The first ION netbook is here, capable of playing HD video and demanding games. But does the N510’s performance come at too great a cost?
This isn’t the first netbook we've seen that’s supercharged its graphics performance by pairing an NVIDIA graphics processor with an Intel Atom CPU. That particular accolade goes to the Asus N10J, an otherwise ordinary netbook dressed up in a businessman’s clothing.
The Samsung N510 is, however, the first one to use the official NVIDIA ION chipset. Judging by the spec sheet, there shouldn’t be any difference between this and the performance of the N10J. In reality, there's nothing similar about them at all.
For a start, the larger screen is a 720p friendly resolution of 1366x768. The history of Atom-based netbooks suggests this shouldn’t be significant, but the discrete graphics chip of the N510 gives it enough power to play back HD movies smoothly.
The panel itself may be a little washed out and pale, but it’s bright and there’s no colour cast at least.
As far as build quality goes, the N510 is thin and light, despite the fact the 11.6in screen is larger than normal for a netbook. The matte case isn’t quite up to Samsung’s usual standards, though. It’s adequate, but the overall feel is slightly cheaper than we’re used to.
Our big worry about ION has been battery life. Nothing that’s gone before has suggested that adding a graphics chip capable of running HD movies and even some games – you can play Call of Duty 4 relatively happily – will do anything other than decimate a netbook’s battery.
In our tests, though, the N510 ran for over seven hours, with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi active. That’s not just good for a netbook, that’s incredible. There’s no way it should last that long. But it does.
Priced at just the right side of £400, it's at the top end of what we’d consider reasonable – if you want the same screen size and HD performance, the Packard Bell dot M/A has both and costs just £320.
What you won’t get with the dot M/A, though, is the longevity of the N510 or the 720p screen. With that in mind, it’s hard to criticise the N510 on value for money, even if the M/A has a better processor for multitasking.
Unlike a cheaper, smaller, fun-size netbook, the N510 is a bit too practical to really love, but it’s hard not to like it a lot. As a flagbearer for ION it confounds our – admittedly low – expectations. It doesn't just set a new benchmark for netbook performance, it actually delivers on all the pre-release hype. And for that, it gets heartily recommended.
Samsung N510 review
Worried ION is dead in the water? Think again, the Samsung N510 lives up to the NVIDIA hype