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Samsung Series 9 Full HD (ATIV Book 9)

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What's Hot: Stunning and elegant design, excellent matte full HD display, fast and light.

What's Not: Pricey.


Reviewed May 27, 2013 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Editor's note, Oct. 2013: Read our review of the new Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus with a QHD+ touch screen.

Once upon a time, you expected this kind of experience only from Sony or Apple. A unique and distinctive design, an all-metal casing and perfect fit and finish. Good performance and specs. I'm talking about the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook; striking yet understated in Mineral Ash Black. The design hasn't changed from the previous generation 13.3" Series 9 (though it's much improved from the first generation), but it still turns heads. This 2.55 pound machine is just 0.51" thick, with straight cut bright aluminum sides that contrast with the matte black top, bottom and inner surfaces. For those of you who follow Samsung's Galaxy Android smartphones, Samsung's penchant for metal casings in their notebooks might come as a shock. Yes, the Samsung Series 9 is the manufacturer's high line of Ultrabooks, so it should look good and use high end materials. That said, the styling exceeds expectations, so it's worth a mention. It's not only unique and striking; it's strong and rigid with no flex and no unsightly seams. Samsung is changing their naming convention, and this will eventually be rechristened the Samsung ATIV Book 9.

Samsung Series 9

Today we look at the April-May 2013 refresh with updated Intel CPUs and a full HD 1920 x 1080 display. The rest of the specs are similar to slightly older models available several months ago, and the design is untouched (we won't complain about that since it's stunning). Of course, a $1,399 list price laptop ($1,299 on Amazon) needs more than good looks to impress us, and Samsung does a fairly decent job with their jaw-dropping full HD matte display, updated 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-3537U ULV CPU with Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz, 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a very fast 128 gig SSD. Yes, we'd like to see an 8 gig option, but Samsung seems to shy away from offering this in their 13" Series 9, and to be honest, I rarely exceed 4 gigs of usage unless running VMs (virtual machines) or editing full HD video while other programs are running in the background. 128 gigs of storage isn't exactly capacious, but the 256 gig model with a Core i7 (NP900X3E-K01US) will set you back $1,500 on average the (list price is higher). The 20 gig recovery partition, Windows 8 64 bit and associated apps take up plenty of space, so you're left with 68 gigs available on first boot on the Core i7 model with 128 gig SSD that's most commonly available in the US (NP900X3E-A02US). For those who are wondering why Samsung bothered to release this model with Intel's next generation Haswell CPUs and chipset looming, it's likely because we won't see Haswell invade Ultrabooks in meaningful numbers until the fall of 2013.

Samsung Series 9

The machine has dual band Intel Advanced-N 6235 WiFi with WiDi wireless display, and we had no problems with performance or range. It has Bluetooth 4.0, an SD card slot, 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 port, micro HDMI, mini VGA (adapter to full size VGA sold separately for $40), wired Gigabit Ethernet (via included dongle adapter that doesn't use a USB port) and 3.5mm combo audio. The port selection, other than 10/100/1000 Ethernet, is par for the course among Ultrabooks, but for a notebook this exquisitely thin and light, we're satisfied. If you need a more general purpose aluminum-clad workhorse with built-in Ethernet and a full size HDMI port (plus upgradable RAM), then Samsung's Series 7 Ultra is more appropriate. The 13.3" Series 7 Ultra is a pound heavier, which is average to a wee bit over average rather than stunningly light like the Series 9.

Despite the thin metal body, the Series 9 didn't get uncomfortably hot when working on MS Office documents or streaming 1080p video. The internal twin fan cooling with copper heat pipes effectively keeps heat under control. Air vents on the bottom and near the back edge get the job done (just don't block them by resting the laptop on a bed). Our CPU ran at a safe 47 degrees Centigrade with moderate demand (105 degrees is max allowable), while the bottom surface rarely got hotter than human body temperature except when playing 3D games.

You can remove the bottom cover if you unscrew 10 tiny Phillips head screws, but the only upgradable part is the mSATA SSD drive. Removing the bottom cover does provide access to the nominally "sealed inside" battery should you need to replace it.

The laptop has two 1.5 watt stereo speakers that fire downward from grilles on each side near the front. They deliver pleasing audio that doesn't sound harsh or shrill, but typical of Ultrabooks, they're not terribly loud and bass is minimal. Use the 3.5mm audio jack or Bluetooth for external speakers and headphones that deliver much better audio. The Series 7 Ultra's higher watt JBL speakers are noticeably louder and add more bass, though they still won't vibrate the table.


Deals and Shopping:


Samsung Series 9 video Review


Samsung Series 9 vs. Samsung Series 7 Ultra Comparison Smackdown


The full HD 1920 x 1080 display is simply gorgeous and very bright (Samsung is still arguing with itself whether this is a 300 or 400 nit display). I honestly never loved the 1600 x 900 PLS display on the previous Series 9 because the colors weren't very accurate or rich across the color spectrum. The 1080p 900X3E's BOE Hydis panel is a different story: it has a wide color gamut, no glare and near 180 degree viewing angles. Since BOE Hydis is known for their AFFS displays, I suspect this is one (it's similar to IPS technology). It surpasses the venerable and twice as expensive Sony Vaio Z third generation thanks to vastly superior viewing angles while maintaining a wide color gamut and avoiding glare. This is one of the best displays on a laptop, and only the Sony and Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A (non-touch) can compare. Speaking of touch, there's no touch screen option here, likely because touch screens are heavier and thicker, and that would ruin the Series 9's super-thin and light reputation. Samsung's more affordable Series 7 Ultra does have a 1080p glossy touch screen, for those who like the Samsung experience but want touch with Windows 8.

It All Just Works

What strikes us in the Series 9 is how everything just works as it should. It boots in under 5 seconds, the trackpad is marvelously responsive (even more important since there's no touch screen) and the backlighting for both screen and keyboard isn't as difficult to control or twitchy as the Samsung Series 7 Ultra and some other competing brands. This tells us that Samsung does know how to do it right; they simply want you to be the top Series to get all the good stuff. Samsung's SW Update (not exclusive to the Series 9) is the best effort we've seen from a computer manufacturer to keep software and drivers up to date without being arcane, buggy or intrusive. SW Update and a variety of additional Samsung apps are pre-loaded. What if you wipe out the machine and want to start from scratch with a clean Windows 8 install? Rather than offer driver updates as individual downloads on the Samsung website, they offer just SW Update for download. Install it and it will find all drivers and programs available for your model. You can selectively choose just the drivers and software you want, and you can save those downloads for later use if you wish.

Horsepower and Performance

The Series 9 full HD model runs on the updated Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7-3537U 2.0 GHz CPU with Turbo Boost to 3.1 GHz. The 22 nm, 17 W CPU is powerful enough to handle everyday productivity tasks, HD video playback, Adobe Photoshop and HD video editing. It's paired with Intel HD 4000 graphics and there's simply no room for a dedicated GPU in a laptop this thin and small. Integrated graphics can easily handle 1080p video playback and even 3D gaming with more forgiving titles like Civ 5 and Left4Dead 2. Sorry, no Crysis or BioShock Infinite here, unless you want to play at low resolutions and graphics settings at 25 fps or less. Ultrabooks with integrated graphics perform very similarly, but we give the Series 9 full HD model a modest edge for its fast Core i7 CPU and zippy SSD drive. Even though it doesn't trounce the comparable competition on benchmarks, it feels fast in actual use.

The machine has 4 gigs of DDR3 single channel RAM soldered to the motherboard, and it's not upgradable. We wish Samsung had used dual channel RAM since that boosts integrated graphics performance (integrated graphics use system memory). It's not a deal breaker, but it is something I'd like to see on Samsung's highest end Ultrabook. Our model shipped with a Lite-On 128 gig mSATA SSD (standard size, upgradable). Though Samsung's own SSD drives have a great reputation for performance, this Lite-On actually did better in CrystalDiskMark and ATTO drive benchmarks than the Samsung PM840 SSD in the Series 7 Ultra. It puts out very good numbers and feels fast in daily use.

Samsung pre-loads IntelliMemory on most of their Windows computers, and it's the first thing we remove from a machine with an SSD drive. It can speed up slower conventional spinning hard disks by caching lots of stuff to RAM (memory), but when you have an SSD this isn't helpful and it tends to hog all the RAM. Uninstall it!


PCMark 7: 4448

Windows Experience Index:
Processor: 7.1
RAM: 5.9
Graphics (for Aero): 4.5
Gaming Graphics: 6.2
HDD: 8.1

PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table

Samsung Series 9 4448
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 5050
Samsung Series 7 Ultra 4469/4690
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch (Core i5) 4670
Dell XPS 13 (FHD, 1.7GHz Core i5) 4517
Dell XPS 12 (Core i5) 4678
Sony Vaio Duo 11 (Core i5) 4772
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 (Core i5) 4427
Asus Taichi 21 (Core i7) 4952
Acer Aspire S7 (Core i5, 11.6") 4728
Microsoft Surface Pro 4657

CrystalDiskMark SSD Scores

crystaldiskmark results


Keyboard and Trackpad

I'm picky about keyboards since I write for a living. While the relatively low travel keyboard is a necessary evil on very thin Ultrabooks like the Series 9, I must admit Samsung has the magic formula to make the keyboard work well. Just as with the Series 7 Ultra, the key travel feels limiting, but I've typed near my best speeds on both machines. It may not feel like Lenovo's wondrous ThinkPad keyboards, but it's great for getting the job done. The black keys are masked with white key markings, so it's easy to see the keys in most any light. The white backlighting behaves well and gets the job done when typing in dim lighting or the dark. It's not nearly as twitchy as the Series 7 machines that respond to overhead lights and people passing by in the room. Typical of Samsung, there's an Fn lock key that we love: press it and you no longer have to use both the Fn key and the appropriate F1-F12 key to use the multimedia, wireless, display backlight, keyboard backlight and other controls.

The oversized, buttonless Elan trackpad is another joy by Windows standards. It tracks a single finger well with no cursor jump, and swipes for Windows 8 gestures work perfectly. It's not maddeningly sensitive to left side swipes, so we didn't find ourselves being thrown into the last used app by accident as often as we often do on other Windows 8 laptops. The trackpad supports two finger gestures for things like pinch zooming and it also supports 3 and 4 fingered gestures. The full-featured trackpad control panel applet gives you control over gestures, swiping, tapping, pointer speed and more.

Battery Life

We didn't expect the Series 9, with its smaller 44Wh, 4 cell Lithium Ion polymer battery, to approach the Series 7 Ultra's strong runtimes, but we were pleasantly surprised. We've averaged 5.5 to 6 hours of productivity use (web, MS Office, email, social networking and an hour of streaming video) on a charge with WiFi on and brightness set to 50%. That's the best we've seen yet for a Series 9 13" machine, even if it doesn't match Samsung's 9 hours claim.

In the US, Samsung uses the same spec 40W compact world charger for several machines including the Samsung Series 7 Slate, Samsung Series 7 Ultra (overseas models with dedicated graphics get a beefier 60W charger), Samsung ATIV 700T convertible tablet and the Series 9. The battery, typical of Ultrabooks, is sealed inside, though if you remove the bottom cover screws, you can access it for repair.


You can tell, can't you? I really like the Samsung Series 9 and it's hard to beat as one of the most ultraportable 13" Ultrabooks for style, quality, performance and extreme light weight. The only drawback? It lacks a touch screen, and Windows 8 is easier to use with touch. That said, if you spend most of your time in the traditional Windows desktop UI with Word, Excel, Visual Studio, Photoshop and other Windows staples as your constant companions, you probably won't miss the touch screen. Four years from now when third party Windows programs have moved to touch user interfaces, that likely won't be the case, but by then you'll be ready for a new laptop. Until then, the Samsung Series 9 full HD model is simply one of the most gorgeous and portable Ultrabooks on the market. At 2.55 pounds it's never a burden and the Intel Core i7 CPU and fast SSD make for a very fast machine. The full HD matte display is easy on the eyes with no glare and good color gamut. It's a high end machine that truly is worth the money.

List price: $1,399 ($1,299 street)



Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Review (QHD+ touchscreen)

Samsung Series 7 Ultra Review

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch Review

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Review (non-touch)

Dell XPS 13 Full HD Review

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 Review


Samsung Series 9


Samsung Series 9


Samsung Series 9


Samsung Series 9


Samsung Series 9


Samsung Series 9


Samsung Series 9


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Display: 13.3", 1920 x 1080 matte display. 300 nits brightness. Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. Micro HDMI and mini VGA port (adapter to full size VGA sold separately). Has Intel WiDi wireless display for wireless streaming to AV gear.

Battery: 44 Watt/hr Lithium Ion 4 cell rechargeable. Battery is sealed inside.

Performance: 2.0GHz Intel Core i5-3537U ULV CPU with Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz. 4 gigs RAM (DDR3, 1600MHz, soldered to motherboard). 128 gig Lite-On standard mSATA SSD drive.

Size: 12.3 x 8.6 x 0.51 inches. Weight: 2.55 pounds.

Camera: 1.3MP webcam with mic.

Audio: Built-in 1.5 watt apiece stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo combo headphone/mic jack.

Networking: Integrated Intel 6235 dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. Gigabit wired Ethernet via included dongle adapter that connects to a proprietary port.

Software: Windows 8 64 bit. Norton Internet Security trial, Samsung's S Camera, S video player and image viewer, Samsung Recovery and Samsung Software Update.

Expansion and Ports: 1 SDXC full size card slot, 2 USB ports (one 3.0 port and one 2.0 port), micro HDMI, mini VGA (requires optional adapter), 3.5mm audio and RJ45 Ethernet via included adapter.

In the Box: Laptop, 40W charger, Ethernet adapter and printed materials.



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