Asus Z70V Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (15,696)

by Ricky, Ontario Canada

Z70v pictures provided by Justin of ProPortable.com

Background

Much like my fellow notebook shoppers, I had spent a considerable amount of time over the past few months trying to decide on the perfect laptop for myself.  It felt like I had researched everything under the sun still unable to find that machine that was a match made in heaven.  I started off of course, much like everybody else, trying out laptops at Best Buy and pricing one Dell after another.  The main problem however, was that I could not find a system matching my budget and my needs both at the same time (save except for Dell).  On top of that, I had enjoyed the user friendliness of the HP’s but could not convince myself to pay the price premium.  Based on previous experiences with Dell’s desktops and laptops, I couldn’t sell myself on their quality.  I eventually ran into some Acers, that offered some pretty competitive pricing, but only within their lowest performing machines. 

My Requirements

My minimum requirements were as follows:

  • Pentium M (with Centrino preferred) processor 1.5 GHz or more
  • 8x DVD dual disc, dual layer
  • 512 MB RAM (333 MHz or faster)

What I highly preferred were:

  • Dedicated graphics (32MB +)
  • Widescreen
  • Lightweight but not necessarily ultra-portability

The Competition

Keeping in mind that not all these models are of the same caliber, some of them had to do with performance and others had to do with budget:

  • Dell Inspiron 6000
  • Dell Inspiron 600m
  • Dell Inspiron 700m
  • Acer Aspire 1600 series
  • Acer Travelmate 8100 series
  • Asus A6Ne
  • Asus Z71V
  • HP Pavilion DV1000 series

What I use the laptop for

I’m an engineering student and hence required a fairly powerful machine to do some CAD, Photoshop, MATLAB and Maple work.  There might be some programming involved as well.  In its spare time, it’ll have to double well as a multimedia machine.  Given that I carry a lot of things with me when I have a backpack I was also looking for something that was a little better built, stiff, durable and resistant to pressure and scratching.  Finally, my budget was ball parked to be around $1500 (Canadian).  After everything is said and done, the Asus Z70V was the only one that was able to meet almost all of them.

The Actual Review

My Computer’s Specifications

I decided to just go ahead make my laptop a true Sonoma platform Centrino.  Hence I decided to choose the following components:

  • Pentium M 740 (1.7 GHz, 533 MHz FSB, Dothan)
  • Intel Pro 2915 Wireless card (802.11 a/b/g compliant)
  • 1024 MB DDR2 (533 MHz) dual channel RAM (2 x 512 MB)
  • 60 GB Samsung 5400 RPM ATA HDD
  • 8x DVD+/-RW (Dual Layer) (Hot swappable Asus stock, I believe it’s either a Toshiba or a Panasonic).
  • Stock (I believe 9 cell) 69 WHr Battery.

Look and Feel

Asus Z70V (view larger image)

Right out of the box, this is a very fine looking machine.  I had the opportunity to be there when one of the employees opened up the box for both his and my first looks at the barebone.  It makes use of the standard Asus grayish black gunmetal finish, with touches of black to the LCD bezel and keyboard.  One of the selling points for the Z70V was its use of a Carbon Fiber alloy to stiffen the chassis, and I’m more than please to say it lives up to its hype.  None of the other laptops I’ve had the opportunity to play with in person could offer this level of rigidity.  There is no flex that was of any significance to me.  Putting pressure at random points on the back of the LCD screen brought no distortions, which is more than I can say for any of the other laptops I tried.  I think it looks like a very flexible visual appeal, allowing it to blend into almost any kind of environment, be it a board room, a classroom or a bedroom.

Asus Z70V left side view (view larger image)

Asus Z70V back side and right side view (view larger image)

Asus Z70v back side and left side view (view larger image)

Asus Z70v lid (view larger image)

Size & Weight

The Z70V appears to straddle that very fine border between the thin and light category and the large and portly desktop replacement sector.  The spec sheet lists this notebook in the range of 5.6 lbs, however, with the optical drive in place and all components in I’d estimate that number closer to be in the mid to low 6 lbs (or 2.7 kg).  This is not unmanageable in the least but definitely not something I’d recommend carrying around on a day to day basis.  The whole unit was surprisingly easy to hold and carry around in one hand, since it was a little thinner and lighter held sideways than I had anticipated.  I did, however, wish that notebook manufacturers started placing rubber grip pads or something of the sort to help get a better grip, but that’s griping for another day.  The laptop almost fits into my Obus-Forme backpack’s laptop compartment, so it should do fairly well in a standard 15 inch notebook accessory case.  Definitely get the laptop first, and then take it to wherever you are buying your case from to test it before you buy it.

Battery Life

Unfortunately this is my biggest gripe with his otherwise beautiful machine.  Using all of the Windows Power management options, Centrino Hardware Control, Battery Doubler, or even the included Power4Gear+ software I was never able to get more than 3 hours and 10 minutes out of this battery.  I get the feeling that the 5+ hours that Asus advertises is using a higher capacity and heavier battery.  One of my major factors in deciding between the other two Asus models was the poorer battery lives.  I had no illusions of spending a lot of time doing some mobile computing, but the 5 hours on a 15 inch screen seemed highly appealing.  I do have to stress, however, that my results may only be due to the use of the lower capacity battery.

Screen & Resolution

This laptop offers a matte finish LCD screen measuring 15.4″ diagonally.  It has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio at a WSXGA+ resolution (which translates to 1680 pixels horizontally x 1050 pixels vertically).  I was slightly apprehensive on such a high resolution as I was worried about being unable to read text that was too tiny.  I’m glad to report that I’ve had no difficulty reading anything so far.  Text sizes do not seem to be anything out of the ordinary and are consistently clear and sharp.  Beyond that, the widescreen has been a multi tasker’s gift from god.  I’ve got so much desktop estate that I sometimes don’t even know what to do with it!

Asus Z70V (view larger image)

Asus LCD’s have been known to be among the highest of quality and the screen here is no different.  If there are supposed “sparkles” they have not bothered me and I don’t intend on looking for them.  If I can’t see it, then it’s obviously not a problem.  I also had the opportunity to stare at the screen for a few good few minutes before finalizing my purchase and could not find any dead pixels noticeable to the naked eye.  Brightness is aplenty even in the morning sun on the bus rides to work.  This laptop does not have the Ambient Light Sensor found in the Z71V but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed within seconds by adjusting the brightness manually, or if you so wish, using Power4Gear+. 

Opening and closing the lid is a firm action.  There is very little wobble.  Beyond the first few degrees, the screen will stay put exactly where you place it.  Viewing angles are fairly standard fare for an LCD screen.  I’m not quite sure what light leakage is so I can’t comment too much on it.

Keyboard

Asus Z70v keyboard area (view larger image)

Welcome to my second gripe about this laptop.  It is not a major issue, but more of an annoyance.  It appears that my keyboard might be slightly faulty.  On my first night with this machine, the F1 key decided to try to make it on its own.  It managed to free itself for no apparent reason, and slide away.  Fixing it was not as simple as snapping it back into place like on a desktop keyboard and I had to take it back to my reseller.  A few days later, the “c” key decided to do much the same.  Upon their next shipment, my reseller will replace the keyboard, so hopefully that should fix matters somewhat.  Other than that minor issue, the keyboard is fantastic.  It is fairly quiet, and key travel is more than adequate.  They layout is more or less intuitive and didn’t take very long to migrate too.  The function key sits in where the control key tends to be and may be cause for confusion initially, but a bit of practice and use will have you touch typing and editing at your normal speed fairly quickly.  I guess I had always also expected that keyboards would light up so you could see in the dark, but that’s not the case.  This can be a bit troublesome in the dark if you can not touch type or if you’re not familiar with your FN (function) keys just yet.

Asus Z70v buil-in hardware buttons above keyboard (view larger image)

Touchpad

After installing the Synaptics driver the possibilities with the touchpad seemed endless.  I could completely customize how quickly I could navigate through various windows.  The touchpad works flawlessly, and much better than other laptops I’ve tried.  The layout is such that my hand rarely (by which I mean virtually never) brushes up against it, and when it does, the pointer will barely register.  However, when it comes time to move the actual pointer around, the touchpad is highly responsive.  The pad is actually shaped to match the widescreen aspect ratio, making it a little easier to navigate the wider screen without too many strokes.  The left and right click buttons actually use a “rimless, gapless design” which apparently helps reduce dust accumulation.  They actually just seem to be one piece of brushed aluminum, with one slit to distinguish the left and right mouse buttons.  The colour fits in beautifully and is highly appealing.  A similar (if not the same) design is used on other Asus notebooks such as the A6Ne and W3V.

Wireless

So far, the Intel Pro Wireless 2915 solution has done a fantastic job pulling signals seemingly from out of thin air.  I’ve sat on many a bus connecting to one wireless router to another on the way home from work.  The included Intel software is well designed and easy to use.  It also allows more options than the standard windows options and I’d highly recommend using it in place of MS XP’s integrated solution.  It quickly and consistently connects to D-Link Wireless G router at home and to the wireless network at my University.

Sound & Speakers

There’s not much that can be expected of laptop speakers but the Z70V does manage to incorporate some great features.  The 3D demo offered in the Realtek control center actually manage to make you believe that you are in a 3D environment.  There are 4 speakers on this computer.  Two of them are directly underneath the LCD screen while the other two are actually pointed downwards at the front of the notebook.  The fact that Asus manages to pull somehow pull surround sound from these 4 tiny speakers speaks volumes about their products (no pun intended).  Connect an external sound system or headphones and this laptop is adequately capable of being a digital entertainment center.  It has an S/PDIF jack using the same headphone out jack, but I don’t have the equipment to test it on, so I can’t comment much about them.

Card Reader

This is one of the more unfortunate peripherals that I’ve deal with so far.  The card reader took many combinations of uninstalling and installing drivers and restarting before I finally got it working.  This doesn’t seem to be a known issue as of yet, and I don’t see it becoming one.  Once it works, it works very well on regular SD cards.

DVD Writer

This was out of stock when I bought my laptop, but I couldn’t wait any longer.  Once I receive it I’ll update this portion of the review.

Other Ports

  • Paralell Port – One of the other reasons I liked this notebook was that it offered a parallel port.  I do some programming involving the serial port and this was a nice feature to have.  Sadly, I do have a parallel port printer but I can’t be bothered to hook it up even for the purposes of testing.
  • IR port – There is also a Fast InfraRed port, but I don’t have many devices to test it out with so that will be a story for another day.
  • Docking port – The Z70V includes a docking port, but there’s not very much I can do with it, much like the above.
  • S-Video – S-Video works flawlessly with my Samsung 27″ TV and allows for a decent video experience.  I haven’t tested the VGA out yet, but as a word of warning, turn the laptop off before plugging a VGA display in.  Do NOT plug it in while the laptop is running.  That’s just something that was mentioned in the User’s Manual.
  • PCMCIA slot – it’s there, but haven’t had much use for it yet.
  • 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN – seems to work well enough.  No complaints, and no reason to talk about it much.
  • 56 Kbps V.92 Fax/Modem – again haven’t needed to use it yet, but I’m sure it’ll work once the driver is installed.
  • IEEE 1394 (Firewire) type B is included, but this is another port I haven’t bothered to really try yet.

Software Included & Accessories

This laptop should come with a copy of the Nero CD burning program (version 6 or higher), Asus DVD, Asus PowerDirector DE, Asus Medi@ show.  I’ve only tried Asus DVD and that works just fine.  Haven’t needed the other two and don’t see myself needing them anytime soon.  There should also be a Drivers and Utilities CD containing the drivers for the graphics card, sound, touchpad and more.  I’d recommend using them just to get started and then downloading all the latest necessary ones once you can get on the internet.

The Asus carrying case provided doesn’t seem half bad, and I wouldn’t mind using it if I weren’t so afraid of being mugged for carrying what obviously is a laptop case.  There should also be a traveler’s drawer in the box, in case you want to lighten your load and don’t need your Optical drive (But I can’t imagine who wouldn’t these days).

I bought a Kensington lock and so far have been pretty happy with it.  The Kensington lock slot is located near the back on the right and seems surprisingly sturdy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the carbon fiber had something to do with that.

Performance & Benchmarks

And now for the section that most people probably skipped most of this review for!  I put some numbers through 3DMark 05, 3DMark 03, super pi and some memory tests using Everquest Home Edition.

All tests were done using the Power4Gear+ presets.

Super Pi (calculating Pi to 2 millions digits):

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Asus Z70V (1.7 GHz Pentium M) 1m 45s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Pentium M) 1m 45s
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M) 1m 48s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Pentium M) 2m 28s

3DMark 05:

DC mode on High performance: 658
AC mode on High performance: 1131
AC mode on Gaming performance:  1158

3DMark 03:

AC Mode on High performance: 3209
AC mode on Gaming performance:  3196

Everest Home Edition:

Memory Read:  2979 MB/s

Compare it with:
Just faster than:  Athlon XP 3200+ with PC 3200 DDR SDRAM (2980 MB/s)
Just slower than:  Athlon64 3200+ with PC3200 DDR SDRAM (2790 MB/s)
Fastest:  Pentium EE 840 (@ 3200 MHz) Dual DDR2-667 (6100 MB/s)
Slowest:  Am5x86 @ 133 MHz using EDO RAM (50 MB/s)

Memory Write: 877 MB/s

Compare it with:
Just faster than: P4 2533 MHz using PC2700 DDR SDRAM (860 MB/s)
Just slower than:  AthlonXP 3200+ using Dual PC 3200 DDR Ram (880 MB/s)
Fastest:  Athlon64 3500+ using Dual PC 3200 DDR (2600 MB/s)
Slowest:  Am5x86 @ 133 MHz using EDO RAM (30 MB/s)

Memory Latency: 106.5 ns

Compare it with:
Just faster than: P4 3066 MHz PC2700 DDR SDRAM (115.1 ns)
Just slower than: AthlonXP 2500+ PC2700 DDR SDRAM (105.4 ns)
Fastest:  Athlon64 3500+ Dual PC3200 DDR (45.6 ns)
Slowest:  K6-2 PC100 SDRAM (286.8 ns)

The laptop is more of a quintessential Swiss Army Knife that is capable of doing many things well, but does not excel at any one of them.  Games are playable, you can run high end applications but don’t expect miracles and I think you’ll be very happy with the results.  Boot up times are anywhere between 20 to 30 seconds.  Resuming from sleep is about 2 to 4 seconds, maybe less.  It’s no slouch.

Heat

Overall, the laptop remains cool enough to the touch.  The left side will tend to get warmer just under the palm rest as that is where the hard drive seems to be located.  The fan will usually be on but is very silent.  I rarely know it’s on, until I start to do some more CPU and hard drive intensive stuff.  Definitely employ some form of Hardware, heat and performance controlling software, or else the bottom will get noticeably warmer during periods of high activity.  During regular use, the laptop is cool enough to sit on your lap without causing much discomfort.  If you were looking for some numbers, here are some estimates from about two weeks of use:

Using Power4Gear+ on Super Performance and AC power:

CPU temp: 70 C
HDD temp: 55 C
Fan:  2200 RPM

Using Power4Gear+ on Battery Saving and DC power:

CPU temp: 60 C
HDD temp: 50C
Fan:  800 RPM

Using Centrino Hardware Control on Dynamic Switching and AC power:

CPU temp: 58 C
HDD temp: 48 C
Fan:  800 RPM

Using Centrino Hardware Control on Max Battery and DC power:

CPU temp: 51 C
HDD temp: 46 C
Fan:  OFF

Most times the fan is on, but again is very silent, and blows warm, but not burning, air out of the right vent and the rear left vent.  A word of caution, however; avoid using the laptop on your lap or on your bed for too long as this may block the three air intake vents on the bottom, causing the CPU and hard drives to heat up much faster and turning the fan at a slightly higher rate.

This is not the coolest laptop that Asus offers, but again, this level of heat is expected and acceptable for this size and category of laptops.

Price:

I bought the system from the Canadasys Computers location in North York with taxes for $1990 (Canadian).  Unfortunately, this was much higher than my initial budget, but the technology is sure to last me a long time and is much like buying a BMW.  You pay the premium and get exactly what you pay for; a higher build quality and reliability.

So far Canadasys has been great as a reseller and I definitely recommend them over Canada Computers, as far as service goes.  If you find a cheaper price for the exact same system, they will price match it, so you don’t have much to worry about.  They are always prompt with replies and don’t see to be in any hurry to run away from you when you are on the phone or are talking to them in person.  I’d considered Canada Computers and Pacific Notebooks but their sales oriented approach completely turned me off of them.

Conclusion:

It’s always a good idea to know your stuff before you walk in to make such a large investment, just so you know what you want and are looking for.  If you’re reading this whole review, then you’re off to a good start.  The Asus Z70V is just another fine example of the computing experiences that you can expect with a brand such as Asus.  Granted that they are not a major player on the notebook market yet, they’ve started to make their mark on a particular niche of the market.  Their ensemble notebooks are very fine looking and are geared towards a more mainstream set of consumers, though they are nowhere near lacking in power.  Their barebones have established themselves quite well among technical aficionados allowing for a much wider scope of choices to help build that perfect laptop.  The Z70V fits the bill as one of the best well rounded machines on the market today.  It is fully capable of being designed to meet everyone’s needs whether you are a business professional or a starving student.  It offers, much like all of Asus’ products, one of the best bang for the buck ratios out there today, and can only improve.  Pick the right parts and with a little bit of prior research, it’s easy to match this notebook to your needs for a long time to come.

Rating: 8.75/10

Purchase info and Availability:

USA

Canada


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