Intel might have written the Ultrabook spec, but Samsung is making it sing. For the latest case in point, look no further than the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook, a thin, lightweight powerhouse that's about as stylish and feature-rich as an ultraportable can be.
The sleek-looking Series 9 is chiseled from solid aluminum. The unit's silver borders and flat-charcoal case are attractive, but the dark-colored cover tends to retain fingerprints.
Inside is a comfortable chiclet-style backlit keyboard with dedicated function keys for screen and keyboard brightness, video output, speaker, fan and Wi-Fi. There's also a key to bring up Samsung's Easy Settings screen, which puts eight major control panels and other system functions in a single place. We're glad someone had finally done this; it simplifies Windows configuration and troubleshooting for IT departments as well as consumers.
Easy Settings also provides several Samsung-only functions, including Fast Boot mode, which in our tests reduced cold boot time from an already amazing 11.2 seconds to 10 seconds flat. With a boot time that quick, you might be tempted to shut down Windows all the time. But then you'd be missing out on Samsung's instant-on from sleep feature, which works in about one second. Incidentally, the Series 9 Ultrabook also speeds up Windows shutdown to about five seconds.
Then there are the little things. While we liked Dell's XPS 13 Ultrabook very much, its over-zealous lid spring requires two hands to open: one to open the lid and the other to hold down the base. The Series 9 can be opened with one hand; its spring is just right and the base stays put. And like the unit itself, the Series 9's power supply is thin and light too. The right-angle power connector is less susceptible to accidental damage, but we'd still prefer a magnetic connector like Apple's MagSafe to protect the cord, which gets kicked around like an Olympic soccer ball.
On the subject of Apple notebooks, the 13.3-inch Series 9 is on par physically with the 13.3-inch MacBook Air. Samsung's unit weighs in at 2.55 pounds. That's almost a half-pound (0.41 lbs.) lighter than Apple's 2.96 pounds. The Series 9 is a trivial 0.04 inches thinner than Apple's at its thickest point of 0.64 inches. The large touchpad is as responsive as that of a Mac, and supports multifinger gestures, which are documented in its control panel a la Mac OS X.
NEXT: Series 9 Ultrabook Performance
The CRN Test Center looked at the Samsung Series 9 model NP900X3C, which is built around a third-gen Intel Core i7 3517-U 2.39GHz Ivy Bridge processor with two cores and four threads. The system was equipped with 4 GB of DDR3 memory and a 128 GB SSD, and it was running 64-bit Windows 7 Pro. The 1,600 x 900 pixel HD+ LED panel is rated at a super-bright 400 nits and is controlled by Intel's highly-capable HD 4000 GPU.
Before running any benchmarks, we made sure to uninstall any and all performance-zapping nagware. On the Series 9, this included Absolute Reminder, Amazon Kindle, CyberLink YouCam and Symantec's Norton Internet Security and Online backup. Thanks but no thanks. After a restart, we installed Geekbench 2.3 from Primate Labs, ran the 64-bit benchmarks five times and recorded the scores. It was from this group that the fastest score emerged. Next we adjusted Windows settings for maximum performance and ran Geekbench five more times. None were higher than the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook's Geekbench high score of 8,454. The unit delivered 4.5 hours of battery life as it continuously played a video with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and all power saving features enabled.
As with any ultrathin system, Samsung's Series 9 Ultrabook comes with a few physical trade-offs. Wired Gbit Ethernet comes by way of an included adapter, and connecting an external monitor requires an optional micro-HDMI adapter. Its two USB ports are full size, but only the left-side port is full speed; the other is USB 2.0. The right-hand side also is home to a headset jack and a four-in-one SD card reader; there is no optical drive. All ports are on the sides; there are none on the front or back. All LEDs are inside, so there's no way to check battery charge without opening the lid.
While a bit pricy at $1,699 list, the CRN Test Center recommends Samsung's new Series 9 Ultrabook; it's a modern marvel, and surely one to recommend to buyers seeking the state of the art in performance and styling. When people look back on the year that was 2012, Samsung should clearly hold a place among high-tech innovators.
PUBLISHED AUG. 28, 2012
This story was updated on Sept. 5, at 3:12 p.m. PST, in order to make the correction that the Series 9 is made from aluminum and not duralumin, and the Series 9 has a starting price of $1,699, not $1,300.