Original Samsung RF711 Amazon Review (now retracted)

Posted: 2012-05-14

I retracted this review with apologies, but post it here for the sake of openness. See the process of discovery for the latest.

Had to be a catch at that price” (three stars; posted 12 May 2012)

At £750 (or £625 after VAT rebate) when similar laptops are over £1000, there had to be a catch, and now I think I know what that is. This laptop’s optical drive bay — not the Blu-Ray drive shipped in it, but the bay — is likely to fail (outside the warranty period) due to an Intel design flaw.

In 2011 Intel shipped (then, at great expense, recalled) a version of their HM65 chipset, used by this laptop, owing to a design flaw: the circuitry of the four internal SATA 2.0 (3Gbit/s) ports wears out, causing read/write errors. The two internal SATA 3.0 (6Gbit/s) ports work fine. Intel stated that they recalled all boards destined for machines that would have problems, but as many laptops have only two built-in SATA bays many of the mobile ones survived the recall provided they went into laptops.

The defective ports won’t fail immediately, which is why the problem wasn’t caught until after the boards had shipped. The ports’ life expectancy reportedly varies depending on use and temperature; I’ve read (but can’t find the original source to show) that Intel expected between 5% and 15% to fail within the first three years (this laptop comes with a 1 year warranty). We won’t know whether that’s accurate or not for a long time, but Intel felt the problem warranted a mass recall and even a profit warning.

From what I can see by comparing the output of various tools in both Windows[1] and Linux[2] to the Intel 6 Series Chipset Errata, despite having three SATA drive bays this laptop contains the susceptible chipset, which should never have happened. As shipped, the 2.5” hard disk (which, in case you wanted to be sure, is a single 1TB drive, not two 500GB drives) is connected to one of the reliable (SATA revision 3.0) ports; the Blu-Ray drive is connected to one of the unreliable (SATA revision 2.0) ports. I think (but haven’t tested yet) that the second 2.5” bay, which is empty when sold, is connected to the other reliable (SATA revision 3.0) port, so if you add a second hard disk or SSD there that should be fine.

If I’m right (and short of taking the laptop apart and removing any heatsinks to read the chip, I’m as sure as I can be) then I think it’s sneaky of Samsung to ship known unreliable components without saying so, and without extending the warranty period for this specific component.

That said, I’m keeping mine — the low price pays for the defect, but doesn’t repair my trust in Samsung (what flawed components will be I find in the Galaxy Note if I buy one?).

I’ll add some hardware details (as seen by Linux) as I find them, but it looks quite Linux-friendly from first impressions.

[1] Windows Device Manager lists the chipset as PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_1C49&SUBSYS_COA5114D&REV

[2] On Linux, running lspci -nn | grep HM65 identifies the chipset as:

00:1f.0 ISA bridge [0601]: Intel Corporation HM65 Express Chipset Family LPC Controller [8086:1c49] (rev 04)