Notebookcheck's Best of September 2011
Back to the Roots. Without distraction from tablets or netbooks in September, we were able to focus on powerful gaming notebooks, capable allrounders, low priced office companions and ultra-mobile subnotebooks. The winners boast over the top dual GPU's, combine performance with run-time, tinkle with high quality keyboards and defy the scale with very low weight.
In September, the Notebookcheck Reviewers were warming up for the hot phase just before Christmas. With the focus on our key competence - notebook reviews - only desktop replacements, gaming laptops, multimedia systems, office companions and sub-notebooks went through our test courses. Merely a single tablet, the Acer Iconia Tab A100, crashed the party; we'll keep this 7 incher for the next 'Best-Of' round.
In a total of four categories, we proceed to compare tested laptops within their category and name the winner of each for the duration of September 2011.
The field of three subnotebooks took its beginning at the start of the month with the Lenovo ThinkPad X121e, a small 11.6 incher. Equipped with the AMD Fusion APU E-Series E-350 (1.6 GHz) and a regular HDD (instead of an SSD), overall performance is low, for which the small GPU is unable to compensate. The ThinkPad X121e itself isn't hot, but its sub 400 euro price is. Whoever expects a sturdy case along the lines of business ThinkPads will be dissapointed by the limp construction quality. Input devices, particularly the touch pad fail to satisfy demanding users. The same goes for noise pollution, as the fan always spins audibly, even at idle.
Second in line was the Samsungs Serie 9 900X1B. Behind the complicated name we find a 2.36 lbs (1.072 grams) light 11.6" unit with a 6 hour battery run-time and a matte, bright HD display. We consider the 900X1B Samsung's 'Ultrabook', because the strong low voltage Core i3 provides good performance for such a small form factor. Fitting for the 1000 euro price segment, a 64 GB SSD accelerates reads and writes to storage.
For business users, the Fujitsu Lifebook S761 headed into our round of three. Fujitsu may not be as well known, but its 13.3" notebook compares well to the ThinkPads, EliteBooks and Latitudes with excellent interface selection (UMTS, docking station port, USB 3.0, ExpressCard54), first class input devices, strong Core i7 performance (without throttling problems) and low noise and temperature emissions. It was still not enough to score our top grade in the final evaluation. The matte display is sufficiently bright, but contrast and viewing angles are very poor. This is the case with many notebooks, but for a price of 1500 euros, we expected better. Technically, the Lifebook S761 can compete with the ThinkPads and EliteBooks, but the shoddy case cannot.
Subnotebook of September 2011: Samsung Serie 9 900X1B
The overall score of 88% for Samsung's series 9 900X1B earns it a clear victory. The Lifebook S761 (86%) and ThinkPad X121e (83%) aren't 'bad' but clearly behind in some areas. Aside from the extravagant design and fine workmanship, Samsung's 11.6" unit offers the maximum performance available in its size. The ThinkPad X121e may be identical in size, but with its AMD Fusion APU and spinning hard drive, it can't compete, except for its 400 euro price advantage.
The battery runtime of six hours is nothing special among sub-notebooks, but the matte display panel with its immense brightness of 326 cd/m² is. Not even contrast is compromised by this at 420:1. Regrettably, sun worshippers must do without internal 3G radio and wait almost three hours for a full battery charge. Interested punters should also read up about the issue with spontaneous loss of WIFI connectivity, noted by several readers on our forums. (See comments to our review of the Samsung Serie 9 900X1B).
What we like
The supplied overall impression and the performance of Intel's Core i3-2357M ULV CPU in interplay with the fast SSD memory.
What we'd like to see
A docking port and a built-in 3G UMTS module, which belongs to the standards of such a device in our opinion.
What surprises us
The fact that Samsung grossly exaggerates with the packaging at first, but then doesn't include an HDMI-adapter.
Subnotebooks, respectively ultrabooks with the latest Sandy Bridge processors. Among them, Apple MacBook Air 11 Mid 2011, Lenovos ThinkPad X121e with the same processor, or the Alienware M11x as a potent gaming gnome. The Asus UX21 is being lined up in this device category, but the company is still holding back on Details. Other Ultrabooks (Acer Aspire S3, Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, Toshiba Portégé Z830) are a touch larger with 13.3" displays.
Fujitsu LifeBook S751 (vPro, SSD, UMTS)
Fujitsu LifeBook E751 (vPro, UMTS)
Toshiba's Satellite R850-127 arrives in a light case, suitable for every day use and is targeted at office users not wanting to sacrifice some level of GPU performance with its Radeon HD 6450. The matt display and good brightness provide sufficient visibility in daylight, but the faded colors and poor viewing angles are no feast for the eyes. An advantage of this 15.6" unit is the built in SSD, which provides very high performance in conjunction with the Core i5 CPU. Under load, this is regrettably accompanied by much heat and noise pollution. At idle, however, everything stays pleasantly quiet and cool.
The aggressively priced 550 euro entry level Dell Vostro 3555 aims at users who want a good office and multimedia notebook with USB 3.0, ExpressCard and GPU (current games at medium details) for small money. Based on AMD's Fusion APU AMD A-Series A8-3500M (Quadcore) with integrated Radeon HD 6620G, performance is surprisingly good. The relatively speedy 7.200 RPM hard drive helps things move along. Unique in this price range is the back lit keyboard, which helps when typing in darkness. The Vostro 3555 receives demerits for the rickety keys however, a short battery runtime (less than 3 hours) and weak display contrast.
Samsung's Series 4 400B5B business model is a 15.6" laptop with docking port and broad selection of interfaces, including a 3G radio. Even the increasingly rare ExpressCard slot is on board, as well as dual USB 3.0 connectors. Starting at 950 euros, customers receive a Core i5 processor and a weak entry level Nvidia NVS 4200M GPU. The 1600x900 pixel resolution (HD+) is of interest, because it is much more useful to work with than the usual 1366x768 pixel (HD). Input devices like mouse, trackpoint and the keyboard with number pad are considerably better than the test field. Regrettably, the slipping display hinge and the low display contrast prevent a better overall score than 84%.
The Dell Vostro 1540 is a 15.6 inch office notebook predominantly sold in the eastern european market. The Core i3 370M is not the latest anymore (Intel's Core generation from 2010), but still provides good performance with the integrated Intel GPU. Battery runtimes are acceptable at 3:27 hours (WIFI test). Low heat and noise emissions are a plus, but poor workmanship and the spongy keyboard detract considerably.
Two Fujitsu notebooks with very similar sounding names and business pretension were tested in short order: The LifeBook S751 (vPro, SSD, UMTS), is a high performance model with a 14 inch display and Core i7 and SSD. A dedicated GPU is not included. Most business users won't mind but rather enjoy the included well equipped docking station.
The LifeBook E751 (vPro, UMTS) is the 15.6 inch counterpart for users needing a number pad. Other than the missing SSD, processor, interfaces and included docking station are identical. Both the S751 (14“) and the E751 (15.6“) share the office friendly HD+ resolution of 1600x900 pixels, an internal UMTS radio, as well as the ability to be remote controlled with vPro.
Acer's TravelMate TimelineX 8473TG outflanks its Fujitsu and Toshiba colleagues with a favorable price of 800 euros. At this, you may not get a Core i7, but a strong middle class Geforce GT 540M GPU. Performance is lower than the SSD equipped Satellite R850-127 or the LifeBooks E751/S751. Instead, current games can be played fluidly on the matt but too dark 14" display. The battery runtime of 5:47 hours (WIFI test, 66 Wh) is the best among the competitors of this round. Demerits are applied for sometimes high temperatures and the weak display values (brightness, contrast, viewing angles and color space)
Office notebook of September 2011: Samsung Serie 4 400B5B
The Samsung Series 4 400B5B wins by a narrow margin. Reasons for this are not so much the overall good evaluations for interfaces, runtime and emissions; rather the high resolution HD+ (1600x900 pixel) display and very good input devices differentiate it from the crop. Additionally, the many connectors, including eSATA, 2x USB 3.0, 3G radio and ExpressCard slot gain positive marks. The only weak points are the very low contrast of the display, merely adequate brightness and the wobbly display hinges. This suffices for the Series 4 400B5B to gain the number one spot for the month, but a perfect office notebook it is not.
What we like
The extensive connectivity (for example, two USB-3.0 ports) as well as good communication modules (3G module) make the Samsung 400B5B an interesting laptop.
What we'd like to see
Display hinges which fulfill their function. This reduces the overall value of the laptop.
What surprises us
The Trackpoint seems to find a home in more and more notebooks nowadays.
Dell Latitude E6520 i7/FHD Notebook, HP EliteBook 8560p Notebook, Dell Latitude E6520 i5/HD Notebook, HP ProBook 6560b Notebook, HP EliteBook 8460p Notebook, Lenovo ThinkPad L520 NWB53GE Notebook, Lenovo Thinkpad T520 Notebook, HP ProBook 6460b LG645EA Notebook, Lenovo ThinkPad L420 NYV4UGE Notebook
Asus K53TA-SX026V (Fusion)
Samsung Serie 3 305V5A-S01DE
Chiligreen Mobilitas OV0789 (Compal CBL21)
Asus' K53TA promises to be a decent gaming and multimedia rig for 550 euro. Its foundation consists of AMD's Llano-APU A-Series A6-3400M with the Crossfire-GPU HD 6720G2. Current games do indeed run smoothly, some even with high details in its native HD resolution. A battery run-time of five hours with the quad core processor is also a success. But the 15.6" notebook misses a good score, because the input devices are rickety and offer little feedback. The TFT display panel lacks contrast and shows faded colors with narrow viewing angles. Interfaces are paltry, but USB 3.0 is included.
Packard Bell's EasyNote NX69 steps into the favored row of powerful sub-notebooks. It directly competes with its Acer sister TimelineX 3830TG and, like her, struggles with CPU-Throttling, but only under very high stress. If you don't try to tickle the last drop of performance out of this 14" unit, you will never notice this issue. The focus of the EasyNote NX69 is not so much on the gaming capable GeForce GT 540M GPU, but on the exquisite case. The 14 inch display panel is an eye catcher, as it is surrounded by a very slim bezel; the case is one that would normally hold a 13.3 inch screen.
Samsung too bets on AMD APUs for entry level notebooks. In the Series 3 305V5A-S01DE a dual core CPU labors along side the Radeon HD 6680G2 Crossfire-GPU. Because both GPUs will only run in new DirectX-10 and -11 games, even though the HD 6470M is too weak for those, the use for gaming is limited. Older DirectX-9 games receive no acceleration. The matt and bright display, as well as low noise emissions may entice office users, but they would be annoyed by high temperatures and the spongy keyboard.
The Chiligreen Mobilitas OV0789 lures gamers with powerful components and a full-HD (1920x1080) display. The currently fastest Intel Core i7 2620M dual core processor and a 120 GB SSD (Raid0) are built in for 1,200 euros, offering heroic performance. Regrettably, if both the CPU the strong GeForce GT 550M GPU get pushed simultaneously, high temperatures result in CPU-Throttling down to 800 MHz. This causes FPS drops in Dirt 3 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Other than that, the display panel is a hit: a high quality FHD display with good brightness and excellent contrast.
For 700 euros, the Asus X43SV-VX084V offers a Core i5 and the popular GeForce GT 540M. As expected, the mid-field gaming power is suitable, but the rest of the notebook is a disappointment. The 15.6 inch HD display panel is bright, but only offers faded colors and the narrow viewing angles won't put a smile on your face either. Keyboard operation is acceptable but the cheap looking touch pad offers no joy. In regards to interfaces, Asus forgot to include USB 3.0 and eSATA.
Multimedia-Notebook of September 2011: Packard Bell EasyNote NX69
In spite of a minor throttling issue, the stylish and slim Packard Bell EasyNote NX69-HR-127GE receives September's crown. Its weight of 4.6 lbs (2,089 gram) and the 13 inch measurements, the NX69 could slip past as a subnotebook. Its gaming competence with the Core i5 offer a rarely reached multimedia performance in such a handy format. Some readers noted FPS drops due to CPU throttling, but we were unable to reproduce this in our gaming tests.
What we like
Little heat and acceptable noise levels with relatively strong performance. The high grade design and cool aluminum haptics.
What we'd like to see
If we must live with a glossy screen, at least give us high color contrast. The droning speakers are unusable for music or games.
What surprises us
A compact, sturdy case that even provides enough room for an optical drive.
Category Gaming / DTR
Deviltech Fragbook (DTR)
Dell Precision M4600 (Workstation)
Schenker XMG P701 PRO (DTR)
Alienware M18x (GTX 580M SLI, 2920XM) (DTR)
Toshiba Qosmio X770-10J (DTR)
We tested four DTR laptops and one workstation in September, with ratings ranging from 79% to 90%. The Deviltech Fragbook is a 17.3 inch unit with an Nvidia GTX 570M high-end GPU and a Full-HD display panel. Notably, the display is not only matt, but almost fills the sRGB color space in addition to very high contrast (a rare 88% score) On the other hand, the quad core Core i7 2630QM CPU and the 7200 RPM hard drive are not out of the ordinary. Gaming performance is remarkable, even in native FHD resolution, fluid game play is provided for the most part. Weak points are poor input devices, the cheap plastic case and permanently high noise pollution, not just under load.
The Dell Precision M4600 workstation was tested with maximum upgrades, including an Intel Core i7 2920XM and 256GB SSD (no RAID0). The Quadro-2000M-GPU ist certified for numerous CAD-Tools as customary for workstations but its not that great for games. This combination provides dreamlike application scores of almost 19.000 points in PCMark Vantage. Here, regular Multimedia laptops top out around 6,000 to 8,000 points. Exhaust heat is surprisingly low at idle, fans shut of for long durations. But under high load without throttling, there's enough noise for a goblin factory. 48 dB(A) can be heard widely, and some spots on the surface reach 35 degrees Celsius. Except for the weak point with the exhaust heat under load, the 15.6 inch notebook appears well thought out all around.
We consider the Schenker XMG P701 PRO a desktop replacement, because its AMD Radeon HD 6990M is like the optionally available GeForce GTX 580M the fastest notebook GPU on the market. The 17.3 inch case can't handle the potent hardware, which also includes a Core i7 2760QM. Even at idle, the fan keeps droning on and under load, the racket is almost impossible to bear. Storage consists of a Crucial RealSSD M4 (128GB) and a 1 TeraByte Samsung Spinpoint M8. There is hardly any need to connect external storage through one of the USB 3.0 ports or the eSATA. The display panel remains far behind expectations, because black values, colors and contrast are poor.
The Alienware M18x is a massive, 12.4 lbs (5.64 Kg) heavy, 18.4 inch laptop, aimed at gamers with an equally massive wallet. Little wonder; aside from charging for the name, the dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M SLI GPUs and the Core i7 2920XM are supposed to provide heroic performance. At over 5.000 euros, inclusion of a 256GB SSD is expected as well as a first class sRGB Panel in Full HD resolution. Icarus' superlatives find their limits with high noise pollution under load and the very high weight.
The Toshiba Qosmio X770-10J is well equipped with the GeForce GTX 560M and i7 2630QM, but still remains the looser in this round. The 17.3" unit's low overall score of 79% results from its weak keyboard, high exhaust heat, noise pollution, weaknesses in workmanship and a mediocre display. The advantages of the very high application and gaming performance including the first class sound system are not lost, but thats also available from Deviltech and Schenker.
Gaming notebook of September 2011: Alienware M18x
The M18x entered the competition as a super expensive gaming colossus against the much cheaper Schenker XMG P701 PRO (2.000 Euro) or the almost bargain priced Deviltech Fragbook (1.235 Euro). Its workmanship leaves little doubt about the luxury offering and the GeForce GTX 580M SLI dual GPU is not just rare but also the fastest currently available on the market. Due to the horrendous price, our view is directed to the GeForce GTX 570M (Deviltech Fragbook), the GeForce GTX 560M (Toshiba Qosmio X770-10J) or the AMD Radeon HD 6990M (Schenker XMG P701 PRO). These gaming rigs have far better price performance ratio.
What we like
The aggressive stealth design paired with good workmanship.
What we'd like to see
Like so often a matte display - reflections annoy gamers too!
What surprises us
How quickly you reach 5000 euros configuring the machine.
Performance-wise, really just the 17" Clevo X7200 bare-bone (for example the Eurocom Panther 3.0). There are few 18" notebooks, like the much slower Acer Aspire Ethos 8950G.
Category mobile workstation
DTR notebook / workstation of September 2011: Dell Precision M4600
The Precision M4600 workstation was not competing against its own kind this September. But it is noteworthy that the 15.6 inch unit could prevail against the high end Alienware M18x. The price level of both is far from the mainstream at 3,800 and 5,000 euro respectively. The workstation is made perfect by its first class input devices, connectivity without end and a very good battery run-time of seven hours.
What we like
The excellent symbiosis of performance, low noise, appointments and battery run-time.
What we would like to see
A modular expansion bay, more realistic component pricing and a battery that's not loose.
What surprises us
That Dell managed to design such an efficient and quiet cooling system to handle this level of performance.
We already tested the Lenovo ThinkPad W520 and the Fujitsu Celsius H710. The HP Elitebook 8560w is in the same class as well. Even more power is offered by the 17" workstations, with enough room for even more powerful professional GPUs like the Celsius H910, Precision M6600, Elitebook 8760w.