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Samsung Series 9 NP900X1A (11.6-inch) review: Samsung Series 9 NP900X1A (11.6-inch)

Samsung Series 9 NP900X1A (11.6-inch)

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
7 min read

Just as the original 13-inch Samsung Series 9 laptop was a direct shot across the bow of the 13-inch MacBook Air, this new 11.6-inch version is aimed squarely at the smaller version of the Air. The 11.6-inch Series 9 is so similar to the 13-inch version that it looks like our earlier Samsung review unit got hit with a shrink ray. The same curved sides and rounded hinge are there, as is the brushed metal surface, made of a space-age metal called Duralumin, which Samsung claims has "twice the strength of aluminum."

Samsung Series 9 900X1A-A01 - Core i3 380UM 1.33 GHz - 11.6" TFT

Samsung Series 9 NP900X1A (11.6-inch)

The Good

The 11.6-inch <b>Samsung Series 9</b> has the same thin, stylish, sturdy design as the 13-inch version, along with a backlit keyboard.

The Bad

The 11.6-inch Series 9 is more expensive and has shorter battery life than the similar 11.6-inch MacBook Air.

The Bottom Line

The smaller, 11.6-inch version of Samsung's excellent Series 9 laptop is thin and light, and has a few features the MacBook Air lacks, but it's more expensive and doesn't trump the competition where it counts.

While the Series 9 is most likely to be compared to the MacBook Air, 11-inch laptops are becoming more popular, and there are now several worthy options to choose from, such as the high-end Alienware M11x and the inexpensive HP Pavilion dm1z. The $1,199 Series 9 is arguably the best-looking of all of these (it's a toss-up against the Air), but it falls behind on price--the Air starts at $999--and performance, as the Series 9 is saddled with an older 2010 low-voltage version of Intel's Core i3 CPU.

If you upgrade to a comparably priced 11-inch McBook Air, you'll get double the hard-drive space (128GB rather than 64GB) and slightly better graphics. The less expensive Air also beat the Series 9 in the area of battery life, a key selling point for an ultraportable. Samsung's strategy here should be to under-promise and over-deliver, not the other way around.

At the same time, the Samsung Series 9 has a lot going for it, including a backlit keyboard (something the MacBook Air lacks), a huge touch pad, and something close to the instant-on capabilities of OS X. It's state-of-the-art for Windows laptops, and likely the only real contender if you've got MacBook Air envy and don't mind spending a little more (a lot more, actually) than your average 11-inch laptop shopper.

Price as reviewed $1,199
Processor 1.33GHz Intel Core i3 380UM
Memory 2GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 64GB SSD
Chipset Intel HM55
Graphics Intel HD 3000
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 7.8x11.7 inches
Height 0.62 inch - 0.65 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.3 pounds /2.7 pounds
Category Ultraportable

Laptop designs are typically more about function than form, even for high-end brands such as Dell's XPS or HP's Envy. The Series 9 from Samsung is a rare exception to that rule, and after its debut at CES 2011, we've lost count of how many people raved to us about the look and feel of this very thin system.

At a bit over 2 pounds, it feels very light, but reasonably sturdy. Still, it lacks the solid slab-of-metal feel that gives MacBooks that air of invulnerability. As with the 13-inch version of the Series 9, there's a little too much flex in the top lid, and the matte black interior surfaces easily pick up fingerprints and smudges.

The 11-inch Air weighs the same, but the "Who's thinnest?" question is a little trickier to answer. The more tapered Air is thinnest at its edges, going down to 0.11 inch, while the Series 9 is a hair thinner at the thickest point (0.65 inch versus 0.68 inch). In short, both are amazingly thin and will satisfy aesthetic minimalists.

Two of the features that make the MacBook Air such a joy to use are its quick boot times and nearly instant sleep mode. Close the lid, and it goes to sleep. Open the lid and it wakes right up, even if you've left it sitting untouched for days. Samsung has come the closest to matching that performance, and the boot times are amazingly brief for a Windows laptop, typically under 30 seconds. When you close the lid, the Series 9 goes into a Mac-like sleep mode. That's especially welcome, as we like the idea of just closing your laptop's lid, walking away, and coming back to it later, without having to worry (too much, at least) about the battery or the unpredictability of the sleep/hibernate process on Windows laptops. The Series 9's sleep mode wasn't quite as good as the MacBook Air's, however. Sometimes the laptop would wake right up in a few seconds, other times we had to hit the power button, and at least once the laptop failed to wake at all, requiring a hard reboot.

Related links
Review of Samsung Series 9 (13-inch)
Review of MacBook Air (11.6-inch)
Review of Alienware M11x
Review of HP Pavilion dm1z

The keyboard and touch pad have an unmistakable MacBook-like style (it may seem tedious at this point to compare every feature to the Apple equivalent, but the Series 9 is so explicitly positioned as the Air's direct competitor that it's unavoidable). The large, flat-topped keys are backlit, a feature we always appreciate and that is especially hard to find in an 11-inch laptop. The large touch pad, again like the MacBook's (and a few others, such as the HP Envy's), is a single surface without buttons, hinged at the top. Its response to multitouch gestures is halting and imprecise, however--a universal problem for Windows laptops.

The 11.6-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is the same as the Air and most of the 11-inch to 15-inch laptops we've seen this year. On the smaller screen, this resolution provides crisp detail and plenty of screen real estate. Even better is the nearly glare-free surface of the display, with excellent off-axis viewing. It's definitely a highlight of the system.

Samsung Series 9 Average for category [ultraportable]
Video Mini-HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Single headphone/mic jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0, microSD card reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive n/a None

To preserve the clean lines of the Series 9, ports and connections are hidden away under sliding plastic flaps on the right and left edges of the body. The downside is that the doors themselves are fragile-feeling and cumbersome, and you need an external dongle to hook up everything from an Ethernet jack to an HDMI cable.

The 11.6-inch Samsung Series 9 comes in a single configuration that includes a 1.3GHz Intel Core i3 CPU, a 64GB solid-state drive (SSD), and 2GB of RAM. For $1,200 the 64GB SSD is just way too small--Apple offers the same 64GB SSD for $999, or a 128GB drive for $1,199. At least the Series 9 has a newer Core i3 CPU, rather than the dated Core 2 Duo in the MacBook Air. However, that Core i3 is a 2010 version, not Intel's latest generation (the 13-inch Series 9 has a 2011 Intel CPU). That means you miss out on the better battery life and integrated graphics found in other 2011 laptops.

In fact, the older CPU in the 11.6-inch MacBook Air ended up outperforming the 11.6-inch Series 9 in our benchmark tests, although not by a huge margin in most cases. As an example of what the Series 9 could be capable of, Dell's new Alienware M11x has a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M in an 11-inch chassis, and offers comparable performance to a full-size laptop. In anecdotal use, however, the Series 9 was perfectly fine for Web surfing, working on documents, and media playback, even of full-screen HD video.

Juice box
Samsung Series 9 Avg. watts/hour
Off (60%) 0.33
Sleep (10%) 0.51
Idle (25%) 7.52
Load (05%) 26.16
Raw kWh number 30.11
Annual power consumption cost $3.42

The Samsung Series 9 ran for 3 hours and 32 minutes in our video-playback battery drain test. That's fine for a 15-inch or larger laptop, but an 11-inch, which is designed for daily travel, needs more. The 11-inch-category MacBook Air ran about 30 minutes longer than that and our 11-inch battery life leader, the HP Pavilion dm1z, ran for 5 hours and 19 minutes in the same test. With a current-gen Intel Core i3 CPU, we suspect the Series 9 would post better battery scores.

Samsung includes a one-year warranty with the Series 9, which is a shame, as the 13-inch Series 9 comes with a three-year warranty. At least Samsung's Web site is easy to navigate, and plugging in our exact model number (NP900X1A) produced a custom page of links and downloads. Support is also available via online chat or at a toll-free number, which is 1-800-726-7864.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Samsung Series 9 NP900X1A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.33GHz Intel Core i3-380UM; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB(Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 64GB Samsung SSD

Alienware M11x
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M + 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1,696MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 320GB Seagate 7,200rpm

HP Pavilion dm1z-3005
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 3,072MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch
OS X 10.6.4 Snow Leopard; 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 (ULV); 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 320M; 128GB Apple SSD

Samsung Series 9 900X1A-A01 - Core i3 380UM 1.33 GHz - 11.6" TFT

Samsung Series 9 NP900X1A (11.6-inch)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7Battery 7Support 7