Samsung NC10

With the price of the Open Pandora console rising by around £70 in these dire times it has become a little too much for me to justify. I remain confident in the project, though, and coverage here will continue. To ensure that I remain as self-contradictory as possible I did a little netbook research and picked up what’s probably the best of the bunch at time of writing; the Samsung NC10. It came in at £325, from PC World, you can google for the best price because I’m not sure I’d want to know!

Update: Read my getting the most from your Samsung NC10 article if you want to do just that.

Now, many have complained about the lack of Linux on the Samsung NC10. I can spout anecdotal evidence that many people dislike the netbook-centric Linux distributions that many Netbook come pre-installed with but, instead, I would like to point out that: Linux is available free online.

Furthermore, the NC10 comes with a decidedly interesting partition setup that allocates approximately half of the drive to Windows XP and the other half to, I guess, backups… yes, that doesn’t make sense to me either. The NC10 includes a backup utility that backs up to itself. Tip: two copies of data on a lost/broken Netbook aren’t any more secure than one.

So, with a hefty 60+GB of hard disk space tossed into the ether by the default setup on the NC10 there’s only one logical conclusion: install Ubuntu. This is, I might add, a great “feature” of the NC10. The spare partition immediately provides a location into which you can flawlessly and easily install Ubuntu (or your favourite Linux flavour, I might add) without needing to re-partition.

To install Ubuntu 8.10, as an example, you need a desktop or laptop computer capable of running the LiveCD, an empty 1GB+ USB Memory Stick and a little patience. If you boot from the LiveCD you’ll find an option in the system menu that allows you to make a USB Memory Stick bootable. Once you’ve done this it’s a simple manner of plugging it into the NC10, hammering F2 until you can get into the BIOS settings and change the boot order to include USB drives and then waiting patiently as it all starts up. You can stop here and run Ubuntu from USB if you wish, but that spare partition on the NC10 is begging for Linux goodness.

Out of the box Ubuntu 8.10 supports most of the Samsung NC10 hardware, however the wireless networking is not included in this support. You’ll need a wired network connection to polish up your installation. It’s pretty simple to fill in the hardware support gaps if you’re at all familiar with Linux, however WiFi has given me a bit of a headache up until a week or so ago when I resolved to ignore the whining about inefficient, bloated, binary blobs and use NDISWrapper. This seems to give me a reliable 54mbps connection, where native drivers kept dropping to 1mbps or disconnecting and never seemed to get more than 32.

Compiz, or Desktop Effects as it’s known to most, is supported by the NC10 also, from mundane visual enhancements such as drop shadows and transparency right up to the 3D Cube transition and “Wobbly Windows” which have a certain “impress your friends” quality about them but will drive you completely mad if you keep them turned on and try to be productive.

Moving swiftly back to Windows XP Home on the NC10, I conducted the one and only benchmark I ever need to determine whether I can live with a computer: does it run World of Warcraft. The simple answer is yes, it’s actually reasonably playable at minimum graphics settings and, in some areas, you can get away with bumping up your draw distance slightly. I’ve not experimented much with what I can crank up without sacrificing too much in the way of framerate, but such settings would only be useful outside of cities anyway. In even the most humble of populated area you’ll see massive framerate drops, and Dalaran, whilst navigable, is painful at 1-3fps. Still, you can’t have everything and being able to farm or grind on a dinky, quiet laptop is a nice bonus. You can, if you’re brave, and playing a damage-dealing class, even run instances. It’s worth noting that the “Speed Mode” option available through a hotkey combination makes a dramatic difference in WoW performance at the cost of battery life (yes, you can run quite comfortably for a few hours on batter). Frame rates can jump from 7 to 17 just using this option.

Regarding the 7 hour stated battery life, it’s achievable but I would place the life of the Samsung NC10 at around 5-6 hours out of the box. It’s possible to ramp this up with some minor tweaks, most of which center around disabling hardware and applications well known for eating power. For example, I personally don’t use virus protection so the out-of-the-box install of McAffe was quickly ditched. Furthermore I don’t tend to use the webcam or bluetooth (damned iPhone) so, following a guide available online, I disabled the USB busses associated with both of these devices to conserve the power they would otherwise consume. Unfortunately the Camera BUS seems to disable the USB ports, too, which is perfectly fine most of the time but when I need to plug the odd USB device in, it’s slightly baffling until I remember to enable it. Without extensive testing I can’t really say if disabling these devices has a significant impact on power consumption, but I think it’s fair to say that killing bluetooth probably has a small one.

I’ve made use of several free utilities to enhance the Windows experience on the N10. These include VirtuaWin v4.0 which adds multiple desktop support gracefully to windows and TwoFingerScroll, an application which enables Mac-like two-finger scrolling on the NC10s synaptics touch pad. TwoFingerScroll is a godsend because it allows you to disable the scrolling regions, giving over the whole (decidedly small) touchpad to mousing, I couldn’t imagine using a Windows laptop without it, and miss it a lot when booted into Ubuntu.

In an attempt to get World of Warcraft forced into 640×400 resolution I tried PowerStrip with little success, even when attempting to write and install custom .inf drivers for the display. It’s worth noting, however, that PowerStrip can easily force the computer to use a variety of eclectic desktop resolutions if you have trouble reading the display.

Finally, FlyAKiteOSX made its way onto my NC10 recently and is doing its part making windows a lot more tolerable and, probably, a little bit sluggish too. I literally only browse, use iTunes and play World of Warcraft from within windows, though. Ubuntu, on the other hand, has seen me transform the NC10 into a fantastic portable Apache/MySql/PHP (or LAMP, if you will) server which I’ve been able to use quite comfortably to develop applications. I’ll, no doubt, be making extensive use of the NC10 to develop and deploy code to the Pandora if I get hold of one, with my only other Linux installation being intrepid virtualized in Parallels on my MacBook Pro (which just doesn’t feel “right”) having an real Linux machine is a godsend.

I’ve since upgraded my NC10 with 2gb of RAM supplied by Crucial and nestled it in a lovely imitation leather case from Proporta, both of which I couldn’t recommend more, you can head on over to my “Getting the most from your Samsung NC10” editorial on these products if you want to learn more.

This article was written and posted entirely on an NC10. Blogging nirvana! My MacBook Pro feels freakishly huge and clunky every time I switch back to it.

Check out the bottom of our Proporta DVD/Netbook Case review for Samsung NC10 compatible netbook cases.

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