Notebookcheck's Best of June 2013 - Notebooks
Haswell. The name of Intel's new CPU generation has been branded in our minds. After meticulous preparations, we reviewed 13 test samples with the new chip in June. Initially, we focused on the Core i7. However, Apple's new Air comes with a Core i5. In addition, we tested many new high-end GeForce models, from GTX 760M to GTX 780M combined with Extreme quad-cores.
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Looking back through June 2013, which devices did we like best? Splitting the notebooks into four categories, for each category we compare laptops in the same class and dub one the winner. Tablets (Android/Windows RT) and smartphones were selected in a separate article: Best of June 2013 – Smartphones and Tablets.
On 1st of June 2013, the chip giant Intel introduced its new processors and integrated graphics chips. We gathered many devices and scrutinized the new cores. Schenker, Bullman, One, MSI, and Acer made test samples available to us. Please also refer to our overview articles:
With only one device each, we had a dearth of convertibles and workstations. Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix performed rather decently with 86%. The Core i5 ultrabook convinced with excellent build quality, great input devices, and quiet system noise. In addition, it features a very bright Full HD display with wide viewing angles. Top mobility meets high performance at the expense of a high price: 1700 Euros (~$2247).
The only workstation reviewed in June was the EliteBook 8570w LY550EA-ABD. It could not achieve a 'very good' rating (85%) in this demanding category, as the AMD FirePro M4000 and Core i5-3360M are "too weak". In addition, the quality is not flawless, the system noise is loud under load and the interface layout modest. The "normal" Full HD display (no IPS) performs worse than the best of its category in contrast, viewing angles, and color space. The 15.6-inch laptop costs about 1500 Euros (~$1984).
If Apple competes with Apple, there can be only one winner: Apple. While case, interfaces, and display remained the same, the new models feature Intel's Haswell generation. The two devices come with Intel Core i5-4250U and Core i7-4650U, respectively, and an Intel HD Graphics 5000. So, we reviewed a total of four MacBook Air laptops. The reviews answer the following questions: What should we buy? i5 or i7 CPU, 128 GB or 256 GB SSD?
The MSI S30-i3U465 Slim is the last of only a few subnotebooks in June. Its configuration is appropriate for its price. Core i3-3217U and HD Graphics 4000 are nothing special, but the 64 GB mSATA SSD system drive is. As a result, the system works quickly. However, this is not true for games. A 500 GB HDD provides sufficient storage capacity. The low rating of 75% is caused by the poor build quality, and the clattery touchpad. Because of its short battery life and low display brightness on battery, the laptop is unfortunately no fun outdoors.
Subnotebook of June 2013: Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2013-06 MD711D/A
The ratings of the MacBook Airs from 2013 do not differ much. The 11-incher wins with 88% versus 87%. It has the longer battery life and a slightly higher performance. But, the 13-incher features the better TN panel (1440x900 pixels).
What we like
The whole product.
What surprises us
The eternal temptation with Apple to spend more money than we planned despite the small benefits.
Two low-cost models (Acer, HP) and three higher-value laptops (Lenovo, Asus, Dell) compete in the office category. Our US team reviewed the 14-inch ThinkPad T431s. The Lenovo ultrabook comes with an i5-3437U and a 47 Wh lithium-polymer battery. Apart from the 1600x900 pixels, it is conservatively equipped: no SSD and no IPS panel. But, we also appreciate the great input devices and a stable magnesium case without these. The battery life of 4:46 hours (WLAN test) is rather long.
With the ASUSPRO PU500CA, Asus released a thin 15.6-incher with matte display for the office. Input devices including a number pad, decent system performance, and quiet system noise are advantages of the otherwise conservatively equipped ultrabook candidate. The ULV hardware without dedicated GPU can only deliver a battery life of 3:44 hours. This is disappointing. In addition, it lacks usual business features like docking port or ample connectivity. Currently, the ASUSPRO costs about 700 Euros (~$927) in shops.
The Latitude 3330 is a cheap office device (from 500 Euros, ~$662) in 13.3-inch format. Our entry-level model with Core i3-2375M and 320 GB is unfortunately not that stable as more expensive models of the Latitude E series. In addition, the waste heat is also slightly too high. But, the Latitude 3330 delivers important office features like long battery life (5:34 hours WLAN test) and a bright, matte display. Furthermore, the hardware can be easily enhanced. However, buyers should consider that the superior hardware of a Latitude E6430 plays in a higher league.
Acer competes with the TravelMate P633-M, a basic 13.3-incher with only a few obvious advantages including the high-end impression of the magnesium case, the aluminum look and the low system noise. However, that's it. A dark display (HD), a spongy stroke and clattery mouse buttons are disappointing in everyday office use. The TravelMate P633 is available for 560 Euros (~$741).
HP's Pavilion Sleekbook TouchSmart 15-b153sg is a cheap consumer device with touchscreen for 480 Euros (~$636). HP classifies it as a multimedia laptop, but the AMD A-Series A4-4355M and the Radeon HD 7400G are very slow. In addition, the non-rigid high-gloss case susceptible to dirt and the poor keyboard spoil the user experience.
Office notebook of June 2013: Lenovo ThinkPad T431s
Such competitors make the decision easy. The ThinkPad T431s does everything important for hard-working office devices right. Input devices, display, stability and mobility give a balanced bundle. However, the manufacturer demands a steep price: The basic configuration is available from 1300 Euros (~$1722).
What we like
New thinner chassis is indeed sleeker and more minimalistic in design. The improved keyboard and redesigned touchpad are responsive and easy to use. Classic ThinkPad qualities like the roll cage and magnesium construction remain mostly intact.
What we would like to see
A repositioned SD-card reader, more rigid display bezel, and removable battery with larger capacity options would make the notebook even better for outdoor use. A possibly brighter display with deeper contrast may improve usability under direct sunlight. Additional GPU options, such as Nvidia NVS cards, would attract more professional users.
What surprises us
Lenovo has managed to decrease the size and weight of a T Series notebook even further to fit ultrabook specifications without sacrificing too much on build quality sturdiness and upgradeability.
Excellent gaming performance, simple look: The One K56-3F fits this motto very well. Although the 15.6-incher achieves 100% in performance and 90% in gaming performance, it lags behind in build quality and input devices. The design is not bad, but it is simply made from matte plastic and does not look attractive. The non-rigid input is worse for the user. In addition, we did not like the contrast-poor, heavily reflective FHD panel. Advantages are the very fast SSD, the GeForce GT 750M and the Intel Core i7-4700MQ. Performance geeks get their money's worth, design fans will be disappointed.
The Asus F75VC is different. The 17.3-incher costs only 475 Euros (~$629) and comes with a Core i3-2370M and GeForce GT 720M. So, the gaming performance is modest. The GT 720M is the new mainstream entry-level model, which will be incorporated in many cheap laptops and ultrabooks. Temperature and system noise are fortunately low and the battery life (3:49 hours WLAN test) is respectable for the size. Unfortunately the HD+ display is poor (contrast, viewing angles, blue tint) and the keyboard wobbles.
Is the 15.6-inch Dell Inspiron 15-3521 preferable? The basic model is only available in online shops and features a Core i5-3337U and a Radeon HD 8750M for just under 600 Euros (~$795). Unfortunately, the GPU Turbo slightly throttles. As a result the gaming performance is lower than expected. The low voltage core does not slow down games. In addition, the cooling reserves of the thick case are good. Beside the good performance for little money there are some disadvantages: Positively speaking, the material is plain plastic. But, the clattery input devices will disappoint prolific writers.
Multimedia notebook of June 2013: One K56-3F
Nothing is perfect. This is also true for laptops for just under 1300 Euros (~$1723). It might be that the One K56 won because of the lack of strong competitors. The plastic case would not deserve it, but the few competitors are hardly better. Finally, only the brute CPU and system performance in the 15-inch case are striking.
What we like
The simple and unobtrusive design and the many upgrade options.
What we'd like to see
Better speakers and lower emissions. A backlit keyboard would also be appreciated.
What surprises us
For 1000 Euros (~$1312), the display should be better.
15-inch all-purpose notebooks equipped with a current graphics card like the Acer Aspire V3-571G (GT 730M), the Asus N56VB (GT 740M), the Samsung R510R5E (HD 8750M), the Samsung 770Z5E (HD 8870M), the Nexoc M512 (GT 740M), or the Toshiba Satellite P70 (GT 745M).
One K56-3N2 86%
One K73-3N 86%
Schenker W503 86%
The decision is difficult. From nine Gaming / DTR devices seven reached a rating of 86%. Coincidence, or are the notebooks interchangeable? Certainly not. Apart from 15- and 17-inch size, the samples featured very different processors and graphics cards. Among the competitors, Acer's Aspire V3-772G has the weakest GPU with the GeForce GTX 760M. 32 GB RAM, Core i7-4702MQ quad-core CPU, two hard drives and a 1920x1080 display turn the 17-incher into a DTR fireball. The Aspire V3-772G lacks an IPS panel with wide viewing angles and vivid colors, but the 15-inch V3 model features such. Price: 1500 Euros (~$1989).
The MSI GT70H is also a 17-incher, but its look and configuration focus on gamers. The GeForce GTX 780M and Core i7-4700MQ deliver an excellent 3D performance even in FHD. All current titles ran without stuttering. Is it possible to cool such vast performance in a laptop? Yes, the temperature and system noise ratings are good. Alike the Acer V3's, the matte panel uses TN technology. Therefore, the viewing angles are limited. Price: 2000 Euros (~$2652).
The One K56-3N2 (Clevo P157SM) is a 15.6-incher with big gaming ambitions. The GeForce GTX 780M could run each of the 20 test games in native Full HD resolution without stuttering. Thanks to the Samsung 840 Series (500 GB!) and the high-end quad-core the system performance is excellent (100%). Elite technology is pricey. The dealer sells the test configuration for 1870 Euros (~$2480). The customer gets a simple case with poor touchpad, but decent keyboard. The biggest highlight is its maintainability: It is easy to clean the fan or upgrade the hardware (hard drive, RAM etc.). The thick case houses four mass storage devices: 2x mSATA; 2x 2.5-inch.
The 17-inch One K73-3N (Clevo P170SM) is the counterpart to the One K56-3N2 (15.6-inch). According to the specs, its GeForce GTX 770M is slightly slower, but its quad-core marginally faster. It can also house four hard drives (2x mSATA + 2x 2.5-inch). The massive 3.7 kg case is always loud under load. Considering the high performance (100%), the case remains rather cool. The FHD display is not appropriate for the rather steep price of 1750 Euros (~$2320). It is matte, but the viewing angles are narrow. However, contrast and brightness are decent.
Schenker, a gaming laptop dealer, offers the W503 (Clevo P150SM) with GeForce GTX 765M. The 15-incher with i7-4800MQ quad-core is rather loud. The GPU is not sufficient to smoothly run demanding games like Crysis 3 or Medal of Honor: Warfighter in native FHD, but it is sufficient for most of today's games. We again appreciate the excellent maintainability, the simple case and the good keyboard with backlight. Disadvantage: it is even loud while idle. Price: 1780 Euros (~$2360).
With the XMG P703 (Clevo P177SM), Schenker provides us with a 17-inch meteorite with GeForce GTX 780M and Core i7-4900MQ Extreme quad-core. The "monster" weighs just under 4 kg. Thanks to its mass storage options (2x mSATA, 2x 2.5-inch) it can be called an excellent DTR. The gaming performance is tremendous. Full HD in high details is possible, but the system noise is always audible - even while idle. If you go for such a device, you should trade-off mobile disadvantages (weight, battery life: 3:18 hours WLAN test) against advantages (many components can be upgraded and replaced, excellent connectivity, vast performance, decent sound, etc.). Price: 2660 Euros (~$3528).
Bullman competes with Schenker and One in the BTO market. We asked them to send us the Clevo Barebone W370ST (17-inch) with GeForce GTX 765M and Core i7-4900MQ. Thanks to Extreme quad-core and a very fast SSD, it performs excellently (100%). The following aspects are striking when compared to the gaming meteor above: low system noise while idle and during the stress test. The gaming performance is rather good, but measurably lower than the top model's. Many games do not run smoothly in Full HD. Second advantage: The matte TN panel with very good brightness and high contrast. After calibration the blue hue is reduced and the color saturation is good.
Finally, we reviewed the Asus G750JX, an exemplary gamer from the manufacturer. The bulky and heavy 17-inch case houses an excellent cooling system (stress test below 41 dB(A)!), which cools the GeForce GTX 770M and Core i7-4700HQ very well. The performance suffices for most games in Full HD. But, demanding titles like Far Cry 3 or Crysis 3 no longer run smoothly. Remarkable: FHD display with very good viewing angles. We reviewed a prototype (no rating). The current price of this configuration is just under 1600 Euros (~$2121).
Gaming/DTR notebook of June 2013: MSI GT70H-80M4811B
Are all gaming meteors loud? No, the MSI GT70H and the Bullman C-Klasse 5 i7 17FHD are exceptions, which achieve a rating of 86 and 87% respectively in system noise (usually 58-60%). The matte displays are with 86 and 88% the best in our comparison, but, the ratings do not differ much. Bullman and MSI apparently use the same panel. The Chi Mei HC9GK-173HGE is very bright, non-reflective, contrast-rich and has decent viewing angles and colors (calibrated).
Finally, the MSI GT70H won because of its marginally better total rating: The build quality is not better, but the connectivity and the gaming performance of the GTX 780M are. Considering price per performance, the Extreme CPU of the Bullman is not reasonable for gamers. The BTO manufacturer should replace it in favor of the price.
What we like
Why do so few laptops feature such a great sound?
What we'd like to see
Less design experiments and slimmer looks.
What surprises us
In contrast to the Clevo contenders, the GT70 is fairly quiet.