Samsung NC20 User Review

by Reads (39,134)

The Samsung NC10 may have been a late arrival to the netbook party but has proved to be very popular. However, there are those users who found the 1024 x 600 resolution display to be a constraint and complained that the NC10’s touchpad was too small. The Samsung NC20 ($478 US MSRP) addresses these complaints by providing larger machine with a 12.1″ display. Samsung describe the NC20 as a “large-screen netbook” and this is a fair description since the underlying hardware is as used in other netbooks (for example a low cost single core CPU). The NC20 includes another feature which sets it aside from the crowd: It uses the VIA Nano U2250 CPU and associated chipset and graphics.

During the past two years I have looked at several ultra-portables: the Samsung Q35, the Sony G11, the Zepto Notus A12; the Toshiba R500 and the Samsung NC10 netbook. How does the NC20 compare with these? Is it a viable substitute for the ultraportable notebooks in terms of portability, performance and battery life? How does performance and usability compare with the Samsung NC10? Read on for my evaluation. 


The Samsung NC20 complete with glossy screen


The NC20 between the NC10 (left) and the 14.1″ Dell E6400. This provides a good comparison of the  sizes

What’s in the Box?

The NC20 came in a smallish box containing:

  • The NC20 netbook
  • The PSU, a battery and a mains power cable
  • A 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 box contents (except for the NC20)

Hardware Specs: Samsung NC20   

The standard configuration comprised the following hardware and specifications:

  • CPU: VIA Nano U2250 (1.3Ghz+) with VIA VX800 chipset
  • Display: 12.1″ WXGA (1280 x 800) glossy LCD with LED backlight (220 nits)
  • Memory: 1GB (1 x 1GB) DDR2 PC6400 RAM
  • Hard Disc: 160GB 5400rpm 2.5″ HDD (Samsung HM160HI family)
  • Graphics: VIA Chrome9 HC3 integrated GPU
  • Optical Drive: None
  • Keyboard: 84 key, 18.5mm pitch with Silver Nano technology
  • Touchpad: Synaptics touchpad 70mm x 42mm
  • Network: Marvell Yukon 88E8040 Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: Broadcom 2045 Bluetooth EDR+
  • Wireless: Atheros AR5007EG (802.11 b/g)
  • Ports: 3 x USB 2.0, network (RJ45), VGA, microphone, headphone
  • Media card reader: VIA reader supporting SD/SDHC/ MMC
  • Webcam : Namuga 1.3 Mpixel
  • Audio: Realtek High Definition Audio with EDS (Enhanced Digital Sound) Effect and 2 x 1.5W loudspeakers and microphone
  • 6-cell battery (11.1V, 5200mAh = 57.72Whr)
  • 40W (19V, 2.1A) power supply with 3-pin mains power connector
  • Dimensions: published:- 292.4 x 217 x 30.7mm, actual 292 x 217 x 29~40mm (11.5 x 8.54 x 1.14 ~ 1.57″ (including 6 cell battery and feet)).
  • Weight : published = 1.5kg, actual = 1.52kg (3.351lb) with 6-cell battery
  • Travel weight including PSU and cables 1.95kg (4.30lbs)


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

Software

The NC20 comes with Windows XP Home SP3 preinstalled and with a recovery CD. The Windows sticker on the bottom of the computer says “Windows XP Home Edition LrgScrn LFD”, whatever that may mean. 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)

Detailed discussion of these would need another review. Readers can consult the user guide for more details of these programs. The only point I will note here is that Easy Display Manager is the program which makes the Fn key controls work.

Build and Design

The NC20 features plastic construction and feels very solid with no flex or creaks. The white (slightly off-white) version has matte plastic surfaces so fingerprints are not a problem. The NC20 shares the NC10’s shiny metal belt around the front and sides. Perhaps this is the “Protect-o-Edge chassis” described on Samsung’s website as “ensuring reliability and durability, giving you added peace of mind.”  The NC20 shares the NC10’s wedge shaped design with the 6-cell battery protruding from the bottom near the back. The hinges are very substantial.


NC20 side-by-side with the NC10. See the difference in display real estate.

During travel the display is held closed by spring-loaded hinges. It takes two hands to open the screen on my NC20. As new, the display has no wobble, although the hinges may loosen with time. The display back is very rigid and I found it almost impossible to create ripples on the screen by pushing on the back.

The bottom of the computer has small protruding feet about 1.5mm (1/16″) at the front while the battery protrudes downwards at the back and contains two more feet. The bottom is well-endowed with air vents and there is a single removable cover for both the memory slot and the hard disk. The standard (the same battery as on the NC10) 6-cell battery fits at the back of the notebook and is held firmly in place by two latches.


Underside of the NC20: Both the memory and the hard disk are accessible. There are two loudspeakers near the front. The hard disk is held in a metal cradle.


Interesting writing under the RAM: I thought HannStar only made monitors. And who is Brighton? Next to the memory is an unused socket labelled “80PORT”. I wonder what that is for?

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard has an almost standard layout including the highly desirable dedicated Pg Up and Pg Down keys. The Ctrl key occupies the almost standard position in the front left corner. There are 84 keys (83 keys on the US keyboard) which have grey markings on a white plastic background. The keys have an almost-standard 18.5mm pitch. However, there are some slightly unusual key locations: Fn by itself becomes the Windows menu key and the Windows key right of the space bar is the other windows key which is left of the space bar on most notebooks. The funny character key (`¦¬) normally located to the left of 1 is located left of the space bar and backspace becomes bigger.


The NC20’s keyboard. Note that the port symbols are provided on the NC10’s keyboard surround / palmrest.

The keyboard keys have reasonable travel but I would have liked a bit more springiness in the action. Perhaps my expectations have been raised by the keyboard of my Dell Latitude E6400. Samsung states 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.

People complained about the touchpad on the NC10 being too small. The NC20’s Synaptics touchpad is a generous 70mm x 42mm. 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 multi-touch gestures including chiral scrolling and pinching.


The indicator lights are clearly labelled on the palm rest

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 chose 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.

Samsung provide the standard Samsung set of function key facilities, so they haven’t reduced capabilities in spite of the low price. Fn+F8 switches between three operating modes: Silent; Normal; and Speed. This control is hardly needed on the NC10 since the fan is very quiet but the Silent mode locks the CPU to the minimum speed which means the fan stays off except under sustained full CPU load. 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

The port count is the same as on the NC10 although there are significant differences in the NC20’s port layout. Samsung avoided squeezing ports so close together that they interfere with each other. Therefore 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. An HDMI port would have been a welcome addition since VIA claims that the Nano CPU is capable of HD playback.

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: Network socket, USB port, fan exhaust, VGA port, microphone and headphone sockets


The back: Nothing except the hinges and the battery


Right side from front to back: two USB ports, power socket and security slot

Display

The display is a 12.1″ 1280 x 800 (WXGA) gloss LCD with LED backlight. The label on the box says 220 nits brightness. There are eight brightness levels. The lowest level is barely usable but one step above minimum gives adequate lighting while extending battery time. The overall range of Viewing angles are typical for displays of this type with colours fading when viewed from above and inverting when viewed from below. Horizontal viewing angles are good. The backlighting is very even. Personally, I prefer a matte display because there are fewer problems with reflections.


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

Compared to the NC10’s display, the NC20 seems to have a slightly yellow tint. At the default settings it also lacked contrast. Fortunately, Samsung have included the S3 ScreenToys control panel which enables users to make fine adjustments to the display and it is worthwhile using this to fine-tine the appearance.

Speakers and Audio

The NC20 contains two loudspeakers located on the bottom under the palm rests and the specification states these are rated at 1.5W. The overall audio is much better in both quantity and quality than on my Dell E6400 and slightly more powerful than the NC10’s speakers. The audio output quality is slightly improved by both the Samsung Enhanced Digital Sound and the equalizer option in the Realtek audio manager.

Performance and Benchmarks

The NC20 is unusual among the current crop of netbooks on account not being powered by the Intel Atom N270 CPU and Intel 945GSE chipset. Instead it uses the VIA Nano U2250 with the VIA VX800 chipset. VIA’s website states that the U2250 has an idle power of 200mW. However, it does not state the maximum power consumption for the U2250 CPU although the 1.6GHz version has a TDP of 17W.  VIA’s White Paper mentions a 1.3GHz CPU with a TDP of 8W. Comparison of power consumption with the CPU on idle and under full load indicates a difference is about 10W. In contrast, this difference for the NC10 is less than 5W. So, while the VIA Nano can compete with the Atom on idle power consumption, the full load power consumption is significantly higher. The chipset is capable of addressing more than 2GB of RAM so, although there is only a single memory slot, there is the possibility of using 4GB of RAM when those modules become affordable.

One of the interesting features of the U2250 CPU is the rated speed of 1.3GHz+. The actual maximum speed seems a little unclear: CPU-Z and SiSoftware Sandra indicate a speed of 1.5GHz while PCMark05 reports 1.6GHz. The S3 ScreenToys splits the difference with 1.54GHz.

Hard Disk

The supplied hard disk is a 160GB 2.5″ 5400rpm Samsung HM160HI using the SATA interface. This HDD uses one platter with a maximum transfer rate of 64.5MB/s and an average of 51.1MB/s. Both the hard disk and the interface performance are similar to a full-sized notebook. Results for HD Tune and HDTach are below.

wPrime

The Nano U2250 ran the wPrime 32M processor performance benchmark in 174.765s. This is less than one second faster than I measured for the Atom N270 when running one thread, but the hyperthreading in the Atom provides a major performance boost if wPrime is set to run two threads.

Notebook / CPU

wPrime 32M time

Samsung NC20 (1.3+ GHz VIA Nano N2250)

174.765s

Samsung NC10 (1.6GHz Intel Atom N270)

125.562s

ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (Intel Atom N280 @ 1.66GHz) 114.749s

Asus N10 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)

126.047s

Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 

125.812s

MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)

124.656s

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP

70.500s

Fujitsu S6120 (Pentium M 1.6GHz)

113.705s

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

124.581s

Dell E6400 (2.4GHz Intel P8600 / Intel GM45 / 2GB RAM PC6400)

32.53s

PCMark05

The PCMark05 score for the NC20 was 1,401 PCMarks which is slightly lower than other netbooks with similar hardware. Increasing the NC20’s RAM to 2GB improved the PCMark05 score to 1455. The table below compares the PCMark05 test result with some other netbooks and notebooks.

Notebook

PCMark05 Score

Samsung NC20 (1.3GHz+ VIA Nano U2250, VIA VX800 chipset)

1,401 PC Marks

Samsung NC10 (1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, Intel GMA950)

1,515 PCMarks

ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,535 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

Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)

1,446 PCMarks

Asus Eee PC 1000HA (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)

1,527 PCMarks

Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 

1,555 PCMarks

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP

1,953 PCMarks

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

1,554 PCMarks

Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100)

2,478 PCMarks

Sony Vaio TZ90HS (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo ULV U7600)

2,517 PCMarks

Samsung Q35 (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, Intel 945GM)

3,059 PCMarks

Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU)

3,498 PCMarks

Dell E6400 (2.4GHz Intel P8600 / Intel GM45 / 2GB RAM PC6400)

4,357 PCMarks

It is revealing to look at the individual PCMark05 components to see how the Nano U2250 compares with the Atom N270. I have also added my Dell E6400 with its dual core 2.4GHz P8600 CPU as a further comparison.

PCMark05 Component

NC20

NC10

Dell E6400

XP Startup

6.34 MB/s

6.75 MB/s

7.91 MB/s

Physics and 3D

31.52 FPS

30.43 FPS

88.48 FPS

Transparent Windows

88.55 Windows/s

60.99 Windows/s

227.47 Windows/s

3D Pixel Shader

3.99 FPS

8.45 FPS

39.65 FPS

Web Page Rendering

1.5 pages/s

1.38 pages/s

4.01 pages/s

File Decryption

24 MB/s

14.72 MB/s

68.33 MB/s

Graphics Memory – 64 Lines

414.05 FPS

292.2 FPS

522.45 FPS

HDD General Usage

3.94 MB/s

4.25 MB/s

4.82 MB/s

Audio Compression

531.16 kB/s

575.59 kB/s

2745.62 kB/s

Video Encoding

77.28 kB/s

105.8 kB/s

437.78 kB/s

Text Edit

28.92 pages/s

22.95 pages/s

161.68 pages/s

Image Decompression

6.39 Mpixels/s

6.45 Mpixels/s

33.57 Mpixels/s

File Compression

1.1 MB/s

1.56 MB/s

5.59 MB/s

File Encryption

5.78 MB/s

5.97 MB/s

31.03 MB/s

HDD Virus Scan

16.47 MB/s

39.51 MB/s

35.02 MB/s

Memory Latency

6.23 Maccesses/s

5.61 Maccesses/s

9.09 Maccesses/s

The NC20 and the NC10 get similar scores for most components. However, while the NC20 is faster with transparent windows it is much slower at pixel shading. It is faster at file decryption and the graphics memory test but slower at video encoding, file encryption and the virus scan. The Dell E6400, as would be expected, is typically four times faster for tests involving the CPU and GPU but the HDD test results are similar to the netbooks.

3DMark06

The 3DMark06 result was where I would expect – near the slow end of the table. It shows a useful improvement on the NC10 but it is still only suitable for older and less demanding games. Increasing the RAM to 2GB did not change the score for this benchmark.

Notebook

3DMark06 Score

Samsung NC20 (VIA Nano U2250 + Chrome9 HC3)

132 3DMarks

Samsung NC10 (1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, Intel GMA950)

89 3DMarks

ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 92 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

Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)

122 3DMarks

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP Pro SP3

141 3DMarks

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

148 3DMarks

Samsung Q35 (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, Intel 945GM)

106 3DMarks

MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.6GHz)

112 3DMarks

Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and Intel X3100 GPU)

561 3DMarks

Dell E6400 (2.4GHz Intel P8600 / Intel GM45 / 2GB RAM PC6400)

944 3DMarks

Battery, Power Supply and Cooling System

Samsung took a backwards step, in my opinion, in providing a power supply with a 3-core mains cable instead of the thinner and lighter 2-core cable provided with the NC10. Other than the mains lead and socket on the PSU, the power supply is the same 40W (19V, 2.1A) unit provided with the NC10. 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 but a light on front of the computer glows green when the power is connected and blue when it is operating.

The 6-cell battery is rated at 11.1V, 5200mAh = 57.72Whr. It is the same battery as used as in the NC10 which, in the longer term, will simplify the sourcing of replacements. There are reports that the US version of the NC20 will have a larger capacity 5900mAh battery. The charging rate is up to about 20W when the computer is operating but is reduced if necessary when the computer is under load in order to keep within the PSU’s 40W rating. The charge rate increases to about 30W (34W drain at the mains socket) when the computer is off. Recharge only starts when the charge level is below 98% in order to reduce the number of charge cycles used for small top-ups.

How does the NC20 compare with excellent battery performance provided by the NC10?  First, the NC20 needs to illuminate a larger screen. The difference between 10.2″ and 12.1″ doesn’t appear to be much, but the latter is 45% greater in area. Minimum power consumption of the NC20 is around 8W but, when under load, power consumption increases more (~10W) than with the NC10 (<5W). In addition, the NC20’s backlight power consumption varies over a range of about 4W. The highest power consumption I saw for the NC20 was between 26W and 28W while playing a DVD on a USB-powered DVD drive. This would drain the battery in about two hours. However, I played a copy of the 3 hour long Dances with Wolves DVD from the HDD at half brightness and the NC20 got to the end with some power to spare.

Four to five hours of light usage appears to be a reasonable expectation for the NC20 compared with the six to seven hours from the NC10. 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 and cause substantial extra power consumption.

What about heat and fan noise? The NC20 needs to dispose of more heat than the NC10 but does so in a very quiet manner. The first fan speed is almost inaudible. Sustained work can results in the fan speed increasing but this is also barely audible. Samsung’s wedge-shaped design for their netbooks makes it easy to incorporate a relatively large fan that can be effective but quiet. (The small fan in my much slimmer Toshiba R500 gets noisy under load). If anyone doesn’t like the minimal noise there is always the Silent Mode option in the BIOS while Fn+F8 steps through three performance options with the Silent setting locking the CPU to minimum speed. Overall, heat is not a problem with the NC10 although the maximum CPU temperature I observed is a warm 68°C. The fan disposes of the heat effectively and the outer casing does not get unpleasantly warm.

Warranty and Customer Support

Samsung (in UK) includes a standard one year collect and return warranty. A sticker on the NC20 states that it has an international warranty and a booklet lists the international service locations. Samsung also offer an optional two year warranty extension. However, the cost is the same across the whole notebook / netbook range.

Conclusion

I concluded my NC10 review with the remark “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.” Is the NC20 as, Samsung say, a large-screen netbook or is it a low cost ultra-portable notebook? Based on internal hardware and performance, the NC20 sits firmly in the netbook category. However, in terms of usability, with a 12.1″ display, good-sized keyboard, reasonable weight and reasonable battery life, the NC20 offers what many people seek from an ultra portable, at an attractive price. The performance is adequate for tasks such as web browsing, emails and simple document work. Whereas the 10.2″ and smaller netbooks are usually purchased as a second computer, the usability of the NC20 makes it a viable main computer. There must be many people with older notebooks which meet their performance needs but their computers are suffering age-related wear and tear. The NC20 is an affordable replacement for those older notebooks.


The NC10 sitting on the NC20. Which size do you want?

Pros:

  • Solid construction with good styling and attention to detail
  • Bright and sharp WXGA display
  • Good sized keyboard including dedicated Page Up and page Down keys
  • Generous touchpad
  • Good hard disk capacity and speed
  • Three USB ports and media card reader
  • Good styling with excellent attention to detail
  • Cheap compared to an ultra-portable

Cons:

  • Glossy display (but some people see that as a good thing)
  • No WWAN option (at the moment)
  • Slightly uneven brightness on display
  • An Express Card slot would have increased the upgrade options


LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.