Samsung N140 review

So here’s my uh.. long-awaited review of the Samsung N140 netbook. This is a fairly recent model that was released i think some time late last year (and early this year in Finland). It’s basically an upgraded model of the acclaimed N120 (won tests in both Mikrobitti and MikroPC magazines here in Finland).

Let’s get a few things straight right off the bat. This is a netbook. Don’t come crying to me that it’s low powered, because i know. That’s why i got it. Yes, your calculator may have more power than this, but i don’t give a shit. Anyway, on to the review.

What’s in the box

The laptop costs somewhere below 400 euro in Finland. I bought mine from Anttila for 399 + shipping. The box is a very minimalistic (ecological, i suppose) box, with very little graphics or glossy print. Inside the box you’ll find the netbook inside it’s protective bag and set in some foam. An accessory box is next to that, which contain the installation guide, warranty information, declaration of ROHS compliance, and other assorted papers. Also included is a black samsung “second skin”, with zipper for the laptop.

I wasn’t aware of this, so i went out and bought a Tucano Second Skin from Verkkokauppa for 12 euro, but in hindsight, this was a good idea. The included black case is very very thin, and because of this the quality feels a bit cheap. I guess it protects from scratches and such, but i’d prefer something thicker, like the Tucano.

Also included of course, is the power brick, which is very small. Like a small mobile phone, only a bit thicker. A 2 meter power cable is included. Note well that this laptop can also work as a usb charger for a device such as a mobile phone, ipod etc, even when the laptop is powered off!

Specifications

The specifications of the netbook are as follows:

Processor: Intel Atom N270 (1.6ghz, hyperthreading)
Memory: 1 GB 533 MHz DDR2 (upgradable to 2GB, trying this later)
Hard-drive: 250 GB (2.5″, 5400RPM)
Graphics: Chipset is an Intel 945, with Intel GMA950 graphics that uses shared memory from the RAM.
Screen: 10.1″ LED backlit, resolution 1024×600 pixels
Optical drive: NO
USB: 3xUSB 2.0
SD-memory card reader (supports SDHC)
VGA out, Audio in/out, Ethernet, Wireless and Bluetooth 2.1EDR

Physique

The laptop itself is a very solid build, which was a great surprise after having tried some other netbooks, such as early Eee-pc’s. (701 i believe?). It does not flex at all when holding it from a corner, and there are no uncomfortable squeaks or inconsistencies.

The top of the laptop is very shiny glossy plastic, that will retain any memory of any physical object (may apply also to ghosts and spectres) touching it. This means fingerprints, scratches and other scuffs will be visible for all eternity. It’s also easy to clean because it’s so slick, but bear in mind: any rough cloth or dirt on it will leave scratches if you wipe with it. This applies to most samsung products, TV’s etc.

Inside it’s matte, but with a shiny chrome border circling around the keyboard. I’m not sure what the function is of this, i think it just looks cheap.

The touchpad is a decent size for a netbook, and very comfortable to use. The button is a one-piece, two-button affair, which feels a bit fidgetty, but you learn to use it pretty quick. Just hit the left or the right side for the desired button.

I would call the keyboard Thinkpad-esque. It’s bloody awesome. The size takes up the whole width of the netbook, and has very nice feedback and a generally i give it high marks. Includes function and windows button. Functions behind the fn key are: sleep, battery, the euro sign, external/internal screen, brightness, mute, volume+ and -, “turbo mode”, wireless, touchpad on/off, home, end and num- and scroll lock.

Memory is easily accessible under a one-screw hatch in the bottom. This is also a feature that most netbooks don’t have. There is a single slot, that is occupied by a Samsung brand 1GB stick, 533mhz.

Battery is removable, and there are rumors of a new more powerful battery, but i haven’t seen it yet.

Software

Comes bundled with Windows 7 Starter (32-bit). The bundle is quite horrible, as it includes every damn thing under the sun, most of which are limited time trials, offer very limited benefits for the user. Some of the “highlights” are:

  • Office 2007 (1 year trial)
  • McAfee Anti Virus + Firewall + Doohickies
  • Samsung Backup solution (only thing i’ve actually liked, more on this later)
  • Various small farming-related games, such as Dairy Dash.. (wtf?)

The Office 2007 trial didn’t work, as it just offered a 60 day trial, or an option to buy it for a very affordable 600 euro (more than the machine).  Uninstalled that fucker right off the bat. McAfee, slow as molasses, and didn’t activate. Uninstalled. Games. Uninstalled.

The Samsung backup utility makes a full disk restore image when you first start the netbook, and it’s apparently stored on the 15 GB recovery partition that’s configured on the drive. This came in very handy, as i was able to bluescreen the bitch right away, after installing newer drivers for the touchpad. So uh, don’t do that. I booted the thing, and hit F4 to access the recovery image. Full restore (10GB) took about 20 minutes. After that i had to re-uninstall everything, but now i’m cool.After this, i created another backup image, this time of the customized operating system, so i wouldn’t have to do this all over again.

Updated the BIOS to the latest version, dated 10.1.2010. Nothing notable, no changelog on Samsung’s site. There’s a program called Samsung  Update which takes care of updating the drivers (however messing up with the touchpad driver). Drivers can ofcourse be downloaded manually too.

Performance

I did some simple tests to compare the performance of the Samsung N140, with my previous “netbook”, the IBM Thinkpad X41. Specs of the thinkpad are: 1.6GHz single core Centrino, 2GB DDR2, 1.8″ 40GB Hard Drive, Intel 845 chipset.

Here are the results, which i won’t analyze other than to say that the results were largely expected. The Atom is low powered, but the hard drive kicks ass.

  • HyperPI (calculates decimals of PI):

1 million digits:

Thinkpad: 48 seconds
Samsung: 1 minute 57 seconds (running 2 threads), 1 minute 36 seconds (running 1 thread)

2 million digits:

Thinkpad: 1 minute 57 seconds
Samsung: 4 minutes 22 seconds (2 threads), 3 minutes 37 seconds (1 thread)

  • HDTach 3 (measures hard drive performance)

Thinkpad: Burst 90,2 MB/s, Random Access 19.7ms, Average Read: 17.2 MB/s, Sequential reads: 20 -> 14 MB/s
Samsung: Burst 118.2 MB/s, Random Access 19.6ms, Average Read 71.4 MB/s, Sequential reads 89-43 MB/s

I was unable to run PCMark05 due to (maybe?) the resolution of the Samsung (below the required 1024×768).

Windows Experience Index scores are: 2.1 for the Samsung, and 1 for the Thinkpad. Biggest differences were CPU (thinkpad wins hands down), and HD (Samsung wipes the floor). I’m not sure what the net difference is, when you account for all the differences in performance, but the Samsung is a netbook.

Overall impressions

So far, i’ve had it for about 24 hours, and i’m very happy with it, despite the small hickup with Windows 7.

Pro’s

  • Good bang for the buck
  • Build quality
  • Visually appealing (mostly)
  • At least some upgradability

Con’s

  • Bundled software doesn’t work or sucks
  • Windows 7 starter…
  • Glossy edge around the keyboard

I purposefully left out performance from the con’s section, because you can’t expect performance from a sub 400 e netbook. You get it for the battery life and the portability. If you’re looking to do more than surf the web, read your mails or sit on IRC, i recommend a computer.

Future projects

I have this idea of putting a Sandisk Extreme III SD card in to the SD slot, and installing some netbook linux, and seeing if that is any faster. The 8GB variant of this card comes at around 40 € here in Finland, which isn’t all that bad. The question remains, what bus is the SD card hooked to?

The memory will also be upgraded to 2GB, though i’m not expecting much difference in performance here.

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