Samsung RF711 17.3in Core i7 laptop
Sandy Bridge heavyweight
Review It’s not unusual for desktop replacements to have a bit of heft, but Samsung’s RF711 positively throws caution to the wind. Tipping the scales at an obese 2.9kg and measuring 416mm across (almost one-and-a-half feet), it’s only a laptop in the sense that the screen folds down to cover the keyboard when you’ve finished using it. In short, it looks like a prop from The Borrowers – use it on your lap and you can expect to lose circulation to your feet.
Going large: Samsung's RF711
Its size brings with it some real portability issues. Simply heaving it from one place to another is exhausting enough, but you can forget about using it, say, on an aeroplane tray table. And, while you could use it on the tables you get in train carriages you should steel yourself for some dirty looks from your now-ousted neighbours.
Still, its enormous case shields some top-end components. You would expect a machine this big to come with a decent amount of computational poke, and the RF711 doesn’t disappoint. The quad-core Intel Core-i7 2360QM at its heart is a 2GHz Sandy Bridge number, and there’s no less than 6GB of DDR3 RAM on-board. The RF711 fairly flew along under heavy use and produced a spectacular set of numbers under PCMark, with an overall score of 7073.
3D performance is a little less impressive. The Core i7 processor comes with Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 onboard, but is supplanted in more demanding applications by a discrete Nvidia GT 540M chip with 1024MB of dedicated memory. It chuntered through 3DMark Vantage, although the framerate didn’t get much higher than 15fps. The final score was 4455: a reasonable result that makes the RF711 good enough for mid-level gaming, if not full-resolution frag sessions.
On computers that offer a halfway house between desktop power and usability, and laptop portability, it’s normal for battery life to be the chief casualty. Left repeating PCMark’s tests with the screen on full brightness the RF711 ran for 1hr 42m before the battery was depleted. With the screen dimmed and the machine left otherwise idle, it went for 2hr 48m.
Two USB 3.0 ports are featured among the interface count
The times are reasonably respectable, particularly since the RF711’s portability is more affected by its size and weight than by how long you can use it away from the mains. A fair compromise, most would agree, for the three-figure price.
But if graphics performance isn’t particularly tricked-out, Samsung has capitalised in other places. For example, there’s not one but two hard disks inside, both offering 500GB of storage and split, on my review system, into one standalone 500GB disk, and two smaller partitions. In total a terabyte of storage is a practical amount for a machine like this, and it’s also useful to be able to split up the disks into practically-sized partitions.
PCMark Vantage Results
Longer bars are better
Battery Life Results
Battery life in Minutes
Longer bars are better
A final approving nod goes to the optical drive on the right hand side, which can write to all flavours of CD and DVD, and can read Blu-ray discs, although pedants will note that the screen’s 900-pixel high resolution doesn’t permit proper 1080p playback.
Not the full 1080p Monty, but close
Even so, the screen is huge. A 17.3in diagonal is complemented by a 1,600 x 900 resolution, and it’s extremely bright. As ever, a snort of derision is directed at the glossy finish, which makes a great first impression but loses its appeal the second you try to get anything done when there are lights behind you. It’s saved by very good viewing angles – students will have no trouble crowding a few friends around to watch films.
Ergonomics are good, which is fair considering the amount of space on offer. The keyboard, for example, is nicely spread out across the width of the base and you’ll have no trouble getting up to speed. It’s also a solid, if slightly hollow-feeling, affair. Spreadsheet users will also note the number pad on the right hand side.
The numeric keypad will please some, the offset trackpad will annoy others
The whole thing could do with being a bit more spread out: the number pad is right next to the main keyboard, which is fine, but the arrow keys below get lost in the cluster. The trackpad is offset relative to the main body of the machine and is a reasonable example, although the click of the buttons could use a little refinement.
As is fitting for a machine designed to replace your desktop, the RF711 has a decent cluster of ports. Those with external peripherals aren’t ignored - two USB 2.0 ports on the left hand side are complemented by a USB 3 port on the right edge, and another USB 3 port on the back.
Those who have made the transition to digital displays get an HDMI port and – helpfully for those lumbered with legacy monitors and projectors – there’s a VGA port on the same side. Photographers are catered for by an SD card slot along the front edge.
Good value, good performance, but way too heavy to lug around on a regular basis
As machinery goes, the RF711 is only slightly more portable than the Large Hadron Collider, which is to say you shouldn’t buy it if you want to use it on your commute or take it on a plane. What it does have is absolutely stacks of computing power, making it a great choice for those who need something with the power of a decent desktop in a low-profile, fit-in-a-drawer case.
The screen is massive and comfortable to work on, and Samsung has used the width of the RF711 to great effect, with an ample, solid keyboard. It gets even better when you consider the price - compare this to the slightly slower Sony Vaio VPCF21Z1E, which costs nearly two grand and has a smaller screen, albeit a 3D-capable one with more pixels. With a street price currently under a thousand pounds, the RF711 is a great, portable (sort of), all-round computer. Just don’t call it a laptop. ®
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