This 13.3-inch Ultrabook is all business with its gorgeous anti-glare PLS display, 256GB SSD, Intel Core i7 processor and backlit keyboard. Read on to see why we like the Series 9 so much.
The Samsung Series 9 Ultrabooks have been widely considered one of the more desireable laptops in its class thanks in no small part to its gorgeous anti-glare display with wide viewing angles, use of high-speed SSD storage, the latest Intel processors and an excellent backlit keyboard.
Build and Design
Samsung has traditionally made design one of its hallmark features; this NP900X3C is both elegant and business-like at the same time. I like the simplicity and cleanliness of the design - it just looks good without being excessive. The ferric gray exterior is all metal alloy and feels cool to the touch. The chassis is stiff as a board; it doesn't flex at all despite its thinness. The lid barely flexes; pushing in on the back doesn't yield ripples on the screen, meaning there is ample protection. Fit and finish is fantastic; there are no rough edges or areas that are of better quality than others.
Those looking to upgrade the NP900X3C will hit a brick wall, I'm afraid; there are no user access panels as on a normal notebook for upgrading components such as the RAM and storage drive. Fortunately Samsung offers a variety of pre-built configurations that users should be able to find one that fits their needs.
Input and Output Ports
The NP900X3C's thinness means it has a limited number of ports and the larger ones like VGA, HDMI and Ethernet are via dongle only. It has a pair of USB ports and a microphone/headphone combination jack otherwise. The media card (SD) slot on the right side of the notebook is hidden behind a spring-loaded door to help keep the sides looking as "clean" as possible. I'm not a fan of using adapter dongles but clearly it's not possible to fit the full-size versions of some ports in - at least if we're talking about VGA and Ethernet.
Left: AC power jack, USB 3.0, HDMI (via dongle), Ethernet (via dongle)
Right: SD card slot, VGA (via dongle), headphone/microphone combination jack, USB 2.0
Keyboard and Touchpad
Our Ultrabook reviews show we haven't been pleased with most keyboards. The NP900X3C's keyboard is one of the better ones; the keys have short travel but sufficient tactile feedback. It's quiet and there is no flex at all (there's no room for flex). I like how the keys are large and easy to find by feel. Another thing I like is how the keyboard surround is all one piece with the palm rest; it's certainly not cheap to produce a one-piece part.
The keyboard has backlighting but it's low-key (pun intended); it has more of a glow-in-the-dark look which is a bonus in my book; most backlit keyboards tend to be overly bright in dark environments. The NP900X3C's backlighting is not noticeable during the day.
The ELAN touchpad is extra large and has a smooth matte surface and smartly beveled edge. This is a clickpad; press anywhere to product a click. Accuracy was fine; my complaint is that the clicks are louder than necessary.
Screen and Speakers
The NP900X3C has what Samsung calls a "PLS" display, which is similar to an IPS-type display in that the viewing angles are nearly unlimited. Tilt this display back and forth and pictures look the same. This is a huge boon for those doing video or photo work.
The quality of this display is simply outstanding. It's sharp and has excellent color saturation with no bluish hue like we're used to on cheap displays. It is exceptionally bright as well - Samsung says 400 nits which means it is usable in direct sunlight. The 1600x900 resolution is 1/3 higher than the low 1366x768 most notebooks come with; this is a big deal for productivity since less scrolling is required in documents and two windows can be used side-by-side. Lastly the anti-glare coating is welcomed; there are no annoying reflections from nearby light sources. Overall I am more than impressed and have no complaints - and those that read my reviews often know I rarely say that.
There are two 1.5W stereo speakers situated under the palm rest; preferably speakers are placed topside so they face the user but sacrifices must be made to accommodate the NP900X3C's design. The fact these speakers are aimed out the side means they won't be muffled when hands are placed on the keyboard. The sound is surprisingly realistic and full with some bass (not earth-shaking, obviously). Samsung clearly did not make the speakers an afterthought like Fujitsu did with their Ultrabook. I'm impressed with what Samsung accomplished here.
Performance and Benchmarks
Our Samsung Series 9 NP900X3C-A04US Ultrabook has the following specifications:
The NP900X3C can be had for $300-500 less than our test unit depending on the configuration; this A04US model has a top-of-the-line spec including a 256GB SSD and Intel Core i7 processor. It's worth noting this model is oriented towards business and includes Windows 7 Professional and a three-year limited warranty; there's nothing like having an expensive notebook with a short warranty period.
The NP900X3C's performance as configured is stellar; it can do almost anything except play 3D games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The 256GB SSD is amongst the fastest we've tested. I clocked the full bootup of this computer, from pressing the power button until the desktop was fully loaded at 10.1 seconds - incredible! The fast SSD combined with the i7 processor means no waiting for anything.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage is an older benchmark that measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark and measures overall system performance in Windows 7 (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
There are two fans aiming out the rear of the notebook on either side of the chassis. This is interesting because most Ultrabooks have just one fan. At idle the NP900X3C is silent and even under load, it's hard to hear the fans without leaning close. The chassis doesn't get more than lukewarm over any particular area. Overall this is a well-designed cooling system.
I measured a solid seven and a half hours of battery life during our standard battery run-down test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This is a respectable time. Note that the NP900X3C has a much brighter display than most Ultrabooks; 70% brightness is equivalent to 100% on a normal display. The display is the number one consumer of power in a notebook so lowering it to 20-30% brightness (which is equivalent to about 50% of a normal display) would extend the battery life another hour or more.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
The Samsung Series 9 is the most well-rounded Ultrabook we've reviewed to date. It gets almost everything right - it even has decent speakers. The 1600x900 PLS display has fantastic picture quality with unlimited viewing angles and an anti-glare coating for better usability. The performance is outstanding; a full boot up takes less than 11 seconds. Our battery test measured almost eight hour of life, which is good for an Ultrabook. The backlit keyboard feels good and the touchpad is plenty accurate. It stays cool and quiet at all times. Last but not least the build quality is stellar and the design is elegant without being overdone. The only major item we don't like about the Series 9 is the port configuration; anything except USB and headphone/microphone requires the use of a dongle.
The Series 9 is one of the more expensive Ultrabooks at over $1,000 starting; our fully-spec'd review unit is $1,699. For those wanting an Ultrabook without compromises, this is the ticket.