by Dave Miller, USA
Asus Z33a Overview
The Asus Z33a is an ultraportable notebook geared towards people on the move. It is basically a Sonoma chipset refresh of the Asus M5n. It also shares many of the same characteristics as the Asus S5a but the Z33a includes a built-in optical drive. The Z33a is part of Asus’ whitebook series of notebooks. The whitebooks are customizable to better suit the end-users needs. The ensemble notebooks, such as the S5a, come pre-configured from Asus although RAM and hard drives can be swapped latter if desired.
Asus Z33a specs as reviewed:
- Intel Pentium M Dothan 740 (1.73Ghz, 533MHz FSB)
- 512MB DDR2 RAM (256MB onboard)
- Fujitsu 60GB 5400RPM hard drive
- 12.1″ XGA (1024×768) TFT Display
- Intel Pro 2200 b/g integrated wireless card
- 3- and 9- cell Li-Ion batteries
- DVD/CDRW Combo-drive
- Windows XP Pro / Ubuntu Linux 5.04
Reasons for Buying
I am returning to graduate school this fall and I will also be teaching a course. I knew I wanted a laptop so I could take my work anywhere. I originally was looking at the Asus z71v because of all the great features packed into a reasonable package. I also play games on occasion and knew the z71v would work great. However, I was reminded of lugging an old 5+ lb Dell Inspiron around for work so my feelings for the z71v started to falter.
I visited my school’s computer store to take a look at some IBM ThinkPads. The store also carries Dell products, but I’m not thrilled with the build quality of Dell notebooks. What caught my eye was the IBM X40. Wow, this thing is small! I immediately realized that an ultraportable is what I’m looking for in a notebook. So I started researching the ThinkPads. If anyone has ever discovered the joy that is the TABOOK you know how confusing finding a Thinkpad can be. The X40 had been updated to the X41 (same size) and there is also the X31/X32 series. The X3* series is a little bit bigger but uses standard 2.5″ hard-drives instead of the small 1.8″ hard-drives in the X4* series. To cut to the chase, after weeks of looking at Thinkpads I could not find one that fit my needs. The X4* has possible heat issues and the small hard-drives were a negative. The X3* was limited to an older 16mb ATI video chipset even with the ’05 update to the X32.
I came back to Asus and found the Z33a. I could configure it to fit my needs and it was in the same price range as the X series ThinkPads. I was a little concerned about the quality compared to the ThinkPads, but relaxed a bit after reading the comments and reviews about Asus notebooks in general.
There are several highly regarded resellers of Asus notebooks to choose from. Several of them regularly participate in the NotebookReview.com forums. I decided to go with Geared2Play (G2P) because I could configure the notebook more to my liking and the price was a little better compared to the other resellers. There was a slight delay in receiving my notebook because of hard-drive availability but it made it to me in a timely fashion and in great condition. It was triple-boxed and well padded.
Packaging as received (view larger image)
Here is the next box (view larger image)
And another layer (view larger image)
Almost there (view larger image)
Asus Z33a fresh out of the box
The notebook comes with one power adapter, drivers CD, and a carrying case. The power adapter is small compared to other adapters that I’ve seen. I ordered a second one so I can leave one at home and one at work. The case is actually better than I expected. It is bigger than the Z33a but has a pocket inside with a Velcro strap to hold it in place. There is room for other stuff like papers and accessories. I may eventually go with something smaller.
It’s always good to know what other options you have in a certain notebook category you are looking to buy within. Here’s a rundown of similar 12.1″ screen ultraportable notebooks that the Z33a competes with:
- Fujitsu LifeBook P7010
- IBM ThinkPad X41
- Dell Latitude X1
- Acer TravelMate 3000
- Apple PowerBook G4 12-inch
- Toshiba Portege R200
- HP Compaq nc4200
- Sony VAIO T Series
- Averatec 3300 Series
Build & Design
Overall, the quality of the Z33a is excellent. My concerns about non-IBM notebook quality were unfounded. It doesn’t have the industrial feel of the tank-like IBM, but it is still very solid. If I pick up the notebook from the corner there is no ‘crinkle’ or flex. The screen stays where I put it and wobbles very little. I can not get the screen to ripple by pushing on the back of the lid. I can twist the lid a little but the LCD does not ripple. Keep in mind the lid is very thin so it would be nearly impossible to keep it from twisting a little. There is no flex at the palm rests. The push-button latch securely holds the lid closed and opens with a light press. The stick-type battery pack sits at the back of the notebook below the LCD and attaches securely via two latches. The design of the notebook is very clean and simple. I especially like the cool blue power button!
Asus Z33a power button (view larger image)
Asus Z33a front side (view larger image)
Asus Z33a right side (view larger image)
Asus Z33a back side (view larger image)
Asus Z33a left side (view larger image)
Asus Z33a underneath (view larger image)
The display is a 12.1″ XGA (1024×768) TFT LCD. It is a standard matte finish (not glossy) and standard aspect ratio (not wide-screen). The display is fantastic in my opinion. It is bright and has a wide viewing angle. I can not detect any light leakage or bright spots. There are 4 dead pixels. Two are dark all the time and are next to each other, one is bright against a blue backdrop, and the other one is dark against a red backdrop. Asus’ dead-pixel policy is available online. I am in contact with G2P now about the pixels and will update the review when I know more. Eddie at G2P was surprised to hear that I had any dead pixels at all let alone four so I think my situation is an exception. The display is very crisp compared to my CRT. I can understand why LCD displays are so popular (aside from the size).
There are two speakers on the bottom of the notebook. As you can imagine they leave a lot to be desired. But I did not expect them to be great so I am not disappointed. They are fairly loud but have no bass. The output from the headphone jack sounds good to me in my inexpensive headphones.
Processor and Performance
My notebook has the Dothan 740 1.73GHz Pentium-M processor and 512MB of RAM. The 60GB hard-drive spins at 5400RPM. The notebook feels snappy to me. I have a 2.0 GHz Desktop with 512MB of RAM and the notebook is on par with it. I dual-boot Windows and Linux so my startup time is slowed by the boot loader but without it I would say it takes ~20 seconds to boot into Windows. This is the fasted booting computer I’ve ever had! Right now I have two Firefox windows, two OpenOffice Writer windows, Thunderbird, and My Pictures open and it is running just fine. I do not play games on this notebook.
We use the program Super Pi to get a benchmark of processor speed. The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy. Calculating to 2 million digits is our benchmark. Below is a comparison chart of how the Z33a with it’s 1.73 GHz processor stacked up to other notebooks when running this calculation:
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Asus Z33a (1.73Ghz, Alviso Pentium M)||1m 50s|
|Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M)||2m 40s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 23s|
|Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz)||3m 3s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||2m 02s|
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores|
|Asus Z33a (1.73 GHz)||IBM X41 (1.50 GHz)|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||3.251 MB/s||2.66 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||25.744 MB/s||21.81 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||22.306 MB/s||19.03 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||10.061 MPixels/s||8.65 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||1808.316 MB/s||1349.58 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||2.656 KB/s||2.09 KB/s|
|File Decryption||51.623 MB/s||43.78 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||2368.695 KB/s||2014.01 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||5.131 Pages/s||4.43 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||47.66 FPS||39.19 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||94.888 FPS||79.59 FPS|
|Graphics Memory – 64 Lines||360.035 FPS||399.62 FPS|
|Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores|
|3DMark Score||216 3DMarks||160 3D Marks|
|CPU Score||1995 CPUMarks||1598 CPUMarks|
|GT1 – Return To Proxycon||0.9 FPS||.6 FPS|
|GT2 – Firefly Forest||0.6 FPS||.5 FPS|
|GT3 – Canyon Flight||1.2 FPS||.9 FPS|
|CPU Test 1||1.2 FPS||.9 FPS|
|CPU Test 2||1.5 FPS||1.3 FPS| HD Tune Benchmarks Asus Z33a (5400 RPM) Dell X1 (4200 RPM) Minimum Transfer Rate 4.5 MB/sec 2.2 MB/sec Maximum Transfer Rate 30.2MB/sec 21.2 MB/sec Average Transfer Rate 23.4 MB/sec 16.4 MB/sec Acess Time 24.1 ms 19.7 ms Burst Rate 62.8 MB/sec 53.7 MB/sec CPU Usage – 5.2%
Take what you will from these benchmarks. I tried to shut down as many of the background processes as possible before running the tests. The 3DMark scores seem awfully low so perhaps I don’t have something configured correctly.
I know a lot of people are concerned or obsessed with the temperature of various parts of their notebooks. I knew that the faster the processor and chipset were running the more heat is generated and the more the fan has to run. All of this results in shorter battery life. So I too was concerned about heat.
I measured the temperature of various parts of the notebook at various times using a digital multimeter with a temperature probe. The side vent temperatures were taken with the probe ~1″ from the vent. The other temperatures were taken with the probe in contact with the notebook. Here is what I found:
Ambient Temperature: 82-83 F (28C)
- Side Vent: 115 F (46C)
- Right Palmrest: 87 F (31C)
- Left Palmrest: 86 F (30C)
Installing Windows (Combo-drive running)
After one (1) hour of normal use (wireless on)
- Side Vent: 116 F (47C)
- Right Palmrest: 90 F (32C)
- Left Palmrest: 89 F (32C)
- Touchpad: 92 F (33C)
- Keyboard (near H key): 91 F (33C)
- Belly: 97 F (36C)
- Side Vent: 121 F (49C)
- Right Palmrest: 91 F (33C)
- Left Palmrest: 88 F (31C)
- Touchpad: 93 F (34C)
- Keyboard (near H key): 93 F (34C)
- Belly: 104 F (40C)
- Side Vent: 126 F (52C)
- Right Palmrest: 90 F (32C)
- Left Palmrest: 88 F (31C)
- Touchpad: 93 F (34C)
- Keyboard (near H key): 92 F (33C)
- Belly: 104 F (40C)
Running HD Tune 2.10
- Side Vent: 109 F (43C)
- Right Palmrest: 92 F (33C)
- Left Palmrest: 8 8 F (31C)
- Touchpad: 94 F (34C)
- Keyboard (near H key): 92 F (33C)
- Belly: 103 F (39C)
As you can see there are no extreme temperature readings. As expected, there is hot air blowing out of the vent on the right side of the notebook. 🙂 The palmrests get barely warmer than the rest of the notebook. The touchpad gets warm but definitely not hot. The fan runs continuously as far as I can tell but it is not loud. I tried to record the sound of the fan but it is too quiet. The keys make more noise when I type than the fan makes all the time.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I am very surprised by the keyboard. I have relatively large hands (I’m 6’3″ tall) and was somewhat worried about the keyboard on any ultraportable. I think I can type better on the Z33a keyboard than on my desktop! The keys feel great and the keyboard is very solid. The only place I can find any flex is near the F7 key and it is very minimal. The spacing of the keys is great. The keys are made of a dark gray translucent plastic.
Asus Z33a keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)
The touchpad is very sensitive and I really like the ‘rimless’ feature. The touchpad and buttons are level with the palmrests so there is no lip. The buttons have a nice soft click feel to them.
Asus Z33a touchpad (view larger image)
Input and Output Ports
This notebook has ports aplenty! On the right side there are two (2) USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, and VGA-out port. On the back there is the power connector and a 1394 Firewire port. The left side has the 10/100 LAN and modem jacks, one (1) USB 2.0 port, PCMCIA slot, and 4 in 1 memory card reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS PRO). There are no serial or parallel ports on the notebook. It appears that the VGA-out port can support up to 1600×1200 resolution monitors (at least for my external CRT).
The notebook came with an integrated Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 B/G miniPCI card. I had no problems connecting to my Netgear wireless router. On occasion the wireless card does not power up when booting the computer and I need to restart it to get the card to work. I have not looked into the issue yet. There is no bluetooth or infrared port.
The Z33a comes standard with a 3-cell Li-Ion battery. I also ordered the 9-cell battery but it is on backorder. I have been averaging ~1.5 hours of battery life with wireless on with the 3-cell battery. I have done a little tweeking with Centrino Hardware Control but haven’t tested it to see if there is an improvement. I will update the review once I receive the 9-cell battery.
Operating System and Software
I purchased the notebook without an OS because I had an extra copy of Windows XP Pro at home. I also wanted to set it up to dual-boot Windows and Linux. The system came with a driver disk that had everything I needed to get up and running. It also came with other free titles but I didn’t bother installing them.
For those interested in Linux on the Z33a, I installed Ubuntu Linux 5.04 and everything worked except for the wireless. This is a known issue with the Intel 2200 wireless card and there is a How-To available. I haven’t gone through the How-To yet to get the wireless working. Otherwise, I really like Ubuntu on the Z33a.
I fortunately haven’t had to use much customer support yet but so far Eddie at G2P has been great. I will probably have my dead-pixels addressed and will update the review about the process. Eddie was also gracious enough to compensate me for the delay in receiving my notebook even though he had no control over the events. Thanks Eddie!
I am extremely pleased with the Z33a. Even though it is very compact it is still very usable. I integrated it into my work/life immediately without an issue. Frankly, I’m surprised how much I use it. The 12.1″ screen is great and I don’t feel cramped by the lack of desktop space. I plan to purchase an external LCD monitor for extended use. I’d recommend the Z33a to anyone in the market for an ultraportable.