Samsung NC20

  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • High-resolution 1,280-by-800-pixel display
  • Ergonomic keyboard
  • Good performance from VIA's Nano processor
  • Long battery life
  • Easily expandable memory

Cons

  • Reflective display with only average brightness

At first sight, the white-cased Samsung NC20 looks more like an ultraportable than a netbook, an impression reinforced by its elegant exterior and by its size and weight. With a 12.1in. screen and weighing in at 1.5kg (without power supply), the NC20 is significantly larger and heavier than standard netbooks with 9in. or 10in. displays.

The NC20 also excels in areas where most netbooks suffer — notably, performance and screen resolution. Most netbook makers base their systems on Intel's Atom processor, but Samsung has used VIA's Nano U2250, which runs at '1.3+GHz — the '+' signifies that the CPU has more to offer than its nominal clock speed suggests. The Nano uses what VIA calls Adaptive Overclocking technology — similar to that adopted by Intel for its Nehalem processor — whereby the clock speed of the processor is automatically increased within certain temperature limits. This technology allows for a maximum clock speed of 1.6GHz in the Nano U2250, but the NC20's cooling system caps the maximum frequency at 1.5GHz.

samsungnc201.jpg

Samsung's NC20 is the first notebook to use the VIA Nano processor, which is a direct competitor for Intel's Atom.

Because the Nano processor is new, and because Samsung is the first manufacturer to use it in a mobile device, this review is more detailed than usual for a notebook, and focuses on the performance differences between the Intel Atom and the VIA Nano. For comparison purposes, we have used an LG X110, equipped with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270.

Performance
In our tests, the Nano comes out ahead of the Intel Atom, particularly in internet performance. That superiority is evident in the area of JavaScript processing. More and more web sites, and modern internet applications such as Google Mail, use computationally intensive technique1s. So performance in this area is crucial for a satisfactory internet experience. Image zooming and JavaScript animations are noticeably smoother running on the VIA Nano than on Intel's Atom.

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Windows XP SP3 (32-bit), 1GB RAM; milliseconds (shorter bars are better)

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The JavaScript benchmarks illustrate the Nano's superiority in this area. In the SunSpider test (above), the LG X110's Intel Atom took nearly twice as long to complete the test as the Nano-powered NC20. It's noticeable that the performance differences depend on the browser used. Under the slowest browser, Internet Explorer 8 RC1, the Atom took 32 percent longer than the Nano; it took 42 percent longer under Firefox 3.1, and more than twice as long using the fastest browser, Safari 4 Beta 1.

samsungnc20v8.jpg

Windows XP SP3 (32-bit), 1GB RAM; points (longer bars are better)

SunSpider isn't the only benchmark where Intel's Atom comes off badly. Google's V8 test (above) and iBench 5.0 (below) also make the Atom look sluggish. In the iBench tests, the VIA Nano is the clear winner. When Safari 4 Beta 1 is used, the performance differences again look particularly large: the Nano-based NC20 finishes building XML pages after 26.2 seconds, while the Atom-based LG X110 takes just over twice as long (54.6s).

samsungnc20ibench.jpg

Windows XP SP3 (32-bit), 1GB RAM; seconds (shorter bars are better)

Obviously other applications are also important to netbook users. Desktop systems are clearly better for running 3D games and professional rendering software. But image handling is still important to netbook users. In this area, the Atom's performance is 11 to 15 percent better than the Nano's. That advantage is reversed with the popular freeware tool Irfanview, where the Nano resizes 41 images in batch mode in 66 seconds, while the Atom takes 87 seconds.

samsungnc20images.jpg

Windows XP SP3 (32-bit), 1GB RAM; seconds (shorter bars are better)

See the Benchmarks tab for further VIA Nano versus Intel Atom test results.

Features
Compared with typical a netbook resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels, the Samsung NC20's 1,280-by-800-pixel screen offers two-thirds more display area. That extra resolution is a big advantage, especially when browsing and handling images, because it means you don't have to scroll up and down as much as you would otherwise have to.

Unfortunately, Samsung has gone for a reflective screen, so that the impact of the higher-resolution display is greatly diminished. If a light source falls on the screen, its brightness has to be significantly adjusted to improve readability. This is a real drawback.

On a more positive note, the NC20's long battery life is a real plus. The 57 watt-hour Li-ion battery runs for up to six hours. Even with the W-Fi on, you can still expect to get a good four hours' web surfing. Not a bad result for a device costing £399 (ex. VAT).

Apart from the Nano processor, the remainder of NC20's specification is unremarkable.

The installed 1GB of RAM is adequate for the preinstalled Windows XP Home. The NC20 even ran a successful test installation of Windows 7 Beta 1, but it quickly became apparent that 1GB for Windows 7 is not enough. Unlike many other netbooks, it's easy to expand the memory, up to 2GB. All you need do is remove four screws on the back of the machine and replace the SODIMM with a 2GB module. It would be good if Samsung offered this amount of RAM as an option. Graphics are handled by the Chrome9 HC3 module that's integrated in the VIA VX800 chipset.

The Marvell Yukon 88E8040 Ethernet connection runs up to 100Mbps while the Atheros AR5007EG Wi-Fi module offers 54Mbps over 802.11b/g. The 160GB, 5,400rpm Samsung HM160HI hard drive is quick enough not to cause a significant bottleneck.

samsungnc202.jpg

The NC20's 84-key keyboard has an antibacterial coating.

The keyboard, which is coated in a fine anti-bacterial powder using Samsung's Silver Nano Technology, is ergonomic and has a positive feel. A 1.3 megapixel webcam is located at the top of the screen. You can display photos at up to 1,280 by 1024 pixels and video at 320 by 240. The NC20 comes with CyberLink YouCam installed, which can upload video direct to YouTube.

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The NC20 has a standard set of ports and connectors for a netbook, although an ExpressCard slot might be expected on a 12.1in. system such as this.

Conclusion
Compared with its Atom-based competition, this Nano-based netbook offers significantly better performance. The Nano is clearly ahead of the Atom when it comes to internet performance, and a netbook's ability to handle JavaScript, web sites and web applications is crucial. But when even handling simple HTML and XML pages, the Nano-based NC20 is significantly faster than an Atom-based netbook.

The Samsung NC20's display resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels saves a vast amount of scrolling up and down. On the downside, the NC20's highly reflective screen does affect its readability.

Battery life is excellent. Even with Wi-Fi enabled, you can still expect a good four hours' web surfing from the NC20. Despite the reflective screen and 1.5kg weight, which is heavy for its class, you'll be hard pushed to find a better netbook on the market.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Processor / Chipset
CPU VIA Nano U2250 / 1.3 GHz
Cache L2 - 512 KB
Data Bus Speed 667 MHz
Chipset Type VIA VX800
Cache Memory
Type L2 cache
Installed Size 512 KB
Storage
Interface Serial ATA-150
Type none
Type portable
RAM
Memory Speed 667 MHz
Memory Specification Compliance PC2-5300
Configuration Features 1 x 1 GB
Technology DDR II SODIMM
Installed Size 1024 MB
Rated Memory Speed 667 MHz
Memory
Max Supported Size 2 GB
Technology DDR2 SDRAM
Speed 667 MHz / PC2-5300
Form Factor SO-DIMM 200-pin
Slots Qty 1
Empty Slots 0
Display
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 16:10
Monitor Features Widescreen display
Diagonal Size (metric) 30.7 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation WXGA
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor VIA Chrome9 HC3
Integrated Webcam Yes
Sound Stereo speakers, microphone
Hard Drive
Type HDD
Capacity 160 GB
Input
Type keyboard, touchpad
Features anti-bacteria coating
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR
Wired Protocol 10/100 Ethernet
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Processor
CPU Type Nano
Processor Number U2250
Manufacturer VIA
Clock Speed 1.3 GHz
Floppy Drive
Type none
Card Reader
Type 3 in 1 card reader
Supported Flash Memory MultiMediaCard, SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card
Battery
Cells 6-cell
Technology lithium ion
Connections & Expansion
Slots 1 x memory (0 free)
Interfaces Headphone output
VGA
Microphone input
LAN
3 x USB 2.0
Memory Card Reader 3 in 1 (SD Card, MultiMediaCard, SDHC Card)
Header
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung NC20
Model KA01
Country Kits United Kingdom
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 2.0 EDR
Compliant Standards IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g
Wireless LAN Supported Yes
Miscellaneous
Color white
Features hard drive password, security lock slot (cable lock sold separately), system password
Monitor
Diagonal Size 12.1 in
Software
Microsoft Office Preloaded Includes a preinstalled image of select 2007 Microsoft Office suites. Purchase a Medialess License Kit (MLK) to activate the software.
System
Notebook Type notebook
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 160 GB
Dimensions & Weight
Width 11.5 in
Depth 8.5 in
Height 1.2 in
Audio Output
Compliant Standards High Definition Audio
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Mainboard
Data Bus Speed 667 MHz
Chipset Type VIA VX800
Environmental Standards
EPEAT Level EPEAT Silver
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 3.31 lbs
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Microsoft Windows XP Home
Type Adobe Acrobat Reader, Drivers & Utilities, Magic Doctor, McAfee VirusScan, Samsung Easy Battery Manager, Samsung Easy Display Manager, Samsung Easy Network Manager, Samsung Easy Speed Up Manager, Samsung Recovery Solution III, Samsung Update Plus
Video Output
Graphics Processor VIA Chrome9 HC3
Graphics Processor Series VIA Chrome9
Video Memory
Installed Size 128 MB
Notebook Camera
Integrated Webcam Yes
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Location pick-up and return
Full Contract Period 1 year

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