Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook De-Tuned for Politeness?

Posted on 21 March 2012 By


Samsung Series 5 NP530 _2_

I’ve just finished the main text for the full Samsung Series 5 13” Ultrabook review. It’s been a tough one. [Details, specs, gallery here, Review will be live tomorrow and linked on this page.]

To all intents and purposes the Series 5 is a simple, unfussy and polite Ultrabook but there’s a lot going on under the hood. It’s a swan! Express Cache is doing it’s stuff to improve boot, hibernation and application startup times and Turbo is giving a leg-up where needed; but only a little one. It seems the Samsung Series 5 has been de-tuned in order to keep it quiet.

The review has been written now but I’m still investigating the issue of low Turbo 2.0 performance and the results are going to affect the way I look at, and present performance results in the future. Turbo 2 can do a great job for short-term CPU load requirements but what happens when the device is warm or when, as it seems is this case here, the headroom for Turbo [the amount the silicon can heat up before the Turbo is cut-back] is configured in a very restricted fashion. Detailed reviews of Ultrabooks will become more important for buyers as these features, or if you like ‘tricks’, proliferate.

The ‘feature’ presented itself to me through an email from a fellow blogger [shout out to Nordic Hardware, Sweden] and tester who is also working on the Series 5 and asked me if I’d seen any strange activity with Turbo not working well on the Samsung Series 5. At that stage I hadn’t started doing pure performance tests. The Series 5 had done well in our live review (always a great way to get a feel for general performance and battery life) and I was just starting writing up the review. As I hit the first Cinebench CPU test I started to see the same problems. Turbo was weak to say the least. Not only was it not accelerating up to the high speeds we see on some other Ultrabooks but it was being cut down very quickly. If my short term eyes-on with the CPU core temperature are correct I’m seeing it throttle back when the CPU cores reach 75 degrees which I think is less than other Ultrabooks.  The same effect appeared when I did a video conversion test with MediaEspresso. The results were poor compared to other Ultrabooks in the same category. Changing power settings and adding mains power didn’t help.

The experiences made me think about the fan. It’s never really running hard or loud and there is a noticeable heat build-up on the base of the Series 5 when under load. Maybe the thermal solution in the Series 5 isn’t up to scratch? The Z830 might have a very loud fan but it seems to be doing a good job – Turbo 2.0 on the 1.7Ghz Core i5 version I also have is screaming along in comparison to the Series 5.

Turbo 2.0 Overview from Intel.

There are two important things I’m noting here though. 1) It took synthetic tests before I saw this issue. In general use I would never have spotted this and I really wouldn’t be surprised if it was intentional by design. The Samsung Series 5 is a polite, clean Ultrabook and this tendency towards ‘quiet’ certainly fits its character. 2) All CPU’s aren’t the same, even when they are the same! Turbo 2.0 performance will remain an unknown quantity on paper. This configuration by Samsung could effectively be a TDP limit; something we’ll see exposed even more when Ivy Bridge and programmable TDP comes along.

If there are any of you out there that have a deep understanding of Intel Turbo 2.0 set-up, raise your hand. Is it true that the temperature limits are variable and held within the BIOS such that Samsung could design a de-tuned Turbo 2.0 feature to aid battery life or noise or are we just seeing bad thermal design here? Should, or could,  Samsung be offering better user-level power profiles that could get more from Turbo 2?

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  1. #1 by ephemeris on March 21, 2012 - 23:41

    These things will be more noticeable for people who run CPU intensive tasks and not just web surfing or typing up office documents. It looks like Samsung pulled an Apple and used CPU throttling as their “cooling technique” of choice.

    I have a MBP and when my CPU is pegged (MATLAB, custom numerical computation software, Questa Sim and others) for some time, the frequency is throttled back to below the nominal frequency (don’t even think about Turbo).

    Like my MBP, the Samsung looks nice but don’t expect the same performance as other notebooks with the same specs but don’t like as pretty.

    • #2 by tdevito on March 22, 2012 - 16:35

      My Thinkpad has BIOS and Power Manager options to specify if you want to make use of the fan more in order to sustain the turbo longer. You can turn it off so that the fans don’t come on as much but the max turbo frequency is scaled back.

      I had a MBP previously and the fan goes to max speed often. It’s very loud and annoying. The notebook got very hot too. Almost dangerously hot. I guess that’s why they don’t call it a laptop. Don’t use a MBP on your lap while wearing shorts! Sometimes I just stopped what I was doing so the temps would go down and the CPU wouldn’t get throttled back.

      • #3 by Jacob Hugosson on March 22, 2012 - 22:45

        I was the one who contacted Chippy, from NordicHardware (my review is going live on Monday however). The “issue” is that there are no BIOS option to turn this off. Apart from this small problem, it’s one of the best Ultrabooks out there!

        Yours sincerely,
        Jacob Hugossob

  2. #4 by Adam on March 22, 2012 - 10:09

    Great, great investigative work!
    Can’t wait to see how this plays out. I like the option, but ONLY if the functionality is exposed to the end user. (A configuration item that allows an end-user to favor performance over noise or vice-versa.)

    Adam

  3. #5 by João Gomes on April 6, 2012 - 19:47

    I just bought this ultrabook two days ago.
    I’m not completely sure by I think I saw an option in the bios to turn this feature off. I’ll check it again when I reboot.

    Anyway, I’d like to make a different question.
    I noticed that the fan doesn’t seem to go completely off, even when the laptop is turned on in Windows, with no application open. It remains somehow quiet but not completely turned off.
    The fan only turns off when the silent mode key is used.

    Is this normal? Have you seen this happening with this ultrabook? Or is it a problem of my unit?

    Thank you very much!

    • #6 by Chippy on April 7, 2012 - 00:15

      On the Series 5, alt-F11 enables the fan-off mode.

    • #7 by Chippy on April 7, 2012 - 00:16

      Oh. Sorry. You already mentioned that. In normal use there is a slow and quiet fan on all the time.

      • #8 by João Gomes on April 7, 2012 - 20:13

        Thank you!

        Regarding the option in the bios settings. I confirm that there is an option called something like “CPU power save mode” and it is enable.
        Maybe this option is the responsible for the CPU throttling.

  4. #9 by steel_dog on April 18, 2012 - 23:20

    Hi Chippy,
    Thanks for the great review! I went out and bought a Series 5 as a result :-).
    I do have a concern with my particular unit.
    I’ve noted issues with the display… fonts and graphics aren’t at all clear. There’s signifciant fuzziness. I have run the Cleartype calibrator and upgraded the display drivers but can’t resolve the issue. I’ve compared against my Dell E4310 with the same resolution display and that’s streaks ahead. The subpixel test on http://www.lagom.nl/lcd-test/subpixel.php shows fuzziness that I don’t get on the Dell.
    Pretty uncertain whether this is normal or abnormal for this display. I noted the problem almost immediately… did you see anything similar with your review unit?
    Regards and thanks,
    SD

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