Samsung Q45 Review

by Reads (77,080)

by Luke Alexander

The Samsung Q45 is a 12.1" ultraportable notebook is a budget priced system that still manages to pack impressive performance and features into a relatively small footprint. Based around Intel’s Core 2 Duo Santa Rosa platform and featuring Intel X3100 graphics and a sizable hard drive, the Q45 might just prove to be a highly desirable ultraportable. Let’s take a look.


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Listed specifications for Samsung Q45:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 (1.8GHz, 2MB Cache)
  • 2048MB DDR2-333 (PC2-5300) RAM (2 x1GB)
  • 160GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • 12.1” WXGA 1280×800 Glossy Screen
  • Intel X3100 Graphics Accelerator
  • DVD Super-Multi optical drive
  • 802.11a/b/g wireless networking
  • Internal Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • 100Mb LAN
  • 1.3MP integrated webcam
  • Integrated HD Audio
  • 6 cell 2400mAh battery
  • 6-in-1 memory card reader
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 29.9 cm x 21.7 cm x 3.6 cm (12” x 8.5” x 1.4”) [Actual: 29.8cm x 23.5cm x 3.3-4.3cm]
  • 1.9kg (4.18lbs)

Included Accessories:

  • Targus Neoprene Slip Cover
  • Cleaning Cloth

Price: $1,500 (including delivery)

Reasons For Buying

My previous system was an Acer 15.4” using a single core Turion processor with only 512MB of RAM. It ran for around 30mins on battery and weighed over 3.1kg, which rendered its use as a laptop somewhat questionable. I had decided a few months ago I wanted an ultraportable with a 12-inch screen or less. Unfortunately my budget as a student was limited so I was forced to compromise. There were only two 12” systems in my range, this Samsung and an Acer which didn’t have an integrated optical drive. I am also not too impressed with Acer based on my two years with my previous system. The Samsung is quite heavy and thick for an ultraportable, but still very light versus other laptops of comparable specification. It was also pleasing to see that it was attractive and didn’t command too great a price premium for the portability it provided.


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Where & How Purchased

I purchased the Q45 from UK laptop vendor www.laptopsdirect.co.uk where I had previous purchased my girlfriend’s Asus A8 back in April. Like her, the service was excellent bar and I received the system on Wednesday after paying on Monday evening. I used my Mastro debit card to avoid the 1.5% or more credit-card surcharge which also meant I received a free accessory and delivery. The total cost (after currency conversion for readers in the US) was around $1,500, which was around $80 cheaper than most vendors.

Build & Design

The design of the Q45 is understated yet elegant being entirely different shades of black. The lid and mouse buttons are glossy piano black (as is a small inner bezel of the screen to enhance contrast) whilst the rest is matte, with an unusual grain to it caused by Samsung’s antibacterial coating. This coating gives the matte finish a rather unique silver speckled look under some lights which is very attractive. The lid and buttons are a fingerprint magnet but fortunately Samsung include a cleaning cloth which is ideal for the screen as well, and can slide between the keyboard and screen in transit. Despite the rest of the notebook being matte, it does pick up marks which can be seen from angles – I assume this is a side effect of the coating Samsung use. Once again, the included cloth comes in handy.


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The system does not use a clasp to keep the screen closed, instead using some magnets and the rigid hinges to keep closed. I was wary about this, but I appreciate the speed with which the system can be opened and now consider it a nice feature. The hinges for the screen are very stiff, but have a nice motion to them. It is necessary to hold the keyboard section down in order to lift the screen, and a small bevel on the chassis is designed for just that purpose (it also allows the status lights to be seen when the screen is closed). There is no wobbling of the screen when pushed, no doubt due to the small size and good hinges. There is flex on the screen when twisted from side to side, which I found slightly surprising considering how small the screen is. This twisting eventually causes ripples in the LCD (as does pressing on the lid firmly). Since the twisting is unlikely to occur during everyday usage, it isn’t so important, however it would be advisable not to transport the system in a bag without protection, or lay heavy items on top of the closed system.


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When lifting the system from any corner (as one is likely to do with an ultraportable) there is no flex and the case feels extremely well built and rigid. The air intakes are distributed over the underside of the system, thus making it difficult to stop all airflow when it is on one’s knee. The exhaust is placed midway along the right side, and expels quite a lot of heat making it uncomfortable to use a mouse next to the unit at times. The bevel at the front of the unit makes typing very comfortable since there are no sharp edges to dig into the wrists.

The battery protruding from the rear is something of an issue since it increases the depth of the unit, yet makes accessing the unit very easy and also provides a handhold. A battery between the hinges (similar to Sony TZ series) would have been preferable. In all other ways, the design is unremarkable and minimal, except perhaps the thickness of the system which is quite large versus the screen size (though allows for better cooling).


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The Q45 is quite heavy for an ultraportable, but this contributes to its good specifications, full power processor and quiet running. If weight is important, it may be advisable to see how much around 1.9kg weighs. The quoted dimensions ignore the battery, quoting 21.7cm depth (inc battery: 23.5cm) which is poor form from Samsung (though common practice). In the dimensions given above, the thickness seems rather large, however once must account that the rubber feet on the Q45 are more like legs. The actual chassis thickness is 2.6cm (front) and 3.8cm (rear), which is the dimension that actually counts for most bags and whilst carrying the computer.

Screen

The screen is a gloss type which is commonplace on consumer notebooks these days; you either like them or loathe them. I prefer the matte look, but accept the greater contrast is nice in some conditions. The resolution is a standard 1280×800 which is a nice resolution on this size of screen (though it can cause some eyestrain since everything is so small). Fortunately there are no dead pixels and I found the screen as a whole to be a step up from those on Acer laptops. Like many screens, there is backlight bleed from the base of the panel but nothing extraordinary. This is only really noticeable when viewing a very dark or black image however so in everyday use does not pose much of an issue. The backlight control is somewhat bizarre since it is directly related to the Vista power schemes, and hence doesn’t allow full control of the backlight using the fn keys. The screen becomes very bright, but for my tastes does not become dim enough for very low light situations. The dimmest setting is somewhat equivalent to one-third to one-half brightness on other laptops I have used. This is something to bear in mind when viewing the battery life results and thinking “I can’t use a system on minimum brightness.”


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There is a 1.3MP integrated webcam above the screen which is extremely small and unobtrusive. It gives pretty good results in MSN Messenger (especially in low light) but I haven’t yet checked it with still pictures. The performance is ideal for the typical student or businessperson away from home, maybe even the odd youtube video if that floats your boat.

Speakers

The speakers are unusually located on the base, at the rear. This positioning keeps  the chassis clean from ugly speaker grilles and means the notebook gives a good sound on hard surfaces due to the sound reflecting from the desk. On soft surfaces or laps, the sound can become obscured. Overall the sound quality is better than most notebook computers, especially in the ultraportable segment. I prefer to use headphones however, and using various high quality headsets I found the output to be very good, definitely a step up over the AC97 standard. Those using more expensive headphones with 3.5mm adapters may find issues as I did, since the bulky adapter did not squeeze into the overhang above the line-out port. I should also point out the odd issue that inserting headphones did not automatically shut off the speakers , I cannot find a way to adjust volume without effecting the speakers unless I physically disable the speakers, which leaves me unable to just system wide volume.


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Processor & Performance

This is the slowest of the regular line of Santa Rosa Core 2 Duo processors at 1.8GHz but still packs a sufficient punch for what this system is likely to be doing. The smaller cache and frequency helps to conserve power and reduce heat and noise. It is a great improvement over the slower single core processor I was using, as evidenced by the benchmarks. I should note I was unable to get PCMark05 to run because of Vista’s foibles hence its absence here. I imagine the results will be comparable to other systems in this range. Vista felt snappy enough – the 2GB RAM clearly helping here, and Aero was handled with ease by the new Intel X3100.


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This integrated graphics solution borrows anywhere from 64MB to 128MB system RAM depending on the application. The amount borrowed was 64MB during desktop work at this resolution. Using the VGA out to a 1680×1050 resolution external monitor also yielded acceptable performance. I doubt many people game on an integrated solution on an ultraportable laptop, but for those that do I found it ran the latest Tomb Raider Anniversary game pretty well when AA was turned to 2x or lower. There were no noticeable delays in anything I did, and after a week SuperFetch is working fine, with MS Word 2007 opening almost instantaneously. Vista’s eye candy does give the appearance of slowness, but turning off the transition effects (fade, slide, zoom etc) make things happen on cue.


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Heat & Noise

Ideally an ultraportable system will be quiet and cool since it is often used in public places. Unfortunately those two ideals do not often go together well. The Q45 is an exception, no doubt due to the thick chassis and massive exhaust that enables a large diameter fan to move slowly. During a stress  test using wPrime the air belching out of the system became very hot indeed, and I would not feel comfortable using a mouse there during this activity. The rest of the system, including palm rests remained quite cool though, only heating up on the right side during intensive disk activity.


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This is one of the quietest systems I have used (though not quite as quiet as the Asus A8 I recently reviewed). On battery with light load the fan remained off, or so quiet it was barely audible in an absolutely silent room. Even during the stress test, the fan was quieter than many other laptop’s quietest mode. Noise is very important to me, so I was naturally very pleased by this outcome. Undervolting the processor would yield even better results, but due to RM Clock not being compatible with the Santa Rosa refresh just yet, I was unable to test that assumption.

The powerpack does give a slight whine when the power-jack is unplugged from the system, though my ears are pretty sensitive to noises in that frequency. The optical drive is very quiet when reading and writing a disk – a great improvement over my previous systems.

Keyboard & Touchpad

The easy part to discuss here is the touchpad, which works fine. It is very grainy which allows good accuracy and tactile feedback. It also has a section at the side and bottom for scrolling horizontally and vertically which works well. It is also possible to configure the corners of the pad to perform various actions such as middle click, program launch, volume etc. The buttons are attractive and glossy, which to my mind is preferable to painted plastic which can wear away easily. They have a nice, quiet action although they do require a firmer press than may be initially assumed.


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The keyboard is very good with a nice firm action and good sized keys. They cram a lot of functionality in so few keys. It doesn’t have the sponginess often associated with cheaper laptops and from this perspective it is clear to see that the Q45 is targeted at a “prosumer” market, sitting slightly oddly between consumer and business users. My main annoyance with the keyboard comes from the layout, which is rather annoying. There is the traditional bugbear of the swapped fn key and ctrl in the lower left corner, in addition to some other gripes. Firstly the backspace key is very small and can be difficult to hit at speed. Secondly the enter key is very small to boot though this is easier to adapt to. The main problem for me so far is having the right shift key be so small and now one key removed from the "?" symbol which is causing me frequent problems (especially since I often use a full size external keyboard when I use my external screen). I don’t see why Samsung could not use the additional width of the chassis to add in another column of keys for the likes of pgdn and restore a bigger shift key.

On the plus side for me is the lack of so called multimedia keys and quick launches. The only two buttons are the power key and the “Instant AV” software which I don’t find very useful. Perhaps some media playback keys would be nice, but are not essential.

Input & Output Ports

The notebook has all of the usual ports found on a modern computer including a 4-pin firewire port and VGA out. Disappointingly it only has two USB ports, one on the rear and one on the right side. This seems very few and they could easily have put another on the left side. Nevertheless, it is enough for an external mouse and USB key … the likely uses on a machine of this kind. The card reader comes in handy and is nicely positioned at the front of the system. I am not sure having the VGA port and the modem/Ethernet ports on the sides was a great plan though – surely the rear seems a more logical location for these. The unit includes a PCMCIA slot rather than an expresscard slot, whether that is good or bad depends on your perspective. The computer includes a built in microphone, and also a line in/microphone in next to the line out.


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Wireless

The notebook comes with built in a/b/g Intel wireless (no draft N despite Santa Rosa platform) and performs very well on my home network – nothing unusual to report. Bluetooth is provided and works without incident with my Sony Ericsson K800 and  Nokia 6300. Vista also supports the Bluetooth headphones, which might appeal to some people, though I have not tried this feature personally.

Battery Life

This is one of the most important aspects of any notebook computer, even more so for an ultraportable such as this. The predecessor of the Q45, the Q35 was frequently reported to achieve over 5hours battery life without much effort. It comes as a relief therefore that the Q45 has a very good battery life indeed. In the following scenarios, I used minimum display brightness (very usable still) and disabled Bluetooth. I repeated each test twice (repeating more would eat up more time than I actually have) and took the average value (they were in fact very similar both times). As you can see, exceeding 5 hours is possible during light usage (general office tasks with wireless on) and one can squeak over 6hours if wireless is not required. A great system for students and road warriors then. The battery also has an LED indicator on the bottom which gives a guide to remaining power in 20% increments. I should also add I was using Aero Basic rather than Aero Glass for these tests as I understood the latter had a detrimental impact upon battery life.

Wireless On, Minimum Brightness, Office Tasks: 5hrs 10mins
Wireless Off, Minimum Brightness, Office Tasks: 6hrs 4mins

As I mentioned earlier, I like to use RM Clock to undervolt my processor but I was unable to do that in this instance due to incompatibility with Santa Rosa. Hopefully when a new version is released I may be able to extend battery life time even further. Vista’s power management is very good in reality (much better than XP) and enables great personalization.  

The AC adapter is the smallest I have seen, and is very light. This makes traveling with it very easy indeed. It is about the size of a small mobile phone, and about twice as thick.

Operating System & Software

Samsung doesn’t include much bloatware on the Q45, just McAfee and Office 2007 trial. It also includes its own backup software which I haven’t tried as I prefer my own (SyncBack). This is a relief from many other system vendors, but there is still a lot of “Bloat” in Vista which can be optimized if needed. When I first booted the Q45 there were 70 running processes, after my clear out and modifications that is down to 49.

Vista required some getting used to, and has some improvements and some annoyances. It is very much a personal issue so I can’t comment too much on it.

Conclusion

The Samsung Q45 is easily one of the most cost-effective ultraportable computers available, and pretty much the only one similar for less than $2,000. The specifications are ideal for the tasks it will perform,  and complement the very good battery life and small size and weight. The system is ideal for people who move around a lot and prefer an elegant, unobtrusive system – whether that is a student or business person is down to individual choice. The excellent build quality at such a low price is a credit to Samsung and I anticipate this to fulfil anybody’s expectations.

Pros

  • Very quiet
  • Long battery life
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Sober and elegant styling

Cons

  • Quite heavy for the size of screen/versus other ultraportables
  • Awkward keyboard arrangement
  • Heat vent on right hand side
  • Shiny lid may become scratched


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