Review Samsung N510 Ion Netbook
Nvidia's ION chip set has already provided for a sensation for quite a time and it now finds its way into the Samsung N510 netbook. The combination of Intel's Atom CPU and Nvidia chip set with integrated Geforce 9400M graphic is supposed to especially speed up the graphic performance and open the range for further application fields. What this very promising combination is capable of and for whom this purchase might be of interest is clarified in the following review.
For the first time ever does Samsung not only use the ION range but also the, recently more frequently seen, 11.6" display size in HD format, which is accordingly capable of multimedia alignment. At the moment, there is only a black option (NP-N510-KA02DE) listed as available at retailers and on the Samsung homepage. The other components are majorly old acquaintances and cover all other core areas with an Intel Atom N270 CPU, 160 GB hard disk, 1 GB DDR 2 RAM and Windows XP Home as the operating system.
The prototype at hand is kept in the color Diamond Black. A white alternative can already be seen on Samsung's German homepage, but isn't listed at any retailer yet. The display lid's glossy coated surface isn't continued on the interior work area or on the sub tray of the notebook. The user is therefore confronted with a rather insensitive, slightly roughened case surface, which is considerably easier to take care of. A chrome colored strip, that nestles itself narrowly and elegantly around the case sides, gives it a sophisticated touch.
The case has, as many current Samsung notebooks, a Duracase construction, which allegedly provides for an exceptional stability. In fact, the case has been manufactured to have quite a torsional stiffness and to be very strong. Even the display lid, often a minor weak point, seems very stable and leaves no doubt about its protection task. The display hinges also keep the display tight in place and only allow a slight shaking at strong base vibrations. The only small drawback of the hinge construction is that the display, also due to the weight distribution of the sub tray, can't be opened single-handedly and the maximum opening angle is somewhat restricted.
The case is elevated a bit in the rear area by the battery and bids a slightly tilted input field. The N510 has a plane stance when the battery is removed and doesn't teeter, as additional feet on its sub tray provide for stability. The case doesn't appear to be as slim as some competitor models with 30.3(h) x 289(b) x 199.5(d) mm, but is, with a weight of 1.4 kg, very light for a 11.6" netbook and therefore has good mobile case characteristics.
Aside from the usual netbook connectivity, the Samsung N510 has a HDMI connection as the most noteworthy innovation in this field. On the one side, this is needed to output image and sound contents with only one cable to an LCD TV with HDMI-in but it can be used just as good for connecting an external display (HDMI or DVI via an adapter). The first option is especially interesting for movie rendering. The N510 is supposed to render FullHD material especially good and have a big advantage to the conventional Atom competitor. But more to that in the performance test. Despite the HDMI-out, Samsung hasn't foregone on the otherwise common analog VGA-out, which bids a welcome support for older displays that only have an analog input, allowing for further use of these.
Apart from that, the connectivity doesn't differ from most netbook opponents and should be more than familiar for most potential customers with its 3x USB, LAN, cardreader, Kensington lock, audio ports, power socket, WLAN and Bluetooth. The basic distribution of the connections on the sides is netbook typical and doesn't provide for many surprises in this device, either. Only the multi-memory slot (cardreader) has been placed on the front.
Whilst basically there's nothing speaking against a lateral interface accommodation, its actual positioning isn't perfect, in our opinion. Particularly, the USB and HDMI interface placed too far front on the left can quickly lead to obstructions when peripherals are connected and even make mouse usage problematic for lefties. The same applies to the audio ports placed too far front on the right, which we would find more practical on the front, as in many other competitors. At least, this restriction isn't so big, as audio cables are generally quite flexible. In return, the other USB ports, Kensington preparation, power socket, VGA and Ethernet are well positioned. One of the three USB ports (front left, marked with a lightening sign) can also be used for charging USB devices, such as MP3 players, in a deactivated state. After activation in the bios, this worked perfectly with an iPod and cell phone in the test. However, it lead to an accordingly decreased battery capacity at the next start. The rear is, as usual, reserved for the battery and therefore hasn't got any place for interfaces.
The 57.2 Wh, 6 cell battery included can allegedly be replaced or supplemented by an optionally available 66.6 WH 6 cell battery. However, we haven't found such an alternative listed at any retailer, yet.
Samsung currently still includes Windows XP Home Edition as the operating system but, according to press releases, future versions will be available with Windows 7. There are also configurations with the UMTS modem mentioned and, the already referred to, white case depicted, which indicate a model range enlargement in the near future. The fitting rendering software with a hard disk accelerator for movie files shouldn't, of course, be omitted. Samsung has selected Cyberlink's Power DVD 8 for the N510. Samsung adds, aside from the usual system tools that every manufacturer implements a bit differently, a collection of smaller games, such as Chicken Invaders 3.
Samsung also provides this notebook with its antibacterial silver-ion coat, promising an especially hygienic input field. Due to the 11.6" display size, the keyboard is somewhat bigger than known from 10" netbooks. Samsung even calls it a full-size keyboard with which, however, the size of a 12" notebook keyboard is meant. Samsung wastes valuable millimeters on the sides anyway, through which the possible typing comfort lags behind its possibilities in view of key size. Especially the tab key could have done with a bit more breadth.
The layout doesn't reveal any experiments and makes a fast accommodation possible. All important Fn combinations for fast basic function access are found in the F-key area. The somewhat stiff key stroke with a medium stroke length emits a clattering stroke noise, which could be a bit softer in view of the noise design. Otherwise, the keyboard sits tight and only lets itself be deflected slightly at stronger pressure. A bending isn't evident at normal typing tasks. The rich in contrast lettering that allow for good recognition of the figures, even in adverse light conditions, is pleasing. In relation, the position marks of the single interfaces is also worth a positive mention, as the required port can be found without the compulsorily look on the sides.
The touchpad is adequately large and has a pleasant haptic with its slightly roughened surface. The good gliding traits, which allow for a precise control and support multi-touch actions, are supplemented by the well-responding touchpad key. However, you have to get used to the fact that only a "click" on the outer key area is possible, due to the single-key construction.
After a few outings into the lair of reflective displays, as seen in, for example, the NC20 and N120, Samsung has now, fortunately, again built an alternative with an unreflective surface into the N510 netbook. It seems to be a matt coating that develops a slightly grainy appearance when looking closer. There are also slight reflections to be seen in a deactivated state, but these do not come even close to the reflection intensity of known glossy displays. As soon as the backlight is turned on, the outlines disappear and there isn't an obvious difference to the usual matt displays. This anti-reflection coating is very similar to that of the Acer Travelmate 8371, which seems to represent a new generation of non-glare surfaces.
Due to the 16:9 format, the 11.6 inch HD (1366x768), SuperBright Matt LED backlit display has good prerequisites to reduce the black bars to a minimum especially at movie rendering. Aside from that, the images are supposed to be represented particularly clear, sharp and brilliant - as heralded in Samsung ads.
We established a brightness value of up to 231 cd/m2 at our 9 measuring points. In comparison to the mentioned 200 cd/m2 in Samsung's data sheet, the averagely achieved 202 cd/m2 is a good target score. In return, the brightness distribution doesn't look quite as good. We received the lowest values of 172.3 cd/m2 in the upper central area, which results in an illumination of 75% together with the other measuring points. The fairly high brightness decrease at the upper display edge is particularly striking. However, this is only seen in uni-colored or dark display contents.
Unfortunately, in the range of the contrast ratio measurement, the Samsung N510 display follows the, recently very often found, contrast-poor screen division and provides with 147:1 for a scarcely cinema or picture suitable result. Particularly the gray background in dark movie parts, that should actually be black, becomes very evident. We also couldn't see anything of the promised color brilliance. The colors appear rather pallid, with little saturation. This seems to make projects like image editing only suitable for not quite so demanding home-use. This becomes particularly noticeable in the aimed for target group, where the main point of utilization is focused on the multimedia field.
The viewing angles are entirely on the level of its class and quickly show changes in the vertical viewing range. The brightness increases and the contrast diminishes when moving closer to the screen. Tilting the screen away results in the opposite change up to inversion. It looks better in the horizontal viewing angle where, except for a few color and brightness changes, display contents stay recognizable for a long time.
There is nothing speaking against outdoor use due to the non-glare display surface together with the averagely high brightness of over 200 cd/m2. Merely, direct solar radiation should be prevented, as this makes the readability of content unduly difficult in the long run.
The core piece of the Samsung N510 is the ION platform with Nvidia's Geforce 9400M graphic chip, which has a maximum of 128 MB shared memory in the model at hand. As there is no dedicated graphic memory, this is "borrowed" from the 1024 MB RAM, as in competitors. Additionally, the supplementary label "LE" indicates a special variation of the ION range, which, on the one hand, is reserved for OEM manufacturers only and on the other, merely provides DX-9 support. This restriction is necessary to still maintain the cheaper Windows XP version for netbooks from Microsoft. In regards to the basic efficiency, there shouldn't be any cutbacks in comparison to the "full" ION range. Samsung supports this graphic division with Intel's Atom N270 CPU and an own 160 GB hard disk.
As expected, the benchmarks results don't show any major differences in the processor ratings. The N510 lines up seamlessly in the row of many seen netbook competitors and hasn't got any surprises. We achieved 486 points in the 3DMark'06 and it passed the Super Pi 32M test in 4451 seconds. So, the Samsung N510 has, like all other notebooks, enough computing power for office applications, browser, Skype, music and picture managing. As soon as processor-biased tasks are used, such as music conversion or multi-tasking, the system quickly gasps for air, though.
The N279 CPU converted our test songs via iTunes with a category-typical 4.9-fold velocity and with several open browser windows, playing iTunes music in the background, occasional breaks have to be counted with. Simple image editing steps are very well possible and are processed subjectively smooth (tested with Photoshop Elements 7.0). There are, of course, clear limits to be seen in larger image files and comprehensive filters, which overtax the system. The low system memory capacity of 1 GB, aside from the low processor performance, has an especially negative effect.
In return, the result of the graphic segment looks completely different. We could establish significant performance increase in all tests, which gave the impression of a playability of the one or other game or feasibility of the one or other CAD task. We reached 1322 in Cinebench R10 OpenGL test and 1118 points in the 3DMark'06. In fact, backed only on benchmarks, this is a performance increase factor of 5-10 (depending on the application/benchmark), if the previous standard graphic, Intel GMA950, is used for comparison. For instance, this usually achieves around 120 points in 3DMark'06.
Except for the unfocused analog VGA-out, we generally established good values for the interfaces. The digital HDMI-out bids a perfect image and sound transmission, the USB ports belong to the fastest of their kind with a maximum of 30.5 MB/s and the SC/SDHC memory cards can be addressed with a maximum of 18.5 MB/s.
With the DPC Latency Checker tool, we also checked the latencies under windows. These were mostly within a limit, however reached repeatedly the critical point with short of 4000µs. It can, therefore, come to synchronization problems at connecting external devices, such as soundcards for instance.
|PCMark 05 Standard||1859 points|
|3DMark 2001SE Standard||6250 points|
|3DMark 03 Standard||3513 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||2183 points|
|3DMark 06 Standard Score||1118 points|
With high hopes, also due to the benchmark results, we are now curious how the ION netbook will score in the area of gaming and videos. First, we played videos in various formats and with various players. As promised from Nvidia, it's possible to render H.264 FullHD material (1920x800/ 1920x1056) accordingly smooth if, for instance, Cyberlink's Power DVD 8 with activated hardware acceleration (Nvidia PureVideo HD) is used. The system load was around 22% (we achieved the same result with Nero 9 (Show Time) that is not included in the scope of delivery) and shows what is possible when hardware and software work well together.
This ability isn't completely new for netbooks, as Intel's GMA500 with dxva-capable players has already achieved playing our FullHD test video smoothly (ca. 50% system load in the MSI Wind U115 Hybrid). If a player is used without graphic engine support, as in iTunes for instance, then the Samsung N510's system load increases to about 80% and studders and also results in asynchronous sound and image outputs of FullHD videos. Then again, our less resolutive H.264 test video played iTunes without restrictions.
In any case, it's important to make sure that especially the FullHD movie file and player software are compatible, as the display otherwise remains black. Our H.264 (1920x1080) movie, up-converted with Badaboom, completely refused to be played by Cyberlinks Power DVD 8. In opposition, iTunes played it, but the necessary hardware acceleration was missing, which resulted in studdering and sound errors. The 3rd player alternative, Nero 9 with Show Time, generally scored better. It also supports the hardware acceleration and could play all of our H.264 test movies smoothly. Nero 9 has to, however, be bought separately, as the software isn't included in Samsung N510's scope of delivery The Media Player Classic Home Cinema is a convincing freeware alternative, which was able to play our FullHD movies and trailers without complaint at a CPU load of around 20%, after a few start difficulties. We also tried the VLC player and Quicktime in their latest versions. A smooth rendering of high resolution movie material wasn't possible with either option.
Nvidia likes to emphasize the conversion performance of the CUDA engine, which supports converting movie material on the hardware side and therefore achieves an enormous velocity boost in opposition to CPU-supported solutions. We put it to the test with the CUDA-optimized (further support is to follow) media-converter Badaboom from Elemental to convert movie files with help from the graphic chip into H.264 format. Aside from an intuitive operating surface, it also has the advantage of supplying an attractive image quality. We used a common movie DVD, together with Samsung's external DVD drive SE-T084 (USB) to create a H.246 copy with a resolution of 427x320 (optimized for iPhone). The ION graphic managed a frame rate of 23.9 fps, which is a very appealing value. In comparison: A Mac Mini with Nvidia 9400 and 2.1 GB DDR3 RAM managed 39 fps in the same task.
In order to demand the system a bit more, we up-converted the same movie into H.264 (1920x1080), which resulted in a frame rate of 2.5 fps and taking 20 hours. Despite low CPU load, multi-tasking shouldn't even be considered, as inputs and reactions take a vast amount of time due to the utilization of other components.
The gloomy horror shooter in its 2nd edition is one of the especially system-demanding games with its complex effects. We played a few rounds to assess the achievable frame rates and measured the performance with Fraps.
With the Samsung N510, we achieved 19 fps with the test settings below. It was playable, however looses a lot of its gaming atmosphere due to the low resolution and quality settings and isn't any fun in the long run.
|800x600||minimum, all off, 0xAA, biliniarAF||19 fps|
World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft is a popular online role game, which also looks quite good on weaker notebooks. We played a few rounds of the start sequence around Human Castle and measured the refresh rate via Fraps in fps.
World of Warcraft ran agreeably fast on the N510. WoW is really fun to play with an average of 43 fps at medium details in the XGA resolution and proper looks. Above that, the online role-game belongs to the few possibilities to take advantage of the N510's native display resolution of 1366x768 pixels without ending in a slide film. We managed a still acceptable 38 fps in medium details, whereas a couple fps of reserve are still up its sleeve.
|World of Warcraft|
|800x600||low, 0xAA, 0xAF||54 fps|
The popular real time building strategy game in its latest edition is a graphical beauty and convinces especially with a long-lasting gaming motivation. To assess the gaming performance, we also used the assistance tool Fraps to establish the achievable frame rates.
You are already facing sound breaks in the start sequence of the campaign mode, which leave little hope for a smooth game. Then, acting in the game was surprisingly smooth, subjectively. However, with 17 fps that seem very useable due to the game principle, there are only small reserves left when the map is filled with building and units
|1024x768||low, 0AA, 0AF||17 fps|
Race Driver Grid
We tested a race game with Race Driver Grid, which bids worth seeing graphics even with low quality settings. It also is a welcome alternative to the otherwise battle-prone tracks as a race game genre. We used the demo for the test and had driven a few rounds over the circuit, which we measured in fps via Fraps.
We tested the game in two settings and reached, with a maximum average of 17 fps, results that are subjectively still adequate. The next higher settings are definitely not playable anymore, as the visible velocity losses are expressed in the way of image studdering.
|1024x768||, 0xAA||11 fps|
|800x600||, 0xAA, 0xAF||17 fps|
Sims 3 (1.4.6)
Sims 3 is the third edition of the popular life simulator. The main task is to take care of your wards. The virtual characters are lead through the tough daily business of life, starting with the looks of the characters, over their careers, house, furnishings up to all important decisions of life. Those who have luck will become rich and famous and those who don't stride as successfully through the virtual world end up in jail or have to pawn their belongings. The, in view of system performance, rather undemanding game has may fans of various ages and covers the system requirements of more contemporary games downwards.
A refresh rate of 43 fps at low settings (800x600) up to 2 fps at high quality and a resolution of (1280x1024) shows that the performance of Sims 3 is strongly dependent on settings. It can be played well on the N510 with low quality settings at even high resolutions. For instance, setting the native display resolution to 1366x768 pixels, which we chose to be able to use the entire display surface, we achieved a playable 19 fps at low quality settings. Reducing the resolution to 1024x786 with the same settings, the refresh rate increases to 23 fps. Everyone has to try finding out for themselves, which alternative suits best. The nominally lower refresh rates benefit from the simulation caused gaming principle, in any case and allows for a subjectively good scenario for a longer time.
|1280x1024||high / all on, high AA||2 fps|
|1024x768||med / all on||10 fps|
|800x600||low / off||43 fps|
Devil May Cry 4
...from Capcom is a felicitous implementation of the PS3 track for the PC. The well-know series is impressive with detail-rich graphics and attractive game play in its 4th edition. We used the DMC4 benchmark demo for testing and let it run through completely. Depending on the prototype, we only use either the standard settings or in weaker systems additionally the lowest quality settings. The averaged fps result of 4 test scenes and the manufacturer's recommendation are stated in our results. We achieved, depending on the sequence, 28 - 40 fps at a resolution of 800x600 and lowest quality settings (manufacturer's recommendation: limited playability) and 23 - 28 fps (depending on the sequence) at a resolution of 1024x768 (manufacturer's recommendation: unplayable). In opposition to the manufacturer's recommendation, both settings made a subjectively rather good impression, though. Here as well: Try the demo before buying.
Basically, the results are, in comparison to the usual netbook competitors, more than impressive. Contemporary, demanding games may not be possible, but this isn't a wonder due to the rest of the hardware configuration. The CPU and RAM equipment then do play a major role here, as they brake the capabilities of the ION graphic slightly. In any case, the system can be given a bit more room in the RAM area with a module exchange to 2 GBs. Because the N510 only has one slot and therefore only one memory channel, this upgrade lags considerably behind its possibilities.
Tracks like World of Warcraft (made the best overall impression) and Sims 3, which were quite resource sparing with the hardware, are well playable and allow the use of higher display resolution (1366x768). However, a few concessions have to be made in view of graphic options, but they still receive an appealing look, without taking away too much gaming fun.
If at all playable, Anno 1404, F.E.A.R. 2 and Race Driver Grid are to be seen as very much on the limit and which demand many compromises and partly a great loss of visual stimuli. Potential buyers should try out the demo versions before buying the game in order to build their own opinion. The same applies to Devil May Cry 4, whereas the subjective impression is definitely better.
The Samsung N510 can't be described as completely silent, but the 31.4 dB(A) in idle mode is barely audible. The relaxed fan characteristic also pleases subjectively and obstructions can't be seen. The system gets a bit louder with 34.3 dB(A) under medium load, but still allows for longer working without discomfort. First, the 36.6 dB(A) under full load can get unpleasant for sensitive ears or over a longer period of time. Because this situation turns up quite late and quite a demand has to placed on the netbook up to there, this should be an exception at normal use.
29.7 / 31.2 / 31.2 dB(A)
||34.3 / 36.6 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
Like the system noise, the measured temperatures on the case are in an agreeably low field. After about one hour of load, a temperature of up to 42.3°C can be established, but the major part of the surface remains pleasant. The N510's hottest spot stays under the 40°C mark at lower load even after a longer use and is overall a few degrees cooler.
(+) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 37.3 °C / 99 F, compared to the average of 33.1 °C / 92 F, ranging from 21.6 to 53.2 °C for the class Netbook.
(±) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 42.3 °C / 108 F, compared to the average of 36.6 °C / 98 F
(+) The palmrests and touchpad are reaching skin temperature as a maximum (34.4 °C / 93.9 F) and are therefore not hot.
(-) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 29.3 °C / 84.7 F (-5.1 °C / -9.2 F).
Samsung equips the N510 with 2x 1.5 watt stereo loudspeakers, which show themselves responsible for the sound emission. Both mini speakers are supposed to bid high-quality sound, which would support the praised multimedia alignment. At listening to our test songs and watching our test movies, we couldn't establish any audible improvement in comparison to most netbook colleagues. Treble-prone and an attempt for audible basses and mids are evidence of low sound quality. It looks considerably better with separate USB speaker or headphones, which result an enormous sound improvement. In relation, an advantage during movies is, again, the HDMI port that can transmit images and sound via a cable to a TV and other peripherals and eludes the sound problem this way.
Our prototype has been delivered with the standardly listed 57 Wh lithium-ion battery and should be good for up to 6 hours of battery life, according to Samsung. In our power consumption measurements, we established a minimum consumption of 8.4 watts in idle mode with all possible energy savings options. This value would, arithmetically, together with the battery capacity make runtimes up to 7 hours possible and gives hope for the runtime measurements,accordingly. We established the power consumption under full system load with all components activated and maximum display brightness and thus demanded a maximum energy requirement of 26.8 W from the system.
The system finally reached 363 min runtime in the BatteryEater Reader's test (maximum possible runtime with the best possible energy saving options). This is a very acceptable value and pinpoints Samsung's information. We still reached a good 279 min at WLAN surfing, which also correlates to the usual practice behavior. We replaced DVD rendering with the rendering of movie files from the hard disk and reached runtimes of 251 min. In the BatteryEater's Classic test with maximum display brightness and all consumers on, the system ran for a still useable 196 min remote from the mains.
In comparison to younger netbooks, these aren't any new runtime or efficiency world records. However, Samsung has the power consumption well under control and provides for a healthy measure of mains independency with the N510. As an additional bonus, you get a noticeably extended utilization field with the ION platform.
|Off / Standby||0 / 0.2 Watt|
|Idle|| 8.4 / 12.8 / 14.9 Watt|
21.8 / 26.8 Watt|
The Samsung N510 is a netbook which distinguishes itself from the mass already due to its good basic characteristics. The good workmanship's and case quality, the low emissions, the relatively low weight, the anti-reflective display and the good battery life count to that.
Above that, the Samsung N510 has configuration details that aren't in any way a matter of course and therefore offer a plus on value. The high resolution 11.6" WXGA display has considerably more work surface than the usual WSVGA screen. The HDMI-out makes a digital connection of external displays and TVs possible and can also take over the sound transmission. The USB port cum charging station is a nice gimmick and the added neoprene-like protection cover prevents a too fast scratching of the display.
Minor complaints, like the poor VGA-out signal quality, the not perfect port distribution, the display worthy of improvement or a RAM slot are barely significant in view of all the positive things.
The most striking feature of the N510 is, however, Nvidia's ION platform, which grants the netbook a quite potent graphic division in form of the Nvidia 9400. The right software in combination with presumably the right formats, could easily play FullHD video material or with support from the graphic chip, convert movie material. The gaming performance, going along with it, is impressive and has enough reserves for tracks like World of Warcraft or Sims3. Basically, the Samsung N510 opens considerably more comprehensive utilization possibilities than most competitors cover and could, therefore, convince those potential customers who weren't satisfied with the efficiency of netbooks till now.