Samsung Q430-11 Review

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$829

Pros: Elegant aluminum design; Comfortable chiclet-style keyboard ; Strong graphics performance for the price; Lots of useful utilities

Cons: Relatively short battery life; Speakers aren't very loud

Verdict: This striking aluminum-clad notebook is comfortable to use and packs some graphics punch, but you'll need to bring that charger with you.

It's cool to look at and cool to the touch. The Samsung Q430-11 does minimalist chic right, sporting a brushed aluminum lid and deck. And this 14-inch notebook matches its panache with snappy performance, thanks to the combination of Core i5 power and mid-range Nvidia graphics. However, the Q430-11 ($829 at Best Buy) isn't very mobile for a 5-pound laptop, delivering below-average battery life. Is this fast and well-designed machine worth that trade-off?

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Design

Samsung has taken a welcome detour from its attractive but somewhat tired Touch of Color design with the Q430-11. Instead of sporting a glossy black chassis with red accents, this notebook boasts a handsome black brushed aluminum lid and a natural aluminum metal deck. The color combination looks classy, and both the edge-to-edge glass display and the silver strip around the touchpad (which reflects light like a piece of jewelry) add a touch of elegance. The bottom and sides of the laptop are black plastic. Two speakers sit above the chiclet-style keyboard, along with a circular power button and an accompanying blue LED.

Weighing 5 pounds and measuring 13.5 x 9.4 x 1.04 inches, the Q430-11 is fairly portable for a 14-inch notebook equipped with a DVD drive. However, this machine is not really made for travel--and not just because of its relatively short battery life. Samsung bundles the laptop with an AC adapter that has a three-prong plug, which not all power strips can accommodate. This 14-incher is heavier than the Gateway ID49 (4.8 pounds), but weighs the same as the Dell Inspiron 14R and Toshiba Satellite M645 (both 5 pounds). We had no problem stuffing this system in a backpack.

Heat

We were pleasantly surprised that the metal-clad notebook stayed pretty cool to the touch throughout our testing. After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad registered only 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature between the G and H keys was a barely balmy 89 degrees. The only part of the Q430-11 that got warm (not hot) was the underside, which hit 94 degrees.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Like most consumer notebooks these days, the Q430-11 sports a chiclet-style keyboard, and this one was quite comfortable to use. The tactile feedback was crisp without slowing us down, much better than the mushier layout on the ASUS U33Jc we recently reviewed. We just wish Samsung would invert the function keys so we could do things like adjust the volume and display brightness without pressing the Fn key first.

The Q430-11's touchpad isn't the largest we've used on a 14-inch laptop (3 x 1.2 inches), but the silver surface was nice and smooth for navigating the desktop. In addition, pinch-to-zoom gestures worked well when we enlarged photos. The two dedicated mouse buttons are a bit small, but were easy to press.

Display and Audio

Samsung's notebooks tend to feature top-notch displays, and this one is no different. The 14-inch panel (1366 x 768) is bright and colorful, so long as you tilt the screen backwards; otherwise, the picture will look washed out. To test the display we fired up a 1080p trailer of Tron: Legacy, and the Q430-11 rendered a deadly Light Cycle race with plenty of detail while offering wide viewing angles.

The twin speakers on the Q430-11 don't get very loud, but they sound better than the average laptop thanks to the SRS Sound technology inside this system. The horns and guitars in Cake's "The Distance" came through without any distortion even at maximum volume. However, Toshiba's 14-inch Satellite M645 has more audio oomph.

Ports and Webcam

From front to back on the left side of the Q430-11, you'll find mic and headphone jacks, a USB port, an HDMI port, and Ethernet and VGA connections. The right side of the notebook houses the DVD drive and two additional USB ports. Samsung placed the 3-in-1 memory card reader right up front, which provides easy access for transferring photos when using this system on a table or desk. The USB port on the left of the Q430-11 can charge devices when the system is asleep or even off. However, while the machine supplied juice to a BlackBerry Bold, it didn't work for the iPhone 4 or BlackBerry Torch.

To test out the 0.3-megapixel webcam, we made a couple of video calls on Skype. The other caller said our image looked a little pale and that he heard some feedback when we spoke.

Performance

The Q430-11 packs some pretty beefy specs, including a 2.4-GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics. You also get plenty of storage space: a 5,400-rpm, 500GB hard drive. In the PCMark Vantage test, which measures overall Windows performance, the laptop notched a score of 5,598. That's more than 1,000 points above the average thin-and-light notebook, and better than most 13- and 14-inch laptops we've reviewed recently, including the ASUS U33Jc (5,406), Toshiba Satellite M645 (5,329), and Gateway ID49C08u (5,590), all of which have Nvidia graphics as well. The only 14-incher we've evaluated of late that beats the Samsung is the pricier HP Envy 14 (6,129).

It took the Q430-11 a leisurely 1:08 to boot Windows 7, about 7 seconds longer than average. But more annoying were the persistent McAfee pop-ups that kept reminding us to activate the software. (We'd almost rather be infected with a virus.) The hard drive completed our file transfer test in 4:05 for a rate of 20.8 MBps, somewhat slower than the 23.9 MBps average.

Those looking to crunch video will find this CPU's multithreading muscle to be more than adequate. Using Oxelon Media Encoder, the Q430-11 transcoded a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI in 51 seconds. This showing is faster than the category average of 1:04 and comparable to the ASUS U33Jc (51 seconds) and Satellite M645 (52 seconds).

Graphics

Although the Q430-11 isn't a gaming rig by any stretch, the Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics card (with 512MB of video memory) is good enough to handle mainstream titles and play more demanding ones at lower settings. In World of Warcraft, this notebook turned in a sky-high frame rate of 130 frames per second at 1024 x 768 and a still-smooth 40 fps at native resolution. When we played Far Cry 2, the Q430-11 mustered only 15 fps at 1366 x 768 but a decent 46 fps at 1024 x 768. We also played Monsters vs. Aliens at native resolution with the details on max, and we didn't notice any lag as we flipped over lasers and skated past other obstacles.

In 3DMark06, the Q430-11 turned in a score of 3,921. That's better than the Dell Inspiron 14R (3,848) and ASUS K42J (3,470), but nowhere near the Toshiba Satellite M645 (6,113), although the pricier configuration of the unit we tested had 1GB of video memory. The Gateway ID49C08u, which also has a gig of video memory and scored even higher (7,230), costs only $20 more than the Samsung machine.

Battery Life and Wireless

The Q430-11's discrete graphics keep it from winning any long-distance races. In the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), this notebook's six-cell battery lasted just 3 hours and 17 minutes. That runtime is a bit longer than the Dell Inspiron 14R (3:12) and not far behind the Satellite M645 (3:30). Still, we've tested other notebooks with discrete GPUs that have lasted longer unplugged, including the Gateway ID49C08u (4:37) with Nvidia's Optimus graphics. That technology allows such systems to switch between integrated and discrete graphics on the fly to save battery life, while the Q430-11 has only a discrete GPU. The 14-inch category average is 4:45.

Software and Warranty

Samsung stuffs the Q430-11 with lots of branded utilities that do everything from help users troubleshoot (Support Center) to getting remote assistance (Internet Assistance). You'll also find System Restore and Backup, Update Plus for driver and BIOS updates, as well as a tool that caps the max charge level to 80 percent to help extend the life of the battery. Easy Network Manager lets you create and save network environments, but most will find Windows 7 to be intuitive. Other bundled software includes CyberLink YouCam for recording videos to share on YouTube (complete with fun special effects) and McAfee Security Center.

The Q430-11 is backed by a one-year warranty with 24/7 U.S.-based tech support. To see how Samsung fared in our latest Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Configurations

The Samsung Q430-11 is a Best Buy exclusive; no other configuration options are available.

Verdict

It's one of the best-looking 14-inch notebooks of the year, and one of the most comfortable thin-and-light notebooks we've used. Plus, the Q430-11 performs well--whether you're watching HD movies online or playing games--and it stays cool under pressure. However, we'd like this machine a lot more if it lasted at least 4 hours on a charge. If you don't plan on moving this machine around much, the Q430-11 is an enticing choice, but we think even home users would appreciate more endurance.

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Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-450M
Operating System MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 500GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 14.1
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive DVD SuperMultiDrive
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce 310M
Video Memory 512MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Wi-Fi Model Atheros AR9285
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3 x 1.75 inches
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 3-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 1 year/toll free 24/7
Size 13.5 x 9.4 x 1.04 inches
Weight 5 pounds
Company Website http://www.samsung.com