ASUS Z81sp Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (15,534)

by Aric W., Toronto, Canada


ASUS’s desktop replacement, the z81sp with its powerbrick (larger image)

The ASUS z81sp is a desktop replacement style notebook made by ASUS that includes an Intel Pentium 4 3.2 GHz processor, a 6800 nVidia Go graphics card inside of a 15.4″ screen chassis.  The model I reviewed was generously provided by CanadaSys, one of Canada’s leading ASUS notebook dealers.  The configuration of the z81sp reviewed is as follows:

  • Pentium 4 3.2ghz 800mhz 1mb Cache
  • 512 x2 DDR2 533mhz
  • nVidia 6800 Go 256mb MXM Type III
  • DVD Dual Layer optical drive
  • 80gb 5400RPM HD
  • ASUS b/g wireless card
  • 15.4″ WSXGA Matte screen

Click here to see the specs of the z81sp using Everest

This is your typical ASUS quality laptop, meaning it’s built well.  It’s made for a table/desk type existence as it’s pretty thick, about 2.5 inches from bottom to top, and that makes it obvious that it will be quite heavy. There aren’t many 15.4″ screen notebooks with a 6800 Go graphics card, the only other notebook I know of like that is the Sager 7620.

The highest point of the z81sp compared to a Duracell AA battery

The Z80 weighs about 9 pounds which isn’t bad for a desktop replacement, especially with a 6800 Go video card, as it needs a massive cooling system. So, although it’s not the most portable notebook — it is quite good as a notebook with lots of raw power.

Build and Design


z81sp compared to the z70va (view larger image)

The Z81 is made of plastic, but it’s still hard and rigid, not a flimsy style plastic. The design is ok at best, it’s pretty blocky. The casing is a mix of the gunmetal grey, same as that found on the z71v, and black trimming.  This might seem a bit bland to some, but I found it quite suitable. The LCD backing is quite wobbly when being moved but when typing there are no vibrations, it is quite solid. I noticed the hinges were pretty solid, I doubt it will create those famous ‘cracks’ by other brands (EMachines comes to mind).


A closed z81sp compared to a closed z63a. The sizes are very large in difference (view larger image)

From the outside with the lid closed, it is quite thick as there are ‘legs’ about 2-3 centimeters up so that ventilation will flow better, as well as vents above the top left on the keyboard, half of the back are vents and the top right corner as well.


The bottom of the z81sp two speakers at the bottom, one large fan vent for the whole chassis ventulation, one on the right for the GPU and the Business Card holder on the left. Notice the ‘legs’ at the top of the laptop (view larger image)

After the LCD is opened, it has ‘wings’ which open up at 1-2 centimeters out, it’s puzzling me why these are here. But I was glad to see the seamless touchpad ASUS had included, it’s responsive as always, as well as cool looking.


The 15.4″ z81sp compared to the 14.1″ z63a. Notice the ‘wings’ on the z81sp (view larger image)

The LED’s are placed pretty well, as underneath the touchpad there are the media hotkeys, Instant CD player, back, stop, play/pause and forward. To the right of that, there are 5 LED’s, one for CD Player on/off, Power indicator, Battery charging, Bluetooth and WiFi.

On the top left, the Z80 has 4 hotkeys:  Power4Gear, Touchpad disable/enable,WLan On/Off and a programmable hotkey. Beside that is the bright Orange power button, it’s pretty cool looking, but I would of preferred blue! Also, the whole top of the keyboard area is laced with aluminum cross weave, it’s pretty neat looking.



The top right of the laptop, includes the Power4Gear, Disable/Enable touchpad, Wlan On/Off and programmable hotekey, as well as the bright orange Power Button. The surrounding area is a aluminum ‘fence weave’ which looks pretty cool

The laptop has quite a few fans, and they are very, very big, but why not — It’s a Pentium 4 with a 6800 Go in a 15.4″ chassis! The GPU is located at the top left, and CPU is at the top right, and there is a vent at the top left, one at the top right side, about three at the back near the GPU, and two large vents on the bottom.


A naked z81sp! Notice the heat sinks and, heat vents. Made of aluminum, the fans cool the GPU, the machine in general and the CPU respectively. The optical drive which is built in is located on the bottom left, an 8 cell battery is located in the bottom right and the hard drive is right over it. The RAM module is found right in the middle underneath the middle fan. The other module is located underneath the keyboard. (view larger image)


The GPU vent

Overall — the z81sp isn’t aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t ugly neither.

Screen



Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children playing on the z70va(left) and SpiderMan 2 playing on the z81sp. Notice the backlighting leakage. (view larger image)

The z81sp contains a 15.4″ WSXGA Matte screen, which is 1680×1050 resolution and it’s quite bright, but compared to my z70va, it isn’t as good. The Z81 I reviewed had a perfect screen with no dead pixels, the colours were vivid and bold, and the viewing angles were quite good. Also, like the Asus M6 series (same as Z70va/a) the speakers are underneath the LCD screen, so the LCD is placed higher, and on the z81sp, it is about 3.35 inches from the bottom of the LCD. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, it raises the LCD so one does not have to look down to see the LCD but instead, across. Unfortunately there was quite some backlight leaking, as you can see from the picture.
 

z81sp on the Age of Empires III homepage. Honestly, this is a bad picture really (view larger image)



The viewing angles worsen, but trust me its a lot better than on camera… (view larger image)



The viewing angles aren’t that bad on the z81sp, its just the pictures..(view larger image)


Shaky hands — but screen is very viewable (view larger image)



Caption: Not as much here… (view larger image)

Speakers

The z81sp has 4 speakers, two at the bottom corner of the laptop, and two below the screen panel, similar to the z70v/a. This setup works well, as it has even sound coming from different sources. I found the speakers were quite good, loud and crisp.  However, I didn’t feel any bass, which was expected. Overall, good speakers for the on the go (which is doubtful for this laptop), but of course 5.1 or 7.1 output speakers are always recommended!

Processor and Performance

The Z81 runs on an Intel Pentium 4 540 Processor, a 3.2ghz Prescott at 800mhz FSB. It was pretty fast, it seemed to be comparable in speed to the 2.0ghz Pentium M on my z70va as I found no real difference in booting up and loading basic programs. It took about 12 seconds from pressing the power button to the log in screen. The nVidia 6800 Go at 256mb of Video Ram was very powerful, and integrated well into the z81sp and will be well used for owners of it. Another plus is that it is an MXM card, so it can be easily replaced! Or even better the 6800 Go can be used for something else! (cough, such as the z71v?)

I ran Benchmarks, and the graphics were awesome, the 6800 could really be seen working its stuff. The laptop ran pretty warm and was a bit loud but it was at its maximum so I’ll forgive that. Other than that, while idling and surfing/word processing, it ran at a respectable fan noise.

Note that the computer has not been modified in any way — the stock drivers (ATI) were the only thing installed.

Benchmarks



Not a bad score for a 15.4″ laptop!

HDTune benchmarks (view larger image)

PCMark04 Results

We use the program Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy, below are the results for the Z81 and a comparison to other notebooks:

Notebook  Time
 Asus Z81sp (3.2GHz, Pentium 4)  1m 38s
 Fujitsu S6231 (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 6s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 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
 Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Pentium M)  1m 57s
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

Keyboard and Touchpad

The touchpad is awesome as always, the creaseless design and the response is great, I can’t say anything bad about the touchpad, besides being a touchpad. The keyboard does kind of have some flex, which is quite disappointing. Most keys flex when I press down on a key, so that was pretty annoying.



The z81sp touchpad as well as the media hotkey and the LED’s for CD Player on/off, Power indicator, Battery charging, Bluetooth and WiFi.(view larger image)

Input and Output ports

There are a no ports on the front, just the latch there.


Blurry front of the z81sp (view larger image)

On the right side, there is a PCMCIA type II card port, a DVD+-Dual Layer combo optical drive, a SD/MMC/MS/Pro card port, a firewire port, InfraRed port, and two USB 2.0 ports.


PCMCIA type II card port,  DVD+-Dual Layer built in OD,  SD/MMC/MS/Pro card port, firewire/1394 port, IR port, and two USB 2.0 ports. (view larger image)

The back of the laptop has an RJ11 modem port and an RJ45 Ethernet port. Also here is a video connector, an EPP/ECP parallel port and VGA port.


RJ11/45, and ports listed above (view larger image)

On the left side, there is a Kensington lock, a battery switch (read more below), the  power outlet port, two USB 2.0 and two regular MIC and Headphone jack, but I’m not exactly sure if its S/PDIF compatible.


Kensington, Battery switch, Power Plug, USB x2, MIC and Headphones/Speakers (view larger image)

Wireless

The z81sp uses an ASUS wireless card, which is a wireless b/g card. They have their own program which I found really great since it was very descriptive, detailed and customizable. It detected wireless access points nearby without issue.

Battery Life

Being a desktop replacement, the battery life isn’t the best. With Wi-Fi on and surfing, about 90 minutes is the normal battery life. Unfortunately I did not have Power4Gear so I did not get to test the battery life using Power4Gear, but I would think at least two hours or more would be normal.


A closed z81sp, without the Built On ASUS sticker and it’s powerbrick. Literally, its a brick — its HUGE!


8 cell battery compared to a AA battery

The battery for the z81sp is built in, it is a square sized battery located inside the laptop and ASUS thought it’s design out very well, as there is a switch on the left side (seen in the picture 2 pictures above surrounded by white) turning the connection to the battery on and off, since this is a desktop replacement it is a good idea since its plugged in all the time.

OS and Software

Being a barebone — you can choose the OS, and the software included is the basic Nero OEM, ASUSDVD, ASUS medi@ and various others.

Customer Service

You can choose which ASUS reseller to buy this from so your mileage may vary but reputable resellers like PROPortable, Geared2Play and CanadaSys are good places with great customer service.

Free Case

ASUS always includes a free case with every laptop, but the z81sp is pretty disappointing, the z70v/a case was great looking and useful but with this one, the case was bland and overall designed okay at best. I hope ASUS puts it together with another case

Complaints

  • Runs pretty hot and loud under heavy use
  • Screen isn’t the brightest
  • Thick
  • Power Brick is truly a brick
  • Battery life, but respectable for a desktop replacement
  • Keyboard flex

Praises

  • Powerful
  • Good battery life for a desktop replacement
  • Innovative battery switching
  • MXM video card

Conclusion

The z81sp is a good choice for a desktop replacement, especially if a 17″ is not needed, this is a great choice. It is fairly small compared to a 17″, and for people who don’t have much desk space but need a powerful sitting laptop, this is a great option. Compared to the Sager 7620, it’s a lot lighter, 9lbs compared to 10lbs, and less expensive. So overall it’s a great choice for a small desktop replacement.


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