Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D-A01 review

Pros

  • Beautifully slim and light
  • Great 13.3in 1,600 x 900 screen
  • Comfortable keyboard and trackpad
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • Relatively slow processor
  • Poor graphics performance

When we last reviewed Samsung’s 13.3in Series 9 Ultrabook in its NP900X3B guise, we had to admit that it was just about the most desirable Ultrabook on the market, and potentially even more enticing than a MacBook Air. Our opinion hasn't changed since then, and the NP900X3D is a more recent Windows 8-based version, but this time with a brushed metal chassis rather than the two-tone grey of the NP900X3B.

Whether you prefer the brushed metal or the two-tone look is a matter of taste. The brushed metal makes this a bit more of a MacBook Air doppelganger, but it's still an amazingly sleek and desirable notebook. It weighs an almost unnoticeable 1.13kg and measures just 13.2mm thick. This truly is an Ultrabook you could carry anywhere without needing a special bag, and it's likely to garner admiring glances when you do whip it out.

However, the core specification is beginning to look a little long in the tooth, as this notebook is still based around a processor from Intel's Sandy Bridge range, which launched in 2011. Last year's Ivy Bridge and the recently released Haswell generation have now superseded it, although there are only some areas where you will notice the deficiency.

The NP900X3D-A01 opts for the Intel Core i5 2357M, which is a dual-core processor running at a nominal 1.4GHz. However, Turbo Boost allows a single core to hit 2.3GHz, and both cores to run at 2GHz, so the nominal frequency is rather misleading. Hyper-Threading also means that there are four virtual cores for enhanced multi-threaded and multi-tasking performance.

The Core i5 is partnered with 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM, which is sufficient, but not outstanding now that Ultrabooks are frequently offering 6GB or 8GB, for example Toshiba's budget-oriented Satellite U940-10M. There is no option to specify more at time of purchase, and the amount can't be user-upgraded, either.

However, the main area where Sandy Bridge CPUs lag behind their successors is in the integrated graphics. The NP900X3D-A01 sports Intel HD 3000 graphics, which is decent as integrated graphics goes, but Intel's HD 4000 and 5000 chipsets in Ivy Bridge and Haswell respectively have made successively large performance improvements. They also support more recent versions of DirectX and OpenGL, with 3000 supporting DirectX 10.1 and OpenGL 3.1.

The storage provision is par for the course for an Ultrabook, with a 128GB SanDisk U100 solid state disk provided. This is just about large enough, and it’s quick as well as low in power consumption. But it's a pretty standard capacity for the thinnest Ultrabooks like this one. As expected with this genre, there is no optical drive so the SD card reader is the only removable storage option.

The screen hasn't changed from the NP900X3B, either – but this was an area where the previous model was already extremely strong. The 13.3in LCD has a 1,600 x 900 resolution and a matt finish. This is about as many pixels as you would want in a screen this size, and the anti-reflective finish makes for great viewing angles. The colours are rich and there is plenty of detail. The audio quality isn't bad either, considering the size of this notebook. There is little in the way of bass, but a decent level of distortion-free volume is available, and the sound is not as tinny as we have experienced from some Ultrabooks.

The keyboard and trackpad are another strong area for the NP900X3D-A01, as with its predecessor. The key travel is quite shallow, but there is sufficient distinction in the action for a comfortable typing experience. The top row of function keys double up for extra operations like toggling the Wi-Fi, adjusting screen brightness and keyboard backlighting, and even turning the system fan down. There are no discrete media playback controls, however, other than volume. The trackpad is large and responsive. It's also sensibly positioned directly beneath the spacebar, slightly to the left, so incidents of accidental brushing with the heel of your hand will be kept to a minimum.

One area where the NP900X3D-A01 can't help but be slightly limited is in its range of ports. With very little width available, VGA is out of the question, although a dongle is available as an optional extra. Wired Ethernet also requires a dongle, but this is included in the box. The connections for these can be found on the left, next to the single USB 3.0 port.

The right houses a micro-HDMI port alongside the solitary USB 2.0 port, with the SD card reader lurking under the edge further forward. A notable absence is a Kensington lock slot, should your company wish to secure your laptop to your desk.

The NP900X3D-A01's performance is nothing to write home about, but it should still be fine for the kind of things you are likely to do with an Ultrabook. The Maxon Cinebench R11.5 rendering score of 1.92 is more than 20 per cent behind the fastest Ultrabooks we have tested, but still way ahead of a netbook. As predicted, the graphics are the weakest area, with a result of just 7.7 in Cinebench R11.5's OpenGL test and a decidedly mediocre 2,812 in Futuremark 3DMark06, which implies only very modest 3D abilities. As the HD 3000 graphics don't support DirectX 11, we weren't able to test with 3DMark11.

Battery endurance was only slightly behind the NP900X3B. The NP900X3D-A01 lasted an impressive 194 minutes in our intensive 100 per cent graphics and processor test, with the display dimmed to half brightness. This is one of the higher scores for an Ultrabook, and implies six or seven hours of lighter usage. So this is a notebook you can take out for a day's work away from the power socket relatively comfortably.

Verdict

In some parts of its specification, the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D-A01 is looking slightly dated, in particular the processor and its integrated graphics. The limited port allocation might be a drawback for some, too. But the main selling point, the excellent physical design, remains. This is still one of the most desirable Ultrabook chassis on the market, and it's just as attractive in brushed metal form, with great usability and an excellent screen.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the NP900X3B has been tempered with this model, too – its cost. Available for under £900, with a sub-£800 deal available on Amazon.co.uk at the time of writing, this notebook is much more competitively priced. As a go-anywhere portable the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D-A01 is hard to beat.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D-A01

Processor

1.4GHz Intel Core i5 2537M

RAM

4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD 3000

Hard disk

128GB SanDisk U100 solid state disk

Optical disc

None

Display

13.3in SuperBright LED HD+ TFT with 1,600 x 900 pixels

Networking

Gigabit Ethernet (via bundled adapter), 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Interfaces

1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, Micro-HDMI, LAN, combo headphone/microphone, SD card reader

Width x Depth x Height

313.8 x 218.5 x 13.2mm

Weight

1.13kg

Warranty

1 year RTB