Samsung N510 notebook review

Samsung’s N510 netbook is one of the first machines featuring Nvidia’s ION technology to hit the market. With a relatively powerful graphics card alongside the regular Intel Atom processor, the N510 offers a much more rounded package than most rival netbooks, with the ability to easily play back HD movies and even some light gaming.

The ION chipset allows for an Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics card to be used – offering similar 3D performance to much larger laptops. We managed to run some of the latest games on the N510 – albeit at rubbish frame rates and low settings – but it’s still a surprise to see proper multimedia abilities from a netbook. It’s at its best when playing back HD movies, however, where films run smoothly – and there’s an HDMI port to let you output high-definition content to a HDTV.

Unlike most other netbooks and laptops, the N510’s 11.6-inch screen is a matt TFT panel, which pays dividends when you’re using it outside. Reflections and fingerprints are well suppressed, and it’s ideal for use on a train or on the move.

Colours aren’t overly vibrant, but it’s good enough for most uses. It’s also a very sharp panel, aided by a crisp 1366 x 768 pixel resolution. There’s more than enough space to open a couple of windows – as with Sony’s VAIO W-series netbook – but the Atom processor means that multi-tasking isn’t something that’s really on the menu.

As with the other Samsung netbooks we’ve managed to get our grubby mitts on, the N510 features an excellent keyboard. The large keys are all well shaped and with decent travel, and it’s easy to type without fear of clipping the adjoining keys. Overall, the typing experience is similar to Samsung’s full-sized laptop line-up.

The quality of the rest of this machine is also good. It’s not the most stylish netbook – with sombre black plastics – but it’s tough and small enough to take with you on the daily commute.

Aside from the chipset and GPU, there’s little else special about the N510 when it comes to components. The Intel Atom N280 is a second-generation Atom chip, backed by the usual 1GB of memory and running Windows XP Home. The 5 and a half hours we managed to run the N510 for between charges is impressive considering the performance on offer. The 160GB hard drive is also in line with rivals.

Along with the HDMI port for HD video connections, there’s a standard VGA port on the left-hand side of the chassis for regular analogue connections. A single USB port and Ethernet socket are also situated on that side of the machine.

Two additional USB ports are found on the right-hand side, along with a power socket and Kensington lock attachment. There’s a memory card reader on the front of the chassis. Wireless connectivity is top-notch, with both 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in place.

Verdict

With a mid-level price, the Samsung N510 strikes a good balance between performance, portability and comfort. Its large keyboard is one of the best you’ll find on a netbook, and despite a lack of vibrancy the screen is also sharp and highly usable.

The ION chipset allows for a decent GPU, and the results are much better than we’ve come to expect from a netbook. If you want to play HD content or even play older games in your spare time, then this compact machine is well worth a look.