Samsung X60 Review

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Samsung X60 Studentbook review ‘wanna be’

It’s now more than a month that my X60 arrived. A nice little demon i tell you. I got it from http://www.studentbook.de, since it was a very competing offer (at that time) and I happened to be eligible to actually order it.

Specs:

  • Processor:  Intel Core Duo(T2300/ 1,66 GHz) 2 MB Cache 667 MHz FSB
  • OS:   Microsoft Windows XP Home
  • RAM:   1.024 MB PC2-4200 (1 x 1.024)
  • HDD:   100 GB SATA 5.400 RPM (doubts here)
  • Display:  15,4″ WSXGA+ (1680×1050) Glare TFT
  • Graphics card:  ATI X1600 256 MB
  • Optical Drive:  Ultra Slim DVD-Super-Multi Dual Layer burner
  • Communcation:  Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g, 100/1000 Ethernet, 56K V.92 Modem, Bluetooth 2.0
  • Extras:   Remote control in the Express Card slot
  • Case:   Silver Magnesium-alloy case
  • Battery:  approx. 3 Hours
  • Service:  24 Months On-Site for the whole Europe.
  • Weight:   approx. 2480 gramms
  • Price:    1,135 together with shipping.

I had to wait for it more than a month, since it was in a very high demand, and the company had to backorder it. However, I still think it was worthy to wait for it. The main reason I decided to buy this book was his features/weight ratio. I was willing to pay more for a lighter notebook and still be able to play some games, so I chose the X60 over the ACER 5672 and the ASUS A6JM (which you can get also for a very good STUDENT price here: http://www.campuspoint.de/shop/pi516690660.htm?categoryId=15). Two months after my decision, I still don’t think there is laptop beating the X60 in the above.

A lot has already been written about the X60, so I am not going to write the written. I will focus more on my own usage-impressions.


<SamsungX60.jpg>
The laptop arrived in a coal-black box, with a shining picture of the silver machine. And indeed, after tearing the box apart, the content was a dazzling view too. The first touch said it was a really LIGHT notebook. Unfortunately this impression lasted only until I realized the battery is missing. After attaching the battery it was more or less the expected weight, around 2.5kg. The battery is at the back, so if you’re going to lift the laptop grabbing it in the front it will make it appear heavier that it actually is, but believe me, it is still very convenient to carry it around. Having used it only for a month I can’t tell too much about the quality of the magnesium case, but seems to be quite resistant to my operating environment.

Display:
There are no dead pixels on the display, however, there are some interesting artefacts which are visible on a black background when viewed from the side. See the picture below.

<DisplayArtefacts.jpg>

The resolution is 1600×1050 and I am actually running it on this resolution despite having less than perfect eyes. I am also surprised that I don’t want to lower it. Though even if I lower it, the texts are all crisp clear and I don’t think this is just ClearType’s merit. This was something I was always afraid of doing on LCDs, based on my former experiences. However, this display can take just ANY resolution you fancy. Regarding the brightness, I am using it mostly indoors, where it is conveniently bright or dim – as I want it. In direct sunlight it is usable, but not bright at all, colors are hardly visible. The brightness setting is not remembered accross restarts, unless one uses the Battery Manager – more on this later. There is no major light leakage or uneven backlight.

Keyboard:
This is something I am not happy with. First of all, it has got the German markings on it, but this is the least annoying thing. Annoyance No1: The PageUp/Down/Home/End/Del/Insert keys are just very unsuitable placed, see the picture below. <RightSideHotkeys.jpg> I can’t navigate using them without having to check every time before I use them => timewaster. The Fn/Ctrl keys are swapped <CTRL-FnSwapped.jpg> and there is no option in the BIOS to correct this. Keyboard combinations like CTRL/SHIFT-X are a real headache with my established and proven finger-layout. The left SHIFT key is also very short, on the other hand the right one is oversized IMO. Although these are annoying, as time will pass, I will surely get used to the layout. There is something however, that time won’t solve: sensitivity. Annoyance “Principal” is the keyboard sensitivity in general, but most notably the SPACE BAR. If I am to touch it on its right side, I hear the ‘click’, however, there is no effect. I ended up several times writing words together without spaces – even in this review. Somehow it really needs the hard touch I am not used to.

Touchpad:
I am using a mouse starting with day 0, but a quick test did not reveal any problems with the touchpad. The buttons are conveniently stiff, but not too stiff. The Synaptics drivers can be installed, but it is working pretty well even without them. The sensitivity of the touchpad can not be set without using the Synaptics driver suite, therefore most of the time I keep the touchpad disabled completely. Thing is, I’ve found myself moving the cursor unintentionally with my hands just too often. This setting is however not remembered between restart.

Ports:
The X60 has a whole regiment of ports, unfortunately only 3 USB ports (two on the back) – this is a bit of a disadvantage. If one is used for the mouse, and one for the webcam, there is only one remaining => on the RIGHT SIDE!!! For us, right handed people this is a bit annoying, but then again, it’s not that difficult to live with it.

There is no DVI port, however, it is present in the port replicator which is where you really need it. I don’t expect to use a notebook with an external LCD panel without a port replicator. For ocassional connects the VGA is satisfactory. In your “office” however, where your notebook will be the most of the time, it is indeed convenient to just push your notebook into the dock and have all the devices connected.

On the left-hand side you’ll find the VGA connector, Xpress Card Slot (have never tried though – maybe it is just a simple PCMCIA???), phone line, a firewire port and the audio connectors: Mic-in, Headphone-out and SPDIF. It is important to note that SPDIF is actually combined with the headphone-out’s 3.5 jack connector. This was the first time I came accross such a solution, but I like it. Very space saving! BTW: The Express Card slot is the home of the slim remote control. This is an other handy tool. You can start and manipulate your favourite media player (but mostly only AVS) from your bed 🙂
<AudioPorts.jpg>

There is an Infrared port right in the front, next to the card reader. Don’t expect FIR data transfers though, it behaves like a HID (Human Interface Device) compliant USB device. It receives the signals of the bundled remote and behaves sort of a keyboard. This also means that it’s very unlikely that you’ll succeed hooking WinLIRC on it. However, if you make it work, don’t forget to post the HOWTO in these forums.
<CardReaderAndIR.jpg>

In addition we have an S-video out, a gigabit Ethernet connector, a hole for the Kensington lock and the AC power plug on the backside. The right side of the notebook is completely occupied by the DVD combo, leaving a little place only for a single USB port and the WiFi switch.
<AC.jpg>, <BacksidePorts.jpg>, <RightSide.jpg>

Bluetooth & Wifi:
Bluetooth has not yet been tested. I may write an update to this, once I will have a bluetooth compatible phone and/or a bluetooth headset, which might be especially handy for skype conferences. The Wifi is the standard Intel Pro Wireless 3945ABG. It just ‘works’.

Speakers & Sound:
Well, the speakers really disappointed me. Not that I was expecting BOSE or Harmann Kardon, but even my former HP NC6000 had better sound. And if not better, than at least by a couple of dBs louder. The speakers situated on both ends of the black strip above the keyboard are just beepers. The internal soundcard is of very high quality though. Connecting my KOSS headphones, the music is truly inspiring. No hiss, no ambient noise, just pure sound, though rather plain. Fortunately, if the regular basses just would not do, there is always SRS!!! This makes lower frequencies indeed trembling. The built-in stereo mic does a really good job in skype, especially with the “Voice” settings. There is absolutely no need for a mic on the headset.

Heat & Noise:
The heat output is also on the left hand side – GOOD. The wristpad does not get warm even when gaming. ALSO GOOD. The new BIOS 08XA allows for completely fanless operation – you can’t hear you notebook running. The HDD is also nicely quiet. You can leave the laptop running during the night next to your bed for some P2P and it won’t disturb your sleep.

Software:
The preinstalled operating system was German. Although I speak german, I just can’t stand anything on the computer that is not English (myself being of Hungarian nationality), so the first thing was to reinstall the OS with Windows XP Pro. Not sure if I really needed ‘Pro’, but since I had it, it was the obvious choice. The installation was straightforward, all the drivers were supplied on a DVD, and apart from that, you can download them from http://www.samsungpc.com. Samsung bundles a couple of utilities, though I did not find all of them usefull. The most important (for me) were the following:

MagicKB – ensures the additional keys on the keyboard work and adds a simplistic OSD

DisplayManager – Is meant to replace the simplistic OSD of MagicKB with a nicely alpha-blended graphic. I especially like this!

Samsung Battery Manager – I have this installed, but to be honest, I am not using it. At this point (version 2.0.1.7), the “CUSTOM” profile does not allow you to define different settings based on the battery status – this is disappointing. Only the predefined profile have this capability, but than again: max brightness is just too much for AC and the minimum LCD brightness is just not enough for a pleasant view when on DC. The auto-dim feature is neat though.

Samsung Network Manager – I found it difficult to use this application and I don’t really need it. It may be still a usefull application for some – allows to switch networks/proxies and probably Wifi settings, though I had problems with the latter one. I just could not set the Wifi as I wanted using this utility. The built-in Windows Wifi administrator did the job instead.

Firstware Recovery Pro – This created quite a disaster. Personally I would suggest you avoid it by all means like pest. When I had my new OS installed, I wanted to take a snapshot of it using this soft, since it was bundled. This app allows you to create a specially designated partition for backup purposes. Myself, being the picky person I am, wanted to use the first partition (normally belonging to AVS NOW – correct me if I am wrong). Firstware did not allow that, instead, it insisted to chop the back of my Data partition [D:]. All right then, take some GB from the back of my drive. The chop was all right, but when I decided to remove THAT partition, because I just was not happy with Firstware. Suddenly all my whole D: disappeared with all my data on it. I had to get the better of my knowledge and tools to recover the partition and at least some of the more important files I already had there. From that point, i just returned to my proven utility: Acronis TrueImage.

AVS Premium – Installed. A very nice, FULL SCREEN application with a media DB. I like it, but then again, I find it too bulky, plus it is not able to play Quicktime and REALMedia. Unfortunately this is the only application that is able to respond to those 3 special keys on the side (VIDEO, Slideshow, MUSIC). BTW: If anyone knows a way how to change those keys to start a different application, please let me know.

Cyberlink DVD Solution – Installed, but I haven’t used it … yet. The HDD is big enough to keep all my files, and whenever I need a media player, well, nothing can beat MediaPlayerClassic.

Performance:
SuperPi and all the benchmarking applications have been presented by earlier reviewers, so I will omit this part. What really matters to me, is that running ReplayGain in foobar2000 does the job in speeds about 150x realtime, my favourite game (LiveforSpeed) achieves 60-70 fps with 4xAA, 4xAF in 1400×1024, and that the SFZ soundfont player from rgc:audio is able to do 64 polyphony with quality setting of 32 with a 150MB sound font. If you don’t know what’s SFZ and what’s a soundfont, you obviously don’t need it, and stop wondering about 🙂

But then again, I can’t omit the HD benchmark. The processor is always the same in a given laptop, but the included HDD varies very often, so here it goes. The following is taken from SIW:
Type     Fixed hard disk media
Model     HTS541010G9SA00
Interface    IDE ATA
Serial Number    MP2ZM4X0H3W0BR
Revision    MBZOC60D
Size     92 GBytes
Removable    No
Location    Secondary Controller – Master drive
Controller Buffer Size    7538 KBytes
Capabilities    DMA, LBA, IORDY_Disable, IORDY
PIO Mode Support   0 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4
DMA SW Mode Support   Not Supported
DMA MW Mode Support   0 – 1 – 2
UDMA Mode Support   0 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 (ATA/66) – 5 (ATA/100)
Current UDMA mode   5 (ATA-100)
Support NCQ    Yes
Support IFPWRMNGTRCV   Yes
SMART Support    Yes

The only doubts I have here, whether it is really working using NCQ. It says the interface is ATA (as opposed to SATA), but NCQ is supported. According to the manufacturer’s site, this drive model supports only SATA 1.5GB/s (i.e. SATA1) and as far as I know, SATAII, rev. 2.5 is required for NCQ. So how is it???
<HDTUne.gif>


Battery:
A fully charged battery lasts exactly 3 hours for me, with WiFi on, display brightness on minimum and doing ‘office’ work, i.e. browsing :-), document editing and listening music. The processor utilization is almost always zero with all these processes, so it is an other indicator of the performance. Of course with full backlight or 100% CPU the battery hardly hits the 2 hour mark, but considering the powerful GPU, it is justifiable. But not the stamina master after all.


Conclusion:
I am happy with my purchase, despite the shortcomings I have mentioned above. Overall it turned out to be exactly the machine I had expected. It is definitely not the long-battery life ultraportable notebook, but a well blended mixture of a desktop-replacement multimedia PC with that of a portable notebook. They call it studentbook. Feature-wise, it is a student’s dream. Everything you can think of. As far as price is concerned, although it’s a very competitive price on the market, I still think this is not for the average ones.


Pros:
+ CPU Performance
+ Great GPU
+ Light
+ Build quality
+ Remote control
+ Stays cool
+ High resolution bright display
+ Quiet
+ Plentiful of ports

Cons:
– KEYBOARD!!!
– Display artefacts
– some of the bundled utilities have yet to mature
– the BIOS does not remember the settings of the brightness or touchpad status (enabled/disabled)
– rather poor speakers
– USB connector on the right


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