Samsung’s Series 5 530U is, quite simply, the best-sounding Ultrabook we’ve encountered. Its up-facing, 2W stereo speakers produce exceptional volume levels without distortion, and manage a fair amount of depth. There’s even a halfway decent amount of bass thrown into the bargain. They will strain with more dramatic action movie moments and you wouldn’t want to listen to your favourite classical or rock tracks using them, but most of the time headphones won’t be required. Only the Lenovo IdeaPad u300s comes remotely close.
General performance is good, though its hybrid hard drive means it’s not quite as quick as Ultrabooks that use pure SSDs. Regardless of which Series 5 Ultrabook model you choose, you’ll find the usual Intel dual-core ‘Sandy Bridge’ Core i5-2467M, which runs at 1.6GHz but can Turbo clock up to 2.3GHz and supports up to four virtual cores. It’s backed by the standard 4GB of RAM.
Storage varies by model. The 13in 530U comes with a choice of 128-256GB SSDs or a 500GB hybrid drive, while the 14in gives you 500GB on our 530U4B-A01 model or 1TB on the higher-end one with dedicated graphics. Both hybrid systems incorporate a 16GB SSD utilising ExpressCache, which makes for a nice upgrade from the 8GB system we saw in Samsung’s Series 7 Chronos.
Everyday performance is roughly similar though, with a cold boot of just 20 seconds and resume of around four seconds. Your most frequently used files and applications will also be cached on the SSD to speed them up, while the traditional drive means you still have plenty of storage space.
Unfortunately, our 530U4B-A01 didn’t come with AMD’s dedicated Radeon HD7550M graphics. Rather, it uses the same underperforming Intel HD 3000 integrated chip as every other Ultrabook. This results in very mediocre gaming performance, as demonstrated by an unplayable 8.5fps (frames per second) average in Stalker: Call of Prypiat at medium settings. With older 3D titles at moderate settings it manages well enough though, so the casual crowd should be fine.
As with most Ultrabooks, the Series 5 stays cool and quiet even under load, with its optical drive being the only inevitable noise offender.
Battery life is our only real disappointment with Samsung’s latest ultraportable, as we were hoping the slightly roomier chassis might have allowed for a larger battery. We guess the optical drive must have put paid to that though. The 530U4B managed just over five and a half hours in our light battery test, with wireless radios disabled and screen brightness set to 40 percent.
Though not by a large margin, this is still one of the lowest scores we’ve seen from an Ultrabook, especially when compared to the seven hours plus of the Lenovo IdeaPad u300s and Toshiba Satellite Z830. Mind you, the hard drive and larger screen size are factors here, and the Series 5 does beat similarly endowed rivals like the XPS 14z.
Battery life issues are also mitigated by the 530U4B-A01’s low price of around £850. Though the lighter and thinner Acer Aspire S3 can now be had for as little as £670, you get less connectivity and no USB 3.0; a worse, smaller screen; slower, smaller hard drive; worse typing experience and of course no optical drive – though that may actually be a positive for many users. Still, the 530U4B is an attractive ultraportable at an attractive price.
The Samsung Series 5 530U (4B-A01) Ultrabook is more of a super thin and light 14in ultraportable and Macbook Pro rival, than a competitor to the 13in Ultrabooks already on the market - but either way it’s a sleek, attractive yet affordable laptop. A decent screen and the best audio we’ve yet heard from an Ultrabook combine with good usability and connectivity to make up for its average battery life. We’re especially excited that Samsung is introducing dedicated Radeon graphics into the Ultrabook market with its 530U4B range, though this specific model sticks with Intel’s integrated solution. For those who want an optical drive, it is also the only (current) choice.