Samsung Series 5 13.3" Touch Screen Intel Core i5/8GB/128GB SSD Ultrabook Review (NP540U3C-A01CA) @ ModSynergy.com
I've been reviewing quite a few Solid State Drive's (or SSD) lately. In these reviews you might have remembered the mentioning of the new generation of ultra-thin notebooks called Ultrabooks that have been currently infiltrating the marketplace. It's popularity has been growing steadily ever since its inception not too long ago from Intel whom first presented the idea. It also follows in the release of the new Microsoft Windows 8 operating system. Ultrabooks have pushed not only the style and form factor of a traditional notebook, but with the new Windows 8, it has pushed the software aspect even further with new customers.
I was given the opportunity by Samsung Canada not too long ago at reviewing one of their newest Ultrabooks on the market, this 13.3" Ultrabook bundles speed with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and SSD. But the biggest differentiating factor is the inclusion of a touch screen display! The touch screen interface will work in conjunction with Windows 8 to provide an experience like never seen before with a Windows operating system. In some regions Samsung refers to this as their Series 5 UltraTouch, though I will continue to refer to it as an Ultrabook.
Today I get to share with you my experiences with the Samsung Series 5 13.3" Touch Screen Intel Core i5 Ultrabook. The model number of the mid-range Ultrabook I have tested is the NP540U3C-A01CA. Read on the find out more about this sleek, lightweight Ultrabook to see if it should be worth looking at for your future portable computing purchase.
About Samsung Canada
“For over 70 years, SAMSUNG has been dedicated to making a better world through diverse businesses that today span advanced technology, semiconductors, skyscraper and plant construction, petrochemicals, fashion, medicine, finance, hotels and more. Our flagship company, SAMSUNG Electronics, leads the global market in high-tech electronics manufacturing and digital media.
Through innovative, reliable products and services; talented people; a responsible approach to business and global citizenship; and collaboration with our partners and customers, SAMSUNG is taking the world in imaginative new directions.”
Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook Product Overview
This Ultrabook is powered by a 3rd generation Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7GHz processor to provide impressive processing performance when handling tough computing tasks. 8GB of DDR3 memory delivers fast data throughput to eliminate bottlenecks and slowdowns during multitasking sessions. This model even comes with a 128GB mSATA Solid State Drive meaning super quick performance and the capacity to save all your multimedia files, documents, downloads, and more. The Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook also ensures exceptional image quality with responsive touch navigation on its crystal-clear 13.3" Touch screen LED display. Plus, it offers three USB ports for connecting your other essential peripherals such as a mouse or external hard drive.
Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook Product Features
A Portable PC with the Ports You Need: Your laptop should cater to you, not the other way around. With the Samsung Series 5 UltraTouch, you have all the connectivity and ports that you need to get things done. From blazing fast USB, to a full-size memory card reader, you have all the ports that you need. Don't let your laptop limit your creativity, let your laptop unleash it.
A Notebook That's Always Ready To Go: Ultra-light, ultra-thin and ultra-sleek, you'll never get tired of staring at the Series 5 UltraTouch. The Samsung Series 5 UltraTouch is amazingly portable and perfectly designed for mobile life. Because it's remarkably thin and light it's easy to take with you anytime and anywhere.
Clearly a Better Picture: Samsung excels at picture quality. The razor-sharp high-definition LCD screen features Superbright technology, for a brilliant 300-nit screen and stunning range of color. You can multi-task and get things done with ease and enjoy every little detail of your favorite pictures and films.
Full Touch Experience: The advanced 10-finger multi-touch capability of the Samsung Series 5 UltraTouch provides enhanced sensitivity and effortless control. It takes full advantage of the touch-centric Windows 8 interface.
Speed and Storage Come Together: The blazing fast performance of a Solid State Drive (SSD). *500GB HDD model available with ExpressCache.
Solutions for a Faster Experience: Do everything more efficiently with the blazingly fast performance of the Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook™. With Fast Boot the computer boots-up in just 20 seconds while Fast Start wakes from sleep in 2 seconds.
Discover the New, Beautiful, Fast and Fluid Windows 8: Re-imagined to be all about you, Windows 8 lets you personalize your desktop and gives you instant access to all your favorite people, apps, sites and more. Use SW Update to keep your PC running smoothly with the latest software and drivers, and to download Samsung’s Quick Starter feature, which adds a toolbar and start button for easy navigation in the desktop view. Plus, connect to SkyDrive® and store files, photos, videos and more, so wherever you go, you’re connected to the cloud.
Expandable and upgradable features: A lack of storage or memory can really hamper your ability to work efficiently. The Samsung Series 5 ULTRA includes a HDD (max. 500 GB) with over 2x the capacity of other slim models and up to 8 GB of upgradable memory to help you multi-task effectively. Plus it includes a full HDMI port and VGA adapter.
On the Go – Without Stopping to Recharge: Now you need never worry about unexpectedly having to stop work. The Samsung Series 5 ULTRA delivers up to 6.7 hours* of power on a single charge. So whether you're on a flight or at your favorite café you can stay focused on your work – or having fun! And Samsung's BatteryLife Plus technology extends the battery life up to 1500 cycles / 3 years.
Professional Durability & Style: The Samsung Series 5 ULTRA unites professional style and durability. The sophisticatedly simple and refined exterior is a cool metallic aluminum, while the underside is made with fiber glass that's light but resistant to wear and damage. So you'll always be shielded from the bumps and knocks of life on the road – while still looking good.
Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook Product Specifications
Editors Note: This particular model I am reviewing today comes with a 128GB SSD inside. There are two other SKU's that include either a traditional 500GB HDD or a 500GB HDD paired with a 24GB Cache SSD (ExpressCache).
Editors Note 2: I really have a beef with laptop manufactures (all of them) that do not give specifications on the type of SSD they include with the machine. Why if SSD makers can provide technical specifications (read/write speed, 4K performance, access times, IOPS) on their website, can laptop manufactures not do the same?
The exclusion of SSD specifications from laptop makers needs to stop and change immediately. I don't see why they don't give you this information when they clearly give you basic technical specifications on the CPU (in this case, it mentions that the Intel Core i5-3317U operates at 1.70GHz, and has 3MB of L3 cache), and motherboard chipset being based on the Intel HM76 chipset.
The exclusion of this information only hurts the you the consumer, because you are not told what is in the system. SSD's vary greatly in performance like you wouldn't believe. You have cheap SSD's that are not that much better in performance than some regular spinning hard drives, aside from access times. On the other hand, there are SSD's that completely demolish hard drives. The gap is so wide nowadays that it's worrisome that laptop builders are not providing this information.
No two SSD's that are in a mixture of notebooks are the same. Plus there would be no way in comparing two systems that came with SSD's from vendor A laptop vs. vendor B laptop as you don't have any information on their rated performance specifications, unless you run benchmarks manually. To me this is unfair practice by laptop manufactures. Who's to say they dump some lowly performing SSD in the computer when you have significantly better solutions that you can purchase on your own? When you buy a laptop or desktop machine from a pre-built vendor today, it really is a case of Forrest Gump's famous quote of "life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.
The Samsung Series 5 13.3" Touch screen Ultrabook (NP540U3C-A01CA) I am reviewing today arrived to ModSynergy without any issues directly from Samsung. The first time you see the box it comes in, you really notice there is nothing plain about it. Samsung uses an elegant looking smooth white color corrugated box with stylish design. On the front and rear of the box are large images of the laptop with the Samsung logo and series designation. The box is slim and on opposite ends of the side of the box are features related to the laptop. One end informs you it is powered by Intel, and the other end tells you that it's supports HDMI and has Touch Screen functionality.
At the top of the box holds a plastic handle which makes carrying from the store more convenient. The box as a whole looks like a slim briefcase. A clear seal protects the integrity of the contents before opening for the very first time. Cut this away and pull open the flap of the box to reveal a few items inside that include the following items...
The bundle with the Samsung Series 5 NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook was surprisingly light. It does not include many useful items aside from the Quick Start Guide. There are no recovery discs because nowadays it's all done within the drive partition. In this case you use Samsung Recovery Solution should you ever need to get back into factory out of the box state.
I find it strange that Samsung would include a microfiber cloth with their computer monitor, but not include one with their touch screen Ultrabook. One can argue the touch screen product needs a microfiber cloth more than a computer monitor that has no touch screen function as fingerprints will surely be an issue. I feel the same dissatisfaction about having a basic sleeve case included with an inexpensive Samsung Netbook that I own, but none provided with the more expensive Ultrabook I am reviewing here. To me the exclusion of these items is mystifying; and please do not tell me price (to save costs) is the reason it is not bundled.
With the NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook, it features unusual battery technology than the norm. Normally with notebooks on the market you have a removable lithium-ion battery. Now what I'm noticing are notebooks with internal batteries that cannot be easily removed and replaced. This is precisely the case with the Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook. The battery is built-in and sports the Lithium-Polymer battery technology type instead of the typical Lithium-Ion. This is likely to address saving space, or less footprint while offering a little extra capacity than the norm. Samsung claims up to 6.7 hours of battery life in their tests, I experienced a little over 5 hours in mixed usage with Wi-Fi on, and YouTube running. I very much favor batteries that can be removed and replaced easily than ones that are built into the system, but there's not much you can do when other manufactures are beginning to go down this route.
Let's go over the key components that the NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook is comprised of. This Series 5 Ultrabook is a more of a mid-range offering when looking at the specifications. It contains the latest 3rd generation Intel Core i5-3317U CPU processor that offers dual-core performance. It operates at a stock speed of 1.7GHz with decent sized 3MB L3 Cache. But with Intel's Turbo Boost Technology, the CPU is dynamically capable of reaching 2.6GHz if need be when dealing with rigorous applications, videos, or games. The CPU is made with a maximum Thermal Design Power of only 17 Watts meaning it doesn't draw an outrageous amount of power and uses less wattage when operating normally at 1.7GHz, extending battery life.
As you know with Intel Core i3/i5/i7 CPU processors, embedded on the CPU is also its own GPU graphicschip, this is very similar with AMD's APU (accelerated processing unit) products which combine both CPU and GPU into one chip. The only difference is that AMD is known more for its powerful GPU capabilities (but not powerful CPU), while the Intel is known for its powerful CPU capabilities, but not so much for its GPU (they need some catching up).
The Intel Core i5-3317U contains Intel's HD Graphics 4000 processor and supports all of the graphical functions and graphical animations that are included with the new Windows 8 operating system experience, so at least in this regard you won't be missing anything. The GPU operates all the way down from 350MHz up to 1005MHz depending on the load an application should need to make use of. If you're a gamer that likes to play the latest video games at medium to high quality, this isn't the machine to do that on. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 will be fine at everyday tasks such as normal Windows environment operation, watching YouTube 1080p videos, converting videos, playing music, and just typical things of that nature. Only game performance would likely be a letdown.
In our test model (NP540U3C-A01CA) the Samsung Series 5 Touch screen Ultrabook contains a large 8GB of DDR3 1600MHz system memory. This ensures there's enough performance to do multitasking efficiently without ever having the computer be bogged down and ensures the more graphical intensive nature of Windows 8 will offer a reliable and smooth user experience in union with the 13.3" touch screen LED display.
Rounding off the components related to performance is the hard drive. A hard drive in a modern system is now a key player in everyday computing experience. The Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook I am reviewing today contains a single 128GB Solid State Drive, or SSD. If you've read my numerous SSD reviews before on ModSynergy, you will know that I said upgrading to an SSD will produce a completely noticeable improvement in performance of your machine, likely one you've never experienced before.
Though as you read earlier in this review, notebook manufactures need to change and give customers technical information on the SSD they have in their systems. All the information that was given on the box was that the SSD in this system is using the tiny mSATA interface. No performance numbers are given, a practice that needs to stop amongst the notebook maker industry. It's not fair to the customer to not know what kind of SSD they buying into and receiving, as SSD's can vary widely in performance. Nevertheless, because all SSD's have significantly lower (better) access time performance than spinning hard disks, performance should be noticeably quick out of the box, we'll talk about the SSD inside this Ultrabook later on at greater detail.
A few other components to cover is the touch screen display as most notebooks don't have this luxury. The NP540U3C-A01CA comes with an HDMI port making it easy to connect and output on your HDTV. It has a full-size SD/SDHC/SDXC card reader, flip down Gigabit Ethernet port, headphone and microphone jack, mini VGA adapter port, internal 1.3-megapixel webcam with microphone, 4W stereo speakers, built-in Bluetooth 4.0, built-in wireless A/B/G/N networking adapter, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and just a single USB 3.0 port. To me not having all of the USB ports as 3.0 speed is a blunder. I don't understand how in 2013 you can only offer a single USB 3.0 port, to me this is just a bad decision when considering USB 3.0 is fully backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices. Offer me 3 to 4 USB 3.0 ports, this is 2013. No optical disk drive (CD/DVD/BD) is offered as Ultrabooks are too thin to have it included. Should you need one, you are forced to use an external USB optical drive.
The rated specifications state that the weight of the NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook comes in at 3.73lbs, but doesn't mention the configuration tested. I weighed this SSD only machine on my scale, it came in at only 3.61lbs or 1637g. The machine is lightweight, but the weight is not distributed well enough. Therefore its more top heavy as the weight is all in the touch screen 13.3" display along with the brushed aluminum material front, while the underside is made of fiberglass. I actually feel they could have done something more to lighten the load further, closing in towards 3.0lbs would have been sweet.
This particular Ultrabook is more of a traditional notebook, but in a slimmer body. It doesn't offer anything radically different in terms of functionality other than the touch screen display. The display cannot swivel, cannot detach and become a tablet/convertible, none of that fancy innovation that others have had to set itself apart from the rest.
I am not going to deny, the Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Touch screen Ultrabook looks bloody amazing at first glance. The style it has is stupendously exciting, it's easily one of the best looking machines out there today. It only comes in one color Samsung calls Titan Silver, it looks different depending on the way the light shines on it. Seeing all the vertical and horizontal brushed aluminum strokes adds to the flamboyance
The Ultrabook measures only about 0.65" when folded shut (profile), 12.4" wide, and 8.6" depth.
The display has a black bezel the extends around and below the display which allows it to compliment the whole look of the Ultrabook. From the factory the bezels are covered in plastic to protect its finish, something you can always remove. The top keyboard faceplate is a slab of brushed aluminum goodness. The top exterior is also brushed aluminum. You can see the vertical machine lines that span across the surface to give it that extra kick. For the top of the display, Samsung includes a clear plastic to protect its surface.
On the left side sits the small AC power jack, pull down Gigabit Ethernet port, 1 USB 3.0 port, HDMI port, headphone/microphone jack, and a mini VGA dongle port. It's a good thing this Ultrabook encompasses an HDMI port because all HDTV's out there today have one. Should you need to use a full size VGA port for some reason, a separate purchase of a dongle adapter in order to use a full size VGA output is needed.
On the right side contains 2 USB 2.0 ports, and one 3-in-1 SD/SDHC/SDXC full-size card reader port.
The underside is supposedly made of fiberglass but I feel more plastic. The internal shell is likely made of fiberglass, certainly not the exterior underside. A single screw allows you access to the RAM, CPU fan, and Solid State Drive. I don't know if you can notice, but if seen in the gallery, you can almost see that the plastic strip above the HDD/Memory plate looks like it's not completely flat (almost wavy), the fitment is off.
I really love how the CPU fan is not hidden or tucked away giving you very easy access to clean dust. I've had experiences in the past where you had to disassemble the whole notebook underside and topside to clean the CPU fan, that is such an frustration. The RAM is covered with a visual sticker that advises you how to remove the memory modules. The mSATA SSD that the box states is in a 2.5" plastic holder. More on that later.
The keyboard is called an Island-type keyboard, it's the same type Samsung has in just about all of its modern portable machines. The keys are spaced apart nicely, keys are generally not too loud, though could always be quieter. The keyboard keys have good perceptible feel to them requiring less force for execution to happen.
I would have loved illumination for the keyboard keys, that would have really helped when dark. Even just a few LED's coming from the underside of the keyboard would have done wonders. Though that is not the case.
This is a Canadian model meaning the keyboard is bilingual to not segregate our secondary language of French. I know there are quite a few people who dislike the bilingual keyboard, I personally don't have an issue with the keyboard at all since I'm already used to it with my old Samsung Netbook. I've been typing on it without issue. But really if you live in Canada, you should at least know a little bit of the French language and not be annoyed by a bilingual keyboard layout.
There is a Fn (function) button which is designated as blue, so you can control multiple items such as Wi-Fi, volume, brightness, settings, multi-monitor, touchpad, performance profiles, print screen, page up/down, and more. Obviously there is no number pad section as this is not a full size keyboard.
Above the keyboard is what looks to be a speaker grille. Well it's not a speaker grille but just decoration. Above this faux speaker grille between the display is a slot where the CPU fan exhausts the heat out from the Ultrabook. I like this design better than ones where the CPU fan exhaust slot is located at the bottom underside of the notebook, having it underneath poses a problem that the fan can get blocked easily when placed on a table or on your lap. Having it exhaust from the top ensures that nothing gets blocked and that temperatures are always in check.
One pet peeve related to the keyboard, related to the design in general, is how Samsung designed it. I think they were too focused on looks as if you follow the edges of the Ultrabook, they added a thin strip of either aluminum or plastic to give it some more style. Problem with this is that it's in fact too sharp. So everywhere on this Ultrabook, it has a sharp edge. When you are typing on the keyboard and have your wrists shifting and laying across the keyboard, it actually rubs against this sharp edge and digs into your skin, an uncomfortable feeling. Even just opening the screen for the first time, your thumb can feel this sharp edge, also swiping across the edge of the screen creates this feeling of a sharp edge. It's too sharp that you can probably cut a string or cheese with it. I don't know what they were thinking, but they kind of went overboard with style that they lost a sense of practicality when actually using the Ultrabook.
Mouse Touch-Pad and Left/Right Click Buttons
The mouse touch-pad on this Ultrabook has no lighting around the touch-pad rectangle. It only maintains a chrome strip around the touch-pad area with a little groove indentation that you can feel with your fingers. So at night it becomes harder to use since you have to remember the area of the touch-pad. Again underside lighting would have helped.
I personally do not like this touch-pad, the surface material leaves more to be desired. Under operation it's very loud, and it has some sort of disconnected feel when using it. I can't describe my feelings other than when using the touch-pad with my fingers, this one has got to be one of the loudest touch-pad surfaces I've come across. It almost mimics the sound of rubbing sandpaper.
There are quite a few times when I would begin to move a window on the screen (double tap and hold to move window) thinking I have already stopped moving the window once I've lifted my finger off, but as I begin to move to another area, I find that the window is still moving. It's as if the touch-pad is not responsive enough that it sticks to some commands, until you really tap harder to get out of the command. There are other times where I'm touching the touch-pad but the cursor is not moving. I don't have these issues with my older Samsung Netbook.
Thankfully this Ultrabook has a touch screen display because I really find myself using the touch screen to get things done quicker in silence, which says surprisingly good things about the touch screen experience with Windows 8.
Below the touch-pad is the left and right mouse buttons. My displeasure continues with these buttons as I did with the touch-pad surface . These buttons are so loud under operation, it's the type of sound piercing clicks that will drive you insane. I don't think I've heard a louder left and right click before, this probably takes the prize. Even worse is depending on where you click on the button (click on the edges of the physical button), the clicks are even more noisy.
You first think that the speaker grille on top the keyboard are for the 2 x 2w speakers on the Ultrabook, but those are just faux for decoration. The speakers that Samsung includes are in reality situated underneath the Ultrabook. I won't say much about the speakers other than I was taken aback at how loud it can belt out, it was definitely a positive. You can't truly expect much dynamic range with a notebook audio system such as bass, but this one can easily fill a medium to large size room, one of the better speakers out there on a notebook.
Web Camera - 1.3-megapixel of goodness?
No, there's not much to say about the web camera that is on the Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook other than its typical of all the other ones pre-built on notebook machines out there, meaning they are almost useless. Don't get me wrong, it gets the job done, but don't expect high definition super high quality video and images, especially in low lighting conditions. It's generally dark and grainy.
13.3" SuperBright 300nit HD LED Touch Screen Display - Gorilla Glass Included!
I wish all manufactures would stop placing the "HD" moniker on everything, it takes away from the true meaning of High Definition. If the display cannot do 1920x1080 resolution, please don't call it HD. This screen can only do a maximum of 1366x768 resolution, again this is typical amongst most notebooks that you see in Best Buy or Wal-Mart.
Samsung offers a display that is capable of reaching 300nit of brightness through 10 increments. I can confirm that it can get very bright indeed, one of the marketing features they are pushing out stating that its brighter than conventional displays on the notebook market.
The display is draped in gloss which some people either love or hate. I personally feel a glossy display works best in only certain situations. For a portable notebook to have a glossy display, I don't really think it's a good idea as you're going to go through many ambient lighting changes that will affect the way you see stuff on the screen, but I understand why everyone is doing it. I certainly don't enjoy the glossy experience based on the issue of reflections that you will be presented with, those are a big problem anywhere you go, especially outdoors or sitting behind a window.
What you can do to compensate is to increase the brightness of the display, but by doing so you sacrifice battery life and you strain your eyes even further, especially with a screen as bright as this one. You cannot escape reflections, something that all glossy screens love to loathe. There's just nothing you can do to escape it. You can try to reposition the screen away from the window or light source, or move the whole Ultrabook out of the way, but there's nothing you can do to eliminate it. But a glossy screen helps tremendously with the touch screen experience as colors on screen can pop out to the user and its mostlysilent under operation, a matte screen introduces a little bit more noise.
I would have liked if the display could be tilted downwards even further almost to the point that it can be flat, but it can only tilt a few degrees and no more.
Samsung adds Gorilla Glass technology to its LED display which is a welcome surprise. Gorilla Glass is normally found on Smartphone's, tablets, rarely have I seen them on a notebook. It helps keep the display tough as nails and it really does show when using the touch screen display. It is a hard screen, no flex to it meaning great reinforcement, and even trying to push and pinch the screen to discolor achieves nothing. The surface is silky smooth, almost silent when fingers slide across the surface. It's also resilient to scratches because of Gorilla Glass technology.
Performance wise the display isn't the best I've seen, but it's good. It's typical of other machines on the market for this price point. It's not the sharpest one on the block too. When you double tap to zoom in Internet Explorer, you can see some jagged edges on the text. In the Metro UI version of Internet Explorer, looking at the address bar, the URL text doesn't look as sharp as it can be, it looks a little blurry or a bit faded.
Because the display remains LCD technology, the viewing angle is best seen dead center. Viewing angles are not the best as you move off center, the color fades/shifts and the objects on the screen become harder to recognize. Every LCD is plagued by poor viewing angles. LCD suffers from clouding and ghosting. I saw a few small spots of cloudiness on a black background, but it's must better than what I've seen on other displays. Ghosting performance is typical, moving and sliding back and forth, up and down you can notice the blur, but it's nothing that is detrimental to the experience.
Having a glossy screen allows the colors on screen to pop out more than on a matte LCD screen. It's the way a glossy screen can sell a perception of what you see, people tend to like brighter more saturated colors than dull bland colors. Samsung makes this to their advantage even further by having a color profile loaded each time Windows 8 starts. You will notice once Windows loads, a color profile is loaded to make colors look deeper and more saturated. It only takes a few seconds to notice when it happens, but the difference is night and day.
The screen wobble is an issue with this Ultrabook, though it's an issue that affects every monitor or notebook. I think it comes down to finding a solution for either a stronger hinge system to prevent screen wobbles, or some type of stand at the back of the screen that can fold out on to the desk to prevent wobbles (almost like a picture frame). Depending on how you use the touch screen, it can be a slight bobble head just by typing on the keyboard, or be like bouncing a basketball when using the touch screen aggressively. To prevent severe wobbles, what I did was use my left hand to grab hold of the screen to prevent the wobbles while the right hand was using the touch screen.
GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
The Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook does not have a more powerful GPU from AMD or Nvidia. Instead the GPU is one integrated on the CPU, as I touched on earlier in the review, in this case it sports the Intel HD Graphics 4000. It's more of a basic video card as this is a lower mid-range Ultrabook. So if you are looking for a gaming machine, look elsewhere. But for anything else, the Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU will get the job done. It supports all of the graphical functions and graphical animations that are included with the new Windows 8 operating system experience, so at least in that regard you won't be missing anything.
The GPU operates all the way down from 350MHz up to 1005MHz depending on the load an application should need to use. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 will be fine at everyday tasks such as normal Windows environment operation, watching YouTube 1080p videos, converting videos, playing music, and just typical things of that nature. Only game performance would likely be a letdown, don't expect to play games on this, you will be disappointed.
This is an area where people who go into large retail chain and get tricked on. People only seem to look at the CPU speed. They think the higher it is, the 'faster' everything is. While that is partially true, that is not the full truth. You have to look both at CPU and GPU specifications to know whether it can play games. Rule of thumb is anything with an integrated Intel Graphics chip cannot play games at optimum settings, whereas ones with AMD or Nvidia GPU's will always be more powerful allowing you to play games.
During my experience, I could do everything (aside from 3D games) I wanted to do without issue, without noticeable severe lag, without any letdowns. Windows 8 animations were executed smoothly, screen transitions with Windows 8 multitasking between Metro UI and the desktop with the finger swipe gestures were fast without hiccups, I could play 1080p videos on YouTube, everything that a normal person can do. The only slight stutter was when I loaded many applications, a YouTube video and used the touch screen to move a window across the desktop, the touch screen performance was still smooth but the response time did slow down.
Solid State Drive - Queue Forrest Gump "Box of Chocolates"
I had my rant in the beginning of the review towards notebook manufactures not telling customers which Solid State Drive (or SSD) they are receiving with their pre-built desktops and notebooks. Not only do customers not know what brand of SSD they are buying, they have zero clue about its rated performance specifications. There is no way of comparing between systems without having this information. I think manufactures like that, the less the consumer knows, the better. To be honest, they did the same thing with hard drives.
Though SSD's can be said to be an improvement over the normal spinning hard drive, without knowing what you're getting, you have no clue to how much improvement you're really receiving. SSD performance vary greatly between many models on the market that run on different SSD controllers, different NAND flash memory, different components that all affect the performance. For all we know, they can put in a slow SSD (performance can be seen through Sequential read/write, 4K, 4K QD32, IOPS performance, to name a few) and you wouldn't know, unless you ran through benchmarks manually. I'm sure there are average consumers that have no clue, but are at least happy to feel the snappiness that is associated with having an SSD, because of significantly lower access times.
But for those enthusiasts like I, this is an absolutely unacceptable practice and needs to stop. All that is known about the SSD in this Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook is that it's interface is mSATA. We have reviewed mSATA SSD's before, check out our KingFast KF1310MCF mSATA 3.0 SSD review if you haven't already done so. That would be a great comparison to what you are about to see.
When I popped open the Ultrabook to see what was underneath, I found out that the mSATA SSD was placed inside a plastic 2.5" caddy. So the motherboard on this Ultrabook doesn't really have a dedicated mSATA connector. The plastic caddy contains an mSATA to SATA adapter that houses the SSD. When exposed the SSD turned out to be the SanDisk SDSA5DK-128G, or also known as the SanDisk U100 SSD.
When I went to the SanDisk website to learn more about the product, the statement I read that sums up what I experienced with it was: while maintaining an affordable cost profile. My experiences with this SSD suggested that to be the case, the overall performance of this SanDisk U100 SSD was a disappointment to say the least. It was by far and away the weakest SATA 3 based SSD we have ever tested, more so than I could ever imagine.
Before I talk about the SanDisk U100 SSD, I have to say I was very flabbergasted to see that Samsung did not place their own Samsung SSD into their own Ultrabook. It baffles me that Samsung has one of the best SSD lineups on the market but don't want to use and showcase it in their Ultrabook. To me a Samsung machine should have Samsung RAM and a Samsung hard drive or SSD fitted. Showcase your own products in your own desktop and notebook machines, it's a great way at marketing your products to consumers. You make everything yourself, why use someone else's product on your machine when you already do everything?
Getting back to the SanDisk U100 SSD in the Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook, while it gives good sequential read and write speed performance along with decent access time performance, everything else from 4K, 4K QD32, 512K and IOPS performance suffers badly. And these affect how the SSD performs when using Windows 8.
No wonder I initially felt and noticed that loading times of applications and general Windows performance felt not as fluid or snappy as an SSD should be. I would click or press an application to open but it took a few seconds for the application to respond and open. It was as if I thought I didn't double click properly or press on the touch screen correctly.
The SanDisk U100 SSD is the slowest SATA 3 SSD I've tested on ModSynergy so far. I've actually reviewed old (supposed to be slower) SATA 1 and SATA 2 SSD's that were faster overall than the SanDisk U100 SSD. That's terribly embarrassing for SanDisk, and for Samsung to even think of using it. Just look at that horrid AS SSD Benchmark overall score of only 148!
I reviewed a SATA 1 Patriot Memory Torqx 128GB SSD back in 2010 that received an AS SSD Benchmark overall score of 205.
I reviewed a SATA 2 Patriot Memory Torqx 2 128GB SSD back in 2011 that received an AS SSD Benchmark overall score of 284.
I reviewed a SATA 2 OCZ Agility 2 60GB SSD back in 2010 that received an AS SSD Benchmark overall score of 370.
With the SanDisk U100 128GB SSD, the AS SSD overall score is a poor 148, which makes it slower than past SATA 1 and SATA 2 based SSD's I've reviewed. Sequential read speed was 432.47MB/s whereas sequential write speed was 234.60MB/s.
But then it takes a turn for the worse for 4K and 4K-64Thrd tests. 4K read speed was only 7.97MB/s or 2039 iops and 4K write speed was only 7.47MB/s or 1913 iops. 4K-64Thrd read speed was only 26.24MB/s or 6717 iops, and 7.14MB/s write or 1828 iops . Read access time was 0.426ms and write access time was 0.475ms.
AS SSD Copy Benchmark was not any better, it really exposed the slow performance of the SSD. The Program test finished in 44.21 seconds! Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb. The mSATA 3.0 KingFast KF1310MCF SSD I reviewed did the same test in my P67 desktop in 11.02 seconds for some comparison.
ATTO Disk Benchmarks gives us a best case scenario. Again 4K performance is lack luster, 4K read nets only 58.4MB/s while 4K write achieves 46.5MB/s. The best read speed results came at 256K queue length which posted 495.6MB/s and the best write speed result came at the 2048K queue length with 357.1MB/s. The write speed results were very scattered at best across the queue lengths.
CrysalDiskMark Benchmark revealed what was already known. Sequential read speed of 401.6MB/s while sequential read speed was only 179.7MB/s. Things continue to drop downward down the queue length tests. 512K read performance was only 229.7MB/s and 512K write performance was only 74.72MB/s. 4K performance again suffers with only 13.44MB/s 4K read, and 8.4MB/s 4K write. Finishing off was 4K QD32 results coming in at 31.13MB/s read and only 9.0MB/s write.
Real world performance in Windows 8 operation, you still notice the difference between even a slow performing SSD against a regular spinning hard drive because of access times. When you turn on the Ultrabook on from shutdown it takes only 15 seconds to boot, pretty quick! Though to note with Windows 8, its shutdown is not really a true shutdown function like previous Windows operating systems, it's really more of a hybrid shutdown, meaning you should think of it of hibernating instead of truly shutting down, because that is precisely what is happening. To decrease boot up times Microsoft decided to hibernate the OS kernel to speed up boot up times, so it never has to conduct a full system initialization. You are able to turn off this feature if you choose.
Waking up the system from sleep is super quick at only 2 seconds!
Windows 8 - How was it?
I'm not going to lie. I tried Windows 8 before and did not like it. Though I have to say I only used it with a keyboard and mouse, no touch screen interface.
This dislike was partly due to a steep learning curve and omission of items such as the start menu that was essential to previous versions of the Windows operating system. This created lots of confusion for straightforward things such as trying to figure out how to shut down the computer, opening an application, opening the control panel, very simple things that turned out to be so confusing for the very first time on Windows 8. It actually takes longer in Windows 8 to do these things if you don't already know where they are. This is why it is crucial to learn how to navigate around the OS. But a tip is if you don't know how to close an application or restart and shutdown, ALT + F4 will always be your friend!
The omission of the conventional start menu meant searching for applications (Start --> All Programs in the past) will now be completed in the Metro UI menu by pressing the Windows key on the keyboard or hovering the mouse cursor on the lower left hand corner of the screen.
The same hovering on the lower or upper right edge of the screen will automatically pull out the new Charms menu (Control + C on the keyboard) that will allow you to head to the Metro UI start menu, give you options such as search, share, devices (will allow you to control peripherals connected to the system such as outputting to a projector or second screen), and settings which include the ability to enable or disable Wi-Fi, brightness, volume, keyboard, notifications, and will let you head into the control panel, see PC information and more.
As you can imagine, those were just a few of my qualms when using Windows 8 for the first time on a system with a keyboard and mouse, simple things ended up taking longer to execute. It didn't really make sense to be at that point.
Now after using the Samsung Ultrabook, I realized that using a touch screen with Windows 8 was such a compliment to the overall feeling. It completely changes the way you view Windows 8. You can tell right away that Windows 8 was made with an emphasis on touch function. A touch screen is a MUST in order to fully take advantage of the Windows 8 experience as it allows you to do things that a keyboard and mouse just can't do. Everything becomes simpler with a touch screen. Now it made sense.
There are specific gestures and features that Windows 8 has in regards to general navigation and multi-tasking that only is possible with a touch screen display, a few of these gestures and functions is shown in the included Windows 8 App Quick Guide brochure. The touch screen display is such a compliment to the new Metro UI menu in Windows 8 and across the normal Windows desktop screen. Metro UI is a live tile based user interface that when used in conjunction with a touch screen, is a match made in heaven. Using the touch screen on the Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook is a joy to use.
Take for example if you were to use the Internet Explorer that is within Metro UI. It's different from the IE version on the standard desktop screen. This version of Internet Explorer in Metro UI gives you ability for example, to swipe across the screen right to go back to the previous page, swipe left across the screen to go forward a page, essentially replacing the usual back and forward buttons. In addition, swipe downward at the very top of the screen to bring down a pull down tab that shows the tabs (currently opened sites) where you can tap once to head straight to that website. It's these type of features that only a touch screen display can allow you to do that completely changes the experience of Windows 8, it's the convenience factor.
I love that on an Ultrabook such as this Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA, I can read long articles easily by just having my hand grasp the right corner of the bezel with my thumb flinging up and down to navigate throughout the page, it's very comfortable and pleasant to use. This is more true when the touch-pad is so loud on this Ultrabook. Using the touch screen gives peace and quiet.
I noticed that smooth scrolling of websites is best done with Internet Explorer, the latest version of Firefox at the time of writing does not support smooth scrolling when using the touch screen, it's actually quite buggy. Firefox stutters instead of smooth scrolling of websites.
Another example is the multi-tasking features that only a touch screen can achieve in Windows 8, this one is hard to explain without seeing in person or in a video. See this YouTube video to see a brief video of what I am talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxWTIPsQ8sM
So you can open applications in the Metro UI environment, and you can open programs in the normal desktop environment, these are considered different environments. When using the touch screen you can multi-task and switch between the open applications across those two environments by simply swiping your finger from left to right across the edge of the left hand side of the screen. When you swipe, the next open application appears in a transitional animation and then fully opens when you complete the swipe. But here's the thing, you don't have to complete the swipe. You can essentially peek at the next application just by holding your swipe gesture.
You can also hold your swipe gesture and move towards the left hand or right hand edges of the screen to have a sidebar menu that allows you to choose which application you would like to switch to via tabs. Or you can have two applications open side by side by holding your swipe while you attach the program to the side of the screen you choose at the half way point of the screen. This is all very confusing to explain, but look at the gallery to see what I am talking about because it's like a split screen, or better yet look at this YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxWTIPsQ8sM ) of just some of the things possible when Windows 8 is paired with a touch screen panel. It really does make things more productive. It should make using Windows easier to use for the older generation such as our parents and grandparents who were always afraid of using the computer because they didn't know how to move a mouse on the screen or use the keyboard properly.
Needless to say, my thoughts completely changed about Windows 8 when using the touch screen panel on the Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook. I would only use Windows 8 with a touch screen on a portable solution such as a notebook or tablet, I would not use Windows 8 if I had only a keyboard and mouse combo. It's better to stick with Windows 7 in that case, that's how I would look at it.
When using the touch screen in Windows 8, if you enter in any box that requires input, an onscreen keyboard automatically appears. If not simply tap on the keyboard icon on the right side of the lower taskbar. Two layouts of on-screen keyboard is available, the third layout is hand written recognition such as a notepad. You hand write on screen and Windows converts that to text. Recognition worked surprisingly well, though typing on the actual physical keyboard ended up being quicker in real world situations. The onscreen keyboard has large keys that are spread across the lower half of the screen. Each press of a letter causes an audible sound to happen, mimicking haptic feedback.
Windows 8 Metro UI has live tiles that are basically tiles that open a specific app. Windows 8 includes quite a few built-in apps and more apps can be downloaded via the Microsoft Store. Such apps included are SkyDrive, News, Mail, Photos, Calendar, Skype, Camera, Bing, Maps, Weather, and Samsung apps. Think of Metro UI kind of like a separate environment from the normal desktop, think of it like a Smartphone where there are apps you can download. It's quite versatile in this regard. Again switching between open applications is simply a swipe across the outer left edge of the screen, it's that simple.
Windows 8 is still relatively new so that means it's not without its bugs and quirks. There are quite a few compatibility issues with a number of programs, one for example is Autodesk AutoCAD which is not supported at all, there are hardware devices such as printers that will require new drivers and software to operate properly (if not at reduced function) as they are not compatible entirely or at least fully.
I also noticed bugs related to Internet Explorer, quite a few times it ended up randomly closing my tabs producing an onscreen error that advised you that Internet Explorer has stopped working and is looking for a solution.
Another issue I found was related to the actual touch screen, most likely an issue related to the Windows 8 driver. Quality Assurance should have seen this when testing but I guess they didn't see it. On this Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook, I have had quite a number of times where I would put the Ultrabook to sleep and once the Ultrabook was turned back on, either a couple of hours or a couple of days, when I resumed and turned back on the Ultrabook, I lost all touch screen capability. Basically the touch screen stops working (no response) once the Ultrabook sits in sleep mode after a couple of hours or days. This is definitely an issue related to Windows 8 (or the Intel graphics driver) touch screen driver, but not related in any way on Samsung (so it seems). Could be that a service related to touch screen operation fails to initialize after it comes out of sleep mode. I don't think this is a hardware issue. The only solution to get back touch screen functionality is to restart the system. If this is an issue across all manufactures of touch screen systems running Windows 8, I can see a lot of people sending back devices thinking that it's a hardware issue.
Trying the first iteration of Windows 8 is like buying the very first iteration of a new vehicle. The first model year of a new vehicle is bound to have issues and recalls along the way that will get resolved in the following model release years. The same can be said of Windows 8. There are things that are still buggy or wonky that you may end up not be able to live with.
Where Can It Be Purchased? And For How much?
Apparently I've stated that there are quite a few faults with the Ultrabook, but at the same time, it didn't have anything catastrophically wrong that compromised the experience, other than the poor performing SanDisk U100 Solid State Drive it came with, though it still ends up being quicker than a normal spinning hard drive in most cases.
The only other real attribute that makes this Ultrabook stand apart from others is the touch screen. Without the touch screen, this is just another typical machine out there but with more style, though one can argue Samsung focused more on form than function with some of their decisions on the design and omissions of things that could have made it better overall. I experienced an intermittent issue with the touch screen display not working at all coming out of sleep, but I lay the blame more on Microsoft Windows 8 still having to iron out the kinks in its armor. That is clearly a software issue.
I cannot help think what could have been if this Ultrabook was fitted with a Samsung 840 SSD for example. If Samsung added their own Samsung SSD into this, the outcome would have been completely different from a performance standpoint. This is a decent to good lower midrange machine with the Intel Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM, but it lacks a worthy SSD and lacks a GPU that will allow you to play current video games on the market.
Overall the Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook is a mixed bag. You really have to weigh both pros and cons throughout this review to make a conclusion for yourself based on your needs and expectations. My expectations may be different from your expectations. It does some things good, other things bad, and it has annoyances based on its design such as a very loud touch-pad keys and mouse surface, sharp edges that dig into your wrists when typing, omission of things that could have made it better as mentioned earlier in the review, and intermittent bugs related to Windows 8 and the touch screen display that I experienced.
The only thing that could sway me is if you could snag one of these for a sale price of around $650-700 Canadian, that would at least get me thinking and asking myself if I could live with the quirks. It's regular price is $1099.99 and based on what I experienced and what you are getting in return, that's asking too much. For me and my expectations, the Samsung NP540U3C-A01CA Ultrabook just misses the mark.