Pros: Excellent comprimise between size and overall specifications
Cons: Position of "<" key on the keyboard
Netbooks have eventually reached their maturity. When I first see the EeePC I was very curious as in many occasions I realized that I did not need to carry with me during business trips or holidays my heavy and bulky notebook. Till an year ago or so only there were only two possibilities in order to satisfy my need: smartphones or ultraportable notebooks. Both choices where not the real answer: Smartphones are very important tools in order to stay always connected but they neither allow to make real work on Office (i.e. Word, Excel, Powerpoint or Access) nor to make some serious internet work like videoconferencing. Ultraportable notebooks are simply too expansive as they can cost even more then 2000 dollars or euro.
When I saw the first EeePC out I started to check carefully its specifications and made some tests at shops. After some thinking I just realized it was not the answer to my needs (yet). There where just too many drawbacks that I did not find acceptable:
- Keyboard: too small for serious typing. If I have to write a report when I am outside of the office I need a real keyboard otherwise I am simply lost and I waste my time.
- Screen: too small both for resolution (800x400) and for the size (7”-8”).
- Battery life: similar if not worse to any average notebook
So the first units released by Asus, Acer and other companies had basically all the drawbacks of, say, a smartphone without having real advantages a part from the fact that they run Windows XP and not Symbian or Windows Mobile. There were also other details that further convinced me that is was not time to buy Netbooks: for instance the poor webcam resolution or the lack of Bluetooth interface.
Recently I needed a replacement for my main notebook as I needed to make a repair. When I saw the Samsung NC10 in the shops I decided it was eventually time to invest some money in Netbooks. This netbook, like the EeePC 150 and similar ones from Acer, HP and others, finally solved all the problems I listed above:
- The keyboard is almost identical to a standard keyboard (just a little bit reduced). A part from a few details that I will explain later it seems like typing a standard keyboard and this for me is quite important (as I am able to type quite fast)
- The LCD fully exploits the size of the netbook – the 10,2” WXGA 1024x600 pixel LCD is the right choice for netbooks as it allows to a quite decent usage of most Office and internet applications.
- The battery life thanks to its new battery with 6 cells is now in the range of 5 to 7 hours. That is what I was looking for.
The Samsung NC10 is sold with power supply, installation manuals, recovery CDs and a protective bag (pouch). No more and no less than most other netbooks or notebooks. It is available in three colours, white black and blue but for the time being it was sold only with the white version. The NC10 is quite elegant as it also features some stylish metal looking inserts. The front panel includes some LEDs which show the status of the netbook (on-off), battery charging, caps lock, usage of wi-fi and so forth.
The Windows XP home installation process was quite straightforward and requested around 15 minutes mainly because a recovery installation is created into a special hidden partition of the 160 Gb HD. During this partitioning you can also decide how much space to leave for the main Win XP partition and for the data partition. This is quite nice as in order to keep the drive in good condition it is always a good rule to keep separate the Win XP and data partitions in order to avoid over-fragmentation of the operations system partition. This is one of the main causes for the slowness of notebook so when possible I always use two partitions: OS (operating system), data and when possible also a third small partition for the paging file. Usage of a defragmenting utility like Perfectdisk (which unlike Windows scandisk also defragment the master file table) does the rest. I could also add that this technique allows me to easily keep copies of the bootable partition with utilities like e.g. Norton Ghost. This proved to be an invaluable aid when I had rarely to cope with corruption of the OS (lot of time saved in this way).
Which are, from my standpoint, important features for such ultraportable device and how the Samsung behaves? Let’s try to give it a quick list.
- Hard Disk: the 160 Gb 5400 rpm is to my standpoint more than adequate for any real use of this kind of devices. Should one need extra space could either rely on external 2,5” HD (now reaching 0,5 terabytes – I have tested them successfully with the NC10 also in battery mode), USB memory sticks or SD cards.
- Boot time: on my NC10 I installed the Microsoft Office suite, Acrobat reader, Nokia PC suite and other internet utilities like Firefox and Skype. Boot-up time from power-on to the login screen is around 30 seconds that is really good in my opinion. Of course this could worsen by adding or removing programs (i.e. filling the windows registry with useless fields) but 30 seconds is a nice start from my point of view. When having to work on planes or similar situations it is always annoying having to wait 1 or 2 minutes before Windows is ready.
- Operating system: thanks goodness I have not to cope with Vista. XP home (or PRO) is still my choice when having to buy new workstations for the office where we have to run CAD or FEM programs. Not only XP is less resource hungry than Vista but it is much easier to be used. XP Home is really a good choice for this kind of devices.
- Memory: the NC10 is supplied with 1 Gb DDR2 memory (PC2-5300) running at 333 MHz. The system already runs smoothly with this memory configuration, but it us possibly to add one SDRAM chip thanks to an access available below the case (you just need standard Phillips screwdriver)
- Motherboard: CPUID tells that the motherboard is from Samsung. The chipset is Intel i945GME with 82801 GHM southbridge. BIOS is by Phoenix. The CPU is the well-known Intel Atom running at a maximum speed of 1,6 GHz and supporting MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3 and SSSE3 instructions. Of course the speed of the processor is usually reduced at e.g. 800 MHz when running the NC10 in battery mode in order to provide longer life with batteries.
- Graphic card: the NC10 relies on the embedded Intel graphic card which of course provides good performances for office use while it suffers when dealing with 3D applications like games. I must say I did manage to open and rotate some not too complex 3D CAD files without particular problems as Open GL is supported. It is clear that when designing such small devices a compromise has to be made between performances and size vs cost. The Intel graphic card in this respect is more than adequate.
- LCD display: the WXGA 10,2” 1024x600 pixel LCD works very well: it has very good brightness and the size is the right compromise for a compact device like this netbook. Thanks to its 16:9 ratio it is nice also for looking to a DVD.
- Other features: the NC10 includes a microphone, loudspeakers with more then decent audio playback, and a 1,3 Mpixel webcam (it cannot be tilted). I found all the above components well designed. When videoconferencing with Skype the quality of the webcam image is comparable with that of cheap standard commercial webcams. The loudspeaker provide a decent sound both when using programs like Skype or when watching a movie (bring with you good headphones as the level is not that high)
- Wireless connections: the NC10 features the standard 802.11bg wireless connection plus Bluetooth v2.0 EDR. I checked both (the second one to connect my Nokia phones) and they work well. The NC10 is also able to support an HDSPA modem internal card that however is not implemented in this model. This is not a big problem as most of my mobility internet connections are done via Bluetooth with the mobile phone or dedicated usb modem key.
- External ports: the NC10 features 3 USB2 ports (one on the right side, ok for the mouse), microphone and loudspeakers port, Ethernet port (10-100 MBit), SVGA port to connect an external monitor and a slot for a SD, SDHC, MMC card.
I have been using the NC10 for one month now, for a couple of weeks it replaced my main notebook which had to be repaired so I had to use all the programs I normally use on a much more powerful machine like Outlook 2003, Excel and so forth. A part from the different size of the display I have been very satisfied as I found the speed and general feeling more than adequate. Weighting only 1,33 Kg and having dimensions of 26x18cm it is really a nice device to be brought with you on holiday or for a business trip. As mentioned above thanks to its almost full-size keyboard it is possibly to quickly type with a word processor without problems
The NC10 comes along with many utilities. Probably one of the most important is the one that helps managing the battery usage. This utility automatically sets the usage of battery resource according to the current usage (it also recognizes automatically DVD playback from hard disk). Of course it is possible to override the automatic choice for instance by selecting best performance or longer battery life. It is really nice to forget about the battery life as in most cases it will run for more than 6 hours. Other utilities allow to set display functioning (e.g. for external displays), audio playback (quite useless), update drivers, and perform a backup of your Win XP partition in case a recover is later needed. This is a nice plus. A 3 months evaluation copy of MacAfee firewall antivirus is provided as well.
As I wrote at the beginning of this review words the latest netbooks like the Samsung NC10 have finally reached the maturity and specification level I was waiting for. For a price under 400 euro or 500 dollars they are capable of managing seriously all office and internet suites with a very reduced size and weight. The specifications of Samsung wrt Asus or Acer similar product are almost identical – most of the differences rely on small details like the keyboard (for instance the NC10 has the “<” key moved to the right which is something I do not completely like) or positioning of the external ports. Since years I am an Asus fan both for notebooks and motherboards, but this Samsung netbook completely fulfilled my wishes.