Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement | How we test computers
Editors' note: This review is part of our 2010 retail laptop and desktop back-to-school roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
In an earlier retail laptop roundup, we were surprised to discover that the $829 Samsung NP-R580-JSB1US was one of the best all-around values in the midrange category. It was a complete package with a Blu-ray drive, Nvidia graphics chip, and an Intel Core i5 processor in a 15-inch body that didn't look half bad. This time, the $829 Samsung Q430-11 breaks into our retail assortment of laptops at the same price but with a far sleeker design than that of its predecessor.
With a Core i5 processor and the same Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics chip found in the R580, this 14-inch metal-clad notebook is a very solid package, but Samsung drops the Blu-ray drive. The Q430-11 may not be quite the steal that the R580 was, but it happens to be a far better-looking and -feeling laptop. With its premium construction, style, discrete graphics chip, and price, Samsung has created yet another winning laptop.
|Price as reviewed||$799|
|Processor||2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M450|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1,066 MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 310M|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.5x9.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.0/5.8 pounds|
Inside and out, the Samsung Q430-11 comes across as a premium high-end laptop. Its black brushed-aluminum lid curves gently and feels solid. Samsung covers the entire keyboard deck in silver brushed aluminum, but it doesn't carry the metal treatment over to its plastic underside. The laptop's upper lid is covered in edge-to-edge glass, like the MacBook Pro has, and is one of the few non-Apple midrange-price laptops we've seen with this design touch. Overall, the Q430-11's design is sharp, eye-catching, and its base is a good deal thinner than that of the R580.
The laptop has a round, flush power button at the top right of the keyboard, and it's a bit too recessed for our tastes. It has two speaker grille holes that appear at first glance to be additional chrome buttons, but they're not.
Though the bottom half of the Q430-11's chassis flexes a bit, overall, it feels dense, well built, and comfortable. Samsung seems to have borrowed a few design notes from Asus' recent premium midrange laptops. The design similarities carry over to the keyboard, which looks and feels nearly identical to Asus' models. The keyboard's well-spaced, isolated Chiclet-style keys perform well; however, the combination function-media control buttons are not function-reversed, so you'll need to press the Fn plus the direction-arrow keys to control volume or screen brightness. It gets annoying, but it's a common issue with laptops. Samsung includes dedicated Page Up and Page Down keys on the right side of the keyboard, a trend we've seen in several recent laptops. The keys are useful, but they make us hunt a little more for the right Shift key.
We have a slight gripe with the square touch pad on the Samsung Q430-11: it's a bit too small for the laptop. At the very least, Samsung could have made it a bit wider. The touch pad works decently, but it is overly sensitive with multitouch commands when used with the default settings.
The 14-inch wide-screen LED-backlit display has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. The display's extra edge-to-edge glass adds a little more glare, but its color clarity and sharpness are among the better that we've seen. Movies and video look great on the Samsung, and Web pages are easy to read. Its 640x480-pixel Webcam doesn't capture particularly great video--it seems a bit choppy with a low frame rate--but it's passable for basic Web chatting.
Samsung boasts that the included stereo speakers support SRS TruSurround, but we didn't notice the surround effect particularly. Its audio was solid, but it leaned toward being treble heavy and slightly tinny, which is common for laptops this size.
|Samsung Q430-11||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Most likely because of its size constraints, the Samsung Q430-11 is a little light on ports and features. It has an HDMI port, but Samsung didn't include eSATA, ExpressCard, or Bluetooth. According to Samsung, one of the Q430-11's three USB ports supports QuickCharge, which lets you charge USB devices while the laptop is sleeping, hibernating, or turned off. However, we couldn't get the specifically labeled QuickCharge port to work with our iPhone 3GS, despite tweaking the settings.
The Intel Core i5 processor inside the Samsung Q430-11 makes the laptop very snappy for multitasking, Web browsing, or working with productivity software. For most people, this laptop will offer great performance. In fact, the Q430-11 led the pack among this retail roundup of mainstream laptops for benchmark speeds, perhaps in part because it has its added graphics hardware. It's even a bit faster than the Samsung R580.
The Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU gives the laptop good enough graphics for most mainstream games, but it's a middle-of-the-road processor that won't qualify as "gaming" graphics for hardcore gamers. On our Unreal Tournament III benchmark, the GPU cranked out 40.2 frames per second at 1,280x720-pixel resolution, and 37.8fps in its native 1,366x768-pixel resolution with medium settings. These scores are good, but they are not stellar. We also played Activision's Transformers: War for Cybertron; it played decently with the Nvidia chip, but it had a slightly clipped frame rate. Though the laptop's graphics will disappoint console gamers, it will satisify those who are looking to just play a few games on their laptop.
|Samsung Q430-11||Average watts per hour|
|Annual power consumption cost||$6.49|
The Samsung Q430-11's six-cell battery lasted for 3 hours and 8 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. Considering it also has dedicated graphics chip, that's not bad for a midsize laptop; however, we've seen longer battery life from other midsize laptops. In this roundup, the Samsung Q430-11 averaged slightly better scores than average. It also outperformed the Samsung R580 we reviewed in the winter roundup.
Samsung includes an industry-standard one-year warranty with the Q430-11. Its support is accessible through a toll-free phone number weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Central Time, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. Samsung also provides support via chat and e-mail. Samsung's Web site has an easy-to-find online knowledge base and driver downloads. Though retail outlets also offer extended warranties to laptop buyers, we generally don't recommend you buy them.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M450; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 310M; 500GB Samsung 5,400rpm
HP Pavilion dm4-1065dx
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.26GHz Intel Core i5 M430; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 64MB