Samsung’s 13in Series 9 Ultrabook, which we reviewed in its NP900X3B guise, is possibly the most attractive of the Ultrabook genre currently on the market, even if it is rather an expensive option. But the 13in format can be too small for some users, so as beautiful as the NP900X3B may be, it might not be the perfect partner, even if you have the budget for it. Never fear, though, as Samsung has another Ultrabook you might be interested in, this time with a 15in screen size. It’s called the Series 9 NP900X4C, and it’s rather like the NP900X3B, only larger.
Actually, this isn’t entirely true. Where the NP900X3B is unfeasibly thin at 16.3mm, and the NP900X4C measures an even more impressive 14.9mm thick, it somehow feels thicker. This is because the weight has increased considerably to 1.65kg, which is noticeably more than the NP900X3B’s 1.15kg. This is still a great-looking system, and the extra weight does come in tandem with the increased display size. It’s just not as fundamentally gobsmacking as its smaller sibling.
What the NP900X4C loses mildly in looks it more than makes up for internally, however. Where the NP900X3B makes do with Intel’s previous Sandy Bridge generation, this 15in model offers the latest Ivy Bridge iteration. In particular, an Intel Core i5 3317U is supplied, which runs nominally at 1.7GHz. This is an ultra-low power 17W processor, with 14W low power mode. But it also supports Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz and Hyper-Threading, so its dual cores are presented as four virtual ones, for enhanced multi-tasking.
The Ivy Bridge processor’s main benefit, however, is in the graphics department. The Ivy Bridge generation’s on-board HD 4000 chipset is almost twice as powerful as the HD 3000 of the previous generation. Whilst this still isn’t quite up with what discrete graphics are capable of, it’s the next best thing, and the savings in power consumption are considerable, with the GPU able to run at a lower frequency dynamically when graphics grunt is not required. The processor has also been partnered by a very healthy 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, which takes up both available SODIMM slots, but isn’t user-accessible anyway.
Main storage is taken care of by a 128GB SanDisk U100 solid-state disk. This will be a little limited if you plan on storing copious amounts of video or installing many suites of software, but its performance and low power consumption will be perfect for such a skinny Ultrabook. Unsurprisingly, considering the thinness of this notebook, there is no optical drive.
Following the Series 9 NP900X3B, the NP900X4C has a truly great screen. Unlike some models we have looked at with screens larger than 13in, this notebook takes full advantage of its 15in display to offer a 1,600 x 900 resolution, although it's worth noting that the NP900X3B also crammed this resolution into its 13.3in TFT LCD. Colours are rich and there’s plenty of detail. Thanks to 400cd/m2 of brightness, horizontal viewing angles are excellent, and even vertical viewing angles are better than the norm. The matt finish means that there is little distraction from reflections when the notebook is used in bright conditions. Audio does lack bass somewhat, but there is a decent level of distortion-free volume available.
The island-style keyboard is good, if not outstanding. The travel is a little shallow, but there is enough of a discernible click to make typing comfortable, and the function keys at the top double as a full range of multimedia controls. The large trackpad is smooth and responsive, executing multi-touch actions with aplomb. Although this is sensibly positioned slightly to the left, its size means you can still accidentally touch it with the palm of your hand as you type, but this is nowhere near as bad as with Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A.
The NP900X4C is relatively well endowed for expansion ports. On the right can be found twin USB 3.0 connections, whilst a single USB 2.0 port resides on the left alongside micro HDMI and a combo minijack for microphone and headphones. The chassis design hasn’t left room for wired Ethernet, so a smaller proprietary port is available on the left, with a dongle supplied as standard for when you do need a LAN connection. There is a proprietary port for VGA output on the right, too, but the dongle required for this is not included in the box, instead being an optional extra. At first glance, the SD memory card slot seems to be missing, but this is in fact lurking on the underside edge on the right, hidden behind a sprung flap.
Performance is pretty much as we would expect for a notebook sporting a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor. The NP900X4C managed 2.4 in Maxon’s Cinebench R11.5 rendering test, exactly the same as the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A, which uses the same processor. The Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL score of 13.7 is also virtually identical to the Asus, as is the 3DMark11 result of 614. The NP900X4C fared decidedly better in the older DirectX 9-based 3DMark06, achieving 5,363. None of this is quite in the territory of a separate graphics chipset from Nvidia or AMD, but it does show that Intel's HD 4000 can provide acceptable casual gaming.
This is all relatively par for the course for an Ultrabook. But battery life is a different story, and this hints at where the extra weight comes from. In our 100 per cent processor and graphics utilisation test, the NP9004XC just went on and on, lasting an amazing 348 minutes, which is nearly an hour longer even than the Toshiba NB510-10D netbook managed in our tests. This translated to an almost as amazing 405 minutes in MobileMark 2007 - the longest we've seen, beating Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Toshiba's Tecra R950-11F by a few minutes. Taking these two results together, you will easily be able to watch two or three full-length films away from the mains, and comfortably spend an entire working day on battery as well, or an entire transatlantic flight working on that presentation for the morning meeting.
At a little over £900, the NP900X4C is still relatively expensive for an Ultrabook, when for example HP's Folio 13 can be had for a bit more than £700. But it's also slightly cheaper than the NP900X3B when we reviewed it. So although the looks of this bigger brother aren't quite so stunning, it wins out on performance and features - particularly where battery life is concerned - making this a very viable option if a 13in Ultrabook screen is just that little bit too cramped for your everyday comfort.
Manufacturer and model
Samsung Series 9 NP900X4C
1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U
8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000
128GB SanDisk U100 solid-state disk
15in LED HD+ TFT with 1,600 x 900 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, HDMI, LAN, combo headphone/microphone, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
356.9 x 237 x 14.9mm
1 year RTB