Hardware, design & build: what happened to the USB 3.0?To keep costs down, Samsung has put finer materials to one side and chosen good old plastic. The silver and black hood is very sensitive to finger marks, as is most of the chassis. The various bits all fit together nicely. No issues with the finish then!
The keyboard and the number pad are chiclet (separated keys) style. They’re well proportioned in the usual positioning. The supple, instinctive keying minimises errors and makes typing on the NP300E7A a pleasant experience.
We were impressed with the touchpad. It has no particular features, two finger scrolling and zoom apart, but the glide is fluid and the clicks well defined. Very good!
The webcam is much less impressive, mediocre really. The image pixelises and the blacks are totally blocked. It's really only a fallback solution.
The first thing we have to say about the connectivity is that there’s no USB 3.0 (far from being a luxury feature, even on a product with this positioning). The fact that it’s not there will be felt during transfers of large chunks of data, especially as there’s no eSATA connector either. This means you'll have to fall back on its USB 2.0 ports (30 MB/s compared to 120 MB/s for USB 3.0).
Apart from this, most current requirements are covered. On the right, there are two USB 2.0 ports and a DVD rewriter. The SD card reader is on the front. There’s less on the left hand side with just a third USB 2.0 port, the power supply, an Ethernet (RJ45) port, a headphones and a mic socket as well as the video outs (HDMI and VGA).
Whatever you're doing on the NP300E7A, it doesn’t get too noisy. On the audio side, things aren‘t as positive. In view of the components inside and the space available inside the chassis, we expected less heat to be coming out of this machine. As things stand, you’ll have to take care not to push it too hard when you’re using it on your lap as otherwise you’ll find your legs getting very hot (air exits at 51°C).
DVD rewriter, 2 USB 2.0 ports
Power supply socket, RJ45, VGA, HDMI outs, USB 2.0 port, headphones and mic out
Processor power: good performance
The NP300E7 comes with an Intel Core i5-2430M. It offers very similar performance levels to the i5-2410M that was to be seen everywhere at the beginning of the year (in the Asus U36SD for example). Across all the tests that we use to evaluate processors (archiving of data, Full HD video encoding, photo export to JPEG format, 3D modelling) the i5-2430M took an average of 2% less time than the i5-2410M.
To sum up, then, it does a bit of everything. Office document processing and Internet browsing are a walk in the park for it and it’s also efficient with more demanding applications (video encoding, 3D modelling, decompression), displaying perfectly reasonable processing times.
Windows 7 64-bit takes 47 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 10 to 15 seconds for the various pieces of software and connection to a wi-fi network to launch. It turns off in under 15 seconds.
Gaming: reduced capacities
You can play HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) no problem on this machine The Optimus technology allocates decoding to the Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset as it uses less energy than the discrete graphics card.
In gaming you’ll no longer need to rely on the graphics chipset as the NVIDIA graphics card is included for that. For the user, moving across to the graphics card is a transparent process with Optimus detecting when the capacities of the chipset have been exceeded and then switching over.
The GT 420MX is however an entry-level card with limited capacity. Apart from a few less demanding titles such as FIFA 11, or older games (Quake 3 Arena, Half life 2), you’ll have to make concessions on screen definition and graphics settings and sometimes this won’t even be enough.
Audio: not great for a 17"
This is a big laptop and we hoped for a better audio system to go with it. The ins and outs are okay but no more and there’s a hiss on the mic in. The speakers are bordering on catastrophic: the sound is weak, megaphone-like and saturated. Basically, the audio needs revisiting!
Battery life: 3 hours round the houseNobody in their right mind gets a 17.3-inch for carrying around with them all day. The NP300E7A weighs in at 2.7 Kg and you'll only want to take it out on very rare occasions. Battery life is 3h05 all the same (headphones plugged in, wi-fi off and screen at 100 cd/m²), which means you won’t have to drag the charger around with you each time you move from one room to another.
- Good CPU performance
- Comfortable touchpad and keyboard
- No USB 3.0 nor eSATA
- Matte panel lacking in contrast with false colours
- Limited gaming capacity
- Panel not Full HD
- Mediocre webcam
- Speakers saturate rapidly
Like the Packard Bell LS44-HR, the NP300E7A isn’t the most powerful nor the best equipped of the 17.3-inch machines we’ve tested. It will nevertheless be a good replacement for a desktop computer that has become too big for daily tasks and it's also reasonably priced.