Thanks to Notebook Italia and Netbook News who gave me a chance to get some private hands-on with the new Samsung NC210 at CeBIT last week. It’s very much the Samsung N350 with the badly needed 6-cell battery. Unfortunately, the silver finishing on the back of the screen is one of the cheapest I’ve ever seen from Samsung.
It’s difficult to position the NC210 in the Samsung range. On one hand the engineering on platform in terms of efficiency is just stunning. on the other hand, the quality of the plastics appears to be lower than the normal high standards but with USB 3.0, Bluetooth 3.0+HS and the clearest, loudest, wide-ranging speakers I’ve heard on a netbook for a very long time you have to consider this one carefully. The NF310 is bigger, slightly heavier, without the high-speed Bluetooth extension, a touch more expensive but you do get the hi-res screen.
The Intel Atom N550 CPU brings you the current high-performer in the Atom range (N570 at 1.66Ghz is due soon tho) and allows 720p local playback without problems. Windows 7 Home Starter works smoothly, the mousepad is great and the keyboard excellent. Samsung’s Fast-Start is included and trust me, if it’s the same implementation that I tested on the Samsung N350, it’s worth having. At 1.22KG you’ll struggle to find a 6-cell (6600 mAh no-less) netbook that’s lighter.
In idle tests I had no problem getting an indicated 11 hours out of the device and minimum drain goes right down to below 3.6W which is a great achievement. Average battery life should be in the 7hr range. CrystalMark scores indicate best-in-class all-round so if you drop an SSD and 2GB into this, you’ve got something special. The matt screen is nice too but it would really have been the icing on the cake to see high resolution version. 1024×600 is fine for most applications though.
While the Intel N450 version of the Viewpad 10 isn’t bad (I have a Tegatech Tega V2 based on the same hardware here) it gets a little more interesting when you move to the N550 CPU; Especially when it’s paired with Windows Home Premium and 2GB of RAM.
Having tested a few N550 devices over recent months I know that the combo lifts Windows 7 into a much more usable space where the UI smooths out nicely, mutitasking is closer to the desktop experience, 720p playback works and even a touch of H.264 video editing is possible. At 0.85KG it is the lightest Atom N550 PC in the world!
OK, the required keyboard and a stand would take you up over 1KG, possibly 1.5KG if you want a 10hr+ solution with a battery pack, but you’ve got quite a bit of flexibility there. What a shame it doesn’t have a docking station; It could have been one of the best value hot-desktops going.
The price? Under 500 Euros. Availability is looking like EU only within the next 4 weeks but we’re checking with Viewsonic Europe.
It’s time to say good bye to the Samsung N350 that I’ve been using for the last 2 weeks and to round-up my thoughts. Rarely does a device slot straight into my workflow as easily as the N350 did. I was able to switch from my XP-based Gigabyte Touchnote (with SSD and 2GB upgrade) to the N350 with no issues whatsoever. Even Windows 7 Starter Edition was flexible enough that it didn’t limit me in my normal work. Picking up the Touchnote today reminded me how heavy it is and as the N350 is my first ‘transparent’ Windows 7-on-a-netbook experience, I don’t want to go back to XP either.
For me, it’s the dual-core that finally makes Windows 7 transparent. Finally I can use Windows 7 on a netbook without having to optimise and without noticing hangs and delays as disks and CPUs race to keep up with the behind-scenes activities. As a bonus, the dual-core also boosts Web-based work nicely too. No, unfortunately, dual-core doesn’t mean its twice as fast but it’s noticeably faster and bringing no noticeable penalties in battery life. In fact, I would argue that you can get a lot more done on the dual-core in the same battery life. Why would you choose a single core Atom netbook now?
Build , keyboard, mouse, screen and disk seem to be high-quality and the weight really helps. The only problem here is that the weight is kept to 1KG by going back to the original 3-cell setup of early netbooks. Add the 6-cell option (a shocking 139 Euro) and you’re up to 1.2KG just like every other netbook out there. Battery life becomes the main concern and if you want more than 4hrs of worry-free working without plugging in, the N350 is probably not for you.
Having said that, the N350 is an efficient build with a good quality 3-cell battery (33Wh) and in my usage last week, a mix of web, writing and email at a 3-day conference, 5 days in a hotel, I was regulalry reaching 5 hours. I kept the screen fairly low, worked a lot in power saving mode and got myself into the habit of closing the lid when waling away from the device. This kicks-in the ‘fast start’ mode.
Fast-start is some form of hybrid standby and hibernate mode. You get minimal battery drain (I measured 16% drain in 48 hours) but a 5-second boot. You’re connected to the internet in well under 10 seconds from lifting the lid and imporantly, it works reliably. I haven’t seen any hiccups and although this isn’t the ‘always on’ I’d like to see on Intel platforms soon, it’s something else i’ll miss when I go back to my personal netbook.
Video playback from disk gets a good boost with the dual-core CPU. Probably one of the biggest measurable improvements in all. A 4Mbps Divx played out of the box on Windows Media Player without the CPU at about 20%. H.264 should play up to about 5Mbps and WMV at 720p resolution and 7.5Mbps is no problem at all. While not quite 1080p capable, it’s a smooth and acceptable video experience. Expect about 3.5 hours from the battery in this mode. Unfortunately, YouTube at 720p is still not reliable enough to be said to be working. You’ll see a couple of examples in the video below. One works, the other, a dynamic video, doesn’t.
In the video below you’ll hear me talk about two other interesting netbooks that fall into the same price bracket as the N350. The first is the single-core Samsung N230. It uses the same design and includes the fast-start feature but here’s the reason you might actually opt for a single-core over the dual-core – the N230 includes a 6-cell battery (check capacity – there are different qualities of 6-cell pack out there) which is likely to take it all the way up to 10 hours. The choice is a simple one between performance and battery life. Alternatively, there’s the new Asus EeePC 1015PN which is 1.2KG, has a 6-cell battery and the dual-core CPU. It also has the Nvidia ION2 graphics inside which means you get full HD performance, better gaming capability, some video editing capability and an HDMI out. If you don’t need the ION2, you can turn it off! For the same price as the N350 it’s a tough choice.
While the N350 is a premium netbook and a great starting point for a good performing, lightweight device, if you don’t want this ‘fast-start’ option and you need more battery life, you might want to be taking a closer look at the 1015PN. If that fast-start and 1KG starting point interests you though, the N350 is an excelent choice. Look out for offers and 6-cell variants. If you can find the high quality 6-cell variant (64Wh capacity) on offer for under 400 Euros, buy it!
Also expected – 3G version. There’s a SIM slot and 3G model space on the motherboard.
My current laptop is a netbook. I’ve been using it as my portable computer for well over a year and I’m very happy with it. I’m using XP, it’s got a 2GB RAM upgrade and a fast SSD and a great built-in 3G module. The only issue with it is that any other netbook out there is a downgrade for me because switching to Windows 7 on a standard netbook is noticeably slower.
That all changed today when I took on the Acer D255 as a loaner for the Intel Developer Forum I’m attending this week. [Thanks to Intel – They paid for the trip over here] It’s truly the first netbook I’ve used that gives me a smooth and reliable Windows 7 experience and having already tested battery drain, 720p playback, Crystalmark and video rendering performance, I can say that it really does well, It’s light and Sascha (Netbooknews) tells me it only costs 350 Euros. That’s a stunning price for 6-8hrs of dual-core action.
Here’s a little look-round on the device. See below for some early benchmark results.
I’ve done three benchmarking tests on the device. The first is a battery drain test and I’m pleased to see that Acer appear to be getting the best possible out of the platform. With screen brightness at minimum and Wifi off I was able to get a figure of just 4W. With Wifi on, that went up to 4.6W. Average drain for web browsing is around the 7-8W mark which means that the 49Wh battery is going to give a good 6hrs of action. Rendering a video with all cores and at 100% i was 11W of drain. For a device that weighs 1250 grams thats pretty good. A better quality 6-cell battery could yield even better results.
I terms of CrystalMark, I’m seeing results that will make anyone happy. 35K is not a figure we see often in the mobile computing world. The hard disk is impressive to.
My final benchmark was a video rendering test. It looks like I’m going to save 25-30% in terms of time on rendering and that’s well worth the 50-euro premium that a dual-core Atom netbook is costing.