You've gotta hand it to Samsung, the vendor's taking the Apple chase seriously. Of all the competitors in the consumer technology race, we think Samsung is the one that most consistently nips at Apple's heels and sometimes gets ahead. Bearing in mind that our current Intel notebook of choice comes from ASUS -- the excellent UX31A -- this is another strong showing from Samsung. The NP900X4C is one of those still rare beasts -- a 15in ultrabook -- and we think that it offers further evidence of Samsung's ambition to become the equal (or envy) of any hardware vendor.
There's no two ways about it, this is a sexy machine. And gratifyingly, it's not sexy in a consciously imitative way. While the ultrabook category of notebooks on the whole can arguably be seen as a cynical adoption of Apple's industrial design, the sharp edges and distinctive curved hinge here are Samsung all the way. It's the sort of considered design statement we've come to expect from the Korean vendor.
Between the Series 9's rigid, lightweight duralumin shell, razor-thin profile and understated yet distinctive slate blue aesthetic, this really looks like no other notebook currently on the market. It also helps that the screen -- a matte panel, no less -- also makes a good first impression, with bright, clear images being the order of the day. However, unfortunately, the twisted nematic technology means effective viewing angles are quite small on the whole -- if you're not looking at this screen from just the right position, it can look a bit subpar.
The NP900X4C also impresses internally, though perhaps not to quite the same degree. Unlike smaller ultrabooks, which can get away with fairly sparse features, a 15in notebook like this does have to offer concessions to users who want a desktop replacement. And there the NP900X4C both hits and misses.
The bad first: despite this being a larger machine (and it's really a little too large to pass as a travel notebook), connectivity is in keeping with the sparseness of smaller ultrabooks. Three USB ports (two USB 3.0), an SD card slot, mini-VGA, mini-HDMI and adapter-requiring Ethernet comprise the entire complement of inputs and outputs here, whereas for a machine this size, we'd like to see at least full-size HDMI. Storage is also an issue -- the default configuration is a single 128GB mSATA SSD and for a potential desktop replacement, that's pretty tight-fisted
Fortunately, popping open the rear panel we found that both memory and storage do seem to be user-upgradable, with neither component being soldered onto the motherboard. Keeping in mind that larger mSATA SSDs are still a bit of an expensive rarity, that does at least mean that limited storage isn't a total deal-breaker.
Otherwise, thanks to a Core i7-3517U CPU, ample RAM and SSD storage, the NP900X4C is a snappy performer. Its PCMark 7 score of 4,585 is at the higher end of consumer notebook scores, and that's reflected in a butter-smooth desktop experience. Intel's HD4000 integrated graphics actually do a good job of affording the NP900X4C some casual gaming chops, too. We found DiRT 3 very playable at this notebook's native 1,600 x 900 resolution, albeit only at low settings.
All in all, though we'd have preferred more storage and perhaps a higher-resolution screen, this is an excellent offering from Samsung and one of the better put together and more distinctive thin and light notebooks around. Pretty compelling.
Pros : Great built quality, good performance, upgradable storage and RAM.
Cons : Only includes 128GB SSD.
Verdict : 8 out of 10. Highly Recommended.
Available from Samsung, retailing for $1,799