable to type on. The location of the touchpad isn't centred under the spacebar though; it's slightly to the right of it. While you type, your right palm can accidentally move the cursor. We also don't like the location of the SD card reader at the front: you can't easily access this slot when you use the notebook on your lap. Along the sides you get a built-in DVD burner, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, microphone and headphone ports, and three USB 2.0 ports.
The USB 2.0 ports support Samsung's ChargeableUSB feature, which means you can charge devices like MP3 players and mobile phones that have a USB connection — even when the laptop is in sleep mode or completely switched off. It's very convenient when travelling as it means you don't have to take chargers for all of your devices; just make sure you pack the appropriate USB cables. However, it doesn't work with Apple devices, so you'll only be able to charge your iPhone or iPod when the notebook is up and running.
We're not fans of the way the Optimus graphics switching technology has been implemented in the Samsung Q330, but we still think this is a great notebook to consider. In particular, we love the fact that it's a 13.3in laptop rather than a 15.6in model; it makes it much easier to carry to and from work or the classroom. The notebook's performance, even though it uses a Core i3 instead of a Core i5 CPU, is good enough to run taxing tasks in addition to everyday office applications. The only thing it's not good for is serious gaming.
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