Samsung’s Series 7 lineup is targeted at folks who want a little more oomph in their laptops, offering larger screens, gaming-ready GPUs, and potent processors. It’s time to meet the family’s portly fun-loving uncle, the Series 7 Gamer.
It’s Samsung’s very first gaming laptop, and takes things in the Series 7 lineup to their logical conclusion: there’s the 17.3-inch display, a quad-core Ivy Bridge processor, 16GB of RAM, and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M GPU packed into its husky 9.6 pound frame. Gaming laptops generally sacrifice portability for performance, and aren’t cheap — the Gamer will set you back $1,900. Does this big guy live up to its name? Let’s find out.
Hardware / design
Hardware / design
Quite the classy chassis
The Series 7 Gamer is reminiscent of a bloated ultrabook, sporting many of the design sensibilities of those sleek ultralight laptops. It’s quite obviously a desktop replacement aimed at the stereotypical hardcore gamer, but when the keyboard’s bright blue and red backlighting is off or set to a basic white, the machine looks downright respectable. The Gamer’s wedge shape isn’t exactly slimming — the laptop is 1.96 inches at its thickest point — but it does make the machine a bit easier to tote, while lending it a sort of modern appeal. I’m personally still partial to the Alienware M17x’s aggressive styling and glowing grilles, but it’s hard to deny that the tapered, teardrop shape looks quite a bit, well, classier. When the machine is powered up, Samsung’s logo glows softly on the left side of the Gamer’s plastic lid. It disappears when the machine is put to sleep or powered down and actually looks looks rather nice. Alas, both the lid and the aluminum wrist rest are a bit too eager to pick up fingerprints, so you’ll want to keep some sort of dusting cloth handy if you’re particular about appearances.
The speakers sit on either end of the keyboard, bolstered by the subwoofer underneath the machine. On the laptop’s left, you’ll find a spot for the four-pin power adapter, the Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, and HDMI ports, a full-sized DisplayPort, a pair of USB 3.0 connectors, a multi-format card reader, and the headphone and microphone jacks. On the right, a pair of USB 2.0 ports sit on either side of the Blu-ray player. A dial on the right slides between one of the Series 7 Gamer’s four modes. They’re essentially glorified power plans: "Library Mode" mutes the speakers, turns off the fans and throttles down the CPU when you’re running on battery; "Eco Mode" dims the display and throttles the CPU at all times, and "Balanced Mode" finds a nice middle ground. And then there’s "Gaming Mode."
There’s something oddly invigorating about sliding the dial to this final spot: Samsung’s software swings into action, swapping the desktop wallpaper and the mouse cursor over to one of three themes and playing manic chords. Each theme is coupled with a screensaver that mimics the wallpaper, giving the illusion that entire desktop is animated when the machine goes idle. It’s equal parts melodramatic and awesome: I went with the racing theme, and every so often I’d suddenly find myself blaring down a tunnel as colored beams streaked past. It’s all optional of course, should you prefer an desktop that’s a little less distracting.
Display / speakers
Loud and proud
The glossy LED-backlit display doesn’t hold up well in direct sunlight, with reflections marring the viewing experience. But it’s otherwise very capable: it offers a 1920 x 1080 resolution and a generous 400 nits of brightness. The horizontal viewing angles are wide; color accuracy becomes a bit of a problem vertically, but I didn’t have trouble finding a comfortable angle to tilt the screen to.
The pair of speakers are rather nice, easily filling my apartment with crisp, clear sound and serving up a fair amount of bass thanks to the subwoofer at the bottom of the chassis. The included Dolby audio software offers a number of levers and levels to fiddle with, and allows you to configure custom profiles to fit individual moods or applications. While there’s a virtual surround sound option, I’ve always preferred a proper surround sound system or surround sound headphones over attempting to mimic the experience with a pair of stereo speakers.
Of note: the volume control and power buttons sit beside the left and right speaker, respectively. When you’re in Gaming mode, red rings flash around both buttons in time with any audio that’s playing. The flash rhythmically as music plays, but start to look a little disjointed when there’s dialogue or a frenetic firefight in a game or movie. I actually enjoy the immersion factor that Alienware’s FX app attempts to inject into games, changing the lighting scheme to match events on screen — I found the implementation here a bit wanting. The pulsating effect isn’t especially distracting, but there’s no way to disable it without leaving Gaming Mode entirely.
Keyboard / touchpad
Red, white and blue
The Series 7 Gamer carries traditional scissor-switch keys. They’re evenly spaced and rather responsive, making both typing and gaming a pleasant experience. The function row is a bit on the small side, and while a slight dimple on each key prevented any misfires I would’ve personally appreciated them being slightly larger. I spend a considerable amount of time playing Eve Online, a science fiction MMO that ties your spaceship’s guns to the function row keys. I’ll admit that’s a pretty small subset of gamers for Samsung to design their keyboards around, but it’s still something of a pain. There’s also a function lock, if you’d prefer not to hold down the function key to access the hardware controls. I must admit that I’m a little disappointed that there are no playback controls — you can adjust the speaker volume on the fly, but actually pausing or skipping tracks requires ducking into an app. Not exactly a deal breaker, but I’ve seen plenty of workarounds — including mapping playback controls to the arrow keys — which would’ve been a fine option here.
The Series 7 Gamer offers colored backlighting, though it isn’t nearly as comprehensive as the Alienware M17x’s offering. In Gaming Mode the WASD keys glow red while the rest of the keyboard is lit up in blue. Switch over to Balanced Mode and the keyboard swaps to white, while Library and Eco Mode shut the backlighting off altogether. You can adjust the backlighting brightness and the interval of time before it shuts off while the machine is idle, but you’re out of luck if you’re looking to customize the appearance.
In keeping with the last few Windows laptops I’ve spent some time with, the touchpad is decidedly good. Scrolling is smooth, and pinching, swiping and rotating gestures all work responsively and reliably. A thin blue LED bar separates the touchpad from the rocking bar that serves as the left and right touchpad buttons. I prefer independent buttons (or a single clicking surface) as my thumb occasionally hit the bar right in its rigid, inflexible center — a painful jolt if you’re imprecise and caught unaware. The touchpad’s blue LED bar is also always on and always blue, which is a bit of a disconnect if the backlighting is off or set to white.
Performance / software
The 17.3-inch behemoth is equipped with 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M GPU and a quad-core Ivy Bridge processor. At 9.6 pounds it’s not the heaviest gaming laptop we’ve reviewed (that honor goes to the 10.6-pound Alienware M17x), but it’ll be in your best interests to keep this laptop off of your lap. Samsung opted to use an 8GB SanDisk integrated solid state drive (iSSD) express cache, instead of the 32GB mSATA SSD cache drives that have become commonplace across Ivy Bridge laptops. The Series 7 Gamer couples the iSSD with a pair of 750GB Hitachi hard drives that are not in RAID, serving up 1.5TB of space. The laptop boots up in about 26 seconds, and wakes up from sleep in about four — the M17x is equipped with a 32GB mSATA cache and also boots up in 26 seconds, but wakes from sleep in two.
|Samsung Series 7 Gamer||10,956||P15,088||P3,509|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y480||9,175||P5,650||P1,259|
You might think that the Gamer’s quad-core Core i7 CPU and GeForce GTX 675M would be a close match for the M17x’s quad-core Core i7 CPU and GeForce GTX 680M. But despite the marginal naming difference, the GTX 680M delivers considerably better performance than its predecessor (which makes the naming conventions all the more frustrating). The $2,600 Alienware M17x is equipped with the new GeForce GTX 680M, the mobile variant of Nvidia’s new 28-nanometer graphics card. The Gamer’s GeForce GTX 675M is built on Nvidia’s older 40-nanometer GPU technology. The 28-nanometer manufacturing process crams more transistors into a smaller space, allowing Nvidia to cut power consumption and eke more performance out of the same space — the concept is similar to the performance leap between Intel’s 32nm Sandy Bridge and 22nm Ivy Bridge processors. The performance gap is a bit more dramatic when we look at the gaming results.
So close, and yet...
|Just Cause 2 (FPS)||The Witcher 2 (FPS)||Battlefield 3 (FPS)|
|Samsung Series 7 Gamer||47||28||29|
These results are taken at each machine’s native 1920 x 1080 resolution, at the highest settings (with Ubersampling disabled, in The Witcher 2). They were also collected while the Series 7 Gamer was plugged in, as the GPU throttles down when the machine isn’t tethered to an outlet. All told, the Series 7 Gamer’s results are strong: just shy of 30 frames per second on Battlefield 3 at ultra settings and a 1080p resolution is nothing to scoff at, particularly when getting to a solid 30 frames per second is simply a matter of dialing down the anti-aliasing (or switching to high settings, which remain gorgeous and net an average of 41 frames per second). Whether or not the extra performance you’ll get out of the M17x is worth $700 is up to you.
The Series 7 Gamer remained pleasantly zippy throughout my time with it, and while you’ll faster load times and better general performance with a solid state drive (or a large cache drive), getting around Windows wasn’t an issue. In most non-gaming applications, you probably won’t notice much difference between the Gamer and the M17x. The Gamer’s 2.3GHz Core i7-3610QM CPU is only 300MHz shy of the M17x’s 2.6GHz Core i7-3720QM. Samsung’s machine offers twice as much RAM (16GB versus Alienware’s 8GB), but you’d be hard pressed to see much difference there. The 8GB iSSD express cache won’t be a seriously limiting factor; the biggest effects would generally only be noticed when the machine waking from sleep, or for frequently used applications.
There’s very little bloatware: Norton Internet Security and Online Backup make an appearance, but they were easy enough to silence. Cyberlink’s YouCam and Media Suite offer support for the webcam and Blu-ray player, respectively, and Amazon’s Kindle software is also pre-installed. Xerox’s PhotoCafe is a bit less innocent, running in the background and occasionally popping up a notification to remind me how easy it is to order photobooks — the app will only nag you if you start it up, and it’s trivially easy to remove.
The rest of the bundled software comes in the form of the various Samsung utilities. These are rather useful, actually: Easy Settings is mapped to the F1 key, and while it’s little more than a front end for settings that are available in Windows (including wireless networks, wallpaper options, and the User Account Control level) it presents them in an attractive, easy to navigate interface. When you’re in Gaming mode, an animated orb appears on the top right corner of the screen (you can move it wherever you’d like) and offers a few more gamer-centric options, including whether or not you’d like Gaming mode to automatically disable the Windows key and touchpad (yes) or limit background applications and services the app determines aren’t necessary (maybe).
Battery, heat and noise
This Gamer won't get out much
Battery life is (as expected) a sore point: the Series 7 Gamer lasted for a paltry two hours and thirty-two minutes on The Verge Battery Test, which consists of downloading high-resolution images and cycling through 100 websites at 65 percent brightness, until the laptop’s battery dies. It only lasted for two hours and 10 minutes of my own use, which consists of a bit of web browsing, lots of writing, the occasional video, and near-constant music streaming. Switching to Library and Eco Modes (which dim the display brightness down to 40%) will net you approximately three hours, though that’s still a far cry from the four hours and 12 minutes I saw with the Alienware M17x.
|Samsung Series 7 Gamer||2:32|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y480||4:05|
Noise is only a problem when the machine is especially active, as the fans kick up something fierce when you’re spending some quality time with games. Heat isn’t an issue though: the massive vents on the rear of the machine face outwards, keeping them out of the way. Even then the Series 7 Gamer never got especially hot, and while I wouldn’t recommend resting its girth in your lap, your legs will be fine.
My latent inner miser is phoning in again, harping on about rent payments and weighing the relative merits of pricey gaming laptops versus gaming desktops that arguably offer a better bang for your buck. If you’re in the market for a desktop replacement, the Samsung Series 7 Gamer will certainly not disappoint, serving up strong performance in an attractive package for years to come. But lurking in the shadows (in my mind at least) is Alienware’s juggernaut. There’s the question of paying a bit more — to the tune of $700 — for the Alienware M17x, a machine that’s better able to tackle today’s games, and will likely keep on doing so long after the Series 7 Gamer’s GPU starts to feel a little dated.
The price difference gives me pause, but Alienware’s offering delivers measurable performance gains, longer battery life, and a much cooler lighting scheme (which counts for a lot, in my book). Ultimately, it all boils down to preference. Cooler heads might suggest grabbing the Series 7 Gamer — it is good enough, to be fair — and putting that $700 towards games or your next gaming laptop. I would opt to spend more upfront. The Series 7 Gamer will save you money now, but the Aliewnare M17x’s GTX 680M will be better equipped to tackle tomorrow’s demanding games; keep an eye out for a price drop and hoard your pennies, but it could prove a bit wiser to go for the pricier, longer-lasting option. Or, you know, get a desktop.