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Samsung X10 ‘thin and light’ notebook

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Review The jury is still out on whether Intel's Centrino mobile platform will revive the fortunes of the PC industry, but if Samsung's first Centrino-based notebook, the X10, is anything to go by, the 'thin and light' segment is certain to become more popular over the coming months.

Quite apart from the Centrino chipset that forms its core, the X10 is a well designed notebook PC. Its aesthetics - lashings of silver paint - give it a slightly tacky Amstrad h-fi feel - as if they're trying to emulate Sony. But that's true of more than half the laptops on the market today. No one has yet come close to usurping Apple's industrial design crown, and most offerings don't come close, Samsung included. Or Sony, for that matter.

Click for imageBut looks matter less to the business buyers the X10 is aimed at. Convenience and functionality are more important, and the X10 has both. For a start, the machine feels light. It's 1.8kg officially, but it feels very portable, lighter than the better looking and smaller 12in Apple PowerBook on which this review was written. The X10 has a 14.1in screen, and is sized accordingly.

The Samsung contains all the obligatory ports and connectors. We were impressed with the decision to mount the two USB 2.0 ports one on either side of the machine, ideally placed for the connection of a mouse for whatever hand the user prefers. The tray-loading DVD/CD-RW combo drive is on the right-hand side, along with the microphone and headphone sockets. The sole PC Card slot, 1394, modem, external monitor and 10/100Mbps Ethernet on the other side. At the back are the power, PS/2 and optical S/PDIF digital home entertainment system connector. On the front, just below the screen catch, is a Memory Stick slot.

All these connectors are flush with the machine's case - there are none of those fiddling flaps to cover them. Again, good design makes for user convenience.

Opening the 2.8mm thick clamshell case reveals the keyboard, trackpad and, below the trackpad, the speaker grilles. Samsung places a fingerprint sensor in the front of the trackpad on some models, but on ours we found a scroll wheel, an innovation other manufacturers should follow.

In addition to the standard keys, the X10 features four user-programmable buttons above the keyboard, used to launch email and web applications, and so on. One of the four, however, is used to power down the 802.11b wireless module. That may seems superfluous given that Centrino is all about on mobile connectivity, but turning off the WLAN card when it's not needed conserves a lot of power. The X10 makes it very easy to do so, and to switch the card back on.

Conserving the X10's battery power will be essential to mobile users. Unlike some Centrino systems, the X10's slimline battery only provides around two hours' usage time, says Samsung. That's a long way from Intel's goal of a day's computing on a single battery charge. A range of independent tests will be required to show whether Centrino's power-saving systems do indeed significantly boost battery life, but our experience with the X10 bears out Samsung's own figure. We got more, but then we weren't hammering the system or watching DVDs, a sure-fire battery killer.

The company offers a fatter battery with a four-hour capacity, but even that seems short by the standards promised by Centrino.

We were certainly impressed with the rapidity at which the X10's Intel Pro/wireless 802.11b card latched on to the office WLAN. The card itself is housed beneath a panel on the underside of the notebook and connected directly to the mini-PCI connector. Upgrading to, say, 802.11g when that specification becomes a ratified IEEE standard will be just a matter of undoing a couple of screws and swapping out the existing card. A similar panel protects the memory slot.

We evaluated Samsung's top-end X10, with a 1.6GHz Pentium M, 60GB hard drive and 512MB of DDR SDRAM - though the machine we tested only contained 256MB. Graphics come courtesy of an Nvidia GeForce 4 Go 440 with 64MB of video RAM.

A small grille just above the keyboard serves as an exit for the heat-pipe used to convect heat away from the processor. Tucked inside is a fan that kicks in when the temperature rises beyond a certain point. Intel claims the Pentium M runs at a relatively low temperature - ie. you can touch it without burning your finger. That doesn't mean the vent doesn't get quite hot to the touch.

We found the system rapid and responsive. This is a business PC, and running business and Web applications, the X10 felt good to use. Maxing out the Aquanox demo (1024x768x32, FSAA, multiple landscape passes dynamic shadows and lights, etc. but with no sound) wasn't much fun to play, but as we say, this is a business PC not a gamer's box.

The downside is price. £1699 is a lot for a notebook when you can buy a good system for around £1000, so the X10 isn't a machine for the budget-conscious. That said, adding a mobile card, boosting the spec. to 512KB and 60GB HDD, not to mention offering performance that beats a 2.4GHz Pentium 4-M, can take the price of a mid-range system up to that of the X10. ®

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