Asus Z96j Review (pics, specs)

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Asus Z96j (view large image)

Introduction, Reasons for Buying, Where and How Purchased:

I recently purchased an Asus z96j to supplement my Lenovo ThinkPad T60. I do a lot of modeling and rendering and the T60’s video card (an ATi X1300 with 64MB RAM) just couldn’t cut it when it came to rotating complex 3D models. I also have a 21″ monitor that runs a native 1680 x 1050 resolution that the T60 had trouble displaying graphics on. So I decided to get the z96j. HP, Dell, and the others all have similar setups, but Asus had the cheapest setup by way of buying a barebones notebook (barebones means you buy the hard drive, optical drive, wireless card, OS, and RAM components of the machine). If you don’t mind a logo-less machine, it seems to be the best bargain you can get. It’s got a wuxga (1680×1050) 15.4″ screen powered by a 256mb Ati x1600 thats more than powerful enough to display dual 1680×1050 resolutions.

My complete setup for the Z96j is:

  • Processor: Intel 2.0GHz Core Duo, 2Mb L2, 667 FSB
  • Screen size: 15.4″ Wuxga (1680×1050)
  • Hard drive: 80Gb 7200Rpm
  • Optical drive: 4x DVDRW +/-
  • Ram: 2Gb Ocz
  • Video Card: Ati 256mb x1600
  • Battery: 6 Cell Li-Ion
  • OS: Windows XP Pro
  • Wireless: Intel Pro/Wireless3945ABG
  • Misc: Bluetooth2.0

This configuration cost me a hair under $1,400 with the hard drive and RAM coming from NewEgg.com and the rest ordered from MilestonePC.com. All in all, I’m quite satisfied with the performance per dollar of my purchase. My one complaint is that MilestonePC used some sort of adhesive to bond my heatsink setup to the motherboard so I couldn’t add arctic silver to the CPU.

Build & Design:

The design of the lid is perhaps a little plain. As you can see in the picture, it is a plain silver with no logo on it. I wish it came with an Asus logo. Although plain, I think it still has a clean look to it. The build quality seems high, standard Asus quality. However, the actual frame perhaps is designed a little weakly. It is definitely not as solid as a ThinkPad (for example my T60), but it is a little better than the Dell and HP consumer laptops I’ve tried.

Weight-wise the Z96j is pretty light. I expected a 15.4″ with 256MB video card to be heavier, but it isn’t. Back to the lid, if you press on the back, there is minimum rippling in the screen. The screen does have a slight wobble, most likely due to the wideness of it. As for flex, it is a 15.4″ so there isn’t much you can do to keep it from flexing if you really try to make it flex.


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 Top View


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 Front View


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 Back View


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 Right Side


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Left Side


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Screen:

The screen is awesome. It runs 1680×1050 on a 15.4″ screen. I didn’t receive it with any dead pixels (thank goodness). The screen has a glossy finish and it has very uniform backlighting, more so than the T60 does. So much so that I didn’t realize my T60 had uneven backlighting until I got this z96j. It has 16 different levels of brightness which range from about 5% to 100%. At the dimmest setting you can barely see anything on it. Though changing the backlight doesn’t affect the battery life as much as you’d think. I think the greater drain comes from the monster X1600 graphics card.

Speakers:

The speakers are alright. I’m picky with my audio and usually run an amp and bookshelf speaker setup. For short videos and presentations the speakers are fine. The speakers are fien even for gaming and the like, if you don’t mind mediocre sound quality. I’d still recommend separate speakers and headphones if you like your audio. But if audio isn’t a priority, these speakers should work just fine. They aren’t exemplary, but they aren’t terrible either.

Processor and Performance:

This laptop feels blazing fast. I’ve tried modeling with multiple instances of Rhino CAD software open and it’s been able to do it fine without lagging. It seems to be able to take everything I throw at it. My windows boot time is quick; I’d say barely a minute or so. This fast boot time is enabled by the 7200RPM HD which is one of the fastest 7200rpm drives out there. The 2GB of ram has allowed me to run just about anything and everything at the same time without any lag. It seems to do everything I want it to do extremely fast. It’s exactly what I was looking for.

Benchmarks:

 
SuperPi

SuperPi measures CPU performance by calculating Pi to a specific number of digits.

Notebook

Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits

Asus Z96j (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 15s

HP dv6000z (1.8GHz Turion64 X2 TL-56)

1m 54s

Compaq V3000T(1.6GHz Core Duo)

1m 26s

Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.00 GHz Core 2 Duo)

1m 02s

Toshiba A100(2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Acer Aspire 5102WLMi(1.6GHz Turion64 X2 TL-50

2m 22s

Gateway E-100M(1.2GHz Core Solo ULV)

2m 02s

Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)

2m 10s

HP dv5000z(2.0GHz Sempron 3300+)

2m 02s

 

3DMark05 Results and comparison:

3DMark05 tests the graphics processing capabilities of a system:

Notebook  3DMark 05 Results

Asus Z96j (2.00 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)

 3,553 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
ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)  727 3DMarks
 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

 

3DMark06 Score:

3,560

HDTune Results:


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Heat and Noise:

Heat is an issue if you’re used to a cool running machine, such as a ThinkPad which generally stays pretty cool. The z96j on the other hand keeps your palms and wrist warm on those cold winter nights. The area under the left palm rest houses the hard drive so it warms up a little and the area under the right wrist pad is where the processor and GPU are located. While these areas both get warm, it isn’t too uncomfortable to use, you’ll get used to it and forget about it after 5 minutes. It’s not something that should deter you from purchasing this laptop.

Keyboard and Touchpad:

The keyboard is more solid than the Dell I used to own, but not as stiff as a ThinkPad keyboard. Although no one makes a keyboard like a ThinkPad, so that’s an unfair comparison. The Z96j buttons have just the right amount of give for a laptop. No complaints here, it works well thanks to the roomy 15.4″ frame. The touchpad works well; it’s not flushed with the wrist pads like some of the other Asus models. On the top right, there are also buttons that allow easy access to your e-mail, browser and to disable the touchpad.

Input and Output Ports:

Ports:

  • 4 USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 Firewire port
  • VGA Display-out
  • S-Video port
  • AC adapter port
  • Modem
  • Ethernet/LAN
  • Audio line out & in
  • Microphone
  • 1.3MP webcam

Slots:

  • 1 Type II PC card slot
  • 1 ExpressCard 34 & 54 slot (internal guide for 34)
  • 1 MMC/SD/MS card reader

Buttons:

  • Power on/off
  • E-mail/Browser (2 buttons)
  • Wireless on/off (Sliding Switch)
  • Touchpad Disable


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Wireless:

The Z96j comes standard with Bluetooth and you can drop in an Intel Pro/Wireless3945ABG card (the laptop does not come equipped with a wireless card).

Battery:

The battery life stinks compared to the 9-cell battery I run on the T60. I have an estimated 2.5 hours of battery life with the CPU undervolted. This is expected with this screen size and video card though. If you want to watch movies, this is not a good way to go unless you’re plugged in, this goes for gamers too. But for a quick use when an outlet isn’t nearby it works well.

Operating System and Software:

The Z96j did not come with an operating system, but I installed Windows XP on it. It came packaged with some software for burning, managing Bluetooth, and other programs that complement the hardware. It also came with a disc that housed all the drivers that you need to get it up and running fast. I recommend installing Notebook Hardware Control to undervolt the processor and save you some heat and power!

Customer Support:

I have had no contact with Asus customer service and given their reputation I hope to never have to. I did call MilestonePC.com to check on my order status and they were able to fulfill my requests quickly.

Conclusion:

For the money, this laptop is a great buy. Perhaps the best $1,400 you can buy for such a video card and screen. For anyone who does Photoshop, 3D CAD modeling and rendering; this machine is a great buy. If you’re not running 50** or 51** Xeon processors, this dual core setup can probably keep up with your dual processor (single core) setup. Go with my setup and it is highly recommended for the uses I described above.

Pros:

  • Dual core
  • Awesome screen
  • Fast, powerful video card
  • Build quality
  • 4 USB Ports
  • Bluetooth

Cons:

  • 6 Cell battery (Sometimes you need more juice.)
  • No DVI
  • Plain lid
  • VGA output on right side where mouse placement would be


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