by Philip Cody
Overview and Introduction:
The Asus S96j is a notebook that combines the powerful Core Duo technology with the ATI Mobility X1600 graphics card. The S96j is made by Asus and is part of Intel’s VBI (Verified By Intel) program. This program is part of Intel’s Interchangeability Initiative. There are certain parts of the notebooks in this program that have interchangeable parts. These parts include: Hard drives, optical drives, LCD panels, battery packs, power adapters, keyboards, and customizable notebook panels. The S96j is very similar to the Asus Z96j which has a higher resolution screen and bluetooth built in. The S96j that I’m reviewing has the following configuration:
Asus S96j Specs as Configured:
- Screen: WXGA (1280×800) glossy screen
- Processor: Core Duo T2400 (1.83 GHz)
- Graphics Card: ATI Mobility X1600
- Memory: 1 GB Corsair DDR2 667 ram
- Hard Drive: 80GB Hitachi 7,200 rpm SATA HD (7K100)
- Optical Drive: NEC ND-6650A DVD burner
Asus S96j (view large image)
Reasons for Buying:
In early January 2006 my notebook died and I needed a new one. I decided that I wanted to save some money and use some of my parts and OS from my old notebook in the new notebook. I then started looking at barebones*. I wanted a 15.4″ notebook with a WXGA screen (which I prefer for 15.4″ screen). About this time the new MSI and Asus barebones were announced. I was going to get the MSI MS-1039 but the US release kept getting pushed back. When it became obvious that the Asus Z96j (S96j) was going to be released about the same time I started to re-think my choices. I ended up going with the S96j because I really appreciate having 2 cores on my desktop computer and I wanted that same benefit on my notebook. I also really wanted 64 bit support later on and probably being able to upgrade to Merom (Core 2 Duo) later is a big bonus.
* A barebone system means you get nothing but the computer system with the essentials such as a motherboard, battery, case, keyboard etc. The processor, RAM and hard drive are all bought separately and configurable. The advantage of this is it can be a bit cheaper and you can build the notebook to your preferences.
Where and How Purchased:
I bought the barebones S96j from ExcaliberPC and the additional parts I needed (including the CPU) from ZipZoomFly. I would recommend that people buy at least the notebook, CPU, and optical drive from a reseller. When you buy this notebook you can configure what CPU, ram, hard drive, and optical drive are used. Something to keep in mind is that the barebones by itself does not come with the brackets and screws needed to secure the optical drive in the notebook. There are companies out there selling barebones without the optical drive, this is problematic.
Build & Design:
Top view of Asus S96j (view large image)
The build is very good. There’s very little flex in screen lid or keyboard. This notebook feels very solid. The hinge is very stiff and this is how I like it. Even though I know the materials are all plastic it does not feel like it is made out of plastic. This is my first Asus and I’m very impressed. The design of the notebook is exceptional while the looks are kind of average. It does grow on you. I like the way the notebook tapers with the thinnest part facing you. I like the simplistic look with very nice lines.
Asus S96j under side view (view large image)
A look inside internals of the S96j (view large image)
Asus S96j screen compared to a 19″ widescreen Viewsonic LCD (view large image)
The S96j has a very nice 15.4″ WXGA glossy screen with a resolution of 1280×800. The screen is made by AUO (AU Optronics) and has a pixel pitch of 0.259, response time of 16ms, contrast of 300:1, and brightness of 180. The screen is very bright, sharp, and with decent contrast. The colors are not as saturated as some LCDs I have used and tones tend to be on the cool side (I imagine that this can be tweaked though). It came with zero dead pixels. I had never had a glossy screen before and I was worried. I really like the glossy screen once I got used to it. Viewing angles are very good. I can comfortably work at on this notebook at 30% brightness setting.
The speakers on the S96j are weak. The sound is OK but the volume is simply too low. I compared it to a Dell e1505 and the e1505 was louder at half volume. The sound from the S96j is not nearly as full sounding either. This is not a big deal for me because I use headphones mainly anyway when gaming or watching DVDs. The output on the headphone jack is loud and sounds very good with both music and DVDs.
Processor and Performance:
I’m very happy with the performance of the notebook. The performance rivals my desktop computer (which uses an Athlon 64 X2 processor). Everything is very snappy. The 7,200 RPM SATA drive is very fast. Multitasking performance like this on a notebook is a dream, it really changes the way you use your notebook. Gaming performance is spectacular for a 15.4″ notebook. I have been playing F.E.A.R., Quake 4, and HL2 at native resolution (1280×800) at mostly maximum settings and they play very smooth. Quake 4 with its multi-core support (with latest patch) runs amazingly well. Also, Half-Life 2 Episode One at native resolution, high settings, and full HDR plays very well.
The author’s dog Tucker endorses the S96j, here he is seen playing some Quake 4 at the lake on the gaming capable S96j (view large image)
Super Pi is a program that forces the notebook processor to calculate Pi to 2-million digits of accuracy. The Asus S96j took 1m 20s to calculate this value with its 1.83 GHz Core Duo processor, here’s how it stacked up to other notebooks:
|Asus S96j (1.83 GHz Intel T2400)||1m 20s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500)||1m 12s|
|Dell Inspiron 710m (1.7 GHz Pentium M)||2m 04s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)||1m 46s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|HDD – XP Startup||6.78 MB/s|
|Physics and 3D||161.26 FPS|
|Transparent Windows||386.92 Windows/s|
|3D – Pixel Shader||86.53 FPS|
|Web Page Rendering||2.62 Pages/s|
|File Decryption||45.75 MB/s|
|Graphics Memory – 64 Lines||1098.11 FPS|
|HDD – General Usage||4.47 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit||97.53 Pages/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression||21.92 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression||6.36 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption||18.47 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD – Virus Scan||28.59 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency – Random 16 MB||8.97 MAccesses/s|
3DMark05 (Using Omega – Cat. 6.3)
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Asus S96j (1.83 GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility X1600 256MB)||3,921 3D Marks|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB||2866 3D Marks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)||7,078 3DMarks|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)||1,791 3D Marks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2,530 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
|HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2,536 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4,157 3DMarks|
HD Tune Results:
- 18.1 MB/sec min.
- 47.8 MB/sec max.
- 36.7 MB/sec avg.
- 15.4 ms access
- 85 MB/sec burst
- 2.8% CPU
Heat and Noise:
Asus S96j deconstructed: a look at the cooling system of the S96j (view large image)
The cooling in the S96j is very efficient. While idle, word processing, and browsing the web the notebook CPU hovers around 49 -53C. At these temps the fan is not on. The fan kicks in when the temperature reaches the mid 50s. The fan is very quiet. My last notebook’s fans were very noticeable when they were on, that is not the case with the S96j. I really have to get close to notebook to hear it. The warmest the CPU has ever gotten was 62C and this was when running Prime 95 torture test. The right palm rest is actually its warmest when the computer is at its lower temp because the fan is not running. The right palm rest does get noticeably warm but not uncomfortable. The left palm rest and touch pad does not get warm at all for me and I’m running a 7,200 rpm hard drive which is under left palm rest. The intake vents are in multiple locations and placement of them is well thought out. The exhaust vent is thankfully in the rear of the notebook so no hot air is blown on mouse hand. The underside of the notebook only gets a little warm (even when gaming) so you can definitely use it on your lap.
Keyboard and Touchpad:
Asus S96j keyboard and touchpad (view large image)
The keyboard is very nice, typing over long periods of time is very comfortable. As I mentioned before there is very little flex in keyboard. The placement of the touch pad is perfect, it is just the right distance from keyboard. I never accidentally touch it when hitting the space bar. The touch pad itself is also very nice. The touch pad buttons work well but are kind of loud when clicking.
Asus S96j keyboard media buttons (view large image)
Input and Output Ports:
The notebook has 4 USB 2.0 ports (2 on back 2 on right side). It also has a firewire port, a VGA port, a S-video port, modem jack, and ethernet jack on the right side. There is an ExpressCard slot on the right side as well. The headphone jack, microphone jack, and 4 in 1 memory card reader are on the front. There is no DVI port or PCMCIA slot.
Asus S96j front side view (view large image)
Asus S96j back side view (view large image)
Asus S96j left side view (view large image)
Asus S96j right side view (view large image)
The S96j can be configured with the Intel 3945 wireless card which works very well. It does not come configured with bluetooth and there is no infrared port.
I’m happy with battery time. The fact that this notebook comes with the powerful X1600 obviously impacts battery time. Following is summary for regular notebook activity (without wireless):
- 100% brightness – 2:00
- 80% brightness – 2:15
- 50% brightness — 2:45
- 30% brightness — 3:30
With DVD playback I get a little over 2 hours at 80% brightness and 2.5 hours at 50% brightness. When gaming I got 1:10 playing Quake 4 at 80% brightness and 1.5 hours playing at 50% brightness (at maximum performance with both cores). There is a larger 9 cell battery available that extends a bit out of the notebook that has an additional 2,400 mAh (for a total of 7,200 mAh).
Operating System and Software:
I did not have the system configured with an OS because I have a licensed Windows XP disk from a notebook that died. Resellers can configure this notebook with Windows XP home or Pro.
It is my understanding that the reseller will handle the support as long as you buy at least the barebones and the CPU from them. It is also my understanding that additional support will be handled by Intel and not Asus. The warranty was initially one year but it sounds like it is now 2 years. Many resellers will let you add years to warranty.
DVDs look very nice, ghosting is not overly noticeable. Black levels are fairly decent for a notebook LCD. There is a webcam on this notebook and it works very well, even in low light. The notebook has a lot of the weight in the rear so it can get a little tricky when actually using on your lap. The cooling assembly is very well designed. The heat sinks for both CPU and GPU are copper and touch CPU and GPU directly. The battery is in the rear of the notebook. There is a second larger 9 cell battery available that extends a bit out of the notebook.
I would definitely recommend this computer to someone. I’m very happy with it!
- Very well designed.
- Solid build.
- Exceptional ergonomics.
- Fantastic cooling and very quiet.
- Easy to assemble.
- Very good gaming performance.
- SATA hard drive support.
- Very likely can upgrade to Core 2 Duo later.
- Decent headphone jack output.
- Great value.
- Average looks (wolf in Sheep’s clothing).
- Quiet speakers
- Average looks
- No DVI output
Glamour Shots of Asus S96j
The S96j in a pastoral setting…