Samsung NC20 Review

by Reads (52,474)

by Kevin O’Brien

The Samsung NC20 is a 12.1″ netbook and larger brother to the 10″ NC10. The NC20 offers a larger nearly-full-size keyboard, large 6-cell battery, WXGA resolution display, and the VIA Nano platform. Since the last VIA-based netbook in our office was the Everex CloudBook with less than stellar performance, the biggest thought on our minds is if the VIA Nano can compete against the trusted Intel Atom platform. In this review we see how well it compares against its netbook brethren, and if it changes our thoughts about VIA processors in notebooks.

Samsung NC20 Specifications:

  • 1.30GHz VIA Nano ULV U2250 (800MHz FSB, 1MB L2 Cache)
  • 1GB DDR2 SDRAM (2GB Max)
  • Windows XP Pro w/ SP3 (Ships with Windows XP Home)
  • 12.1″ WXGA LED-Backlit Widescreen Glossy Display (1280×800)
  • 160GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • VIA Chrome9 HC3 Integrated Graphics
  • 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 
  • 3-in-1 card reader
  • 6-Cell Li-ion battery
  • Dimensions: (LxWxH) 11.5 x 8.5 x 1.2
  • Weight: 3lbs 5.8oz (4lbs 3.4oz travel weight)
  • Price as configured: $549

Build and Design
The design of the Samsung NC20 is very clean with a consistent color scheme inside and outside the netbook with a thin border of chrome around the edges. The pearlescent white on our review sample has the same almost-dirty appearance that the original ASUS Eee PC 701 had. I think a pure white looks better or even better would be going all black. The black configuration of the NC20 looks stunning from the samples I have seen and if I were buying one that would be my only choice.

Build quality is above average with durable feeling plastic throughout the body. Flex is minimal on the lower half of the notebook, usually an added perk of having such a thin frame packed with components. Flex under the keyboard structure is non-existent which adds a level of quality that you notice while typing. The screen lid has some minor flex that when squeezed shows some distortion on the panel.

User upgrades to the NC20 are limited to swapping out the RAM or hard drives. Samsung has a single panel on the bottom of the it that gives quick access to the hard drive bay and single memory slot. No “warranty void if removed” stickers were over the cover or screws.

Display
The 12.1” WXGA display on the Samsung NC20 is above average compared to most notebooks. The LED-backlighting is very even across the screen with barely any backlight bleed around the edges. Image quality is excellent thanks to the glossy surface, with vibrant colors and nice contrast levels. Vertical viewing angles are average with a narrow viewing sweet spot where colors are not washing out or inverted. Horizontal viewing angles are better, staying true at steeper angles. Screen backlight brightness was good for viewing in a bright office setting, but you would be pushing the limits trying to use the NC20 outdoors on a sunny day.

Keyboard and Touchpad   
The Samsung NC20 has an almost-full-size keyboard that is comfortable to type on and very easy to transition to from larger notebooks. Compared to other netbooks the keyboard is very good, but notebooks still have an edge on it. Business notebooks in the 12-inch form factor have been able to incorporate completely full-size keyboards, but they are generally higher priced. Individual key action is smooth with no sound emitted when clicked. The ability to type covertly in a quiet classroom or office meeting could easily be added as another feature.

The NC20 offers a Synaptics touchpad that is nicely sized for a netbook. Measuring in at 2.75″ x 1.63″ it is larger than the touchpad on my Lenovo ThinkPad. The surface texture is a fine matte finish that is smooth to slide your finger across even if your hands are moist. Sensitivity is excellent once adjusted, since the default driver settings put the “PalmCheck” adjustment at max, which made movement very twitchy. The touchpad buttons are controlled through a bridged button that connected the left and right side. Feedback from it is shallow with a mild click noise when pressed.

Ports and Features
Port selection is average compared to most netbooks on the market, offering three USB ports, VGA, LAN, audio jacks, and a 3-in-1 multi-card reader. With the increased real estate of the 12.1” frame I think Samsung could have easily fit an additional USB port on without any problems.


Front: Indicator lights and 3-in-1 multi-card reader


Rear: Screen hinge and battery


Left: LAN, one USB, VGA, and audio ports


Right: Two USB, AC power, Kensington lock slot, and power switch

Samsung includes an imitation-suede netbook sleeve with the NC20. It works very well to keep the netbook smudge and scratch-free during transportation, but does little to pad it from impacts. I like the suede appearance of it more than the neoprene slip cases, which have that Spandex-vibe.

Performance
Compared to the last VIA-equipped netbook in our office the VIA Nano was a huge improvement. System performance of the NC20 was in-line with the Intel Atom platform, above in some areas and below in others. Day-to-day use the system handled tasks like web browsing or typing documents with ease. Entertainment use was limited to older games or less tasking modern games with the integrated graphics. Standard definition videos played smoothly without any hint of lag, but when you try to play HD movies the limits of the processor were noticed. Standard 720p x264 content played at 15-17FPS on scenes with little motion, but slowed down to 5-10FPS under panning or action. With enough tweaking HD content might be playable at full frame rates, but you would have to ask yourself if it would be worth it. In our synthetic benchmarks the VIA Nano platform scored lower in wPrime and PCMark05, but slightly higher under 3DMark06. Still nowhere near as fast as a full-size notebook with integrated graphics though.

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

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz) 32.119 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240 seconds
HP Pavilion dv2 (AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 @ 1.60GHz)
103.521 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (Intel Atom N280 @ 1.66GHz) 114.749 seconds
Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)  125.812 seconds
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (2009) (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 126.406 seconds
Samsung NC20 (VIA Nano ULV U2250 @ 1.30GHz) 173.968 seconds

 

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

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (2.40GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600, Intel X4500) 4,298 PCmarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 2,446 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.60GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB) 2,191 PCMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,851 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 1,839 PCMarks
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,555 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950) 1,535 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (2009) (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,478 PCMarks
Samsung NC20 (1.30GHz VIA Nano ULV U2250, VIA Chrome9 HC3) 1,441 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 comparison results against netbooks @ 1024 x 768 resolution:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.60GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB)
1,520 3DMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,417 3DMarks
Samsung NC20 (1.30GHz VIA Nano ULV U2250, VIA Chrome9 HC3) 151 3DMarks
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
HP Mini 2140 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GM1 950) 118 3DMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950) 92 3DMarks
Sony VAIO P (1.33GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 500, Windows Vista) 88 3DMarks

 

HDTune for the built-in hard drive:

 

Speakers
Audio performance was limited by the small size of the drivers located on the bottom of the NC20. Bass and midrange were completely lacking and peak volume levels were under similarly sized notebooks. For viewing YouTube clips or watching streaming TV shows this might not be a problem, but I would still highly recommend a nice pair of headphones.

Battery
Battery life was good compared to most notebooks, but when compared to the latest netbooks like the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE, it was hindered by the larger screen. The Samsung NC20 with the processor set to adaptive, screen brightness set to about 70%, and wireless active managed 5 hours and 55 minutes before it went into standby at 4% remaining. A larger battery would definitely improve the runtime, but then you would have to deal with an extended battery sticking out the bottom of the notebook to allow the screen to still pivot.

Heat and Noise
Thermal performance is normal compared to other small netbooks, where the body tends to warm up over time, and develop some hot spots under heavy use. Under light activity temperatures around the palmrest and bottom of the notebook were within reasonable levels and very lap friendly. The left side of the palmrest was higher than the rest, which might be explained by a wireless card located in that region. Fan noise was minimal when browsing the web, but when you tasked the processor it would ramp up to whisper levels.

Conclusion
The 12.1″ Samsung NC20 is a netbook that is just on the fringe of being the same size as regular notebooks. It offers a large keyboard, higher resolution screen than most netbooks, and long battery life that you would expect from a ULV platform. With a retail price of $549 it is set to compete against the Dell Mini 12 and HP Pavilion dv2. Overall we were pleased with the performance from the VIA Nano platform, which was a massive step up from the lackluster performance of the older C7 we saw in the Everex CloudBook. My only complaint with our review sample was it not being the much better looking black model, but that can be easily fixed by buying that version instead.

Pros:

  • Nice display
  • Keyboard is excellent for a netbook
  • Modest battery life
  • Great performance from a VIA platform

Cons:

  • Poor speaker performance


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