- ✓Attractive design
- ✓solid performance
- ✓good feature set
- ✓competitive price
- ✕One-year standard warranty
Samsung's new X-series range of 'thin-and-light' business notebooks is built around Intel's latest Sonoma platform, and provides a good spread of specifications and price points. The low end is represented by the £765 (ex. VAT, £899 inc. VAT) X20 LVC 730, which has a 1.6GHz Pentium M 730 processor, integrated graphics, a 15.1in. SXGA screen and a 60GB hard disk. At the top of the range is the £1,361 (ex. VAT, £1,599 inc. VAT) X50 HWM 760, with a 2GHz Pentium M 760, 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon X600 graphics, a 15.4in. WSXGA screen, an 80GB hard disk and a built-in fingerprint reader. We reviewed one of the intermediate models, the £1,020 (ex. VAT, £1,199 inc. VAT) X20 HVM 740, which features a 1.73GHz Pentium M 740, 64MB ATI Mobility Radeon X600 graphics, an 15.1in. XGA screen and a 60GB hard disk. It's a handsomely designed notebook that delivers solid performance and reasonable battery life at a competitive price.
The X20 HVM 740 is certainly thin, measuring 2.64cm high at the front and 3.13cm at the back. It's not particularly light at 2.38kg, but if you want a true ultraportable weighing less than 2kg, you'll have to be prepared to make some sacrifices on the functionality front -- jettisoning a built-in optical drive, for example. The 15.1in. screen, which gives the system a sizeable footprint (33cm by 27.4cm), has a native resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels (XGA), making for very readable type and icons on-screen. The Super Bright TFT screen pretty much lives up to its name, and has a good viewing angle too. The keyboard has plenty of room to breathe, and features good-sized keys with a sensible layout (separate cursor and Home/PgUp/PgDn/End keys, Delete at top right, for example). It may not be up to ThinkPad standard, but it's pretty good. Perhaps tilt feet at the back -- rarely seen on notebooks these days -- would provide a better typing angle, but that's only a slight niggle. The touchpad has an extra button that sits between the left and right mouse buttons; this toggles the touchpad on and off – you may want to turn the touchpad off when using an external mouse, and this is much more convenient than doing so via software. Expansion slots and ports are liberally sprinkled around the edges of the system, generally in sensible places. The audio ports are at the front, along with a Memory Stick/SD card slot, while the right-hand side houses the fixed optical drive (a multi-format DVD rewriter), two of the system's three USB 2.0 ports and a SP/DIF jack. Most of the remaining bits and pieces are on the left-hand side: RJ-11 (modem) and RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet) ports, VGA, PC Card slot and FireWire (IEEE 1394) port. Most of the space at the back is occupied by the six-cell 4,800mAh standard battery, but there's also the third USB port and a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port. Finished in silver-effect plastic with black accents, the X20 HVM 740 looks smart, if unremarkable, and build quality feels good. Neither the screen nor the keyboard flex unduly, and nothing broke or fell off the system during the review period. However, we'd prefer a hinged door to the PC Card slot in place of the spacer, which will inevitably get promptly lost, leaving a dust entry point when the drive is empty.
The X20 HVM 740 is well equipped to deliver decent computing power and functionality on the road. As mentioned above, it's built on Intel's Sonoma platform, using a 1.73GHz Pentium M 740 processor, the Intel 915PM chipset with 512MB of DDR2 memory (expandable to 2GB), and Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG wireless networking. A Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet module handles wired networking, and Bluetooth is also available for wireless cable-replacement duties. Discrete graphics are provided in the shape of ATI's 64MB Mobility Radeon X600 chipset, which drives the XGA-resolution 15.1in. TFT display. The hard drive is a 60GB Ultra-ATA/100 unit with a spin speed of 5,400rpm, while the optical drive is a TEAC DV-W28E multi-format DVD burner with 8X DVD writing and 4X rewriting speed. Further removable storage can be handled by the PC Card and Memory Stick/SD card slots. The on-board ports and slots have already been mentioned, and if these aren't enough, there's an optional X-Dock that provides further parallel, serial, USB (4) and DVI ports. Multimedia features may not be a huge draw for business users, but the X20 should satisfy those who do value them. Of particular note is the AVStation Now feature: activated by one of the four hotkeys that sit between the keyboard and the screen, this provides pre-boot access to video, photo and audio files on the hard disk, and DVDs and CDs in the optical drive. The sound subsystem is a cut above average too, as it benefits from Samsung's bass- and high-frequency-boosting Digital Natural Sound engine (DNSe), which also provides a pseudo-surround-sound effect. The main AVStation application forms part of a suite of Samsung-bundled utilities that includes EasyBox (for access to system settings), Samsung Battery Manager, Samsung Network Manager, Samsung Smart Screen (for arranging icons by groups), Samsung Theme and Samsung Update Plus. Windows XP Professional SP2 is preloaded as standard, along with Norton AntiVirus 2004.
Performance & battery life
Given its solid specification, you'd expect solid performance from the X20 HVM 740, and that's indeed what you get. Running the MobileMark 2002 application-based benchmark in desktop (i.e. full power) mode results in an overall score of 207, which is more than respectable. This system will handle mainstream business applications with ease and, thanks to its 64MB ATI Radeon X600 chip, should acquit itself reasonably well when faced with more graphically demanding programs too. Battery life is adequate rather than spectacular, coming in at 3 hours and 37 minutes – well short of Samsung's claimed 4.5 hours and nowhere near a full day's mains-free work. Remember, though, that we tested in desktop mode, and more stringent power management settings will boost battery life to nearer the claimed value. An optional 9-cell battery with six hours' claimed life is available for mobile professionals who need to maximise their mains-free uptime.
Service & support
Samsung's standard warranty only covers one year, which isn't great. However, the Web site is reasonably well appointed, with FAQs and a download centre, and telephone support is available on an 0870 number between 9am and 5pm on weekdays.