Samsung Series 9 Ultra Portable Notebook

Table of Contents

The Samsung Series 9 ultra portable notebook has a 13.3″ matte screen, 17W Core i5 processor, solid state drive, and a sleek 3 lb, 16 mm thick frame wrapped in a sexy black duralumin shell. It might just be the Macbook Air alternative you’ve been waiting for.

September 22, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product Samsung NP900X3A-A02CA
Ultra Portable Notebook
Manufacturer Samsung
Street Price CAD$2,300
(~US$1250 for basic model)

Though not the first ultra portable notebook, the original Macbook Air helped
redefine the ultra light laptop. Limited versatility and a hefty sticker-price
made it a tough sell at first. A few Windows based challengers came like the
Dell Adamo, and the Lenovo X300/301 but were too expensive for wide acceptabce
as well. In recent times, the ultra slim and light laptop has seen a resur gence
thanks to lower prices and better technology.

Today the smaller 11.6″ Macbook Air starts at US$999, almost half
the price of the original, putting it within the grasp of average middle-class
worker bees. It offers enough power get through daily rigors, more capability
and flexibility than touchscreen tablets, and a form factor no larger or heavier
than necessary. Its popularity has grown significantly since the original Mac
Air. Samsung hopes to capture a piece of this quickly growing pie with the Series
9 laptops, ultra slim notebook PCs packing much of the same components, but
loaded with Windows 7 and molded in Samsung’s own hardware style.

The Series 9 notebooks all share the same basis, with different hardware configurations,
denoted by a suffix attached to the base model number, NP900X3A. It’s outrageously
thin, just 15~16 mm, and very light as well, weighing 1.38 kg (just over 3 lbs)
by our measurements. Packing a 13.3″ backlit display, our Samsung 9 sample
is a close match to the 13-inch Macbook Air, but aesthetically it’s undeniably
a Windows PC, albeit in a sleeker flavor than we’re used to.

The NP900X3A.

The top cover, palm rest area, and the chrome lip running around the center
of the machine is composed of duralumin, an aluminum alloy that Samsung claims
is twice as strong at the same weight as old fashioned aluminum. The material
is surprisingly stiff with no give whatsoever and has a fine brush finish. It
is clearly quite rigid, yet is pleasant to touch, having a soft plastic-like
feel. Fingerprints accumulate easily, however, and stand out visibly against
the black background.

To ensure a thin and light body, ultra portable notebooks make some compromises
to save space and extend battery life. The Series 9 is no exception, limited
to Intel dual core ULV (ultra low voltage) Sandy Bridge processors which run
well below 2 GHz, and lack a discrete graphics option. There isn’t room for
many external connectors, or an optical drive, and the battery isn’t user-removable.


Package, contents.

Modular AC adapter.

The NP900X3A ships in a large, fancy black box with a velvety suede-like material
covering the surface. It contains the laptop itself, an AC adapter, an RJ45
adapter (a standard RJ45 port takes up too much space so it was miniaturized
into a proprietary connector), documentation, a driver/utility disc, and a large
nylon mat of unknown purpose. The power adapter is compact, too: The 40W power
brick is integrated with the cord in a surprisingly slim 7.8 x 4.8 x 2.8 cm
form. it even has a detachable AC plug, presumably with different modules for
various countries.

Samsung NP900X3A-A02CA: Specifications
(from the product web page)
Operating System
Genuine Windows® 7 Professional (64-bit)
Intel® Core™ i5 Processor 2537M (1.40 GHz, 3 MB)
Main Chipset Intel HM65
System Memory 8 GB (DDR3 / 4 GB x 2 )
LCD 13.3″ LED HD (1366 x 768) 16 : 9
Graphic Processor Intel GMA HD (Int. Graphic)
Graphic Memory Shared Memory (Int. Graphic)
HD (High Definition) Audio
Sound Effect SRS 3D Sound Effect
Speaker 3 W Stereo Speaker (1.5 W x 2)
Integrated Camera 1.3 megapixel HD Webcam
HDD 256 GB (SSD)
Wired Ethernet LAN Gigabit LAN
Wireless LAN Intel 802.11 abgn (2 x 2) + BT3.0
I/O Port HDMI, Headphone-out, Mic-in, Internal Mic, 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, Micro SD, RJ45, DC-In (power port)
Keyboard Type 82 key
81 key
Touch Pad, Touch Screen Touch Pad (Scroll Scope, Flat Type, Gesture UI)
AC Adapter 40 Watt (wallmount type)
Standard Battery 6 Cell
Dimension (W x D x H mm) 328.5 x 227.0 x 15.9 ~ 16.3 mm (12.90″ x 8.90″ x 0.62″ ~ 0.64″)
Weight (kg) 1.31 kg (2.88 lbs, SSD) / 1.35 kg (2.97 lbs, HDD)

Our sample (model NP900X3A-A02CA) features an Intel Core i5-2537M (dual
core, 1.4 GHz, 17W, Hyper-threading, TurboBoost, HD 3000 graphics), 8GB of DDR3
memory, and a Samsung 256GB solid state drive (model number MZ8PA256HMDR) which
we’re sure is a significant factor in the machine’s CAD$2,300 price tag.
Oddly enough the B05US variant with the same specifications as our review
unit but with a faster 1.7 GHz CPU is selling for US$1,900. It appears
that there are several different variants with confusing model numbers so be
sure to double-check the details before buying.


The Samsung NP900X3A features a bright 13.3″ 1366×768 LED backlight LCD display with a matte finish, 1.3 megapixel webcam, backlit island style keyboard, a large buttonless trackpad, and duralumin palmrest.

Aside from its form factor, the screen is what stands out most. It has
a matte finish so there is almost no reflection, unlike the vast majority
of current laptops, which feature high gloss screens. The same can’t be
said for the plastic bezel surrounding it. Luminosity isn’t an issue as
the maximum brightness is so high, the display can be made clearly visible


Rather than having two small hinges at the sides, Samsung opted for a huge wave shaped one in the center. It allows the screen to be pushed back up to 45 degrees past vertical.


The keyboard uses a chiclet style array, with shallow but full-sized keys. Note that our sample is a Canadian model and thus features a bilingual keyboard layout. The keyboard is also equipped with backlighting, a nice addition, though at full brightness it can be blinding.


Above are comparison pictures of a few laptop keyboards scaled to 20 pixels per centimeter. The NP900X3A’s keys are similar in size to both the ThinkPad Edge 13 and Asus UL30A. The Samsung and Lenovo models have less separation between the keys, resulting in a smaller footprint.


The large 9.8 x 6.8 cm trackpad is interesting as it doesn’t have any
visible buttons. The left and right corners of the bottom third can be
lightly depressed to activate them (you can use a soft tap over them as
well). It all works quite well.


By our measurements, the Samsung NP900X3A has dimensions of 32.9 x 22.7 x 0.7~1.6
cm (an additional 2 mm if you include the feet). Our review unit weighs a bit
more than the specifications indicate, 1.38 kg (3.03 lb) rather than 1.31 kg.

Unlike most standard sized laptops, the NP900X3A lacks convenient user-accessible
memory and hard drive access bays. The entire bottom has to be removed
to service the interior.


At first glance it would seem the notebook has no ports at all, but there is one set on each side cleverly hidden by a small door that flips down. These compartments help keep the pleasant contours intact.


The edges of the duralumin surfaces have a chrome finish on the edge and
stick out noticeably creating a pair of lips. While this gives the laptop
a nice accent to contrast/complement the surround black paint job, it
is also uncomfortable when pressed up against flesh.


The left side is home to the AC power jack, one USB port, the mini HDMI connector, and Samsung’s miniaturized RJ45 output. On the right is a second USB port, the headphone jack, and the microSD reader. The 1.5W speakers are minuscule, located at the sides near the front just under the keyboard lip.


While the hardware inside is quite energy efficient, a fan is still required. The fan exhausts hot air out the back of the bottom half through a tiny vent. The hinge is on the other side and partially overlaps it depending on the angle of the screen.


Notebooks Compared:

Asus UL80Vt:

Asus UL30A:

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13:

Idle CPU-Z screenshot .

Load CPU-Z screenshot.

Device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Battery Life Test Details

  • Web Browsing: Firefox
    with the
    add-on set to refresh one a minute three separate web pages in tabs: Google News, Yahoo News, and CNN International.
  • XVID Playback: PowerDVD playing a XVID/AC3 encoded AVI (1324kbps video, 448kbps audio) in a loop.
  • H.264 Playback: PowerDVD playing a H.264/DTS encoded MKV (4600 kbps video, 1536 kbps audio) in a loop.

Real-world Benchmark Test Details

  • Eset NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of
    varying size, several of which are archives with many files within them..
  • WinRAR: Archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
    size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC (48KHz, 256kbps).
  • TMPGEnc Xpress: Encoding a 1-minute long XVID AVI file to VC-1 (1280×720,
    30fps, 20mbps).

Our first test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress
CPUs we use either Prime95 (large FFT setting) or CPUBurn, depending on which
produces higher system power consumption. To stress the GPU, we use ATITool
or FurMark, whichever application is more power demanding. Both internal and
external temperatures are monitored as are acoustics.

Our second test procedure tests the machine’s battery life. A series of applications
are run to simulate web surfing and movie watching. The critical and low battery
actions are disabled so the system simply shut downs once the battery is exhausted
as far as Windows 7 will allow (2%).

Our third test procedure is composed of a series of real world performance benchmarks detailed above.

All nonessential pre-installed software is removed prior to testing, and certain
services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled to prevent
them from affecting our results. Aero glass is left enabled if supported. All
tests are conducted with WiFi disabled (as well as other wireless connectivity
features) unless necessary, and screen brightness is set to a reasonable reference level
unless otherwise noted. We also make note if energy saving features like Cool’n’Quiet
and SpeedStep do not function properly.


During testing the screen brightness was adjusted to an approximate reference level which is comfortable for indoor use (we try to match the brightness level as closely as possible to a reference laptop we keep on hand). The NP900X3A’s screen is incredibly bright so 15% was enough to accomplish this.

AC Power Draw

Test Results: System Power
Test State
Samsung NP900X3A
Asus UL30A
ThinkPad Edge 13
Asus UL80Vt*
(max. brightness)
H.264 Playback
CPU Load
*UL80Vt processor overclocked to 1.73GHz.

First a quick check of the power draw when running on AC power. When idle the
machine ate up 10W, 2W more than the Asus
and UL80Vt but
1W less than the ThinkPad Edge
. All of the compared notebooks were powered by a 10W Core 2 Duo SU7300
processor so it’s not clear whether the Core i5-2537M is more energy efficient,
though it is a 17W part. With the brightness pumped up to maximum, the NP900X3A’s
consumption increased by 5W, proportional to the seemingly unholy glow of the
display. The screen might be visible on a clear August afternoon in the middle
of the Sahara.

When playing H.264 video, the Samsung laptop was the clear winner thanks to its integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics chip which is simply superior than the two generations old GMA X4500MHD running on the other systems. On load, it was on par with the ThinkPad Edge 13, maxing out at about 30W. The UL30A used 2~4W less, but as we noted in our UL30A/ThinkPad Edge 13 comparison review, Asus might have used some undervolting magic to give it an edge.

Thermals & Acoustics

Internal temperature were recorded using SpeedFan/RealTemp while external temperatures
were taken with an infrared thermometer on the hottest point on both the topside
and underside.

Samsung NP900X3A-A02CA
System Temperatures
SPL @0.6m
12 dBA
H.264 Playback
12~13 dBA
CPU Load
28~29 dBA
CPU + GPU Load
28~29 dBA
Ambient temperature: 24°C.

The NP900X3A ran cool to the touch on low load, but like most other notebooks,
was uncomfortably warm on heavy load. When playing high definition video, the
hottest points on both the keyboard and underside stayed at a fairly comfortable
36°C, while on full load, temperatures approached 50°C (perhaps this
is why most people call them notebooks rather than laptops today).

The NP900X3A measures just 12 [email protected] when idle and 28~29 [email protected] on load.

The acoustics were phenomenal at idle and during video playback. The system’s
fan was spinning the entire time but it was barely audible, measuring just 12~13
dBA at 0.6 meters. When the machine’s not working hard, it is literally whisper
quiet. Unfortunately the same cannot be said when the computer is put on a heavy
load. The noise level shot up to 28~29 [email protected] and while the sound of air being
expelled from the fan was quite soft, the fan itself (probably the bearing)
generated an annoying high pitch whine. It is unlikely a user would push the
system this hard in normal use.

Battery Life

Unfortunately the NP900X3A lagged in this series of tests, but it had an inherent
disadvantage. With its slim form factor, Samsung could only pack in a 6-cell
58 Wh battery, compared to the 63 Wh unit of the Lenovo and monstrous 84 Wh
batteries in the Asus UL series laptops.

Test Results: Battery Life
Web Browsing
XVID Playback
H.264 Playback
Asus UL30A
(84 Wh)
Asus UL80Vt
(84 Wh)
ThinkPad Edge 13 (63 Wh)
Samsung NP900X3A
(58 Wh)

As we established earlier , AC power consumption was similar to the Edge 13,
so it is unsurprising that the NP900X3A gave out 12% earlier in the web browsing
and XVID tests. Playing H.264 video, the NP900X3A outlasted the ThinkPad by
3%, though, due to Sandy Bridge GPU’s improved H.264 hardware acceleration.


Test Results: Benchmarks
Edge 13
Samsung NP900X3A
Core 2 Duo 1.3 GHz
Core 2 Duo 1.33 GHz
Core 2 Duo 1.73 GHz*
Core i5 1.4 GHz
*UL80Vt processor overclocked.

Intel’s older CULV Core 2 Duos may claim superior energy efficiency, but when
it comes to performance they do not hold up against a Sandy Bridge Core i5.
Despite being clocked at 1.4 GHz, the NP900X3A’s i5-2537M beat the Asus UL80Vt’s
overclocked Core 2 Duo SU7300 (1.73 GHz) in all of our benchmarks. While the
TurboBoost feature helped in single-threaded operation, Samsung’s ultra portable
still scored a decisive victory in our multithreaded TMPGEnc video encoding
test. The 256GB SSD was key to its impressive boot time of just 26 seconds.

Test Results: 3D Benchmarks
Samsung NP900X3A
i5-661 / H55 Desktop
i3-2100 / H67 Desktop
Lost Planet 2 (1360×768, low)
12 fps
13 fps
17 fps
H.A.W.X. 2 (1366×768, low)
16 fps
24 fps
26 fps

Intel did well to shake off the stigma of slow integrated graphics with the
HD 3000 chip in their Sandy Bridge desktop processors. HD 3000, found in their
overclocking friendly “K” model CPUs, competed with entry level discrete
video cards like the Radeon HD 5450. Unfortunately the mobile version isn’t
nearly as formidable due to a lower core clock speed (a paltry 350 MHz according
to Intel). As a result the NP900X3A’s gaming performance is poor, even eclipsed
by the desktop version of Intel’s HD 2000 graphics (HD 3000’s slower sibling)
and the previous generation Intel GMA HD graphics found on the Lynnfield based
Core i5-661.

Running at the laptop’s native resolution with all details on low, it managed
an average of only 12 fps in the Lost Planet 2 standalone benchmark, and 16
fps in H.A.W.X. 2. Gameplay isn’t slow enough to be described as a slideshow,
but it’s woefully inadequate for a serious gamer. Discrete or discrete-class
graphics (as AMD refers to the graphics chips found on their new quad core mobile
APUs) are still required for smooth gaming experience.

Pre-installed Software: Despite being a premium product, the NP900X3A
ships with a familiar level of third party or unwanted applications — Cyberlink’s
YouCam webcam utility, Office 2010 Starter edition, Skype, and a bunch of WildTangent
games. Samsung’s own utilities are numerous, and many duplicate functionality
native in Windows-like file sharing settings, network settings, and the Easy
Transfer application, with arguably better UI and simpler language. There is
also the usual fare of recovery, support, and update applications. Uninstalling
them is naturally a pain, but with an SSD and plenty of RAM, you’re not likely
to get much of a tangible performance benefit.

Build Quality: The duralumin lid and palm rest are absolutely solid
as is the bottom and the bezel running around the outside of the display. We
can’t imagine it suffering any major damage from the usual bumps and bruises
that a notebook encounters over its lifetime. There is some keyboard flex, and
while this is normal for your run-of-the-mill laptop, it’s disappointing to
see in this high end machine. particularly when the rest of it is so solidly

LCD: The display is superb with good color balance, contrast, and an
unusually radiant maximum brightness. It also has a coveted matte finish, not
the ridiculous high gloss, reflective shine on most consumer models that make
it next to impossible to use outdoors. The viewing angles are decent; there
is about a 30 degree vertical range outside which the brightness/contrast begins
to noticeably distort but the horizontal angles are much better. It is probably
the very best notbook screen we’ve ever encountered.

Webcam: If you’re used too the grainy and blurry picture quality of
the 0.3 mp webcams that ship with most budget laptops, the 1.3 mp model of the
NP900X3A is a treat. The picture is much clearer, with little if any motion
blur. The only caveat is that the color balance is a bit cool. In low light
conditions, most notebook webcams compensate for the lack of sensor data by
increasing the ISO; the resulting pixelated image is not pretty but you can
make everything out. The NP900X3A webcam doesn’t do this, so if you’re sitting
in the dark, it presents a ghostly silhouette.

Speakers: As one might expect given the small speakers, the audio quality
is nothing special. It isn’t as tinny as some of the cheaper laptops we’ve come
across but it still has an unsatisfying flat sound. It has a surprisingly high
maximum volume level.

Keyboard: The full-sized keyboard is very comfortable to type on. Keystrokes
are soft-sounding but not silent and the springs provide a pleasing level of
resistance. The backlight is a nice addition, though at typical use angles you
can see the lighting beneath the keys, which can be glaring at higher brightness.

Touchpad: After getting used to the single-piece touchpad, we have to say we’re quite taken with it. It’s got a nice smooth surface with a low level of resistance. Depressing the left/right corner buttons takes little effort and you can perform soft taps over the entire area, which is quite large.

WiFi: Though equipped with an Intel WiFi chipset (which tend to solid
in our experience), the NP900X3A’s wireless performance was surprisingly poor.
The signal strength was fine and we didn’t suffer connection dropouts but the
speed was very poor. Transferring a 1.4 GB file over our 802.11n network to
the notebook took almost 13 minutes for an average speed of 14.8 mbps which
is slow even for 802.11g.


These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

Comparable System sound files:


Though Apple was not the first to create an ultra slim notebook, the popularity of the Macbook Air did not go unnoticed. PC makers have been clamoring to produce a suitable rival and Samsung seems to be the first to succeed in its endeavor. The NP900X3A is a beautiful machine with a slim chassis, pleasant contours, a distinctive shine emanating from its chrome lips, and cleverly stealthed ports. Not only does it look great, its slender 3 lb, 16 mm thick form, reinforced duralumin exterior, and slimmed down AC power adapter make it a great traveling companion.

Not only is it small and elegant, the Series 9 is a beauty in actual use as
well. The stunning bright matte display produces (subjectively) excellent color
balance, high contrast, crisp text without the high-gloss reflection found on
mainstream notebook screens. The one-piece trackpad is luxuriously large with
a smooth surface and the perfect amount of resistance, the backlit keyboard
has soft sounding keys that have just the right amount back pressure, and the
1.3 megapixel webcam puts to shame the more common 0.3 megapixel VGA models.
For a high class notebook, the peripherals lack in only two areas: the keyboard
has some flex to it, and the screen has the common 1366×768 resolution, instead
of the higher 1440×900 found on the MacBook Air’s 13.3″ screen.

The CPU performance isn’t anywhere near a “standard” laptop but
by ultra portable standards it’s quite good. For day-to-day tasks, the presence
of an SSD makes a much bigger difference than the speed of the CPU. It’s a very
snappy and responsive system — applications load almost instantly as does
waking from sleep, and boot-up is lightning quick. If you’re looking to game,
gimped mobile version of Intel’s HD 3000 GPU just doesn’t cut it for anything
demanding. From a performance perspective our only real complaint is the terrible
WiFi throughput on our network (15 mbps on 802.11n).

In our AC power tests, the machine’s power consumption failed to impress,
being on par with the Lenovo ThinkPad
Edge 13
, driven by a two-generations old Core 2 Duo. As a result, the
6-cell 58 Wh battery gave out a little sooner than we hoped, providing between
4.5 and 5.5 hours of operation. This is excellent for your average notebook,
but is a bit lacking for an ultra portable meant for travel (or maybe we’re
just spoiled by the 8+ hours provided by the Asus UL series). Thankfully it
is energy efficient enough for Samsung’s cooling system to work almost inaudibly
when idle and playing high definition video. When not stressed heavily, the
NP900X3A is the quietest laptop we’ve ever used.

Samsung NP900X3A-A02US vs. Apple Macbook Air 13-inch
Samsung NP900X3A-A02US
Apple Macbook Air 13-inch
Intel Core i5-2537M (1.40 GHz)
Intel Core i5-2557M (1.70 GHz)
13.3″ matte, 1366 x 768
13.3″ glossy, 1440 x 900
Intel GMA HD 3000
Intel GMA HD 3000
128 GB SSD
128 GB SSD
1 x USB 2.0
1 x USB 3.0
1 x 3.5 mm headphone
1 x mini HDMI
1 x Mic-in
1 x Micro SD card
1 x RJ45
2 x USB 2.0
1 x 3.5 mm headphone
1 x Thunderbolt (mini DisplayPort)
1 x SD card
1.3 mp
0.3 mp (VGA)
58 Wh
50 Wh
7~16 mm
3~17 mm
1.38 kg (3.03 lb)
1.34 kg (2.96 lb)

In an O/S agnostic showdown based on technical merit alone, the Samsung NP900X3A-A02US
(the cheapest model available, ~US$1,250) proves itself to be viable
alternative to the popular, similarily sized 13-inch Macbook Air. The Air wins
in few categories, out-muscling the NP900X3A with a 300 MHz faster CPU and offering
24% higher screen resolution. The Samsung is slightly cheaper with a bit more
versatility, with USB 3.0, gigabit ethernet, a higher quality webcam, a bigger
battery and the rare non-reflective matte screen.

The CAD$2,300 retail price of our Canadian review unit can probably
be ignored; we assume its inflated price is caused by a combination of a price
anomaly coupled by the “Canada tax” that causes many products sold
above the 49th parallel to be inexplicably more expensive than below. The superior
top-of-the-line US model (1.7 GHz, 8GB, 256 GB SSD) is going for ~US$1,900,
but on paper doesn’t seem to offer as much value. All in all, the Samsung Series
9 is a very appealing ultra light Windows notebook.

Our thanks to Samsung for the NP900X3A-A02CA sample.

The Smasung Series 9 notebook is recommended by SPCR

* * *

Articles of Related Interest

Samsung N220 Pine Trail Netbook
Asus UL30A & Lenovo ThinkPad
Edge 13 CULV Notebooks

Asus UL80Vt: A CULV Laptop with Hybrid

Gateway EC1803h: Netbook
or Ultra-portable?

Asus Eee PC Seashell 1005HA netbook

* * *

this article in the SPCR forums.

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