Notebookcheck

Notebookcheck's Best of Februar 2011

J. Simon Leitner (translated by Martina Osztovits), 03/15/2011

Temporary game. Many potential customers hoped that laptops with Sandy Bridge CPUs will be available soon. However, things turned out differently. The launch of such laptops was delayed until beginning/mid of march, because of a fault in the Intel chipset. But, thanks to AMD Fusion the last month was nevertheless not boring.

In February 2011 we scrutinized a proud 25 laptops. On the one hand first samples with Intel Sandy Bridge CPU were among these. Although their chipset is probably faulty, this did not have an impact on our tests and the decent performance was convincing. On the other hand, we had first AMD Fusion laptops under review. These use so called APUs, a fusion of CPU and GPU. The target market of AMD is not so much the multimedia/performance range. Instead, these laptops should be able to well balance performance and low energy demand. So their good battery life should help AMD to win some market shares back in the Intel dominated Netbook market.

We reviewed a total of five netbooks and four subnotebooks last month. The office category consisted of 7 samples and was therewith biggest this month. Three excellent laptops competed in the gaming category this month. Finally, also the some multimedia laptops tried to get the award "Editors' Choice".
The Dell Precision M4500, the only representative of the Worstation class in February, which got excellent 89% and a total rating of "Very good" in our review is not listed in any competition. The same is true for the Creative Ziio Tablet, because it also lacks competition.

Category: Netbook

Contenders:

Toshiba NB550D
Samsung N145-JP02DE
Samsung NC10-JP01DE
Samsung NC210-A01DE
Toshiba NB520-108

AMD Fusion vs. Intel Atom, Toshiba vs. Samsung should be the subheading of this category as four Intel-based solution compete with the Toshiba NB550D, one of the first net- /notebooks with AMD Fusion hardware. Although its basic approach appeared successful, the decision of Toshiba to install that many Bloatware and only one Gigabyte of RAM is counterproductive. Achieving up to 9 hours battery runtime, the netbook can indeed keep up with its Intel based competition. Furthermore, its performance capacity suffices a smooth rendering of HD-data.

In comparison the Samsung N145 could be nearly called "retro". Intel's N450 single core CPU is still used in the refresh model. In use the limited performance gets apparent. Nevertheless, this netbook can convince as it has an elegant case, a matte and particularly bright display (outdoor-capable!) at a price of just about 240 Euro.
The Samsung NC10, whose case is known since the beginning of the netbook era, plays in the same league as the N145. Refreshed by USB-3.0 and Bluetooth 3.0 Samsung places an especially cheap representative with single core CPU in the netbook market.

Being equipped with an Intel Atom N550 dual core CPU, the NC 210 calculates already clearly faster. Again, the matte display with excellent brightness deserves praise. Samsung is one of the few manufacturers who are aware of the advantages of an ergonomic, i.e., non-reflective, matte, display surface especially in mobile net- and notebooks.

Finally Toshiba also offers an Intel counterpart to its NB500D AMD model, the NB520. Equipped with Intel N550 CPU and integrated GMA 3150 it cannot reach the performance of the NB550D when rendering HD-videos.

Netbook of  Februar 2011: Toshiba NB550D

The decision was very hard in this category as four laptops got a total rating of 85%. In addition Samsung excellently meet the needs of ultra-mobile use by delivering excellent displays (matte and bright). We finally elected the NB550D from Toshiba, because of its brand new AMD Fusion technology. The fusion of dual-core CPU and rather powerful graphics chip brings about a decent performance gain while retaining a good battery life. Combined with an efficient cooling system, an attractive and well built case and convincing Harmon-Kardon speakers, Toshiba offers an attractive bundle, which is, nevertheless, not absolutely faultless.

Shortcut:

What we like
The rubberized surfaces, the long battery life and the comfortable touchpad.

What we'd like to see
A base configuration of 2 GB of RAM, and a better, matte, screen.

What surprises us
The impressive sound quality from the Harman Kardon speakers, the Toshiba ‘Sleep’ functions and the smooth HD playback.

The competition
A wide range of netbooks with the Intel Atom N550 CPU, possibly in conjunction with Ion graphics, including the Asus Eee PC 1015PN, the Samsung NF310 or the Acer Aspire One D255. Also, any forthcoming netbooks with the C-50 APU, like the Asus Eee PC 1015B.

Category: Subnotebook

Contenders:

Sony Vaio VPC-Z13B7E
Acer Aspire 3820TG
Lenovo IdeaPad U260
Sony Vaio VPC-YA1V9E/B

Subnotebooks are the next faster category. Here four very exiting laptops compete. Let's begin with the Sony Vaio Z13B. Vaio Z13Z subnotebooks are known for their high-quality screen and excellent performance. The Z13B is a cut down Vaio Z13Z model and only  comes with an HD+ displayIntel Core i5-CPU and an conventional hard drive. Although it still costs a steep 1400 euro, it can be nearly called a bargain compared to the Z13Z models (3000 euro and more).

A possible competitor would be the Acer Aspire 3820TG, whose most current configuration consists of Intel i5-CPU, AMD HD 6550M graphics card and Solid State drive. The 13-incher is not only ready to run current games, its SSD also ensures excellent application performance. However, a disadvantage is the glossy display, whose contrast and brightness is average at best.

Other than the competition, the Ideapad U260 from Lenovo basically wants to attract design-oriented customers. Its palm rest looks like a small book with leather cover. We like the matte display, which could be somewhat brighter, especially when used on-the-move. The battery life of only 3.5 hours could be longer too.

The smallest contender is the Sony Vaio YA1, which comes with a 11.6-inch display in HD-resolution. Unfortunately, a glossy display with average brightness is used and limits outdoors use. The battery life of about 4 hours is also clearly shorter than of netbooks. So, the price of about 700 euros is hardly justified.

Subnotebook of February 2011: Sony Vaio VPC-Z13B7E

Even the cheapest model of the Sony Vaio Z13 delivers many reasons to buy. The carbon fiber case is not only light, but also robust. The HD+ display (1600x900) offers a fine resolution considered it is a 13-incher. Furthermore its matte and therewith reflection-free surface and the excellent brightness score points. The Core i5-CPU and the GT 330M graphics card from Nvidia make sure that it has sufficient reserve capacities. It only hurts that the Solid State Drives was replaced by a standard hard drive, because such would bring about a performance gain in daily use.

Shortcut:

What we like
First class colors and brightness, that shows where the yardstick should be set. The light case is pretty and also stable.

What we'd like to see
Somehow we liked the quiet SSD better than the humming HDD.

What surprises us
The extreme price difference for the i7 CPU, SSD, UMTS module, full-HD display, and Blu-ray drive. The obtrusively loud cooling fan already starts to get annoying with a medium load.

The competition
Sony Vaio VPC-Z11X9E/B: from 1850 Euros, 2x64GB Samsung SSD; Vaio VPC-Z12M9E/B:, 1800 Euros, 2x64GB SSD Toshiba; Vaio VPC-Z13Z9E: Quad SSD as RAID 0; Toshiba Portégé R700-172Lenovo ThinkPad T410sApple Macbook Air 13 inch 2010-10: Processor outdated; MacBook Air 11 inch 2010-10: Processor outdated; Dell Vostro V130: significantly cheaper, SSD-Option; Lenovo Thinkpad X201s: without dedicated GPU; Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-644G16Mnks: Intel SSD 160GB and HD 6550M graphics.

Category: Office

Contenders:

Dell Latitude E4310
Dell Latitude E5510
Dell Latitude E5410
Asus X52F-EX513D
HP ProBook 4720s
Samsung RC510-S01DE
Asus A52JU

Better  late than never – possibly best meets Dell's policy in making test laptops available to us. Short before the end of production (the new Latitude notebooks were already announced), we could take a closer look at the Office laptops in classic Latitude style and at the same time see them off. Dell completely changed the design in the new laptops and it is already heavily discussed.

The X52 aka K52JR belongs to the cheapest laptops in Asus' product range.  The built-in Pentium processor delivers a useable application performance and the laptop stays cool and quiet. A con is its reflective display, which cannot even score points in the measurements.

The business expert HP competes with the ProBook 4720s. The solid laptop with comfortable keyboard and matte Display (HD+) does well in daily office work. However, we did not like the busy hard drive and the unideal interface layout, even more, because the laptop lacks a docking port. 

The Samsung RC510 performs a balancing act between Office and Multimedia. The decent input devices and the matte display speak for the first, while it already delivers kind of multimedia performance. Overall, the RC510 nevertheless best meets Office requirements and the battery life of about 3 hours allows short trips wihtout power adapter.

Because of its glossy display the Asus A52 is even closer to the multimedia world. At a price of about 500 euro you get a case with high-gloss finish and a promising HD 6370M graphics card. But, in our performance tests the chip disappoints and proves to to be only slightly faster than integrated solutions such as the Intel GMA HD. The weak keyboard cannot improve our impression too.

Office Laptop of February 2011: HP ProBook 4720s

Considering typical Office features, i.e., display, input devices, low emissions, the HP ProBook 4720s is the winner in this category. At about 650 euro you have to live with some limitations, e.g., a missing docking port, but overall the ProBook 4720s well meets the requirements, at least if you do not demand advanced performance or want to possess a 17-incher at all costs.

Shortcut:

What we like
Generous keyboard layout. Cool and stable palm rest..

What we'd like to see
When will ports again move to the back? 

What surprises us
The performance of the hard drive does not justify its noise. 

The competition
Acer Aspire 7551G: HD 5650 graphics; Toshiba Satellite L670D: more 3D-performance but worse input devices; Satellite Pro L670-170: Price competition starting at 580 euro; Dell Vostro 3700: also available with i7 quad core

Category: Gaming

Contenders:

Asus G73SW
Alienware M17x R3
Schenker XMG P501 (Clevo P150HM)

Let's turn to the category with the best performance, the gaming laptops. In February we reviewed three very attractive models. First of all, the tried and tested Asus G73SW, which is already based on Intel's Sandy Bridge processors. Asus once again offers an attractive laptop with moderate noise and first-class gaming performance. The Full-HD display delivers an excellent contrast and acceptable brightness. We only have to criticize the keyboard and the port layout. It also has to be considered that Optimus is not implemented. However, this would only amend the energy demand, because the G73JW is already quiet in Office operation even without Optimus.

The counterpart of the Asus G73SW is nobody else but the Alienware M17x, also equipped with i7-2630QM Sandy Bridge CPU and Nvidia GTX 460M graphics cards. The newest model can not only convince with an unique design and high quality workmanship, but also with a bright, contrast-rich display. While it is quite under Office load, it can get quite loud during games. In return, the components inside stay cool all the time. Gamers still make a good choice with the Alienware M17x if they do not mind its system noise, a weight of 4.3 kg and have 2000 euros to spend.

The third contender is not less attractive. First of all it is a small 15-incher, which does not perform worse than the two laptops above - the opposite is true. We talk about the Schenker XMG P501, which customers can configure quite freely and which can be equipped with today's most powerful hardware up to an Intel i7-2920XM CPU and a Nvidia Geforce GTX 485M graphics card. Fortunately, a high-quality display, i.e. good brightness, excellent contrast and enhanced color space, is also built-in. Highlight: no distracting  reflections, because of an AR-coated display. This makes the XMG P501from Schenker Notebooks something special in the royal league.

Gaming-Notebook of February 2011: Alienware M17x R3

Since years we hunt for the "perfect laptop", in this case in the gaming category. Although the Alienware M17x R3 is not absolutely successful, it already comes close to our (still) fictive ideal laptop. The only point of critique is the too present system noise under heavy load. As the temperature of the core components stays far below the maximum temperature even during the stress test, there would be room for improvements. Would it be perfect then? Possibly, but: "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."

Shortcut:

What we like

The M17x R3 is only loud when it absolutely has to be, e.g. running 3D games or under high CPU load.  The sturdy, scratch-proof case build is perfect right down to the minute details. The LCD makes a good impression with its high contrast ratio and broad range of viewing angles.

What we'd like to see

A sturdier top-notch keyboard and an ExpressCard slot. 

What surprises us

The upgrade potential offered by the second hard drive slot and the memory capacity of 32 GB RAM.  

The competition

Deviltech Fragbook DTX (P170HM): GeForce GTX 470M; Asus G73SW: GeForce GTX 460M; mySN XMG P500 PRO: GTX 460M and 15.6" full-HD ; Deviltech HellMachine DTX: GeForce GTX 480M SLI; mySN XMG U700 ULTRA: GeForce GTX 460M SLI; Medion Erazer X6811: GeForce GTX 460M at a much lower price.

Category: Multimedia / DTR

Contenders:

Acer Aspire 5750G
Medion Akoya P6630 (MD 89560)
Acer Aspire Ethos 8950G
Acer Aspire 7750G

Besides two typical multimedia laptops two big computer, which could also be categorized as desktop replacements, belong to this group. Nevertheless the Acer Aspire Ethos 8950G and the 7750G show decent multimedia qualities, too. So, it is justified to list them here.

Let's start with the Acer Aspire 5750G, which is, equipped with i7-2630G and GT 540M graphics card, a typical multimedia allrounder. It delivers first class performance, but the display is only average. Its noise level is mostly alright, but under load the temperature of the case raises up to above 50°C. Nvidia Optimus does not only make a silent Office operation, but also a good battery life (about 5 hours in WLAN-surfing) possible.

The Medion Akoya still uses a first generation Core-i CPU, but, also a GT 540M GPU for 3D performance. Overall, this laptop offers a good equipment, however, the display does not convince too, although, much to our surprise, a matte screen is built in. The Akoya suffered from very high case temperatures under load too.

The Ethos series from Acer claims to belong to the upper class. Not only the fancy design, also the big aluminium surfaces and finally the steep price of 1800 Euro substantiate this. The hardware, consisting of Intel 2630QM Sandy Bridge CPU and AMD HD 6850M graphics, promises top performance, too. However, if you take a closer look, you'll find some aspects, which to not match the noble image: The display does not perform too well in nearly all aspects and the HD 6850M often has some problems. Not least, we again do not like that DDR3 memory slows down the GPU.

The big brother of the Acer 5750G is called Aspire 7750G. It does not only have a bigger 17-inch display (HD+) built in. Furthermore, the AMD HD 6850M graphics unit promises a performance gain compared to the 15-inch model, the 5750G. Unfortunately, some economizing decisions get apparent again. It does without GDDR5 video memory, so, the full potential of the GPU is not available. Although the display performs better than the one in the Acer Ethos, it still cannot achieve better than average results.

Multimedia Laptop of February 2011: Acer Aspire 7750G

Despite not being perfect, the Acer Aspire 7750G still appears to be the best choice in direct comparison. If you also consider, the price of about 999 euro, many of the critique points shrink. The low system noise and the total performance are pros. The quality of the display is cut back in favor of the price and the keyboard might also need some time of getting used to.

Shortcut:

What we like
Low power consumption despite strongest CPU hardware.

What we'd like to see
A gaming keyboard isn't really necessary. But this spongy thing is torturing.

What surprises us
Four RAM slots and an unoccupied HDD slot. That lets notebook tuners' hearts beat faster.

The competition
Sony Vaio VPC-EB3Z1E/BQ: Less performance, but very good consumer FullHD screen; Packard Bell EasyNote LX86: Same base unit & HD 5850; mySN XMG P500 PRO: More fps with GTX 460M

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Notebookcheck's Best of Februar 2011
Author: J. Simon Leitner, 2011-03-15 (Update: 2013-06- 6)