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Samsung's R480 14-inch notebook


Glossy burgundy with GeForce inside
— 4:06 PM on August 18, 2010

Manufacturer Samsung
Model R480
Price (Starting)
$829.99
Availability Now

When it comes to laptops, Samsung's name comes up a little less often than those of bigger fish like Acer, HP, Dell, and Toshiba. The Korean conglomerate has fingers in a lot of pies, though, and it's given us some interesting notebooks over the years. The Nano-powered Samsung NC20 ultraportable, which our editor in chief continues to use, comes to mind.

We'll be looking at a different animal today. Samsung's R480 isn't an ultraportable; it's not even thin or light by today's standards. No, this system is much closer to the desktop replacement category, with a 14" display, a Core i5 processor, discrete Nvidia graphics, optical storage, and an external ExpressCard slot. You probably won't be taking the R480 to Starbucks to check on your Facebook page, but it ought to be good for doing real work—and, hopefully, a little bit of gaming.

The big question, of course, is what a bigger, heavier, and more desktop-y machine gets you compared to the more portable laptops we usually cover. To find the answer, we've studied the R480 from every angle and taken it through our suite of mobile benchmarks. Read on to see what we've learned.

We usually start off these reviews by talking at length about specifications, but there isn't much to pick apart here. Samsung has based the R480 on Intel's Core 2010 platform, and it's thrown in a GeForce GT 330M graphics processor. We've already reviewed a couple of systems similar to this one in the past, although in this one, Samsung hasn't implemented support for Nvidia's Optimus switchable graphics technology. In any case, the Core i5 should be fast and power-efficient, while the GeForce should provide plenty of extra graphics juice.

The included GeForce GT 330M has 48 shader processors, a gig of dedicated GDDR3 memory, and a 128-bit memory interface. That's not quite enough pep to run the latest titles with all the eye candy on, especially since this is a DirectX 10 part, but it really ought to suffice for moderate 3D gaming. We'll get to the bottom of the 330M's potential on that front in a moment.

The rest of the R480's spec sheet shouldn't raise too many eyebrows:

Processor Intel Core i5-430M 2.26GHz
Memory 4GB DDR3-1066 (2 DIMMs)
Chipset Intel HM55
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GT 330M with 1GB GDDR3
Display 14.0" TFT with WXGA (1366x768) resolution and LED backlight
Storage Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 2.5" 5,400 RPM hard drive
Toshiba-Samsung TS-L633C dual-layer DVD drive
Audio Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec
Ports 4 USB 2.0
1 eSATA
1 HDMI
1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via Marvell 88E8059
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
Expansion slots
1 Express Card 34-mm slot
1 MMC/SDHC
Communications 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Atheros AR9285
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Input devices Chiclet keyboard
Synaptics capacitive touchpad
Internal microphone
Camera 1.3-megapixel webcam
Dimensions 13.5" x 9.4" x 1.2-1.5" (344 x 239 x 31-38 mm)
Weight 5.1 lbs (2.3 kg)
Battery 6-cell Li-Ion (48 Wh)

Samsung outfits the system with an ExpressCard slot and an optical drive, two features commonly missing from thinner and lighter systems. You never know when you might want to back up files to DVD or plug in something like a TV tuner or USB 3.0 controller, so these are nice touches.

A few downsides are apparent from the specs above, though. The 14" display has a 1366x768 resolution, so it won't give you more pixel real estate than, say, an 11.6" ultraportable. Bigger pixels might mean less time spent hunched over trying to decipher text if you have less than 20/20 eyesight, but 1366x768 can feel a teeny bit cramped when multitasking.

That six-cell, 48 Wh, 4400 mAh battery also sounds a tad underpowered for a machine of this caliber. We saw a battery with similar specs in the Eee PC 1201T, a system that lies closer to the netbook end of the spectrum, and it only lasted about four hours while browsing the web in Windows 7. The R480's 32-nm Core i5 processor probably won't be too hard on the battery, but we're not holding our breath for spectacular run times.

The unit Samsung sent us came with the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed. Windows reports a full 4GB of RAM, but popping open the Task Manager and looking at the Performance tab reveals only 3060MB of total usable memory. That makes sense, since the 32-bit OS's 4GB limit spans both system and GPU memory. The GeForce GT 330M has a gigabyte of dedicated RAM. Shipping a machine that only lets you use three quarters of the available system memory seems a little strange, especially since 64-bit editions of Windows 7 can be found on multitudes of pre-built PCs these days. Thankfully, cheaper, trimmed-down variants of the R480 selling at Best Buy do come with Win7 x64.

On the physical side of things, the R480 has a relatively tasteful red-and-black paint job—a welcome twist from the heaps of machines clad with nearly identical combinations of gray and black. The burgundy-and-ebony palette also helps partially conceal the system's girth... and with a thickness between 1.2" and 1.5", there's plenty of that to go around.

A 14" display size gives the R480 an interesting form factor for a desktop replacement. As you can see in the picture above, the R480's proportions allow for a more or less full-sized keyboard (minus a numpad), a reasonably large touchpad, and plenty of connectivity along the sides. Thanks to the mid-sized screen, the resulting system feels quite a bit more manageable than more fleshed-out desktop replacements with 15.6" panels. I've always found those a little bulky for proper mobile use. At just over five pounds, the R480 shouldn't feel like an overweight kid nephew when it's sitting on your lap. You might compare it to an overweight house cat, at worst.