Samsung NC10 User Review

by John Ratsey Reads (103,688)

The Samsung NC10 netbook is a late arrival to the netbook party. Samsung appears to have noted the feedback about the first generation of netbooks and aimed for quality and performance, not lowest price or size. The price, while at the upper end of the netbook range, is still cheap compared to the normal ultra-portable notebooks of the same weight range.

During the past two years I have looked at three ultra-portables: the Samsung Q35, the Sony G11, the Zepto Notus A12; and the Toshiba R500. Broadly speaking, the Samsung NC10 netbook is about one third of the cost of one of these. How does it compare and is it a viable substitute in terms of portability, performance and battery life? Both the G11 and R500 include an optical drive, so for those who want access to an optical drive at all times then this, or any other, netbook, is not the ideal choice.


The Samsung NC10 sitting between the Toshiba R500 (left)
and the Sony G11 (right). All displays at maximum brightness.
Note the differences in screen real estate.

The NC10 came in a small box containing:

  • The NC10 netbook
  • The PSU, a battery and a mains power cable
  • A thin slip case
  • An installation guide leaflet
  • A safety instruction booklet
  • A warranty information booklet
  • A Using Samsung Recovery Solution booklet
  • A system recovery media CD
  • A system software media DVD

The user guide is an animated .SWF document pre-installed on the hard disk. I would have preferred a normal PDF file.

The Samsung NC10 features the following hardware and specifications:

  • CPU: Intel Atom N270 (1.6Ghz) with Intel 945GSE chipset
  • Display: 10.2″ WSVGA (1024 x 600) matte LCD with LED backlight
  • Memory: 1GB (1 x 1GB) DDR2 RAM running at 533MHz
  • Hard Disc: 160GB 5400rpm 2.5” HDD (Hitachi 5K320 family)
  • Graphics: Intel GMA950 integrated GPU
  • Optical Drive: None
  • Network: Marvell Yukon 88E8040 Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: Broadcom 2045 Bluetooth USB 2.0
  • Wireless: Atheros AR5007EG (802.11 b/g)
  • Ports: 3 x USB 2.0, network (RJ45), VGA, microphone, headphone
  • Media card reader: MultiFlash reader supporting SD/SDHC/ MMC
  • Webcam : Namuga 1.3 Mpixel
  • Audio: High Definition Audio with EDS (Enhanced Digital Sound) Effect and 2 x 1W loudspeakers and microphone
  • Touchpad: Synaptics touchpad 60mm x 29mm
  • 6-cell battery (11.1V, 5200mAh = 57.72Whr)
  • 40W (19V, 2.1A)  power supply with 2-pin mains power connector
  • Dimensions: published:- 261 x 188.5 x 30.3mm, actual 261 x 186 x 31~40mm (10.3 x 7.32 x 1.22 ~ 1.57” (including 6 cell battery and feet)).
  • Weight : published = 1.33kg, actual = 1.32kg (2.91lb)  with 6 cell battery
  • Travel weight including PSU and cables 1.68kg (3.70lbs)


The weigh-in: Without and with PSU and power
cables (kilograms). Other countries with smaller
mains power plugs may get a lower travel weight

Software

The NC10 comes with Windows XP Home SP3 preinstalled and with a recovery CD. Samsung also provide preinstalled software and a DVD which will need to be reloaded if the operating system is reinstalled. The Samsung software package is very similar to the other Samsung notebooks and includes:

  • Easy Display Manager
  • Magic Keyboard
  • Play Camera
  • Recovery Solution III
  • Samsung Battery Manager
  • Samsung Magic Doctor
  • Samsung Network Manager
  • Samsung Update Plus
  • Easy Network Manager
  • McAfee Anti-Virus (limited duration)

Design and Build

The NC10 features solid plastic construction and is thicker than most ultraportable notebooks.  It is well endowed with shiny surfaces and the sooner any owner stops worrying about fingerprints, the better. The shiny plastic display back is supplemented by a shiny metal belt around the front and sides (which made photography more difficult). One dominant feature is the wedge shaped design with the 6-cell battery protruding from the bottom near the back. Most of the weight is at the back of the computer and when used as a laptop it feels that it might tilt over backwards.


Stacked notebooks: NC10 on top of Toshiba R500
on top of Sony G11. The NC10 is the thickest

During travel the display is held closed by spring-loaded hinges. It takes two hands to open the screen on my NC10. As new, the display has no wobble, although the hinges may loosen with time. The display back is adequate but it is possible to push on the back and create ripples on the screen.


The Samsung NC10 on top of the 14.1” Dell E6400.
Almost new and collecting fingerprints!

The bottom of the computer has small protruding feet about 1.5mm (1/16”). There is a single removable cover for the memory slot. The bottom is well-endowed with air vents. The standard 6 cell battery fits at the back of the notebook and is held firmly in place by two latches.


Underside of the NC10: The only removable cover
is for the memory slot. There are plenty of air
vents and two small loudspeakers.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Samsung provided the NC10 with a generous keyboard, but the trade-off is a relatively small touchpad. The keyboard has an almost standard layout including the highly appreciated dedicated Pg Up and Pg Down keys. The Ctrl key occupies the almost standard position in the front left corner (Samsung have changed this year from putting Fn in the corner). There are 84 keys (83 keys on the US keyboard) which have clear white markings on a black plastic background. The keys have a slightly smaller than normal 17.7mm pitch and is easy to adapt to from a normal keyboard.


The NC10 keyboard overlaid onto my 14.1″ Dell E6400.
Note that the port symbols are provided on the NC10′s
keyboard surround/palmrest.

The keyboard is responsive and has a comfortable action with reasonable travel. Samsung claims that the keyboard has been treated with silver nano technology so that it is less likely to spread bacteria (they have been doing this since the R20 was introduced in early 2007). The treatment is not obvious and the keys look and feel like normal plastic.

The Synaptics touchpad is wide but not very high (60mm x 29mm). However, it is quite usable when the sensitivity is increased. There is a one-piece touchpad button which is fixed in the middle and behaves like two buttons. This single button is easy to operate. The Touchpad supports gestures including chiral scrolling and pinching.

There are seven indicator lights on the front edge of the chassis with symbols on the front of the palm rest. The surround to the lights is glossy, which makes it more difficult to see the lights. As with many other notebooks, Samsung have chosen to put the NC10’s lights where they are covered by the user’s left palm. A central location in front of the touchpad would be much more visible. From left to right the lights are: Num Lock; Caps Lock; Scroll Lock; HDD/SSD Activity; Wireless On; Charge Status and Computer On.


The Fn keys (yes, F7 and F8 are blue).
The microphone is next to the right hinge.

Samsung provides the standard set of function key facilities, so they haven’t reduced capabilities in spite of the low price. The F7 and F8 keys are blue, in common with other recent Samsung notebooks. Each of the function keys has an additional function. Fn+F7 activates the Samsung Magic Doctor software, Fn+F8 selects between three operating modes: silent, normal and speed, Fn+F9 toggles the wireless and Fn+F10 toggles the touchpad. Fn+ the cursor keys changes the display brightness and audio volume. Fn+F8 switches between three operating modes: Silent (it locks the CPU to minimum speed); Normal; and Speed. This control is hardly needed on the NC10 since the fan is very quiet but the Silent mode means the fan stays off. Something not mentioned in the User Guide is that pressing the Esc key during initial boot brings up a boot device menu. This is in addition to F2 for entering the BIOS setup.


Where is the power button?  It is on the right side
hinge and glows blue when the computer is on.

Ports and Features

Overall, the ports are quite well laid out. There are no ports on the back. Samsung have avoided squeezing ports so close together that they interfere with each other so all three USB ports can always be used. There are no ports on the front right side where cables can get in the way of a mouse. The fan exhaust is near the back on the left side. Perhaps the one omission for a travel-oriented computer is a modem port, but USB modems are reasonably cheap.

Let’s have a tour of the sides clockwise starting at the front:


The front has the indicator lights and media card slot (with a plastic filler)


Left side from back to front: Power socket, network socket, fan exhaust, two USB2.0 ports (note the 3 CD cases against the back edge for scale)


The back: Nothing except two shiny hinges and the battery


Right side from front to back: audio ports, one USB port, VGA port and security slot.

Display

The display is a 10.2” 1024 x 640 (WSVGA) matte LCD with LED backlight. My display had a code of CPT04C4 (Chunghwa Picture Tubes). The brightness, at the maximum setting is less than the Sony G1 or the Dell E6400 (with LED backlit display) but is more than adequate for indoors. It may struggle in direct sunshine but is OK in indirect daylight. There are 8 brightness levels. The lowest is OK in poor lighting conditions but 1 step above minimum gives adequate lighting while extending battery time. Viewing angles are typical for displays of this type. The horizontal viewing angle range is good and the vertical range moderate.


Display viewed from different angles – it is best
when pushed back a little

The backlighting is a little uneven with the bottom left and right side of the screen being slightly darker (see the photos of the BIOS screens below). There are also two areas that show up slightly darker under certain conditions. These can be seen on the middle right segment of the above composite. One is just above the mouse pointer and the other is further to the right. At the moment I am planning to live with these. They are less of a problem than stuck pixels.


The NC10’s display in front of the 14.1” WXGA+
display of the Dell E6400

Audio Quality

The NC10 contains two small loudspeakers located on the bottom under the palm rests. I rate the overall audio better than on my Dell E6400 but that is starting from a low base. While the speakers are small, the audio output quality is slightly improved by both the Samsung Enhanced Digital Sound and the equalizer option in the Realtek audio manager.

Processor, Hard Drive and Performance

The NC10 is designed for stamina, not speed, and is powered by the ubiquitous Intel Atom N270 CPU. The Thermal Design Power (TDP) rating of 2.5W is much lower than the 5.5W of the U1500 Core Solo CPU and the power consumption drops to below 0.5W in the low power states. The Intel data sheet indicates an absolute voltage range between 0.75 and 1.10V. CPU-Z does not appear to read the voltages correctly although the old CPU-Z 1.40.5 is much closer than the new version 1.49. I have observed a difference in power consumption of about 2W between full CPU load at 800MHz and full CPU load at 1.6GHz.


CPU-Z reports for the NC10

Alongside the low power CPU is the Intel 945GSE chipset which is a version of the Intel 945GM chipset customised to work with the Atom CPU. This chipset is reported by most software as the Intel 945GM.

The supplied hard disk is a 160GB 2.5” 5400rpm Hitachi 5K320 using the SATA interface. This model of the 5K320 uses one platter with a maximum transfer rate of 67.4MB/s and an average of 48.3MB/s. Both the hard disk and the interface performance are as one gets for a full-sized notebook. Results for HD Tune and HDTach are below.

My first attempt running wPrime produced a disappointing time of 175 seconds, but then I set it to run two threads and there was a significant improvement to 126 seconds so the overall time was almost the same as for the Intel U1500 CPU. This is hyperthreading at work. This is much, much slower than we are used to seeing for the recent dual core CPUs, but equal or faster than the older notebook CPUs.


Wprime results with one thread (left) and 2 threads (right)

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Samsung NC10 (Intel Atom @ 1.6GHz) 125.562 seconds
HP Mini 1000 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 125.788 seconds
ASUS N10 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 126.047 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 117.577 seconds
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 127.172 seconds
Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)  125.812 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 901 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 123.437 seconds
MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 124.656 seconds  
ASUS Eee PC 900 (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 203.734 seconds
HP 2133 Mini-Note (Via CV7-M ULV @ 1.6GHz) 168.697 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 630MHz) 289.156 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 200.968 seconds
Everex CloudBook (VIA C7-M ULV @ 1.2GHz) 248.705 seconds
Fujitsu U810 Tablet PC (Intel A110 @ 800MHz) 209.980 seconds
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (Core Solo U1500 @ 1.33GHz) 124.581 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz) 76.240 seconds
Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile @ 1.6GHz) 231.714 seconds

 

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Samsung NC10 (1.6GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,515 PCMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,531 PCMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,851 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,527 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,446 PCMarks
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)  1,555 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 901 (1.60GHz Intel Atom)  746 PCMarks
MSI Wind (1.60GHz Intel Atom)  N/A
ASUS Eee PC 900 (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,172 PCMarks
HP 2133 Mini-Note (1.6GHz VIA C7-M ULV) 801 PCMarks
HTC Shift (800MHz Intel A110) 891 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 4G (630MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 908 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 4G (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV) 1,132 PCMarks
Everex CloudBook (1.2GHz VIA C7-M ULV) 612 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 2,446 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 (1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400) 1,152 PCMarks
Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500) 1,554 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 1,839 PCMarks

 

 

3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Samsung NC10 (1.6GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 89 3DMarks
HP Mini 1000 (1.6GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 88 3DMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 73 3DMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,417 3DMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 95 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) N/A
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,055 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

Battery, Power Supply and Cooling System

The power supply is small and light 40W (19V, 2.1A) unit with 1.8m power cables and has a 2-pin power connector.  The 2-pin connectors have thinner and lighter mains power cables which are more travel-friendly. The PSU draws negligible mains power when the computer is off. There is no indicator light on the PSU to show that it has power. While the 40W PSU is small compared to standard notebook PSUs, the 45W PSU supplied with the Sony G11 is even smaller.


The NC10’s 40W PSU (centre) between a Samsung
90W PSU (left) and  Sony G11’s 45W PSU (right)

The 6-cell battery is rated at 11.1V, 5200mAh = 57.72Whr. RMClock reported a fully charged capacity of 56.610WHr which is about 2% less than the nominal capacity. The charging rate is up to about 23W but reduces once the battery approaches full charge. Recharge only starts when the charge level is below 98% in order to reduce the number of charge cycles used for small top-ups.

Samsung UK states that the NC10 can run for up to 7 hours on battery, although some retailers claim up to 8 hours. With the computer on idle and screen backlight turned on the lowest brightness I was able to get 8.4 hours of battery life. Web browsing using Ethernet and display at 2/8 brightness provided battery life in the range of 5-6 hours.

Perhaps the most significant observation is the potential run time of more than 4 hours under full load. 7 hours is feasible if the display is on minimum brightness with no wireless or Bluetooth and very light usage with minimal CPU and HDD activity. In reality, no normal user works continuously for several hours and the computer will quickly drop into a lower power state between work sessions. I use Firefox with Flashblock to stop animated web pages from increasing the power consumption. Flash content on open web pages will continue to run in the background even if the computer is off line and that page is being used. Flash can cost up to about 2W extra power consumption.

 
97% charge and forecast 7 hours remaining!

What about heat and fan noise? It is difficult to comment on the fan noise because it is so quiet I didn’t know it was running without putting my ear next to the fan exhaust outlet. The fan doesn’t normally run at all and if anyone doesn’t like this minimal noise there is always the Silent Mode option. Similarly, heat is not a problem with this netbook. It barely gets warm! Under full load (I ran 3DMark05 four times) then the bottom and the left side of the keyboard get warm (but not hot).

Warranty and Customer Support

Samsung offers (in UK) a standard one year collect and return warranty. Samsung also offers an optional two year warranty extension. However, the cost is the same across the whole notebook / netbook range. I have contacted Samsung UK technical support on numerous occasions, usually via email. They usually respond within a day. The one area where customers are currently unhappy with Samsung support is the lack of recognition of the nvidia GPU problem (which won’t afflict the NC10) for which other major notebook manufacturers have extended the standard warranty.


Conclusion

While netbooks are (in the benchmark test results) slower than notebooks, how much do people use the full potential of their notebooks? The CPU in my Dell E6400 spends most of its time ambling along at 800MHz (but it does have two cores to share the workload). For the tasks that netbooks are aimed at, such as web browsing, opening emails and simple document work, the performance is similar to a normal notebook.

Overall, the Samsung NC10 is a worthy challenger to ultra-portable notebooks. The performance is in the same range and, while the NC10’s battery life can’t quite match the Sony G11, it is at least the equal of the Toshiba R500 without the benefit of a noisy fan. The three areas where it can’t match those notebooks are display real estate, built-in optical drive, and price. For those people who want a very portable second computer then a netbook is the way forward. However, there will still be a demand for the ultra-portables from those people who want their only notebook to be as small and light as possible.

Pros:

  • Solid construction
  • Generous keyboard for this form factor including dedicated Page Up and page Down keys
  • Bright and legible display with good viewing angles
  • Impressive battery life
  • Good hard disk capacity and speed
  • Small and light power supply
  • Three USB ports
  • Good styling with excellent attention to detail
  • Cheap compared to an ultra-portable

Cons:

  • Small touchpad
  • Display back could be stronger
  • No WWAN option (at the moment)
  • Slightly uneven brightness on display
  • An Express Card slot would have increased the upgrade options


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