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With its NC20, its latest entry into the ultra-hot netbook market, Samsung
is asking the channel, “When is a netbook not a netbook?”

Originally perceived as a replacement for the 2.8-pound Intel Atom-powered
NC10, the NC20 introduces a new genre of portable computing, something that is
more than a netbook but still less than a notebook.

The 3.3-pound NC20 brings a 1.3GHz Via Nano U225 processor, WXGA 12.1-inch
display, 160GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM,
Bluetooth 2.0, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Ethernet, 3-in-1 card reader and 1.3-megapixel
camera to the realm of netbooks for a retail price of about $599. It’s more
expensive than the typical netbook, but then again, users are getting a larger
screen (12.1 inches versus 10 inches), a faster processor and a bigger hard drive,
along with a full-size keyboard.

The extra performance, the slightly larger size and the 12.1-inch screen
make the NC20 more akin to an ultraportable system, such as the $1,199 Lenovo
ThinkPad X200, the $1,799 entry-level Toshiba Portege R600 or the new $1,999
Dell Adamo. Of course, comparing the Nano-powered NC20 to those Intel Centrino-powered
ultraportables isn’t really fair. Even so, the NC20 did pretty good performancewise,
scoring a Passmark rating of 302.1, a bit better than an
MSI Wind U100
 
(Passmark rating: 198.1), yet a far cry from Toshiba’s
top-of-the-line Portege R600
 
(Passmark rating: 434.4).

While the NC20 may not perform as well as a $3,000 Toshiba Portege, it sure
does offer a lot for $2,400 less. Users will find a bunch of ports, including
three USB ports and VGA, audio, SD Card and
RJ-45 Ethernet ports. You won’t find a built-in optical drive, but you will
find a 1.3-megapixel Webcam integrated into the LCD bezel.

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From a usability standpoint, the NC20 proved to be one of the best
netbook-style systems to use—applications loaded up fast, the keyboard worked
well and the touchpad proved easy to use. Our test unit came direct from Korea
and had a Korean version of Windows XP Home installed, as well as a
dual-purpose keyboard, with both English and Korean keys.

We remedied the OS issue by performing a fresh install of Windows XP SP2 on
the system to overcome the language barrier. The NC20 worked fine with an
external, USB-powered optical drive. The
only other chore we had to do was download the drivers from Samsung and burn
those onto a CD to install the unit’s various devices and options.

The NC20’s battery life was nearly 5 hours of continuous use, a little short
compared with other six-cell netbooks, but still nothing to be ashamed of
considering the larger screen and increased performance. Otherwise, everything
worked as expected, ranging from Wi-Fi connectivity to Bluetooth to USB
devices.

At about $600, it is pretty hard to ignore what the NC20 brings to the
table. Users considering an Intel-based ultraportable will want to take a long,
hard look at the NC20 to see if they can save a few bucks by going the netbook
route. Those looking to buy a netbook should also take a good look at the NC20,
where for a few dollars and a few ounces more, the NC20 proves to be more
usable than a 10-inch Atom-powered netbook.