Ultrabooks will normally set you back significantly more than less svelte notebooks with similar power and features. However, the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B-A01's sub-£700 price makes it much more affordable than many, even though it's still more expensive than an equivalent bog-standard notebook. After the incredible abilities of its Series 9 stablemate, can the little brother provide some of the same qualities to a more mainstream audience?
The Series 5 is actually a little smaller than the Series 9 in most dimensions. It's 13.5mm narrower and 8.1mm shallower, but 1.3mm thicker at its thickest point, and most significantly 300g heavier, which you definitely notice when you hold it in your hand. This probably won't be much of an issue for throw-in-any-bag portability, but the Series 5 doesn't have the same gob-smacking sense of unbelievable thinness and lightness that makes the Series 9 even more aesthetically desirable than a MacBook Air.
This is still an attractively styled notebook, though, and its beauty is more than skin deep. Taking the processing helm is an Intel Core i5 2467M. This is an ultra-low power CPU, rated with a thermal design power of 17W, and it runs nominally at 1.6Hz, although Intel Turbo Boost means it can run at 2GHz for extended periods, and a single core can operate at up to 2.3GHz. This is a dual-core processor with Hyper-Threading, too, so presents itself as four virtual cores for improved multithreading.
However, the Core i5 2467M is from Intel's previous Sandy Bridge generation, so only supplies Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics. This is no competition for the new HD 4000 graphics in the Ivy Bridge processors, and certainly can't keep up with discrete graphics. So you won't be able to play more than simple 3D games, but this isn't really what an Ultrabook is all about anyway. System memory is also limited to 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3, which is the standard complement and can't be upgraded, although can gain access to the DIMM slot and internal drive bay through a panel on the bottom of the system.
Samsung has attempted to provide the best of both worlds where storage is concerned, in similar fashion to Asus' Zenbook Prime UX32A. Instead of relying wholly on an expensive solid state disk, a small 16GB unit is used as a cache for the 500GB Hitachi Travelstar Z5K500 hard disk that provides the primary storage. The small SSD means boot up and hibernate times can be speedy, but a healthy quantity of storage will be available without the cost associated with providing it all in an SSD, although the hard disk is only a 5,400rpm model. As with virtually all Ultrabooks, there's no optical drive, but a ubiquitous SD card slot is available for removable storage.
The screen was one of the many strong points of the Series 9, and it's a highlight for the Series 5 as well. The base specification is nothing special for an Ultrabook this size, with a 13.3in diagonal and native resolution of 1,366 x 768. But the LED backlighting musters 300 cd/m2 of brightness, and viewing angles are very good both horizontally and vertically. The picture is bright with crisp detail. There's an HD webcam in its usual position in the middle of the bezel above the screen. So the Series 5 will acquit itself well in the visual aspect of watching multimedia and Skype video, and the speakers hidden on the underside of the chassis on either side are decent too, offering more bass than you would expect. This will be a great little machine for watching movies on the move.
The island-style keyboard is also decidedly pleasant to use, with a shallow but clearly defined action. There's no room for a numeric keypad, and no main keys providing this as a secondary function, but the keys are decently sized. The sizeable trackpad has also been positioned directly beneath the spacebar, slightly to the left, so you're less likely to nudge it accidentally with the heel of your hand, as is the case with Asus's Zenbook Prime UX32A. It also has physical buttons, rather than having these built into the trackpad, although the buttons are flush with the trackpad, which maintains the sense of style.
Despite its small chassis, the Series 5 is reasonably well endowed when it comes to ports, with all the most important bases covered. On the left beside the tiny power connection can be found a Gigabit Ethernet port, which looks like a USB port until you flip the little flap down. Next to this is a USB 3.0 port, full-sized HDMI and a combo headphones and microphone jack. There's also a small port which looks like mini-HDMI but is actually for a VGA dongle, which is supplied in the box. The right is home to a further two USB ports, although this time of the 2.0 variety, plus the SD memory card slot. We might have preferred more USB 3.0 ports, and separate headphone and microphone jacks, but the port allocation should be enough for most users. There's 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0, with the former supporting Wi-Di wireless connectivity, but no option for 3G - a disappointment for potential business users.
The Series 5's performance holds few surprises. The result of 1.58 in Cinebench R11.5's rendering test is rather modest, although it's what we would expect from an ultra-low power Intel processor rated at 1.6GHz. This will still be enough for everyday productivity tasks. The Cinebench OpenGL score of 5.63 and 3DMark06 result of 2,041 show that only very non-strenuous low-resolution gaming will be possible. However, one area where the Series 5 does surprise is in battery life. In our 100 per cent processor and graphics usage test, the notebook managed a phenomenal 229 minutes before giving up the ghost. However, this only equated to 269 minutes in MobileMark 2007's Productivity test, which is a merely mediocre result.
Samsung's Series 5 530U3B-A01 doesn't fill you with the urge to empty your bank account in quite the same compulsive way as its Series 9 model. But it also doesn't cost so much that you will need to. This is still a very attractive Ultrabook, with acceptable performance, decent features, and particularly good battery life. We might lust after the Series 9, but the Series 5 Ultra 530U3B-A01 will be a much more realistic choice for a serious long-term relationship for most people.
Manufacturer and Product
Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B-A01
1.6GHz Intel Core i5 2467M
4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 3000
500GB Hitachi Z5K500 hard disk with 16GB ExpressCache
13.3in LED backlit anti-glare TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0
1 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, VGA (via dongle), HDMI, LAN, headphone / microphone combo, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
315 x 218.9 x 17.6mm
1 year RTB