Samsung NC110 netbook: Slow but stylin’

Netbooks are so formulaic these days, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd. Samsung, in a small way, has managed that with the $330 (price as of May 11, 2011) NC110. With only the standard netbook 10.1-inch display, the typical 250GB hard drive, and the usual accoutrements, the NC110 instead makes an impression through a combination of styling, battery life, and software. Unfortunately, it also stands out as a slow performer.

The NC110 is one of the better-looking netbooks to pass through our portals, thanks largely to a small swoop downward at the rear of the unit (at the battery), a Chiclet-style keyboard, and a lower deck that’s sculpted back from the edges of the ports. Those features not only enhance the looks but also assist with ergonomics: It’s easier to position your fingers properly on a keyboard with gaps between keys, and the ports are easier to find by feel than their flush-mounted counterparts.

Said ports are the standard netbook array, consisting of three USB 2.0 ports, microphone and headphone jacks, VGA and Ethernet ports, and the power jack. The front edge of the netbook has the status lights, plus the SC Card reader slot. Connectivity includes gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless, and Bluetooth.

Although the NC110’s keyboard has a decent feel for a medium-stroke unit, the touchpad feels a little less responsive than most; it also offers no visual delineation of the scroll areas, so they’re a tad easy to activate accidentally.

The NC110 turned in a WorldBench 6 performance score of 34–a point or two below the netbook norm. Subjectively, as configured out of the box, it feels even slower. That’s not surprising considering that it has a single-core Atom N455 CPU, just 1GB of memory, and a lot of unnecessary background applications running. However, while the NC110 isn’t a stellar performer, it has stamina in spades: The netbook lasted just 3 minutes shy of 8 hours in our battery testing.

Samsung bundles a lot of software with the NC100–some good, some useful, and, as mentioned, some that merely suck up CPU cycles. You’ll find about a dozen games from Oberon Media, as well as Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Office 2010 Starter, Adobe Reader, Skype, and a dozen more “Easy” applications from Samsung. The Samsung apps are indeed easy to use, but you don’t need programs such as Easy Display Manager, Easy Network Manager, or Easy Battery Manager–Windows 7 Starter has nicely integrated utilities that cover all of those functions. Trials of the netbook edition of Norton Internet Security and Norton Online Backup are also included.

Bundled as well are SRS Premium, a background application that will improve audio quality no matter which player you’re using, and Samsung’s Movie Color Enhancer, a background app that adds richness to video.

A half hour spent removing the unnecessary software and tweaking the startup items using msconfig.exe had a far more noticeable effect than using Easy Start-Up Manager. Most laptops and netbooks benefit from this kind of pruning, but the NC110 does so more than others; 720p video, for instance, was unwatchable before and smooth afterward. The netbook will never manage 1080p, but that’s well beyond the screen’s 1024 by 600 resolution anyway. Alas, the Webcam is limited to 320 by 240 video.

The Samsung NC110 is a notch above the pack in both looks and stamina. Otherwise, it’s just a standard netbook–and unless you are willing to spend the time tuning the unit’s software installation, you won’t get decent performance out of it.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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