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Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite: Budget AMD Ultrabook

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite: Budget AMD Ultrabook

January 27, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite (NP915S3G) Ultrabook
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$650

The term "ultrabook" was coined by Intel to brand/promote a new generation
of light and thin notebooks powered by Intel's low power Core processors and
equipped with SSDs and unibody chassis. With many consumers moving toward phones
and tablets as alternatives, the initiative was an attempt to make notebooks
sexy again, to emulate Apple's success with the popular Macbook Air. Of course
the craze for sleek mobile PCs didn't start there but can be traced back to
ultra-portables utilizing ultra-low voltage Core 2's, and before that, the Atom-powered
netbooks that exploded onto the scene in 2007~2008.

Today, ultrabook isn't so much of a standard as it is a loose concept that
can be used to describe just about any notebook. I've seen 5 lb machines with
15 inch screens and traditional hard drives promoted as such. The Samsung ATIV
Book 9 Lite pays homage to the original ultrabook specification but with one
big caveat. Rather than an Intel processor, it's powered by an AMD APU based
on their latest Jaguar architecture.

Specifications: Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite

(from the
product web page
)
Category ATIV Book 9 Lite
Usage Slim & Light
Color Marble White
OS Windows 8 (64-bit)
Processor CPU: AMD Quad-Core Processor Optimized for Samsung
Speed (GHz): Up to 1.40
CPU Cache: 2MB L2
Display LCD Size: 13.3"
Type: LED HD
Resolution: 1366 x 768
Touch Screen: Yes (10 Point Capacitive)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
System Memory Configuration: 4GB x 1 (On Board)
Type: DDR3
Max. System Memory: 4GB
RAMaccelerator: Yes
Storage Capacity: 128GB
Technology: SSD
Interface: SATA3
Graphics Chipset: AMD Radeon™ Graphics
External or Integrated: Integrated
Max. Memory: Shared
Sound & Camera Speaker: 1.5W x 2
Audio Type: HD Audio
Sound Effect: SoundAlive™
Web Cam: 720p HD
Internal Mic: Yes
Wireless Wireless LAN: 802.11 b/g/n
Antenna: 1 x 1
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0
I/O Ports VGA: Yes (Available only with dongle sold separately)
HDMI: Micro HDMI
Headphone Out: Yes (Headphone/Mic combo)
Microphone In: Yes (Headphone/Mic combo)
USB Ports (Total): 1 x USB 2.0 + 1 x USB 3.0
Sleep-and-Charge USB: Yes
Multi Card Slot: 3- in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
RJ45 (LAN): Gigabit Wired Ethernet LAN with included dongle
Input Devices Touch Pad / Track Point: Touch Pad (Multi-Gesture Support)
Number of Keys: 80
Power AC Adapter: 40W
Number of Cells / Cell Type: 2 Cell / Li-Po
Watt Hours: 30Wh
Battery Life: Up to 5.5 hours
Test Used: Mobile Mark 2012
Security & Safety Security Slot: Yes (with slim type adapter)
BIOS / HDD Password: Yes
Included in Box Accessories: AC Adapter, LAN Dongle
Software: SideSync, HomeSync Lite, S Apps
Dimensions

(L x W x H, Inch)
12.76" x 8.82" x 0.69"
Weight (lb.) 3.48 lb.
Warranty 1 Year Standard Parts and Labor
Disclaimer Battery life will vary depending on the product model, configuration, power management settings, applications used, and wireless settings. The maximum capacity of the battery will decrease with time and use. Test results based on independent third party testing.

The Book 9 Lite is a budget ultrabook, retailing for about US$650, which
is about $50~$100 less than most Intel ultrabooks with comparable specifications.
Switching to AMD seems like a cost-cutting move, an alternative to leaving the
machine without an SSD or a touchscreen in order to get the full benefit of
Windows 8. The system is powered by the A6-1450, an 8W quad-core 1.0 GHz (up
to 1.4 GHz with Turbo Core) chip and Radeon HD 8250 graphics with 128 shader
cores.



The ATIV Book 9 Lite.

At 3.5 lb and well under an inch thick, the Book 9 Lite conforms to the physical ultrabook aesthetic. It has a white plastic chassis, a 13.3 inch LCD with a resolution of 1366x768 and supports 10-point multi-touch. It's also equipped with a 128GB Samsung SSD, 4GB of RAM, a 30 Wh battery, 720p webcam, 1.5W stereo speakers, wireless 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0, and a SD card slot. HDMI output and gigabit ethernet are available as well but adapters are required as the ports have been miniaturized to fit its sleek form.

EXTERIOR

The ATIV Book 9 Lite's dimensions are 32.3 x 22.5 x 1.8 cm (at its thickest point, W x D x H) and it weighs 1.59 kg according to my measurements. The exterior is made of plastic but despite the connotations, it doesn't feel cheap at all. The construction feels solid all the way around — there are no weak spots where the material creaks for example.



The exterior of the ATIV Book 9 Lite is a monotone slab of glossy white plastic. It picks up fingerprints easily but the color hides it fairly well.



The contours at the side give the impression that the body is significantly thinner toward the front of the notebook but this is an optical illusion. It's actually approximately 1.8 cm thick most of the way through. Located on the left is the charging jack, a USB 3.0 connector, a mini HDMI output, and a mini ethernet port. There's also a flap hiding a full sized SD card slot near the center under the lip.



The right side is home to a mini DisplayPort connector, a combined line-out/mic port, and a security slot.



On the underside there are two intake vents near the rear while a set of speakers reside toward the front, one at each side. Though the bottom cover is held on with 10 tiny Phillips head screws I wouldn't describe it as user-accessible. You can't just pop it off with your fingers, a thin opening tool (spudger) at the least, is required to detach all the internal latches.



The machine's sole exhaust port is about halfway between the center point and the right edge.



Powering the notebook is a 19V 2.1A adapter, model no. A13-040N2A. The connecting port is tiny but the cable is fairly lengthy and includes a velcro strip to help tie it up the excess.

PERIPHERALS

The hardware inside a PC is certainly an important aspect but for a notebook, the peripherals can be equally vital. Inside, these systems are mostly the same from one model to the next, but what you use to interact with the machine inside varies greatly and can frame and tint the overall experience.



The screen is 13.3 inches with a low resolution of 1366x768, but that isn't my main complaint. The display is slightly washed out and has awful viewing angles. Push the screen back and the colors turn negative. Tilt it forward and it turns white as a ghost. There is only about a five degree arc where the picture quality is optimal, and even then it's just adequate. Like most notebook displays, the brightness is enough to hold up outdoors but direct sunlight is overpowering. The surface has a moderate amount of reflection.



The display can be pushed down to an almost completely horizontal position, ostensibly to make it more touch-friendly. The touch screen is quite nice, responsive, and accurate, but even a slight tap causes it to wobble no matter what angle the hing is positioned. The only time I felt comfortable using touch was with my other hand bracing the screen. It's a cumbersome experience especially with a hardware keyboard permanently attached to it. I can see why so many manufacturers are experimenting with convertible designs.



Centered on the top bezel of the LCD is the webcam, straddled by an LED indicator on one side and a mic on the other. The camera produces a somewhat hazy image but it performs adequately in low light and the color temperature isn't off by much. The mic is a bit better, picking up my non-raised voice easily at short distances clearly.



The speakers are surprisingly punchy. They're capable of filling
a room easily and at maximum volume there is little distortion. You
can tell they are notebook speakers as they sound slightly hollow and
tinny side but that's unavoidable for their size. Despite this, the
sound quality is phenomenal, at least compared to most notebooks and
tablets I've used.



The ATIV Book 9 Lite has a full-sized unlit chiclet keyboard (minus the numpad) that's as good as any I've used. The shallow keys are responsive and springy and just have an altogether solid feel. Keyboard flex is also nonexistent, at least with normal pressure — if you push hard it will give a bit. As a Canadian model, my sample is cursed with the dreaded bilingual keyboard with miniaturized Enter and Left Shift keys but those south of the border can expect the usual US layout.



The trackpad is fairly large and is sloped downward so the left/right click pads are deeper. The left side is also separated from the chassis more than the left, though this didn't affect operation. The surface has a close to optimal level of friction but the pad clicks too much for my tastes though I really didn't notice it after awhile. Some may consider this a compliment.

TESTING

Relevant Notebook Specifications:

  • AMD A6-1450 APU
    - 1.0 GHz (up to 1.4 GHz), 28 nm, 8W, HD 8250 graphics
  • DDR3 SODIMM memory - 1x4GB, unspecified frequency (running at 1066 MHz)
  • Samsung MZMTD128HAFV
    solid state drive - 128GB
  • Antatel Atheros QCMD335 wireless module
  • Windows 8 operating system - 64-bit



Test configuration device listing.

CPU Performance Test Details

  • Adobe
    Photoshop
    : Image manipulation using a variety of filters, a derivation
    of Driver Heaven's Photoshop
    Benchmark V3
    (test image resized to 4500x3499).
  • Eset NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of varying
    size with many RAR and ZIP archives.
  • WinRAR: Archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
    size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC.
  • TMPGEnc
    Xpress
    : Encoding a AVI file with VC-1.
  • HandBrake: Encoding a XVID AVI file with H.264.

GPU Performance Test Details

Misc. Measurement and Analysis Tools

Testing Procedures

Our main test procedure is a series of CPU (timed tests of real-world applications) and GPU-centric (gaming tests and synthetics) benchmarks as well a brief test of the wireless adapter. Battery life is also examined by putting it through a simulation of active web browsing and playing a HD movie on a loop until the system shuts down.

The physical portion of our testing involves putting the system through various states (idle, HD playback, and video encoding with TMPGEnc) and recording stabilized system and external temperatures as well as the noise level in our anechoic chamber.

Certain services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled
to prevent them from affecting our results.
We also make note if energy saving features like Cool'n'Quiet and SpeedStep
do not function properly.

CPU Performance

The ATIV's A6-1450 proved to be efficient, managing to keep ahead of the older G-T56N (similar to the E-450) in all of my tests despite having a much lower clock speed. However, the only substantial gains were in my multi-threaded video encoding tests — having twice as many cores really helped here. It absolutely crushed the older Atom N2600 across the board but it couldn't compete with an 18W dual core Ivy Bridge chip like the original NUC's Core i3-3217U. One of Intel's new Bay Trail Atoms perhaps would be a more appropriate match.

Navigating through Windows 8 felt fairly snappy but there were a few laggy
moments here and there. The Task Manager in particular would always seem to
take about four seconds to pop-up the first time and while looking at the CPU
utilization, I would find the Task Manager itself eating up 10% of the available
CPU cycles. While the benchmarks show modest single-threaded performance, this
weakness is obscured during general operation by the extra CPU cores and the
SSD. The entires system takes only 8 seconds to boot up from start to finish.

GPU Performance

When I hear APU, "better than integrated graphics" comes to mind but this hasn't really been true since Intel upped their game with their last few generations of HD graphics. The A6-1450's HD 8250 graphics are an incremental upgrade over the G-T56N's HD 6320 graphics processor, but neither is truly capable. This 8W APU just doesn't have enough horses to run modern triple-A titles well, even at the native resolution of 1366x768, but older less demanding titles run just fine. I tried out World of Warcraft for half an hour on maximum quality settings and there was no lag at all.

HD Video playback was flawless, though it did require noticeably more resources than typical desktop hardware. CPU usage was about 20% (including the Task Manager) when playing back x264-encoded MKVs, and HD YouTube videos drove it up to ~70% for 720p and ~80% for 1080p content, and switching from Flash to HTML5 was even more taxing. The GPU handles some of the decoding but it really only lends a helping hand rather than performing any heavy lifting. More intensive Flash-based Facebook games were also somewhat choppy.

WiFi Performance

For the WiFi performance test, I sent a large file transfer (700MB) over 802.11n to and from a machine connected via gigabit ethernet and timed the operation to calculate the average transfer rate. I also checked signal strength to the various wireless networks in our area by using the "netsh" tool from the MS-DOS command line.

It should be noted that the 802.11n router servicing our lab is not the greatest, an Actiontec combination router/gateway from our ADSL provider. It is located in a central location, about a few feet away with only one wall between it and our test systems so it should produce ideal results.

Compared to the wireless adapters on the last few WiFi-equipped motherboards I've reviewed, the ATIV's NIC is unusual in that it produced a higher upload rather than download transfer rate. Not only is this opposite of typical, it's also not altogether useful for most users.

In our lab, the ATIV picked up the usual networks in our vicinity and the reported relative signal strength was about average. However it should be noted that when I brought the machine home, it detected a lot of SSIDs (my area has a greater WiFi saturation), a few of which I had never seen before.

Battery Life

My battery life tests involve setting the screen to a reasonable brightness (30% in this case) and timing how long it takes to run down the notebook's charge from 100% to 5% (when Windows 8 shuts itself down) with two different use cases. For my first test, I performed a web browsing simulation by loading three different pages (some with Flash content) in Chrome and using the Refresh Monkey extension to reload each page once a minute at staggered intervals. Secondly is playback of a 720p x264/DTS-encoded MKV in a loop using MPC-HC. After exhausting the battery, I also recoredd the time it took to bring the notebook back to a full charge.

The Book 9 Lite lasted just over 5 hours in my battery life tests and pulled in an extra 19 minutes during web browser over video playback. This is enough time to watch a couple of full-length feature films or to get a decent amount of work done but unfortunately it isn't enough to make it through an entire business day off the juice. Time to charge was 2 hours and 25 minutes.

Thermals & Acoustics

System Measurements
System State
Idle
H.264 Playback
TMPGEnc Encoding
CPU Temp
43°C
57°C
63°C
SSD Temp
24°C
27°C
29°C
Keyboard Temp
27°C
32°C
33°C
Underside Temp
30°C
36°C
41°C
14 dBA
16~17 dBA
Ambient temperature: 20°C.

What the Book 9 Lite lacks in processing power, it makes up for thermal and acoustic performance. The CPU temperature topped out at 63°C during my video encoding test, which is perfectly acceptable. More importantly, the external temperatures were very low. The hottest point on the keyboard (between the "5" and "6" keys) did not exceed 33°C and the underside (the area between the serial number sticker and middle intake vent) maxed out at a lukewarm 41°C.

More impressive was the noise or rather the lack thereof. At the ISO 7779 computer noise standard's defined "Seated User Position" of 0.6 meters, the system was barely audible, with the exhaust fan generating just 14 dBA. For reference, 14 dBA at one meter's distance is almost unheard of for any desktop PC, so to achieve this at 0.6 meters was simply superb. It didn't take a lot of activity to cause the fan to ramp up though, as simply HD video playback was enough to push the SPL to 16~17 dBA, but there was no response to further load (video encoding). At 14 dBA, the fan had a gentle, soft, inoffensive sound. At 16~17 dBA, a faint whine developed but the noise was still mostly inconspicuous.

Samsung's "Settings" application has a "Silent Mode" to reduce the fan noise but what it did was change the power profile to keep the CPU in its lowest 600 MHz state rather than change how the fan reacted to temperature, so I found it to be of little value.

Software

You can't really review a Windows 8 notebook without talking about Windows 8. I have to admit, I've been avoiding the latest version of Windows whenever possible, just as I had avoided Vista during the lengthy heyday of XP. This was the first time I used a Windows 8 machine for a lengthy period of time and while the presence of a touchscreen should have mitigated some of the hate people have for the new O/S and the Modern/Metro Tile interface in particular, the implementation doesn't quite work on the Book 9 Lite.

I enjoyed playing touchscreen games like Plants vs. Zombies, swiping through
pictures, and having a go with drawing, but aside from that, I never felt the
touchscreen added anything to the experience. The only other time I used regularly
used touch was to get to the charms on the right side, but only because it felt
alien to hover the mouse on the bottom-right corner to pull up a menu. My experience
would have been more positive if the screen didn't wobble whenever I touched
it. Any kind of love I could have developed for touch on this notebook was poisoned
from the start.

Running in desktop mode most of the time wasn't problem free, even after I
installed Classic Shell
to bring back the Vista/Windows 7 style start menu and UI. A lot of the default
programs were full-screen Metro apps which often was inappropriate. Opening
up a PDF file in a full-screen reader on a widescreen display makes absolutely
no sense. At 13.3 inches, the screen is just big enough to perform some multitasking
but in its stock condition, the ATIV is just not set up properly to facilitate
this. It's easy enough to change but for neophytes it presents an unpleasant
out-of-the-box experience. Also of note was Samsung's replacement default media
player, S Player+, a truly awful and completely unnecessary alternative to Windows
Media Player. Not only is it full screen only, I discovered it can't navigate
to network folders, is incapable of playing simple MPEG files, and its video
compatibility cannot be augmented with third party codecs.

The notebook ships with the usual utilities that PC manufacturers include, a handy software update utility that keeps the BIOS and all drivers up to date, a recovery tool, and "Support Center" which is essentially a more detailed version of Window's Action Center. If you have other Samsung hardware, you get a little extra value from HomeSync Lite, which allows you to share content between all your Samsung devices. There's also the SideSync app that allows you screen share and use your mouse and keyboard to control a USB-connected Samsung phone/tablet.

The third party software included Bitcasa (a cloud storage service), Skype, Evernote, Netflix, Plants vs. Zombies, and trial versions of Norton Studio, Office, and Photoshop Elements.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Though there are a few caveats, I have to describe my two weeks with the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite as pleasant. The machine is sleek and light such that I never felt like it was burden to lug around anywhere. I do wish it were a bit smaller though, a personal preference, as I feel that 11~12 inches is really the sweet spot for an ultra-portable device. This notebook feels somewhat unbalanced, its footprint overly large for its weight and thickness. Also when you lift up the screen to open it, the base has to be held down or it will try to come along for the ride. You want something with solid hinges but with these machines getting so light, this problem is almost unavoidable.

This is a budget notebook but build quality is certainly not an area they
skimped out on — every bit of its exterior feels solid. Plastic is obviously
par for the course in this price range but it's certainly not a negative, at
least in this case. A couple of the peripherals impressed me as well. The keyboard
is comfortable and responsive, and the speakers are surprisingly capable. I've
never had the compulsion to listen to music through notebook speakers, but with
the Book 9 Lite, I found myself sampling a healthy chunk of my personal catalog,
at first to detect weaknesses, but later just in awe that speakers so small
could sound good.

A budget AMD APU drives this notebook but even though it lacks the single-threaded
performance and snappiness of a current/last generation Pentium or Core i3,
it has enough horsepower for perhaps 90% of consumers. I felt fairly satisfied
going about my daily business (keep in mind I didn't use any demanding applications)
though the odd hiccups here and there were annoying reminders that I was using
a cut-rate processor. The Samsung SSD inside likely makes up for many of the
A6-1450's shortcomings — the system boots up fully in a mere 8 seconds
and wakes up from sleep almost immediately. The integrated HD 8250 graphics
won't win any awards but it can handle any video file you throw at it, and older
PC titles and casual games run fairly well.

The performance sacrifices might be worth it for its 8W TDP, and the subsequent
effects on the heat and noise output. Bare laps can rejoice as the Book 9 Lite
runs very cool, and sensitive ears can relax as the system is barely audible
when idle and very quiet on load. Despite this seemingly ultra low power chip,
the battery life is below average, lasting about 5 hours of light use.

The screen is undoubtedly the Book 9 Lite's biggest drawback. Perhaps I am
spoiled by the high resolution IPS screens on pretty much any current Android/iOS
tablet of note, but I'm really tired of the ubiquitous low resolution TN panel.
A lot of users can't stand the 1366x768 resolution, and while I too prefer more
pixels, I resent the washed out colors and poor viewing angles much more. It's
also comical that the touchscreen registers taps and swipes with precision and
speed but is attached to a chassis that wobbles at the faintest touch. I had
little inclination to use the Metro interface to begin with and this flaw just
about snuffed it out completely.

I believe that Samsung would have been better off leaving touch off this system,
though at the same time it's difficult to put out a notebook without one given
the nature of Windows 8. Ultimately I feel the extra cost of adding touch could
have gone elsewhere to make a more well-rounded machine. Still, priced at around
US$650, the ATIV Book 9 Lite is the most affordable ultrabook on the
market in this size and weight class which helps overcome its various deficiencies.

Our thanks to Samsung
for the ATIV Book 9 Lite sample.

* * *

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* * *

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