by Alexander Britvin
01/11/2006 | 02:27 PM
Every thing goes from young and mature to old and obsolete and so notebooks based on the first-generation Centrino platform began to lag behind in terms of functionality and technical characteristics. At the beginning of 2005, with a short delay from the schedule, Intel introduced its more advanced mobile platform codenamed Sonoma that included Dothan-core processors, a tri-band wireless network adapter PRO/Wireless 2915ABG (or a dual-band PRO/Wireless 2200BG for countries where the 802.11a range is prohibited for public use) and modified chipsets of the 915 family that had already been used in desktop PCs.
The notebook-oriented chipsets 915PM, 915GM, 915GMS and 910GML feature all modern interfaces, including those that have hitherto been unavailable for notebook users (like PCI Express and Serial ATA). The 910GML chipset is specifically meant for inexpensive notebooks with the Celeron processor. The 915GM and 915PM are in fact the same thing, but the former has an integrated graphics core. They both have a PCI Express x16 controller for a discrete graphics adapter. The North Bridge has a 533MHz front-side bus and the integrated dual-channel memory controller supports both DDR1 and DDR2 memory types. The North Bridges are coupled with a mobile modification of the ICH6 South Bridge. The typical power dissipation of the 915GM and 915PM is 5.5W and 6W, respectively, but when it comes to building an ultra-portable model and every watt of power is critical the 915GMS chipset with a heat dissipation of 4.8W is employed. This latter chipset is meant for Pentium M processors of the Low Voltage and Ultra Low Voltage modifications. Its FSB frequency is lowered to 400MHz and its memory controller is single-channel and supports DDR2-400 only.
The sub-notebook I am about to discuss today – Samsung’s updated Q30 model with the Plus suffix – is based on the 915GMS chipset and the Intel Pentium M 733 ULV processor (Dothan core, 1.1GHz clock rate). You may remember that we have recently tested the older Q30 model on our site (without the “Plus” in its name), so what’s the difference between them? The platform! The Q30 Plus is based on the Sonoma platform, while the Q30, on the first-generation Centrino with an 855 series chipset. The Plus model also features Intel’s newer graphics controller called Graphics Media Accelerator 900 (or GMA 900) as opposed to the Q30’s Extreme Graphics 2.
Besides subjectively appreciating the usability qualities of the Samsung Q30 Plus sub-notebook in this review, I will also compare its battery life with that of the older model (for details see our article called Your A4-Size Business Companion: Choosing the Best Compact Notebook. Part I) to see which mobile platform from Intel is more voracious in terms of power consumption. I will also take the results of the recently tested Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S (for details see our article called Small but Stylish: SONY VAIO VGN-T2XRP-S Notebook Review), configured much alike to the Samsung Q30 Plus, to see the difference between the two implementations of the Centrino platform as well as between the two generations of integrated graphics from Intel.
The sheer size of the box the Samsung Q30 Plus is parceled in indicates that there’s a very, very small notebook inside.
The Samsung Q30 Plus roughly resembles a wallet with the word “Samsung” in the center of the robust lid, which is made of a magnesium alloy, and the text “DIGITall FREEDOM” on the narrow black insert on the front edge. Well, with the dimensions of 287.7 x 197.5 x 23.8mm and the weight of 1.09kg do promise some freedom, without a doubt! The thing will readily slide into a small briefcase. I’ve seen the Samsung Q30 Plus in two color schemes: silvery as shown in the snapshots and bright-red (presumably for stylish business ladies).
The sub-notebook’s case is getting steadily thicker from the front to the back panel. There’s no lock to the lid which is held only by the stiff hinges (I hope they are going to remain sufficiently stiff for a long enough time). With a small effort you can open the sub-notebook up to see the same color scheme continued inside – even the touchpad is colored silver.
Samsung’s designers didn’t separate the status indicators in two groups as is the common fashion, but put them all together on the sub-notebook’s front, a little to the left of the center. These LEDs are perfectly visible whatever the position of the lid may be and the only trouble is that you can’t help covering them with your left hand at work. The indicators are (from left to right):
Also on the sub-notebook’s front, to the left of the status indicators, there is the card-reader’s slot for Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard formats.
The touchpad is small and its border is not marked with color. The touch-sensitive area is a bit sunken down; the buttons that replace the mouse’s left and right buttons are below it. There is no joystick for scrolling text and no scrolling zone, either.
The single irregularity among the keyboard’s 82 black-colored keys is that the tilde (~) key is in the bottom row to the left of the spacebar rather than in the top left corner as usual. The block of arrow keys are somewhat below the keyboard’s baseline to avoid accidental presses. These arrows do double duty and adjust the sound volume and screen brightness (when pressed in combination with the Fn key). The PgUp and PgDn keys above the Arrow Right and Left keys work as Home and End, respectively, if pressed with Fn. The Fn key itself is to be found in the left corner of the keyboard, occupying the customary position of the left Ctrl, and is combined with the Context Menu button (which is equivalent to clicking on an object with the right mouse button in Windows). The functional keys are smaller than the others (their additional functions are accessible through the Fn key); Print Screen, Insert and Delete are located in the same row, too. One Windows button is available.
For the sub-notebook’s lid to lie softly on the bottom there are special pads around the screen bezel. Two such pads are also placed on both sides of the keyboard.
The Samsung Q30 Plus is equipped with a widescreen 12.1” WXGA display (1280x768 native resolution, 16:10 aspect ratio). There is a glass coating on the screen (Super Bright technology) and the mirror-like effect is rather too strong even after you turn the computer on. So you should take care about the lighting conditions unless you want to use the screen of this sub-notebook as a mirror. :)
I think it’s good to have a widescreen display in a portable computer. Besides watching movies with comfort you can arrange several windows or a wide spreadsheet conveniently on such a screen. The screen resolution typical of normal-size notebooks in combination with the “wide” aspect ratio is just more informative.
I measured the brightness and contrast of the screen using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder calibrator with OptiCAL version 3.7.8. The screen brightness was automatically reduced to the second lowest out of eight possible gradations when the notebook switched over to its own battery, but I returned it back to the maximum and then performed the measurements. So the results don’t practically differ in the two modes:
The Samsung Q30 Plus offers you a variety of interfaces and input/output ports and these are all properly placed around the case. Using a power-economical processor the engineers could do without a ventilation system, so you are free to put this sub-notebook just as you wish without worrying that you unintentionally block some vent openings.
The following connectors are located on the left panel:
The fact that the Samsung Q30 Plus comes with an external optical drive is probably an advantage since you don’t often use one on the go, but it would have made the sub-notebook heavier. The optical drive connects via the FireWire interface on the left panel.
The following is located on the right panel:
The Power On button is highlighted with a bright blue light at work. It is placed in such a way that you can easily find it blindly.
A Kensington lock and the accumulator battery are located at the back:
The Samsung Q30 Plus comes with two batteries, main (4800mAh) and auxiliary (2400mAh), with a declared battery life of 6 and 3 hours, respectively. These numbers are identical to the parameters of the older Centrino-based Q30 model, while the Sonoma platform is known to require more power. We’ll check out the numbers shortly in practical tests.
Both the batteries can show their charge level as you press on the Push button next to the indication bar:
Turning the sub-notebook upside down you can only see some labels, battery locks and two stereo speakers. Take note that the memory slot is inaccessible and you can’t upgrade the memory subsystem without losing the warranty.
Besides the Samsung Q30 Plus itself, I found the following in its box: two batteries (as I said above, their capacities are 4800mAh and 2400mAh), a power adapter, an external optical drive, a phone cable, a black cloth pouch with the Samsung logotype, a user manual, a warranty coupon, a Windows XP Home Edition Basics booklet, and two CDs (System Software Media and Windows XP restore disc).
The optical drive’s front panel carries a status indicator, a disc eject button, and an emergency eject hole. The drive connects to the sub-notebook’s FireWire port and does not require an external power source.
I mentioned above that the Samsung Q30 Plus uses the most power-economical processor from Intel’s Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage series. The Pentium M 753 has a clock rate of 1.1GHz, is based on the 90nm Dothan core, and has 2MB L2 cache and 400MHz FSB. Like the entire Pentium M series, this model supports Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology that permits the software and the notebook’s BIOS to adjust the CPU frequency multiplier and reduce it when the CPU load is low.
Unlike the older version of this sub-notebook (without the “Plus” in the model name), the Samsung Q30 Plus is an implementation of the second-generation Centrino platform, codenamed Sonoma. The small notebooks oriented 915GMS chipset features a more advanced integrated graphics core than in the 855GME and also supports a number of hot technologies like DDR2 SDRAM, hard drives with the Serial ATA interface, PCI Express and Express Card interfaces, and Intel High Definition Audio.
The graphics subsystem integrated into the 915GM and 915GMS chipsets – Graphics Media Accelerator 900 – provides power-saving features and delivers two times the speed of the integrated graphics solutions of the previous generation. Here are some basic characteristics of GMA 900: hardware DirectX 9 acceleration, Pixel Shader 2.0, 133-320MHz graphics core frequency, four pixel pipelines, and support of up to 214MB of graphics memory. A more detailed comparison of Extreme Graphics 2 with Graphics Media Accelerator 900 can be found here.
The combo-drive included with the sub-notebook is the Samsung Type 5 External IEEE 1394 SBP2 Device with the following speed formula:
The Samsung Q30 Plus uses a 1.8” Toshiba MK4004GAH hard disk drive with a spindle rotation speed of 4200rpm and a storage capacity of 40 gigabytes.
Diagnostics utilities report that there are two memory slots in this sub-notebook, but the specification mentions only one which is occupied with a 512MB module (the maximum supported memory amount is 768MB and I’d be curious to see a memory module of that capacity). So it seems that you can’t increase the memory amount any further.
The computer remained very quiet and cold during my tests even though it lacks any ventilation. I measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after 30 minutes of work in the Classic mode of Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the ambient temperature remained at 23°C during this test) and got the following numbers:
The next table summarizes the technical characteristics of the Samsung Q30 Plus and compares them with those of the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S:
The hard drive of the Samsung Q30 Plus was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then I installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional with DirectX 9.0c, the system drivers included with the sub-notebook and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0. Power-saving services, the audio subsystem, network services were all disabled for the duration of the tests. The notebook was tested at the maximum brightness and maximum resolution (1280x768) of the screen.
I set the Windows Taskbar to hide automatically and also chose the following settings: “Classic” Desktop theme, no background image, no screensaver.
Two power modes were used. First, I selected the Always On power mode for the maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then, I switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.
There are three test modes in Battery Eater:
In my tests I used the first two modes as they are in Battery Eater, but in the Idle mode (when the test utility doesn’t put any load of its own on the notebook) I played a DVD movie. DVD playback is one of the hardest operational modes for a notebook’s battery as the high power consumption of the optical drive combines with a high brightness of the screen and a very high sound volume.
As usual, I will first run the synthetic benchmarks SiSoftware Sandra 2004 and PCMark 2004. The former benchmark measures the performance of the system at large as well as that of each of its subsystems. PCMark 2004, in its turn, measures the performance of the computer at running office and multimedia applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem).
When powered from an AC source, the Samsung Q30 Plus is expectably slower than the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S due to a weaker central processor, excepting the memory and graphics tests (the Q30 Plus features DDR2 SDRAM and Graphics Media Accelerator 900). The performance is lower when the notebooks work on their batteries and the Q30 Plus is much alike to the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S in this case because the bottom frequency is the same for both the CPUs. The graphics subsystem of the Samsung Q30 Plus is the faster of the two.
The Business Winstone test runs scripts of the following real applications, several scripts at a time: Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Project, PowerPoint, FrontPage, WinZip, and Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition.
The Multimedia Content Creation Winstone test determines the performance of a computer in the following multimedia applications: Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, NewTek LightWave 3D, Steinberg WaveLab, Dreamweaver MX, and Director MX.
The results of these two tests are tabled and diagrammed below:
You can again see the Samsung Q30 Plus perform a little slower with an AC power source – the lower clock rate of the CPU is again to blame. When powered by the batteries, the notebooks are slower (the CPU frequency of the Q30 Plus is dropped from 1.1GHz to 0.6GHz in this case) and closer to each other’s results.
I will run 3DMark 2001 SE Pro in order to compare the graphics subsystems of the Samsung Q30 Plus and the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S. Then I will additionally check the performance of the Q30 Plus’s more advanced GMA 900 graphics core in 3DMark03 version 3.60.
The 3DMark benchmark renders a few 3D scenes using its own engine and helps to evaluate every aspect of the computer’s graphics subsystem.
The Samsung Q30 Plus ends this test the winner. Its graphics core passes the sub-tests the older Extreme Graphics 2 core cannot run: Game 4, Environment Bump Mapping, Pixel Shader 2.0 and Advanced Pixel Shader. Of course, GMA 900 cannot compare with standalone graphics solutions, yet it is a big improvement upon Extreme Graphics 2. By the way, the 915GMS uses a “light” version of Intel’s GMA 900, so this graphics core can do even better!
Next, I tested the sub-notebook in Quake 3, in two modes:
The Samsung Q30 Plus is behind the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S in the low resolution where the game speed depends greatly on the CPU performance, and the Sony sub-notebook just happens to have a faster CPU. The Q30 Plus takes its revenge at the maximum quality settings where it enjoys a big advantage over its opponent.
When the power source is changed to the battery, the notebooks both slow down considerably as they take various power-saving measures (drop down the CPU frequency, etc).
The results of the Samsung Q30 Plus in this test suggest that the newer integrated graphics still doesn’t make it a real gaming station.
GMA 900 is better than Extreme Graphics 2 in Unreal Tournament 2003 – the Samsung Q30 Plus is two times faster than its opponent irrespective of the power source.
Battery Eater Pro 2.60 is the last and most important test since battery life is a critical characteristic for the mobile and portable computer the Samsung Q30 Plus is meant to be. The older, Plus-less version of this sub-notebook used to have an excellent battery life, surpassing many other computers of its class, but the Plus version is based on the Sonoma platform and may be worse in this respect.
The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:
The results of the Samsung Q30 Plus are indeed somewhat worse than those of the Samsung Q30, yet the four hours of autonomous work on the main battery in the Classic mode is impressive! Strangely enough, the manufacturer specifies the same battery life for the new and older version of the sub-notebook, which just cannot possibly be true. It’s the same when you compare the auxiliary batteries and the total of 7 hours in the Reader’s mode is quite long, giving you the promised digital freedom.
Samsung has done a good job of updating the Q30 model. The Q30 Plus brings you quite a number of pluses – I mean a number of new, advanced technologies. The battery life has become somewhat worse than with the older model, yet it still remains quite high, while the performance of the sub-notebook overall as well as of its particular subsystems has become higher still.
So the lightest version of the Sonoma platform – the 915GMS chipset – has done well today. The Samsung Q30 Plus is a highly appealing product for home and office users, especially for people how are traveling much.
I also think that hi-tech ladies are going to appreciate the new color solution of the notebook’s case.