The Samsung N510 is the first netbook to use the nVidia Ion graphics chipset - in other words, the first netbook that can really do video.
Netbooks are by design lightweight and low-power mini laptops, majoring on portability and (hopefully) longevity rather than raw speed. And a lower price than you'll found on many a full-size laptop certainly helps sweeten the deal.
But since the first 7in-screen Eee PC, we've seen the members of the breed grow in size and price - but not in performance. Now and for the first time, we have a miniature laptop that breaks the imposed boundaries of netbook performance.
Samsung has created exactly the kind of definition-busting compact laptop that will divide opinion on its very categorisation. Is it an over-sized netbook or a somehwat small laptop?
We would argue that a sub-£400 price point, absence of intrinsic optical drive, under-1.5kg weight, along with a screen that's below 12in is a good enough definition for a netbook. In which case, welcome to the most capable netbook yet created, the Samsung N510.
Before we look at its performance, we need to gauge its dimensions. At around 290mm x 200mm, the Samsung N510 is about an inch wider than your typical MSI Wind-clone 10in netbook. And it weighs a tad more too, at 1.4kg, where most 10-inchers are closer to 1.2kg.
The extra width of the Samsung N510 accomodates an 11.6in screen. And those extra 1.5 inches on the diagonal not only make for a larger panel - it's also inspired Samsung to up the screen resolution, up from the claustrophobic 1024x600 desktop we usually see, to an HD-friendly 1366x768.
If anything, this pixel count may be a little too high for what is still a rather small screen. A 1280x720 screen may have been an even better balance between resolution and readability.
Best of all, this is an anti-glare matt panel; crisp, bright and clear, and viewable under most lighting conditions without doubling up as a mirror. Colour balance and contrast are good, and viewing angles not too tight.
Our review of Samsung's first netbook, the Samsung NC10
Samsung has always made good keyboards for its netbooks, and the Samsung N510's keeps up the tradition. At 260mm edge to edge, it's only 10mm short of a full-size keyboard.
A single pivoted bar serves as left and right mouse clicking, smooth and positive, and it can be easily pressed using your thumb's edge without having to lift your hand. Above this sits a good touchpad, not the largest at 70mm x 42mm, but suitably precise and responsive to light finger pressure.
It may be saddled with the ubiquitous Intel Atom yet the Samsung N510 proved to be the highest performance netbook we've tested to date. The secret, of course, is in the graphics processor. Where Atom netbooks have been held back by Intel integrated chipset graphics controllers (watch out for barely-there Intel GMA 950, GMA 500 and GMA 4500M part numbers, whenever you look over any laptop specs) the Samsung N510 is bolstered by an effective nVidia GeForce 9400M chip.
Note that the version used here is listed as nVidia Ion LE, which means that DirectX 10 support has been deliberately switched off in firmware, to keep Microsoft happy with its Windows XP license restrictions.
When Intel Atom and nVidia GeForce 9400M are combined, you get what nVidia calls the Ion platform, lifting graphics performance to equal or better that of a full-size laptop. And before anyone too ‘grown up' for computer games complains that 3D graphics processors are wasted on a laptop that won't be threatened by the latest shoot-em-up; just bear in mind the potential of a capable graphics processor.
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