Intel's Core i3 processors are set to power budget laptops to performance levels previously reserved for pricier portables, and Samsung's R580 is one of the first of this new breed. With dedicated graphics courtesy of Nvidia and a price tag that sneaks in below the $1000 mark , it looks set to bring portable power to the budget-conscious masses.
There's little question that the R580 makes a dramatic entrance. Samsung's Touch of Colour design makes a big statement, the lid infused with a glossy blood-red finish that stands apart from the legions of jet-black laptops on the market.
The interior is equally fanciful, with the Scrabble-tile keyboard surrounded by red curves sweeping from edge to edge. Dab a finger on the trackpad and its corners are lit by glowing-blue LEDs. For a budget laptop, the R580 is quite a looker.
It's no petite stunner, though, and the 15.6in display means it isn't particularly portable. Weighing 2.52kg, nor is it the lightest on the shoulder.
Look past the Flash Harry exterior and there's little to disappoint. The Core i3-330M processor lacks the Turbo Boost trickery of its Core i5 and i7 cousins, but the 2.13GHz clock speed propelled it to a grand score of 1.32 in our benchmarks. And the Nvidia GT 330M graphics chipset, while no 3D-accelerating goliath, provides enough gaming grunt for the mid-range market, only stumbling to an unplayable 14fps once we upped Crysis to medium detail and a resolution of 1280 x 1024.
Importantly, screen quality is very good. Viewing angles are narrower than you'll find on pricier notebooks, but they're still wide enough to prevent you from having to tilt the display to and fro on a constant basis. Images, both moving and still, leap from the panel with vivacity, with rich colours and good contrast setting the Samsung above many of its peers.
The alliance of a Core i3 processor and dedicated graphics take their toll when it comes to battery life, however. Despite the 4400mAh battery clipped to the R580's underside, light usage called for a return to the mains after a modest 4hrs 2mins.
The move to a Scrabble-tile keyboard - favoured by many manufacturers for their 2010 range refreshes - is, on the other hand, entirely successful. The keys have a positive action at the end of each stroke, and as they rest on a firm, solid base, with no undue flex or give, there's no hint of the vague, woolly feel that we've encountered on other laptops.
The layout could be a little better, however. We occasionally found our fingers hunting around to locate the needlessly shortened right Shift key.
Connectivity is bang on the money. Four USB ports, one doubling up as an eSATA connection, are distributed across the R580's left and right edges, and both HDMI and D-SUB video outputs make an appearance. An SD card reader nestles out of sight on the laptop's front edge.
On the networking front Samsung has again been generous, with 802.11n and Bluetooth catering for the wireless side of things, and Gigabit Ethernet ensuring blink-of-an-eye transfers if you don't mind resorting to old-fashioned cable. One neat touch is that the USB port on the R580's left-hand edge also has the ability to charge USB devices while the laptop is switched off.
Some might find the R580's attention-seeking looks a little too gaudy for their tastes, but there's no doubt that it makes a great case for Intel's new budget-focused processor.
Battery life isn't a strength - we're still waiting for the long-life Core i3 we know is possible - but the R580 does just enough to earn a recommendation. It provides good ergonomics, great performance and generous connectivity at a very sensible price.