Shoppers on a budget don't need to search far and wide for an affordable and stylish laptop. Not when you can pick up the Samsung RV511-AO1 for $549. This 15-inch notebook has plenty to offer home users and students, including a spacious island-style keyboard, long battery life, and a software package that's actually useful. This Intel Core i3-powered machine also has an attractive design, roomy 500GB hard drive, and high build quality. The question remains, how well does it stack up against other mainstream notebook competitors?
Encased in silvery plastic, the 15.6-inch Samsung RV511 has a clean metallic look. The laptop's lid sports a finely ribbed surface with horizontal lines running across it. This washboard-like treatment is both attractive and defeats fingerprints. (Slight digression: The lid is also fun to scratch like you're a DJ.) Measuring 15 x 10 x 1.4 inches and weighing 5.4 pounds, the RV511 is easy to move from room to room and light enough to take on short trips.
Opening the notebook reveals the same smooth, pleasing, silver hue, paried with a glossy black center area that houses the keyboard. Two stereo speakers sit hidden within a slim rectangular grille located above the keyboard, and to the right of that is a large circular power button, ringed by cool blue light. The only indication of the laptop's low price is its bland black plastic underside, but even that area looks cleaner than other notebooks. Bottom line: Samsung knows design.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The RV511's black, island-style keyboard is comfortable and has a good amount of spacing between keys. While flat, the square-shaped chiclet keys have a pleasing non-slip surface, and provide quiet but tactile feedback. Samsung also includes a number pad. Our only complaint is that the right Shift key is a bit small.
We really like the RV511's touchpad; measuring 3.5 x 2.2 inches, it's large and quite responsive. Using multi-touch gestures was a breeze, whether were zooming in and out of photos or scrolling down web pages. You can also use three fingers to flip through pictures. Two discrete mouse buttons--what we like to see--provided firm yet soft clicks.
Display and Audio
The Samsung RV511's 15.6-inch widescreen has a standard resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, sharp enough to display 720p HD video. We wish the viewing anglers were wider, but this panel is certainly fine for the price. When we streamed the HD trailer of Green Lantern, hues were well saturated and contrast high with deep black levels.
Equipped with two stereo speakers and enhanced audio processing courtesy of SRS Labs, the RV511 can fill a small room with sound but isn't the loudest 15-inch notebook. "Magic" by LadyHawke was tinny at max volume. The HP Pavilion G6t (review coming soon), got much louder when we played the same tracks on each laptop.
Ports and Webcam
The RV511 has the standard array of ports for a mainstream machine. On the laptop's left are two USB ports, HDMI, a 4-in-1 media card reader, Ethernet, and headphone and microphone jacks. On the left side sits the Super Multi Drive to burn DVDs and CDs, an additional USB connection, plus a Kensington lock slot.
Above the screen is the RV511's 0.3 megapixel Webcam. The image quality for both video chats and still shots was about average; recorded footage was bright enough but blocky. However, the camera waked up and captured pics quickly.
After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we logged temperatures of 90 degrees on the RV511's touchpad, 92 degrees in the keyboard's center, and 93 degrees on the notebook's underside. While below what we consider uncomfortable--95 degrees-- it was slightly warmer than the average temp for mainstream laptops in the same spots (88, 90, 94). Things really heated up by the RV511's vent on its left side, reaching a toasty 107 degrees there. We could feel the RV511 heating up on our lap during use, so you'll probably want to use it on a desk--or think twice about wearing shorts
Running a modest 2.53 GHz Intel Core i3-380 processor and equipped with 4GB of RAM, the Samsung RV511 performed moderately well on our benchmark tests. Its score of 5,297 on PCMark Vantage, a test that measures overall computing capability, was just a bit faster than the average mainstream portable (5,184). Another 15-inch budget notebook with the same CPU, the Acer Aspire 5742 ($549), managed a slightly faster 5,327 on the same test.
The Samsung RV511's 5,400 rpm 500GB booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in a swift 53 seconds. That's 13 seconds faster than it takes the average mainstream laptop to fire up. On our internal file transfer tests, the RV511 was a bit pokey, copying a 5GB folder of mixed files in 3 minutes and 34 seconds. That translates to a transfer rate of 23.8 MBps, slower than the current category average of 26 MBps. On the same test the Aspire 5742 came clocked 26.4 MBps.
Video editing isn't the RV511's strength, with the laptop taking 1 minute and 5 seconds to convert a 114MB MP4 file to AVI using Oxelon Media Encoder. The Aspire 5742 finished the task in just 54 seconds.
Graphics and Gaming
Don't expect to do much gaming on the Samsung RV511. Its integrated Intel HD graphics mustered only 1,559 on 3DMark06, about 2,000 points below the 15-inch notebook average, and about 200 points lower than the Aspire 5742. The MSI CR650's AMD Radeon HD6310 GPU helped it score a better 2,377 here.
On our real-world gaming tests, the RV511 turned in expectedly poor results, running Word of Warcraft at 18 fps in autodetect mode. With the game's graphics settings maxed out, the notebook could only cough up 8 fps. The AMD-equipped MSI CR650 ($499) mustered 24 fps on the same test in autodetct, but it has a slower CPU.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Proving it has a good amount of stamina, the Samsung RV511's 6-cell battery persevered for a long 4 hours and 50 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's 41 minutes beyond the category average of 4:09 and longer than the Aspire 5742 (3:11) and MSI CR650 (4:38).
Using an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6250 AGN radio, the RV511 turned in a mixed wireless performance. The laptop attained an average data throughput of 35.1 Mbps at a distance of 15 feet. At 50 feet, data speeds dropped to 17.7 Mbps. The first score is in line with the category average (35.3 Mbps), but the latter is below average (21 Mbps).
Also on board the notebook is a Wi-Max modem that can connect to the Clear wireless cullular broadband service. You'll have to sign up for an account separately, however, and plans start at $35 per month.
Right on the desktop of the RV511 you'll find a shortcut for Intel's Wireless Display utility, which allows you to stream video and extend your desktop from your notebook to your HDTV using the Netgear Push2TV adapter (about $80). However, this is the first-generation WiDi technology, which means video is limited to 720p.
Our $599 Samsung RV511 came with an Intel Core i3 380M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GM hard drive. If you're looking to same some cash, you can pick up the RV510-A01, which features a less powerful Pentium T4500 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive for $514 online.
Software and Warranty
Samsung bundles a sizable software package with the RV511. The Battery Life Extender modifies charge level to increase the life span of the battery. Easy Content Share lets you stream music, video, and pictures to other DLNA-compliant gear on a home network. Also nice is a the Fast Start utility, which enables a faster wake from sleep. To reach a Samsung support rep via the Internet, access system utilities, and better diagnose a problem with the machine, there's also the Samsung Support Center program.
Burning DVDs and CDs is accomplished with the Cyberlink Media Suite. For watching DVDs though, Windows Media Player must be used unless you pay Cyberlink the $25 upgrade fee. An interesting feature is the Movie Color Enhancer, which is supposed to optimize video color quality. On our tests though, toggling this feature didn't result in a perceptible difference.
All in all, the $549 Samsung RV511-A01 offers a great blend of features, style, and performance for its low price. The laptop has plenty of multitasking power and has enough staying power to work and play for nearly 5 hours on a charge. We also like the spacious keyboard and responsive touchpad, and WiDi is a nice bonus. While we wish it ran a little cooler on the bottom, those looking for an attractive yet affordable notebook for home use will really enjoy the RV511.