Notebookcheck's Best of December 2010

J. Simon Leitner (translated by Daniel Rechitsky), 01/14/2011

Best of the Holiday Season. During the festive month of December, we provided our readers with 23 notebook reviews and various other articles. After much careful brow-furrowing consideration, we compiled the Best of December 2010.

Three categories of notebooks had a considerable number of models reviewed during the month of December.  Three other categories ended up one contender too short for a spot in the Best of December: convertibles (Fujitsu T580, 85%), netbooks (HP Mini 5103, 85%), workstations (HP Elitebook 8740w, 91%) and tablets (Archos 101, 79%).

Of the models above, the HP 8740w deserves a special honorable mention. The workstation has much to offer in many areas: the stylish and sturdy case, the extensive array of ports, good application performance and the astoundingly low heat and noise production despite its powerful hardware performance.

The coup de grâce was, however, the "Dreamcolor" display, an IPS panel with excellent brightness, contrast ratio and first-rate color space. Popularized by their use in Apple iPads, the IPS panel contributes to a remarkably wide range of viewing angles in the HP Elitebook 8740w as well. It's arguably the best mobile device currently available for professional graphic designers and photo editors.

Gaming / Desktop Replacement

Contenders:

Medion Erazer X6811
Dell XPS 17
Schenker XMG P500 PRO

Among the best of the best in December, three notebooks stand out, which vary not only in who their manufacturer is but also in their target audience. 

The Medion Erazer X6811 is particularly appealing to thrifty gamers looking for good performance at a reasonable price. With the Intel Core i7-740QM CPU and Geforce GTX 460M graphics card current games can be run with high detail settings on. At around 1200 Euro the Erazer is, however, at the low end of the price range for gaming notebooks.
A notable competitor would be the Schenker XMG P500 PRO Gaming Notebook. This model with Intel Core i7-640M CPU and GTX 460M GPU can be extensively customized to meet the needs of various users—as is typical with Schenker.  What sets it apart from other notebooks in its price range is the high-quality matte full-HD screen. Its excellent display was especially helpful in earning an overall rating of 85%.
Last but not least, we take a look at the Dell XPS 17, with which Dell hopes to make its mark again among premium multimedia devices. This, however, didn't work out very well—mostly on account of the unexceptional display, but the average-quality keyboard and the somewhat high noise and heat emission are also to blame. The notebook managed, on the other hand, to impress in the areas of case, craftsmanship, performance and excellent sound quality. Depending on the particular set of features included, the Dell XPS 17 costs around 1300 Euro (i7-840QM/GT 445M).

Desktop Replacement / Gaming Notebook of the Month December 2010: Schenker XMG P500 PRO

The good price-to-performance ratio, the potential to extensively customize the laptop as well as the high-quality matte Full-HD display (virtually non-existant elsewhere) and good color space (sRGB) make an excellent combination.  These factors not only contribute to the overall rating of 85% but also earn the XMG P500 the Editors' Choice Award.

Shortcut:

What we like

A matte screen in a consumer gaming notebook.

What we'd like to see

Optimus technology for a longer battery life under light use.

What surprises us

That this laptop doesn't need to simulate more vivid colors by using a reflective screen as opposed to many of its competitors.

The competition

Gaming notebooks with a matte display are still rare. Notebooks with the same graphics card can be found in Asus G73JW (17 inch) or Toshiba's Qosmio X500 notebook. Comparable graphics performance are provided in notebooks with ATI's HD 5850 graphics card, for example: Acer's Aspire 5943G-728G64Wnss or Deviltech's Devil 9700 DTX.

Multimedia Notebooks

Contenders:

HP Envy 14 Beats Edition
Sony Vaio VPC-EC3M1E/BJ
Samsung RF510-SO2DE
Samsung NP-RF710-S06DE

After reviewing the first-edition HP Envy 14 1010eg, we were surrounded by cries for reconsideration since HP replaced the original high-quality Radiance Display—marked by an excellent color space—with an 08/15 panel. This eliminated an important argument in its favor and even put into question whether it belongs in the premium notebook class. Fears became reality as the current version of the Envy 14 "Beats" didn't manage to live up to the success of the launch model mostly due to its less impressive screen. At an overall rating of 83%, the laptop ranks in average among multimedia notebooks.
Things didn't work out any better for the Sony Vaio EC3M1E, which struggled up to only 79%. The good keyboard and extensive array of ports definitely scored it some points, but it took a big hit because of its below-average display.
Thanks to a well thought-out combination, the Samsung RF510 reached a rating of 84%. The matte display, appealing high-quality case as well as its respectable performance made it a well-rounded candidate.
It's big brother, the Samsung RF710, didn't fare quite as well with an overall rating of 79%. For this one, Samsung chose to go with a reflective display, which nevertheless produced a low contrast ratio. On top of that, the modest performance of the Geforce GT 420M most notably impacts gaming.

Multimedia-Notebook of the month December 2010: Samsung RF510-SO2DE

Samsung puts together a nice package with the RF510-SO2DE, which exhibits few slight flaws overall. We particularly like the choice of classic office-notebook qualities like the good keyboard and touchpad, the matte display and the low heat and noise production as well as the good multimedia performance thanks to the Intel i5-460M CPU and Nvidia Geforce GT 330M graphics card. With the ultramodern features of a Blu-Ray drive, USB 3.0 and HDMI you're set for years to come. Only gamers might not be fully satisfied with the 330M GPU, which can be considered to perform at lower level than the HD 5650.

Shortcut:

What we like

A perfect cooling system with Samsung's typical Silent Mode. When the fan's not spinning, you can hear a pin drop and it doesn't get overly loud when the fan's whirling away.

What we'd like to see

A display with a wider range of viewing angles and better contrast would be nice for watching films and doing office work alike.

What surprises us

The fast hard drive paired with the i5-460M provides an impressive work speed.

The competition

HP ProBook 6550b WD703EA: Strictly made for serious working (HD+ Panel); Acer Aspire 5820TG-5464G75Mnks: Better for games, but no matte screen

Full-HD Options
Sony Vaio VPC-EB3Z1E/BQ: Vivid colors for less than 1000 Euro; Dell XPS 15 FHD: latest Nvidia GT 435 and B+RG LED; Sony Vaio VPC-F13Z1E/B: quad-core muscles with broad color spectrum.

Office Notebooks

Contenders:

Lenovo ThinkPad T410s
Lenovo Thinkpad T410
HP Compaq Presario CQ56-103SG
Lenovo ThinkPad T510
HP ProBook 6550b WD703EA
HP 620 WT092EA
Asus P42JC-VO012X
Toshiba Satellite C660-10E

With a total of 8 laptops we come to the office notebook class. The most important thing here is a good price-to-performance ratio. Among the contenders here are the least expensive devices that can be called notebooks. First off, we have the HP Compaq CQ56 that actually cost less than 300 Euro at the time when the review was written.  With an overall rating of 73%, the devices unfortunately didn't manage to get beyond the mark of "average". The HP 620 made out much better at a price of over 400 Euro and a rating of 80%. Good performance at a low price is currently a rarity. Likewise falling into the "cheapest" class is the Toshiba Satellite C660, going for around 550 Euro but managing no more than a satisfactory performance (74%).

In a higher price range is the Asus P42JC (84%) that thanks to its Intel i5-450M CPU and Geforce 310M nearly reaches the performance level of multimedia notebooks. Up next is the HP ProBook 6550b costing under 1000 Euro and earning an impressive 87%, barely making the "Very Good" cut-off.

Finally, we reviewed the Optimus Update on the Lenovo Thinkpad series, particularly the T410, T410s and the T510 models were re-evaluated. With ratings ranging from 83-86%, these professional notebooks offer quite a pretty package, but at a hefty price of 1500 to 2300 Euro in return.

Office Notebook of the Month for December 2010: HP ProBook 6550b WD703EA

Even if HP advertises its ProBooks as a step below the Elitebooks, these notebooks are no less impressive than their supposed superiors at least in terms of its outward appearance. The ProBook 6550b appeals with its fairly sturdy case, a very nice keyboard, a great variety of ports, a very good matte screen with a good resolution of (1600x900 pixels) and other high display-related values. the notebook exhibits a good performance to boot on account of its Intel Core i5 450M CPU coupled with an ATI HD 540v graphics card.
Last but not least, the low heat and noise production as well as the battery life of around 3 hours for typical office use contribute to the ProBook 6550b earning this award. 

Shortcut:

What we like

The extensive array of ports and the numerous security features of the notebook.  Furthermore there are several very practical detailed solutions such as the capacitive keys which we liked very much.

What we'd like to see

In our opinion, an illuminated keyboard would have been a sensible supplement for the ProBook 6550b.

What surprises us

That a very good display was built in the ProBook 6550b; these are normally reserved for high-end models.

The competition

The Asus P42JC which we only just recently reviewed represents a serious competitor for the ProBook 6550b, but the Lenovo ThinkPad T410 is also a competitor of the ProBook.

Subnotebooks

Contenders:

Dell Vostro V130
Sony Vaio VPC-S13X9E
Samsung QX310-S02DE

The final class of notebooks is composed of compact laptops which can nevertheless show the strength of their hardware. We start off with the Dell Vostro V130 13.3", which is basically a refurbished Vostro V13. At 86% the notebook really made its mark with the only substantial flaw being its short 2-3 battery life under typical office use. The case, keyboard and touchpad, display, hardware as well as the quiet cooling system of the notebook perform respectably, all making their contribution to the high overall rating.
The Sony Vaio VPC-S13X represents a notable competitor in the same 13.3" size with similar hardware (i3-370UM / GMA HD). At a price of around 1100 Euro it costs a good deal more than the Dell Vostro but can't be dismissed right off the bat because of its high 85% rating.
A particularly high-performing contender in the subnotebook category for December 2010 is the Samsung QX310 with a Intel i5-460M standard CPU (not UL/ULV). Coupled with Nvidia Geforce 310M, the laptop could even compete in the multimedia category. Even though the notebook earns an 84% overall rating, due to the highly reflective display and low contrast ratio it can't quite measure up to the competition.

Subnotebook of the Month for December 2010: Dell Vostro V130

Dell has done well in building on the somewhat successful Vostro V13 design. The sturdy and stylish aluminum case remains unchanged and a digital HDMI port is thrown into the mix, enabling the use of external monitors or TVs at a high resolution. We particularly like the powerful performance of the hardware with nevertheless low level of heat and noise produced. Only in one area could the notebook use some improvement: the battery life. 2-3 hours isn't much for a compact notebook meant to be used on the go. Moreover, it's frustrating that a more powerful battery is not available.

Shortcut:

What we like

Compact, quiet, smooth and stylish. The V130 makes it easy to brag to coworkers.

What we'd like to see

Battery Life!  Battery Life!  Battery Life!!!

What surprises us

Very sturdy non-unibody case.

The competition

Toshiba Portégé R700-172 & Lenovo ThinkPad X201: longer battery life under heavy use, very expensive; Acer Travelmate 8172T-33U4G32N: good battery life at a similar price; ASUS UL30JT-RX002V: 7 hours of mobile work time but a reflective screen; ASUS PL30JT-RO030X: matte, same performance level, six hours of mobile work time at a lower price.

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Notebookcheck's Best of December 2010
Author: J. Simon Leitner, 2011-01-14 (Update: 2013-06- 6)