Asus Z71v Review (pics, specs)

by djembe Reads (117,905)

by Robert Mantia, Minnesota USA

Asus Z71V (view larger image)

The Asus Z71v is the latest in Asus’ line of customizable notebook computers.  The one I bought has the following specifications:

  • Pentium M 750 Processor (1.86 Ghz, 533  Mhz FSB)
  • 1 Gigabyte RAM (2×512 MB DDR2-4200@533 Mhz)
  • 15.4″ WSXGA (1680×1050) widescreen display
  • 80 GB hard drive, spinning at 5400 RPM
  • Nvidia GeForce Go 6600 graphics card with 128 MB VRAM
  • Removable DVD+/-RW drive
  • Intel 2915 802.11a/b/g wireless card
  • PCMCIA, Multi-Card Reader (multimedia card, secure digital, memory stick), 4-pin firewire, Audio In, Audio Out/SPDIF, phone jack, Gigabit Ethernet, VGA-out, and 5 USB ports
  • Windows XP Home

While you may not have heard as much about Asus as you have heard about Dell, HP, Gateway, and Apple, they have been around for a while earning the reputation as the best motherboard maker in the world.  In addition to this, as an original design manufacturer, they have made the chassis and motherboards for several computers that were later sold under more recognizable names.  As one of their more recent ventures, Asus released a line of customizable notebooks, and the Z71v is the most recent of these.Based on Intel’s latest Centrino technology, the Asus Z71v has the power to do whatever you want it to, at home or on the road, gaming, surfing the internet, preparing presentations, taking notes, or writing reports. 

I had been researching a notebook purchase for over a year before I found the Z71v.  I wanted something that had a fairly large screen, preferably widescreen, had good graphics and sound, and would be able to play games as well as be used to write papers and do schoolwork.  It also had to be fairly portable and had at least 3.5 hours of battery life.  It was a hard combination to find!  Until January, the prime contender was the Sager 3790, which has a 15.4″ widescreen, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics card, and still managed to get up to five hours of battery life.  Then Intel came out with Sonoma, the next-generation Centrino platform, and I discovered the Acer Travelmate 8104, which had a video card roughly twice as good as the Sager’s, looked better, and had all the next-generation upgrades.  Unfortunately, the Acer would only get 3.5 hours battery life if the screen was dimmed down almost to opacity and just about everything was turned off.  This simply would not do.  However, after looking at the next generation, I really wanted a computer that could keep up with the Acer, and the Sager 3790 paled in comparison.  Enter the Asus Z71v.  The graphics card on the Z71v (Nvidia 6600) rivals the one on the Acer (ATI x700), it had all the new technology, and Asus advertised that it would get up to SIX hours of battery life.  I pre-ordered it, and after an agonizing month of waiting for it to be released, one fine day it arrived.  Here are my thoughts:

Build

The machine seems to be built very well. There is very little flex in the case or keyboard.  The LCD is adequately shielded and does not blur or spot when I push on the back.  The hinges are good, and the LCD will stay open in any position without wobble.  The laptop closes with a latch, which clicks in place. 

Asus Z71V Back Side (view larger image)

Asus Z71V Right Side (view larger image)

Asus Z71V Front Side (view larger image)

Asus Z71V Left Side (view larger image)

Asus Z71V Above view closed (view larger image)

Weight & Mobility

The notebook weighs 6.5 pounds.  It’s a little bit heavier than I’m used to, but still definitely portable. I like the included carrying case, and it’s easy to carry the computer and adapter along with various books, especially when using the included shoulder strap. 

Screen

The screen looks good. The high resolution gives me the impression that I have a lot more room to work with, which is nice.  The viewing angles are very acceptable, and the screen does not wash out when viewed from even extreme angles.  Having a widescreen is also nice, as I am able to look at several open windows at the same time.  Colors are vibrant, and pictures and video both appear sharp and clear.  The screen does have one oddity: on solid colors, especially bright green and white, I can observe a slight sheen or sparkle.  I do not notice this at all when looking at pictures, watching movies, or playing games, but it is noticeable when word processing, due to the solid white background.  It does not bother me, and I stop noticing it fairly quickly, but for those who are more sensitive to this kind of thing, it might be an issue.  As an addition, this notebook comes with  an Ambient Light Sensor (ALS).  This adjusts the screen brightness to the room brightness, so in a bright room, the screen will be bright, and in a darker room, the screen will automatically dim until it reaches optimal brightness.  I find this feature extremely useful because it means I never have to adjust the screen’s brightness manually (although I could turn off ALS and do that instead if I wanted to).  I can just adjust the range of ALS brightness and I never have to think about it again.  This feature also extends battery life. 

Asus Z71V Screen (view larger image)

Asus Z71V Screen Vertical Viewing Angle Example (view larger image)

Asus Z71V Screen Horizontal Viewing Angle (view larger image)

Sound

The sound is provided by two speakers in the front of the laptop, and it is some of the finest sound that I have ever heard come from laptop speakers.  DVD audio comes across clear and sufficiently loud to be heard in the next room.  It still has volume limits, and playing classical music that has a wide range of volume is not recommended, but the sound is rich, and there is a built-in audio mixing console where you can adjust the different frequencies and add effects. 

Keyboard

The keyboard feels great. The keys are nearly silent, and have adequate bounce. 

Asus Z71V Keyboard (view larger image)

Touchpad

The touchpad works well in general. It is somewhat sensitive, so I had to get used to typing so I did not accidentally brush past it, and click on something inadvertently.  The 2 buttons work well, although they are distinctly louder than the keyboard buttons.  The scrollbar is useful, also. 

Asus Z71V Touchpad (view larger image)

Performance and Benchmarks

Here are some general system benchmarks that will give an idea of the overall power and speed of the notebook. 

Time to boot up: 30 seconds
PCMark04: 3594
Time to calculate Pi to 2 million digits in Super Pi: 1 minute, 38 seconds

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 Asus Z71V with it’s 1.86GHz processor stacked up to other similar notebooks when running this calculation:

Pentium M 750 Processor (1.86 Ghz Pentium M)

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Asus Z71V (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 38s
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

Stock benchmarks on AC Power using Nvidia 71.13 driver, 250/400 clock:

  • 3DMark01 SE: 12904
  • 3DMark03: 4358
  • 3DMark05: 1706
  • Aquamark3: 29822

The 3DMarks listed above were somewhat below those achieved by the Acer 8104 (approx. 2300 in 3DMark05), but considerably higher than those for the Sager 3790 (approx. 1000 in 3DMark05).  Still, I updated the drivers for my graphics card and overclocked it a bit to see if I could get higher scores.  Geared2Play, one of the websites selling the computer, suggested that the ideal overclock speed was 290 core & 573 memory, so those are the speeds at which I set it. 

Overclocked benchmarks on AC power using Nvidia 76.50 driver, 290/571 clock:

  • 3DMark01 SE: 13569
  • 3DMark03: 5310
  • 3DMark05: 2126
  • Aquamark3: 36455

These benchmarks are much closer to the Acer’s scores, and I am happy with them.  Before I switch to the next area, though, here’s a warning about overclocking: if you overclock the graphics card too much, it will overheat and will cease to work correctly.  Since it is a $200.00 replacement part, please be careful if you choose to overclock. 

Battery Life

The battery lasted 2.25 hours playing a DVD. Doing basic applications (word processing, surfing the internet, etc.), it lasts between 3.5 and 4 hours. Not nearly the 6.5 hours that Asus claimed is the ceiling, but still enough to easily get through my 3.5 hour long classes. If you’re going to be on a long flight or need more than 4 hours of battery life, I’d suggest getting the modular battery option that swaps for the optical drive.

Heat & Fan Noise

The laptop stays wonderfully cool most of the time. According to Mobile Meter, the CPU has a temperature range of 37-66 degrees Celsius, averaging 40 degrees Celsius on battery and 58 degrees on AC power. And the only place it gets noticeably warm is on the bottom in the back. It’s not uncomfortably hot even after over 6 hours of use.

The laptop has 2 fans: the chipset fan and the CPU fan.  The chipset fan is on all the time, but is virtually soundless.  When I first powered up my computer, I literally could not hear any noise whatsoever.  The CPU fan comes on when the CPU gets to 55 degrees Celsius and is audible, but stays fairly quiet most of the time.  The only time it speeds up is when doing heavy gaming and during very CPU intensive applications, like running Super Pi. 

Audio DJ CD player:

There are some buttons on the front of the laptop which are used to play CDs without booting into the computer’s operating system.  In my opinion, this feature would have been much more effective if it played DVDs. CD playback is only so-so. Music seems to play well, but vocal can easily be drowned out by instruments, and it’s sometimes hard to hear what the singers are singing. It varies from CD to CD, in my experience. 

DVD+/-RW drive:

The drive works well for me. Burn time for a 60-minute CD was 6 minutes. Read/load time takes a bit longer than I’m used to from my roommate’s desktop, but it is still acceptable. Time to completely install Myst 3: Exile (4 CDs): 30-40 minutes  The only thing about the drive that I don’t like is that it’s the loudest part of the computer when it spins. 

Pricing and reseller experience:

I bought mine for $1940.33 US dollars from Integrated System Technologies. I would highly recommend them to anyone who is planning to buy a new computer. Rick, the owner, answered a string of questions that I had about the notebook when I first placed my order, and Gwen, the co-owner, sent me e-mails detailing the Z71v’s process through pre-order, build, and shipping. It was discovered that the Intel 2200 wireless card (that I ordered) had an issue with the chipset of the Z71v, so IST upgraded it to the Intel 2915 for free.  They even set my name up in Windows! You can’t do any better than that!

Overall

Pros:

  • solid build
  • low heat & quiet fans
  • high resolution screen
  • good video power/performance
  • good quiet keyboard
  • adequate battery life

Cons:

  • screen sparkle exists
  • Audio DJ does not play DVDs
  • DVD+/-RW drive can get loud when it spins up
  • touchpad sensitivity takes a little getting used to

Overall Rating: 4.5/5, highly recommended


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