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A quick Samsung Q460 laptop review

I lied. After writing this up and realizing I had to scroll a lot to get back up, it’s anything but quick. If you’re considering the Q460, hopefully you find it helpful though.

I picked up the NP-Q460 from Best Buy Canada ( both BB and FS list it as a Q460-JS01CA ), as I needed a relatively cheap laptop to replace my previous MacBook Pro, which got owned by a glass of milk. Unfortunately, reviews on this model were slim. As far as the price and specs went, it looked like a pretty solid deal though at $699 CDN so I decided to give it a go.

I’ll assume if you’re reading this you’ve already checked out the specs, but just in case… the short version is that it’s got an Intel i5 2430m, 6GB RAM, nVidia Optimus GeForce GT540m with 1GB mem, and a slow (5400RPM) 640GB hard drive. All the other typical stuff you’d find in every recent laptop is there, though it’s worth noting that it’s got a standard DVD burner (no Blue-Ray).

First some boring unboxing pics, and then some commentary:

The NP-Q460 box.Inside the Samsung Q460 package.Everything that comes with the Samsung Q460The Q460's display (not powered on).The keyboard on the Samsung Q460. Note that the Canadian version shown here has a slightly different key layout than the US version.The removable back panel for the Samsung Q460 covers the hard drive and RAM.Samsung Q460 RAM and hard drive shown with access panel removed.
Click on any of the thumbnails above to see the large version in a pop-up window.

I’ll sum up a few pros and cons I observed rather quickly for those who just want the ‘gist’ of it:

PROS

  • Quiet – I was quite surprised… it’s not whisper-quiet by any means, but quieter than most somewhat-game-worthy laptops I’ve come across lately, and it doesn’t get nearly as loud under load.
  • It actually includes the restore DVD right in the box. This might seem small, but I’m sick of manufacturers who force you to spend your first 3 hours burning your own restore disks & the remaining manufacturers who rely soley on a recovery parition.
  • 1 screw and you can get at the RAM/HD if you want to upgrade/replace them (though I had an issue here I’ll mention later).
  • “Battery Life Extender” – Samsung claims that you can prolong the battery life by enabling this. What it does, quite simply, is set the maximum battery charge to 80%. Since I plug in most of the time anyway, I don’t mind missing out on that extra 20% if it means the battery might live a little longer in the end. This can be enabled/disabled within Windows, or in the BIOS.
  • Matte Screen – this is personal preference, but as gloss screens become increasingly popular (they display really well in stores but often reflect bright light like crazy), matte screens are getting a little tougher to find.
  • Good documentation – the manual is a program on the hard drive (all the papers you saw in the pics are the things you generally throw away without reading), but despite not being in paper form, the documation is clear and well-written.
  • A fan tweak in the BIOS – If the sound of the system fans spinning up and down bother you, a setting will try to keep the fans at a constant speed instead.
  • Despite being a typical plastic case, it looks to be well-built in that I’m not expecting early hinge cracks. To be fair, on the other end of things the machine does have a lot of flex to it (though at least the keyboard doesn’t have much flex).
  • No dead pixels – I could have simply got lucky though. They don’t offer any guarantees or anything beyond the typical “as long as you have less than X bad pixels” stuff.
CONS

  • No Blue-Ray drive – Not the end of the world right now since I’m still using DVD’s, but I think we’re getting to the point where it should probably be standard.
  • 5400RPM hard drive – Really, Samsung? You make the bloody drive (it’s, of course, a Samsung-brand hard drive). I suppose this could be to keep power consumption and heat down, but it’s still disappointing.
  • 6GB of RAM – It’s a 4GB stick and a 2GB stick. Again, Samsung-brand. RAM’s currently dirt-cheap, and 4GB+4GB would seem to have made the most sense. I almost wondered if they made this laptop simply as a way to unload old stock.
  • Trial-ware – To be fair, I’ve seen much worse. I had to uninstall 2 Norton programs, the Bing Toolbar, 5 pieces of Cyberlink trialware, and a couple other little things. Samsung also saw fit to pre-install printer software and a couple other Samsung-related-but-not-related-to-the-laptop-stuff, but again, to be fair I’m sure it makes the experience easier for someone who buys a Samsung computer & Samsung printer since they can just plug it all together and go.
  • Documentation pertaining to the “Samsung Easy SpeedUp Manger” – There’s a Silent, Normal, and Speed mode (and another I’ll go into in the next point). First 2 are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s not completely clear what all the Speed Mode actually does though except that it’s supposed to increase the performance. From the sounds of it, at the very least it may raise the priority of the program you’re running, but does it increase the fan speeds to reduce the chance of throttling and increase the Turbo spool? Does it overclock something? Documentation here was just plain sparse. On the plus side, keyboard shortcuts make it easy to switch between them.
  • “Speed Boot” – part of the Easy Speed-Up Manager I mentioned previously. Again, documentation is the problem. It lets you easily check the boxes of various start-up items (which appear to be pulled from the registry), and it’s says you can configure the “execution time”, and that it’ll run things when the CPU is in an “optimal state”. Nowhere do you configure the execution time though. You’re literally just checking boxes. And I don’t know if it’s prioritizing the things I check, or trying to delay them when the computer starts. Once you make the changes it seems to want to run some sort of optimization routine or something. So maybe it’s doing something else entirely. Maybe it’s like those “utilities” that claim to magically speed up your system (but actually do the opposite). Who knows?
  • The trackpad isn’t very responsive – Light pressure works until for some reason the cursor sticks and you have to push a little harder. I also had to turn off the tap-drag because it kept doing it when it shouldn’t have. It’s possible I’m being a little hard on them here (and it’s Synaptic’s software anyway). I was spoiled too long with Apple’s trackpads.
  • Color richness – The screen seems a little washed out, and this is compared to my 4-year-old Samsung monitor. It’s not a bad display, but my expectations were a little higher. It’s possible that I might be able to allieviate this in the video options. Note that when you start a movie (tried this on a DVD through the Windows player, and a DVD through VLC), a “Movie” display mode comes on, and it looks quite good, though the viewing angle is limited.
  • DVD tray is slightly looser than the already-loose-ish trays in most laptops. If you are the type of person to burn your own discs and print labels to stick on them, note that the drive is very sensitive to weight imbalance and will make a racket if you weren’t 100% precise when you applied the label to the disc.
  • This is related to the Canadian version of the laptop, but there are TWO backslash ( ) keys on the Canadian keyboard (I believe it shares the same keyboard layout as EU laptops). I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. Naturally, they’re where my fingers usually go to hit SHIFT and ENTER, so I’m sure the next time I instant-message someone I’ll be accused of sniffing glue or something. I looked around, and the US version has the “proper” keyboard layout we’re all used to. Before anybody jumps to the Canadian BB/FS website, note that the images on the site incorrectly show the US keyboard. The rest of the keyboard is fine though, so if you can deal with the enter key being shaped like a “7”, and can get used to the position of the backslash ( ) keys, you’ll be fine.

Despite the cons list being longer than the pros list, I’m really quite happy with the system.

Now for a few random details:

THE 1 SCREW

The 1 screw you remove to get at the HD/RAM… It’s a small philips screw, and on my notebook it was insanely tight. I tried a dozen small screwdrivers that were all the right size, and it just wouldn’t come.

As it turned out, I had to use a dremel to cut a slot into the screw so that I could use a larger flat screwdriver, get a good grip, and use a pile of force. It was tough, but it eventually came.

I don’t get why:

a) The screw was put in so tight. This is *supposed* to be a user-servicable panel.
b) They used a smaller screw than they did for the rest of the bottom panel. A larger screw would have fit and would be less prone to stripping.

THE FIRST START

The first startup takes quite some time. At first you’re presented with a very well-polished partition manager of sorts that allows you to size (or completely remove) a backup partition of sorts. Takes a few seconds, and is explained well enough that Grandma would probably understand. After that, you wait a good long while as it prepares Windows – I’m assuming that it’s either restoring the Windows image, or installing the whack of trial-ware you’ll spend even more time removing. Waiting for it to finish is like watching paint dry, so go get some coffee. You might even have time to drive to Starbucks. Maybe even the one in the next town.

Once you’re finally at the desktop, you’ll find an Intel utility running in the upper right, letting you know when the CPU turbo’s up. It seems a little out of place (it’s an odd thing to have greeting you), but it can be closed easily enough. Be sure to change the settings before closing it if you don’t want it to auto-run every time the laptop starts.

Despite Norton bugging you pretty quickly, and despite the large number of items in your taskbar, it actually feels like a pretty clean installation (though I’m used to 5-6 programs bugging me on most notebooks during the first boot).

THE SAMSUNG PROGRAMS/UTILITES

For the purists out there who have another copy of Windows and like to format/reinstall without the bloatware, be sure to grab the drivers from Samsung’s site first (the Samsung tools/utilties are also available there).

For the other minimalists who simply tend to uninstall the trialware they don’t want/need, don’t go uninstalling all the Samsung-related stuff. Some of it’s useful (check the installed manual to see what each does). You don’t need all of it, but a few things (like the software that enables keyboard features) you’ll probably want. That said, if you find you’ve removed something you want back, you can grab it again on Samsung’s site.

TEMPERATURES

Using OCCT and FurMark, I tried to get a rough idea as to what temps I’d be looking at.

Both the CPU and GPU could be nudged to the 80-85 degree C region (GPU goes a little hotter than the CPU). I’m guessing they have independant heatsinks, though I’ll confirm this when I disassemble the thing. The fan doesn’t start really kicking up until the 80 degree mark, though at that point, it’s still much quieter than my previous MacBook Pro.

The temps are a bit worrysome – intense games are probably going to get the thing hot, and based on previous experiences, after dust has had a couple months to accumulate I wouldn’t be surprised if either the CPU or GPU started to hit over 90 degrees.

Since I don’t want to be the victim of throttling or system shutdowns, when I disassemble the notebook, I’ll probably take a look at the airflow design, heatsinks & heatsink paste and see if something can be done.

GAMING

The only game I’ve tried so far has been BioWare’s MMO, SWTOR (Star Wars: The Old Republic). Played around for a couple minutes at the fleet station. TOR is known for being fairly demanding – if you browse the forums you’ll find many complaints pertaining to low fps, particularly by laptop users. It’s also notorious for pushing the CPU/GPU when it comes to heat output. Again, you’ll find many complaints about users who have systems shutting down, crashing, throttling, and restarting due to heat while playing this game.

I was interested to see how the notebook fared in terms of both fps and heat when playing at the native resolution.

At high settings, the game tends to sit a little above the 10fps mark. Technically playable, but not really practical.

At low settings (though with shadows off completely as well), the framerate becomes respectable, hitting 60fps at times, and generally bottoming out at just above 30fps. Movement is fluid, and I’d expect combat should remain fluid as well.

I didn’t try out medium settings, as most people will probably benefit from tweaking the individual settings and finding which give the most benefit when it comes to the quality/fps tradeoff.

After about 10 minutes on the fleet station, I took a look at the temperatures. The nVidia 540m had topped out at 71 degrees C. The CPU had capped at about 84 degrees C. When I disassemble the laptop I’ll see if new heatsink paste results in a reduction.

For being a low-medium card, the GeForce 540m looks to be more-than-adequate for casual gaming, and as a whole the Samsung Q460 notebook should be just fine for those who may use it for periodic gaming.

I wouldn’t call the Samsung Q460 a gaming laptop by any means, but if you’re content to get good framerates under low quality settings, I doubt it will disappoint.

TO SUM IT UP

It’s a good laptop, and a purchase I’m quite happy with. At around $700, The Samsung NP-Q460 is a fantastic compromise between the $300-500 budget-laptops that can barely game, and the $1000-1500 laptops that game well but at a high cost.

I may pop in an SSD one of these days, and will definitely be replacing the RAM with 2x4GB sticks that I have kicking around.

At the time of this writing, the only laptop that would give the same specs for less money would be an Acer for around $50 less, but I’ve never been pleased with the build quality of Acer’s stuff.

Anyway, that concludes the review. If you bought a Samsung Q460-JS01CA and have thoughts to share, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

  • Dan

    I picked my Q460 up on Boxing Day. I was upgrading from a Macbook Pro too.

    For now, my only issue with this machine is the trackpad. Out of the box, the drivers weren’t loaded. I had to download directly from Synaptics to get it working. But two-finger scrolling has never worked properly, either jumping down pages at a time, or not scrolling at all. It’s frustrating. I never realized how good Macbook users had it.

    As for gaming, I play SW:TOR on High settings and get very good frame rates. I had to adjust the nvida optimus thing to recognize SW:TOR. The laptop was dropping down to the Intel graphics, which was unplayable on “high”. But once I messed with things, I run very smooth on High (with just 1 or two items adjusted).

  • Danny

    Hey quick question for you or anyone else that owns this. I picked up one last week and noticed if hold the laptop closed and tilt it in just the right light there is a very suble ridge in the middle of the case on the top side. This might be by design so that it can take a bit more pressure before screwing up the LCD at all. It’s hard to explain but was wondering if this is seen on your laptop.

    Once again, if you close the laptop and look at the top of it, right in the middle it’s like a little ridge, a line that pops out right in the middle of it.

    • Danny:

      Just checked, and nothing I could see (or feel). On mine, there’s a zaggy-grey-line design on the top though, so it’s possible that it’s being masked if it exists.

  • mikeL

    did you tear it apart yet? the system is now clearance at FS/BB so I wanna know what can be done inside the thing
    Samsung appears to have dropped it from the main page too and gone onto the q500 series

  • Eric

    Have you found any way to control the fan speed? The computer runs very hot when gaming, yet the fan refuses to kick in until it is incredibly hot and even then only intermittently. :\

    None of the usual utilities can detect the fan.