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Samsung R560 15.4in Notebook - Samsung R560
So far, there's little to explain this Samsung's relatively high compared to the plethora of sub-£500 notebook out there, but that changes when we get to the specifications. To be honest, it's pretty cool when you can list a 250GB hard drive and a Centrino 2 Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 processor (running at 2.0GHz with a 1066MHz FSB) as the least of a notebook's components.
Although you're unlikely to see much real-world benefit to the 4GB of RAM being 1066MHz DDR3 rather than the usual 800MHz DDR2, it's still rare at this kind of price point. Moreover, despite the 3GB practical limit imposed by the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Premium, having 4GB not only allows the memory to run optimally in dual-channel mode, but means you won't have to upgrade even if you switch to a 64-bit OS.
The icing on the cake is the R560's discrete graphics card; an NVidia GeForce 9600M GS with 256MB of DDR3 RAM. To be blunt, you won't get a great gaming experience on any notebook using less than a GeForce 8800/9800 series chip, but if you're willing to put up with a few compromises (or some major ones in the case of recent titles), the 9600 does a better job than anything you're likely to find under a grand.
Naturally, this is reflected in our TrackMania Nations Forever notebook benchmark, which this Samsung happily chomped through at 52.4FPS, with detail set to medium and at the screen's native 1,280 x 800 resolution. Even at very high quality and two samples of anti-aliasing enabled, the 9600M GS managed a (barely) playable rate of 18 FPS.
Of course, without a decent screen to see everything on, even the best graphics chip won't make a good entertainment system. This is another area where the R560 is quite strong, but only under certain conditions. Its 15.4 SuperBright LCD does an adequate job in greyscale differentiation (for a notebook panel), meaning you'll get a fair amount of dark detailing in films. There was no sign of banding or backlight bleed either and even at lower brightness levels colours are still vibrant, with sharp text being a nice bonus.
Unfortunately, these positives are tempered by one fairly major problem: they're only apparent from a very narrow 'ideal' viewing angle. If you don't angle the screen right, blacks become greyed over, and strong colour and contrast shift make for a far from pleasant entertainment experience. A high-gloss and incredibly reflective finish doesn't help matters, unless you're looking for a portable mirror.