There has been a small flood of big-screened gaming mega laptops recently, timed to coincide with the release of Nvidia's latest graphics and Intel's newest processors. Ivy Bridge Core i-series CPUs started in quad-core configurations first, although midrange dual-core and ultrabook processors will follow soon. Systems showing off these new processors and graphics have largely been very expensive and, incidentally, quite good.
Samsung's behemoth Series 7 Gamer is one of a new line of laptops for the Korean electronics giant, clearly an answer to products from the likes of Origin, Alienware, and Asus.
Big-boned and full of high-end components, the Series 7 Gamer comes in only one, $1,899 configuration. The good news is that there's a lot of meat in this laptop: a quad-core Core i7-3610QM processor, 16GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M graphics, a 750GB hard drive, and a 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution 17-inch display that's flat-out gorgeous.
Yes, it's heavy (9 pounds). Yes, it's expensive (nearly $2,000). Yes, it's a little ugly. However, it's one of the best-performing laptops we've ever seen, at a price that's not that unreasonable. Samsung's entry into PC gaming laptops is a success, although it's a surprisingly bulky and flashy product for a company that's been making sleek and minimal laptops otherwise.
With its lid closed, the big, black, shiny presence of the Samsung Series 7 Gamer blends in with the "gamer gear" look of so many other competing products. There's nothing on the surface that screams anything unique.
The back lid, with its nearly mirrored coating and tapered lines, recalls the midrange R series of Samsung's laptops more than the recent Apple-like looks of the Series 7 Chronos, Series 5 Ultra, or Series 9. Incidentally, while this laptop is also technically a "Series 7" by name, it bears no family resemblance whatsoever to any Series 7 we've ever seen before. This might as well have been called a Series 8.
The differences extend to the interior: glossy plastic around the bar above the keyboard showcases the speaker grille and several LED-enhanced circles. The left circle provides volume control, the right is a power button, and the middle "Turbo" circle lights up when the Series 7 Gamer is set to Game Mode (Intel Turbo Boost is applied to the quad-core Core i7 processor in this mode). There are also several LED-lit touch controls for toggling audio mute, the Wi-Fi antenna, and keyboard backlighting.
To the right of these lit circles is a physical dial knob that emerges from the side, reminiscent of the volume dial on an HP Envy or an old-school home audio system. The knob controls the Series 7 Gamer's energy/screen modes: a "Green Mode," "Library Mode" (which seems to automatically mute audio, but not much else), "Balanced Mode," and "Game Mode," which optimizes the display's brightness and contrast and triggers a pretty silly and overdramatic animation and "cyber-effect" that, presumably, is meant to make you feel like your laptop just transformed into a Serious Gaming Machine. It's one step short of sprouting fake gun turrets from the speakers, but maybe there are some hard-core gamers out there that will enjoy it.
The Series 7 Gamer has a huge, spacious keyboard with adjacent number pad, backlit, and -- lo and behold -- it's an old-fashioned tapered-key affair. Nearly no one makes keyboards like this anymore; even Lenovo did away with its old-fashioned ThinkPad keyboards. It looks odd on this Samsung, but the truth is...it's a great keyboard. Keys have plenty of travel, concave surfaces cup your fingertips perfectly, and a row of function buttons above the number keys doesn't get in the way. I wonder if this laptop could have been made any slimmer by giving it a shallower keyboard, but the bottom line here is you'll be comfortable. Even better, the commonly used WASD keys are lit in mellow orange instead of pale blue.
The touch pad beneath has a smooth, matte surface and a flat button-bar below it. A blue LED strip demarcates the button strip from the pad and provides your eye with a focus zone when attending to the screen, as you can see the bar in your peripheral vision. I wish I could say the touch pad's responsiveness was as good as the keyboard's, but that's a standard problem with Windows laptops. Most gamers will use a mouse, anyway.
Game Mode has a little animated icon that launches a dedicated settings panel: background services and antivirus programs can automatically be set to Limited/Silent, and a few other minimal adjustments like touch pad on/off can be toggled. A few preset animations can be selected for the Game Mode transformation. It all pales next to the customizations on an Alienware or the Razer Blade, but the easy-access launcher is somewhat helpful.
What makes a gaming laptop a gaming laptop? A phenomenal screen can't hurt. The 17.3-inch glossy display on the Series 7 Gamer has 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution and looks positively fantastic, big and bright, with rich colors and excellent wide viewing angles. Blacks are blacker than on most laptops. It all makes for a great viewing experience, whether watching Blu-rays or playing games. The screen's so good and big that streamed media like Netflix videos are bound to look like pixelated disappointments by comparison.
Stereo speakers and a subwoofer underneath offer up loud, powerful sound for gaming, and even for movie-watching. The audio experience isn't head and shoulders above the competition, but it earns points for sheer volume. To listen to 5.1- and 7.1-channel audio, you'll need to plug in surround-sound headphones or connect to an external speaker set or receiver.
Even the 2.0-megapixel Webcam is top-notch. Samsung preinstalls CyberLink YouCam software, but the 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution camera had more saturated colors and better light sensitivity in my office-based casual testing than I'm used to seeing in a laptop.
If you're paying $1,899 for a laptop, you expect lots of features. This Samsung Series 7 doesn't disappoint, although it doesn't deliver anything unexpected. The requisite USB 3.0 ports (2) and video ports (HDMI, VGA and even DisplayPort) are present. There's onboard Blu-ray. The only thing I wish this laptop had that it doesn't was a Thunderbolt port, but I don't know what I would do with it.
The Series 7 Gamer comes in only one configuration, just like Ford's first Model T. For $1,899, you get two 750GB, 7,200rpm hard drives with 8GB of ExpressCache SSD for frequently used core functions, a generous 16GB of RAM, a quad-core third-gen Core i7-3610QM processor, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M graphics. That compares favorably with a system like the recently reviewed Maingear EX-L 15, which included a slightly faster Core i7-3820QM CPU and the same graphics, but less RAM and hard-drive space, for $2,349. The also-recently-reviewed but less expensive Asus G75VW had the same CPU, slightly less powerful Nvidia graphics, and less RAM.
“…one of the best gaming laptops
that we've seen this year.”
This laptop's 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU, a quad-core processor, is part of Intel's newest, third generation of Ivy Bridge processors. It's the same processor we've already seen in the Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 and Asus G75VW, and, not surprisingly, it performed nearly the same in our tests. Multitasking is blazing fast, and nearly any task you can think of, from video encoding to large software installations, can be handled lightning-quick. This is more computer than anyone really needs, but if you want something even faster, the Origin EON17-S and Maingear EX-L 15 do best it in performance speed.
The graphics, from an Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M, are even better. They match what was included in the Maingear EX-L 15, and performed nearly identically. Street Fighter IV screamed at 161.5 frames per second at native 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution. Metro 2033, a demanding game, ran at 19.3fps at full 1080p with DX 11 and graphics settings at High. Batman: Arkham City ran at 51fps at 1080p with graphics settings at High, and DX11 off. The recently released Diablo III flew, at about 80fps based on my time playing. Battlefield 3 played very well at 1080p with graphics settings ramped up, too. In fact, the performance was extremely close to the Origin EON17-S, a far more expensive machine that's the current top end of 2012 gaming systems.
By the way: keep this laptop plugged in when playing games. Even in Gamer Mode, unplugging the Series 7 Gamer from its power brick resulted in big dips in framerate for most games. To get the most out of this system's performance (as well as hot air blasting through the back vents that feels like a space heater), stay on AC.
Don't expect great battery life from a gaming laptop this large. The Samsung Series 7 Gamer eked by with 2 hours and 33 minutes of video playback, but expect that number to shrink way down when playing any type of game. You'll want to keep that charge brick plugged in, which, incidentally, is gigantic.
Samsung includes a standard one-year warranty with the Series 7 Gamer. Samsung's Website has an easy-to-find phone number (1-800-726-7864) and a variety of live chat support options, plus manual and driver downloads. You can gain an extra three months of warranty support by registering with Samsung.
Gaming laptops often feel like an extinct breed, and are frequently priced and sized to match. The Samsung Series 7 Gamer does nothing to subvert the stereotypes, but delivers an excellently performing, sharp-screened, fully geared-up example of the form at a price that's exorbitant but not unearned. Simply put: Samsung's made a big-boned gaming beast, and it's yours for the taking if you can afford it and fit it on your desk.