Intel's integrated graphics have improved a lot in the last couple of processor generations, but they're still not quite a match for discrete graphics. So if you want a true notebook all-rounder, you will need a model with AMD or Nvidia graphics on board. Samsung's Series 5 NP550P5C comes with an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M chipset, so has plenty of gaming grunt to offer when required. But there's much more to this laptop than just its above average 3D performance.
The NP550P5C should not be confused with the super-slim Series 5 Ultra 530U3B-A01 we looked at a few months ago. This is very much a mid-range model, with a 15.6in screen and chassis to match. However, it's a little more trim than Lenovo's IdeaPad Z580, weighing in at 2.5kg and measuring a little less in every dimension. The styling is more sober, but also has a slightly greater sense of quality, although this is still not quite a premium laptop. The look takes similar cues from Samsung's Ultrabooks, so is generally attractive, although obviously without the stunning skinniness of the Series 9 900X3B.
Samsung hasn't pulled out all the stops for the processor, but still supplies plenty of power. The CPU is an Intel Core i5 3210M, which runs at a decent 2.5GHz and has two physical cores. This is from Intel's Ivy Bridge generation, so Turbo Boost 2.0 allows a single core to increase to 3.1GHz when required. Hyper-Threading is on hand to turn each physical core into two virtual ones. So the NP550P5C has all the usual Intel features. The processor is partnered with 6GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory, which comes on two DIMMs so you will need to remove a module if you wish to upgrade.
This brings us to the graphics. The NP550P5C still has the very good Intel HD 4000 integrated chipset available for when the power of the discrete graphics is not required. But Nvidia's Optimus technology means the GeForce GT 650M can be turned on dynamically as the need arises. This 650M is well above entry-level, too, with a very healthy 384 CUDA cores and 2GB of its own dedicated GDDR5 memory. This will provide desktop-level 3D performance when required.
Storage provisions don't include anything as advanced as a solid-state disk, not even a small one as a cache. However, the hard disk is a very generous 1TB Seagate Spinpoint M8, which may only offer a 5,400rpm rotational speed, but has plenty of capacity even for extensive multimedia and graphics work. The LiteOn DVD A DS8A8SH DVD rewriter offers 8x DVD writing, which is par for the course in slim portable drives.
The screen is not particularly special in terms of its specification, providing a resolution of just 1,366 x 768 from its 15.6in diagonal. However, Samsung does make some of the nicest laptop screens on the market, and the one fitted on the NP550P5C is no exception. Colours are rich and there is plenty of contrast, despite the matt finish. The latter is also beneficial for viewing angles, which are above average, and there are few problems with reflections in bright conditions. Audio quality from the JBL speakers is above average too. Plenty of volume is available, and although some bass is lacking despite the presence of a subwoofer, there's still more depth to the sound here than all but the most multimedia-focused desktop replacement laptops.
The island-style keyboard is similarly decent. The click response is very subtle, which might not suit some typists, but otherwise the action is comfortable. With the 15.6in chassis, there's room for a separate numerical keypad on the right, but there are no independent multimedia keys, with volume controls added as secondary capabilities of the function keys, and no separate playback controls. The trackpad is large, with discrete buttons, and is offset slightly to the left to place it almost beneath the space bar, which minimises accidental brushing with the palm of your hand as you type.
The NP550P5C's port allocation is essentially standard for this form factor. On the left, between the power connection and exhaust vent, is the Ethernet port. Then to the right of the exhaust vent are regular VGA and HDMI ports, plus two USB 3.0 ports and separate minijacks for headphones and a microphone. On the right, towards the back, are two USB 2.0 ports plus the Kensington lock slot. The SD card reader is subtly lurking on the front edge, just to the left of the trackpad, with only the initials "SD" to indicate its presence.
Unsurprisingly, with its decent Core i5 processor and powerful graphics, the NP55P5C posts some pretty impressive performance results. The Maxon Cinebench R11.5 CPU test score of 2.89 can't beat the Core i7-equipped Lenovo IdeaPad Z580, but it will be more than enough for most mobile computing tasks. The Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL test returned a very decent 39.24, a score we have only seen bettered by Alienware's monster gaming M18x. The result of 13,463 in Futuremark's 3DMark06 and 2,308 in 3DMark11 tell a similar story. This is no hardcore gamer's laptop, but it will definitely throw its hand to the latest 3D titles at playable frame rates.
Despite the 2D and 3D computing power on offer, the NP550P5C has pretty impressive battery life as well. In our gruelling 100 per cent processor and graphics test, the notebook lasted a very commendable 242 minutes. Only a few laptops have bettered this result. In the more lenient Bapco MobileMark 2007 Productivity test, the NP550P5C managed 396 minutes, which isn't quite up with the best ultraportables, such as Dell's XPS 14, but will still give you most of a day's work on battery. The MobileMark 2007 DVD playback test lasted 247 minutes, so you could just about watch a couple of feature-length movies on the move. The 57Wh battery is removable, too, so you could also bring a spare for really long journeys.
The Samsung Series 5 NP550P5C may not be the kind of laptop you would lust after, and it won't slip unobtrusively into your bag, either. But it is a very capable all-rounder. It has decent processing abilities, great graphics, and surprisingly good battery life. Even the sub-£750 price is quite reasonable. If you're looking for a notebook that will perform most everyday computing tasks on the move, and for extended periods, the Samsung Series 5 NP550P5C should be top of your list.
Manufacturer and Product
Samsung Series 5 NP550P5C
2.5GHz Intel Core i5 3210M
6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000 and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M with 2GB GDDR5 memory
1TB Seagate Spinpoint M8 hard disk
LiteOn DVD A DS8A8SH DVD rewriter
15.6in LED backlit TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, LAN, headphone, microphone, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
367.9 x 242.85 x 30.4mm
1 year collect and return