When we first reviewed the $1,499 Samsung Series 9 15-inch Ultrabook, we marveled at its slim and light design, spacious 1600 x 900 display, fast boot time and long battery life. However, the speakers sounded a bit flat, and the keyboard and touchpad didn't impress. The latest model of the Series 9 15-inch, the $1,399 NP900X4C, features the same svelte design and adds an updated Ivy Bridge Core i5 CPU--all for $100 less than the original. How much better is this refresh?
DesignHP Envy Sleekbook 6z (0.78 inches thick, 4.8 pounds). The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is also considerably heavier and thicker (4.5 pounds, 0.71 inches).
Keyboard and Trackpad
Thankfully, Samsung has improved the backlighting. In a completely dark room, we were able to clearly make out individual keys, although the 400-nit SuperBright display illuminated the keyboard so thoroughly that the backlighting seemed almost superfluous.
A 1080p trailer for "The Dark Knight Rises" looked suitably dark and menacing. Details such as the sweat on Bane's skin stood out in sharp relief, and the bright oranges and reds of billowing explosions popped off the screen. We noticed a bit of pixelation in darker scenes, but not enough to distract the eye.
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Watching the trailer for "The Dark Knight Rises" proved as much of an auditory experience as a visual one. Turning up the volume to the maximum, Hans Zimmer's swelling orchestral track filled the room. With no subwoofer, the Series 9 lacks some of the "oomph" of thicker notebooks such as the XPS 15, but it manages to maintain accuracy even at full volume.
With the NP900X4C, Samsung managed to make the 15-inch Series 9 run just a bit cooler. After streaming video for 15 minutes, the touchpad registered 78 degrees Fahrenheit (compared with 83 degrees on the previous generation), the space between the G and H keys was 90 degrees (previously 94 degrees) and the underside measured 92 degrees (previously 95 degrees). We consider anything above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable, and anything over 100 hot.
Ports and Webcam
The notebook also sports a micro Ethernet port (an adapter is included in the box), microHDMI port and mini-VGA port (no adapter included), as well as a combo headphone/mic jack.
The biggest change for the 15-inch Series 9 is found under the hood. The NP900X4C features an upgraded Ivy Bridge 1.7-GHz Core i5-3317U processor--combined with 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, as before--that delivers mostly improved performance. On PCMark07, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall processing power, the notebook notched a score of 3,749, beating the previous iteration of the Series 9 15-inch by 100 points and the ultraportable average by nearly 1,000.
By comparison, the Dell XPS (2.1-GHz Core i7-3612QM CPU, 8GB of RAM and 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M GPU) scored 3,599. The much cheaper HP Envy Sleekbook 6z (2.1-GHz AMD A6-4455M APU, 4GB of RAM and 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7500G GPU) racked up a meager 1,400.
Unfortunately, Samsung seems to have exchanged the high-speed SSD in the older 15-inch Series 9 with a much slower SanDisk U100 SSD. The NP900X4C copied 5.04GB of mixed multimedia files in 2 minutes and 31 seconds, for a rate of just 33.7 MBps. That's more than 100 MBps slower than the old Series 9, which boasted a lightning-fast transfer rate of 154.2 MBps, and almost 20 MBps slower than the category average (50.8 MBps).
This speed was on a par with the 37.1 MBps turned in by the XPS 15 (750GB, 7,200-rpm HDD with 32GB SSD cache) and beats the 18.8 MBps achieved by the Sleekbook 6z (500GB, 5,400-rpm HDD), but those notebooks use spinning hard drives, not SSDs.
We tested two Samsung Series 9s, both with SanDisk SSDs, and saw similar results. However, Samsung told us that consumers who buy this system might not necessarily receive the same SSD. According to a press representative, Samsung chooses "multiple SSD suppliers in order to maintain a diverse supply chain to meet the demand and performance of our Series 9 units."
On the OpenOffice spreadsheet macro test, the NP900X4C matched 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 48 seconds, faster than the old Series 9 15-inch (7:04), the ultraportable average (8:12) and the Sleekbook 6z (9:10). The XPS 15 proved faster, completing the test in just 4 minutes and 54 seconds.
Boot and Wake Times
Despite its poor transfer speeds, the NP900X4C's SanDisk SSD allowed it to boot into Windows 7 in just 23 seconds. That's slower than the previous Samsung's blink-and-you-might-miss-it 16-second time, but it's still 20 seconds faster than the average ultraportable notebook (45 seconds), the Dell XPS 15 (46 seconds) and the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z (43 seconds).
Like before, the NP900X4C wakes from sleep in about 2 seconds - about the same wake time we've found on other Ultrabooks.
Thanks to its Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip, the NP900X4C features much better graphics performance than its predecessor. Playing "World of Warcraft" on Good settings and native resolution, the notebook averaged 43 frames per second, compared with just 30 fps on the old Series 9 15-inch. Turning up the graphics to Ultra caused the frame rate to drop to an unplayable 21 fps. Still, the previous model achieved only 14 fps using the same settings.
By comparison, the Dell XPS 15, which sports an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M GPU with 2GB of VRAM, notched 57 fps on "World of Warcraft" with the settings maxed out at 1080p. The Acer TimelineU M5, which has the same GPU as the XPS 15, also bested this Samsung (137 fps at 1366 x 768) but with a lower-res 1366 x 768 display. The HP Envy Sleekbook 6z and its AMD Radeon HD 7500G GPU with 2GB of VRAM managed only 18 fps.
Software and Warranty
Third-party software includes Microsoft Office Starter 2010, a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security and Skype.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Operating System||MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235|
|Touchpad Size||3.9 x 2.8 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||mini-VGA|
|Ports (excluding USB)||micro HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Combo Headphone/Mic Jack|
|Card Slots||4-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||1-year Limited Hardware Warranty|
|Size||14.0 x 9.3 x 0.58 inches|