Samsung has been experiencing nothing but success in the portable market for a while now. Truth be told, this applies to tablets and mobile phones much more than portable computers, but things are starting to balance out, it seems. We’ve been seeing more and more of Samsung’s notebooks in the lower market segment, for instance. The company was quick to roll out their vision of the ultrabook concept as well, in the form of Series 3 and 5, and on the wings of these successful models comes the latest 9-Series. After a few pompous announcements, we were finally able to get our hands on the newest model with a cryptic name of NP900X3C.
Samsung has packed naught but the highest-quality, latest-gen hardware into this attractive chassis, in an attempt to have a bite at other companies’ success in this market niche. The chassis with a width of just over 13 mm is made entirely out of special aluminium alloy, which keeps its total weight under 1.2 kg. Our particular model had a dark blue finish, while most of the edge surfaces have been left untouched with their natural metallic colour, which gives a very nice visual impression on the whole. Owing to the thin side lines and the said metal “frames”, the new representative of Samsung’s ultrabook family looks even thinner than it is.
The display lid carries a small Samsung logo made of ground metal, which discreetly separates itself from the rest of the appearance. As with competing models, the chassis made from large metal surfaces gives the entire computer a high degree of firmness and reliability. Everything feels tightened and in place, without as much as a millimetre of bending, crackling or moving, which can’t be applauded enough – this feeling of quality is worth half an ultrabook’s price.The lid conceals a 13.3” display, one of the main selling points of this model. More specifically, the PLS matrix combined with a brightness of 400 nits, resolution of 1600 x 900 and matte coating makes this display one of the best we’ve met lately. The viewing angles are excellent, colour display expectedly good, while brightness is so strong that you’ll rarely want to bump it up to more than 80%. High resolution is excellent for productivity, since it gives much more desktop space, and the resolution just feels perfectly fit for this display size anyway. Image is crystal clear, while colour distortion is almost nowhere to be seen, regardless of your particular viewing angle.
Another pleasant surprise is the thin display frame, perhaps the one feature we liked most. Simply enough, large display frames have been known to spoil the entire PC’s visual presentation, in spite of all other characteristics. It’s even occurred to us to be unable to estimate the display size from the size of the lid, simply because manufacturers push 13” and 14” displays into 15” chassis, leaving thick frames on all four sides. The case is definitely the opposite here, so good job for Samsung’s design team. The only thing the internal face of the lid contains other than the display is a miniature 1.3 MP webcam, useful for online video conversations.
Under the hood
Since ultrabooks are very thin by definition, mostly in the front, it’s not unusual to encounter trouble when lifting the lid, as you have to learn to carefully find a suitable dent and look for support on the opposite side. Samsung solved this problem to a certain extent by clearly marking the “finger” section on the bottom piece, but its small surface doesn’t help the said issue very much.
Opening the lid reveals a spacious keyboard and touchpad, made to Windows 8 standards (integrated keys etc.). The keyboard has backlight with several degrees of brightness, and the light bleeds through the markings on the keys themselves, not the space in between, which helps reduce ambient light and reduce stress on the eyes. Shortcuts are aplenty, certain keys (Caps Lock, F12/Wi-Fi, Fn Lock, Mute) have extra LEDs in corners so that you recognise if they’re on more easily. The key depth is the only thing we have to reproach; although it’s clear that engineers had to sacrifice it to reduce width, the very shallow step can definitely be bothersome, especially if you’re blind-typing (or typing an ultrabook review, for that matter). The metal-framed touchpad is situated just below the Space key. Multitouch capabilities are a given, and you’ll just have to get used to the integrated buttons (or simply buy a mouse). Precision is incredible, and so high, in fact, that we had to reduce sensitivity to stop the mouse cursor from flying all over the desktop.
The sides aren’t too surprising, with the number of connectors reduced to two USB, micro-HDMI, audio and LAN (the latter with an adapter, as the standard LAN connector is too large to fit on ultrabooks). The packaging contains the LAN adapter, but the VGA dongle is nowhere to be seen.
Another pleasant surprise is the rather strong speakers, making entertainment particularly enjoyable, especially films. Heating is definitely noticeable, and since this model’s design is somewhat reminiscent of ASUS’ Zenbook, it’s had to pick up some of its frailties as well (keyboard and heating). Simply enough, a small chassis is a small chassis, and as much as you try to keep it cool, it still contains a lot of components in a very cramped, sealed space. It’s good that the entire bottom of the chassis effectively acts as a cooling profile, with heat dissipating across the entire surface, leaving the upper sections cooler. During longer gaming sessions, the fan can get quite speedy, but it doesn’t really produce any sort of dramatic noise, so it’s free to say that this model is one of the quieter ones out there.
Compared to similar models from the previous generation, Core i5 based on Ivy Bridge has taken us by surprise. Although we were expecting to see improvements in the consumption field first and foremost, autonomy has remained almost intact. However, performance has been significantly boosted. The lack of autonomy progress can be blamed on the lower-capacity battery, but the U-series Core i5 CPU definitely outshines this issue. With low consumption and excellent integrated graphics, this “cosmopolitan” piece of hardware has proven to be an excellent solution. In comparison with similar models from the previous generation, improvements go up to 50% (as obvious from the charts). Of course, the RAM ticking at 1600 MHz was a significant contributor to this, but the overall image has been greatly improved for ultrabooks. Add to this a 128 GB SSD, Bluetooth 4.0, Intel’s WiDi and a load of other technologies, and you’ll see just how agile ultrabooks have become. With HD 4000 as graphics, you’ll be able to run most newer titles, even in the display’s native resolution, as long as you keep your detail levels reasonable. Of course, you shouldn’t expect miracle framerates, but the model at hand is still a contender even for casual gaming purposes.
|CPU||Intel Core i5 3317U 1,7 GHz (2,6 GHz Turbo mode) 2C/4T, 17W max TDP|
|Chipset||Intel Ivy Bridge (HM76 Express)|
|Memorry||4 GB DDR3 1600 MHz onboard (dual channel) + 1 free SODIMM|
|HDD||128 GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD4000|
|Screen||13,3'', 1600x900 pix, SuperBright 400nit, anti glare|
|Connections||1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, micro HDMI, VGA (dongle), LAN (adapter), audio in/out, SD/MMC čitač, 1.3 MP web kamera, Intel Centrino Wireless Advanced N 6235, Intel WiDi,Bluetooth 4.0|
|Keyboard||Qwerty, chicklet, with backlight|
|Size/ Weight||313,8x218,5x12,9 / 1,16 kg|
|OS||Windows 7 Professional 64-bit|
|Battery||4-cell (40 WHr) Li-Polimer|
Better and better
With each new series, Samsung has made large steps ahead, improving their ultrabooks slowly and thoroughly, without giving competition a second’s headstart. Compared to the previous generation, the 9-Series is a few steps ahead in all aspects. With its excellent display, top performance and high-quality chassis, Samsung has cast a glove among the fiercest competitors in the ultrabook market.