Asus Z96J Review

by Reads (6,703)

OK. As requested by other users on the forum, I have posted a copy of my review here on NBR. This was originally submitted to www.asusforum.com and is still there. I hope you all enjoy the review!

http://forum.notebookreview.com/showthread.php?t=70451


System Configuration:

Asus Z96 Barebones purchased through G2P with a 3 year warranty
WSXGA LCD with Asus Color-Shine Tech.
Intel T2400 1.83GHZ Core Duo
ATI Mobility Radeon X1600
1GB Corsair DDR 667 RAM- single module
60 GB 7200 RPM Hitachi Hard Drive
Dual Layer DVD burner and super-multi drive with support for DVD-RAM
**This is the optical drive currently offered with the Z96 through G2P
Windows XP Home Edition
Spare 9 cell battery in addition to standard 6 cell
Final Price: $1600

Reasons for buying:
My previous notebook had become outdated and I considered it to be unreliable. I spent a few months searching for the right notebook. The first notebook I started looking at seriously was the MSI 1039. However that one did not get the battery life I was looking for, and was still based on a single core processor. I also did not know how reliable MSI was as a notebook manufacturer, and I had trouble locating a good reseller for the 1039. Later I came across the S96. I liked it much more than the MSI 1039, and I found a good reseller, Geared2Play, to buy it from. Ultimately it came down to a decision between the S96j and the Z96j.

Because I program, I wanted the higher resolution screen. The Z96 was also readily available, whereas the S96 was backordered. I also did not like Intel’s VBI program, and their program policies. If you think about it, you will find that the Z96 has all of the benefits of the VBI program. Since it is practically identical to the VBI S96j, you can easily obtain and swap in VBI replacement parts. But you don’t have to go through Intel for the warranty. The Z96 is warranted by Asus. While in most cases this has no effect on the end user, and mainly effects the reseller, there are major benefits for having the warranty through Asus rather than Intel. Intel’s turnaround times for repair/replacement are horrible. Intel also has supposedly not stocked spare parts for repairs. This should soon change. One of the biggest downfalls of the VBI warranty policy is that you may get a different notebook back after sending yours in for repair. This means you may get a scratched/damaged lcd/chassis, and you may get a screen with multiple dead pixels with no gaurantee against it. Also, if you apply a custom image to the VBI panel, it will no longer be there if you get a diffent notebook back, or worse, you might get someone else’s panel which does not suit your interests. The Z96 also has BlueTooth(BT) built in, for those interested in using BT. Considering all this, I decided that the Z96 was by far the best choice.

Asus build quality:
Build quality on this notebook is solid. Literally. This is one tough notebook. While the shell is made of plastic and may not be as sturdy as other Asus notebooks, the build quality on the Z96J surpasses most notebooks. Tapping on the case delivers a solid thud. Pressing on the back of the LCD with moderate pressure produces no ripples. While it is possible to get the LCD to ripple, this will NOT happen under normal circumstances. It is very difficult to get the LCD to ripple. I would say the LCD casing is the strongest part of the laptop case. Pressing and bending the case produces no creaking. Hinges are very wide, and keep the screen firmly in place. You can even pick up the notebook by the LCD casing.

Looks:
I bought this laptop for the hardware inside, rather than to use as a paperweight. While it is not as beautiful as certain other un-named notebooks, it still looks pretty decent. I have gotten nothing but compliments about the looks of this notebook. Also, as many people will tell you, it looks much better in person than it does in pictures. It is slanted, so that it is fairly thin at the end closest to the user, and of moderate thickness in the back. The silver and black parts of the chassis go well together. Chassis is well designed. Ports are easy to reach, and heat is kept out of the way, blown out the back.


View of the Z96 from the front. Notebook is closed. Notice the headphone
and microphone jacks in the middle, and the SD reader on the right.



Closed view of the Z96 from the back.


Open view of the Z96 from the front.


View of the Z96 from the right side. Notice how the front is much thinner than the back. Almost all of the ports are on this side for easy access.
From left to right: PCMCIA slot, 1394 port, 2 USB ports, S-video out, VGA out, 56K modem, ethernet jack.



Left view of Z96. Optical drive, security lock, and hard disk tray on this side. You will get detailed view of hard disk tray in a moment.


Back view of Z96. On left is AC power jack, and fan exhaust. On right is the battery bay with a standard 6 cell in it.


Next three pictures show Z96 with a 9 cell in it, which sticks out, unlike the 6 cell.

Shot of 9 cell from Left,


From above,


And from the right.


Here is a view of the underside ofthe Z96 with the HDD tray removed.


And there is the HDD tray, The bottom(side facing up) has a shielding cover. On the right you see the faceplate that allows the HDD tray to blend in with the chassis.


Here is the other side of the tray, with my Hitachi hard drive in it.



Size and Weight:
This is one of the many places this notebook stands out among the other gaming notebooks. It is much smaller than 17″ and 19″ notebooks, being a 15.4″ notebook, but it is much thinner than 15.4″ notebooks. 1.1″ at the front and 1.5″ in the back. Most 15.4″ laptops are 1.5″ to 2″ in thickness, and a lot of the gaming and DTR 15.4″ notebooks are close to 2.5″. An even bigger surprise is the weight. Fully configured, with a standard 6 cell battery, the laptop weighs around 5 pounds. This blows all the 8-10lb 15.4’s out of the water, not to mention the 15+ lb 17″ notebooks. The Z96 is one of the most portable gaming notebooks available.

I apologize for these pictures(and all the other ones in this review). My parent’s old camera does not like to do closeups, and the image clarity isn’t that great. I did try to take these with measuring tape next to the laptop, but in most of them you can’t make anything out. For some odd reason on shot came out perfectly… part of the problem is that my hands are really shaky. Sorry, can’t resist the Mountain Dew. ))

Notebook is approximately 1 inch thick in front


and 1.5″ in the back.


Chassis without screen is about 1″ at thickest


and screen is about 1/2″ thick.


Battery is about 8″ wide.


Exhaust vent is about 3″ wide, 1/2″ high.


Notebook just under 14.5″ wide


and 10.5″ tall(This is the clear one).


9 Cell is a little over 8″ like the 6 cell.


9 Cell sticks out about 3/4″


And is about 1″ tall.


Screen:
You may have heard about the S/Z96 “graininess” issue. For the next 3 minutes, I am going to ask you to forget everything you have heard about it. This screen is BEAUTIFUL. Brightness is pretty good, and color quality is amazing. Everything looks incredibly sharp. I absolutely love the WSXGA resolution. My previous notebook had a WXGA screen. Transition from WXGA to WSXGA was wonderful! I didn’t even notice it at first. Then I went back to the WXGA screen to transfer some files, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. WXGA screens now look like garbage to me. Everything is so incredibly massive and blurry. WSXGA is by no means “small”. It is just right. As I said before, it is so comfortable that I didn’t even notice it at first. This is one of the best notebooks screens I have ever seen, and by far the best I have ever owned. It even looks better than my CRT. Now to adress the so called “graininess”. It appears that the LCD cannot display certain shades of color, and makes up for it by alternating pixels between two close shades. This can be seen on occasion, and makes it looks like the screen is covered in a thin film of dust. Do not be worried over this. I have spent a full week gaming on the Z96J, watching movies, and programming, and I rarely notice it. When I do, it is only for short perious of time, and it is not very bothersome at all. Do not let this change your mind about the Z96; I have heard that many other notebooks with the ATI X1600 have this as well. If you are worried about it, buy the Z96 from a reseller with a good return policy so that you can get a full refund if it turns out you don’t like it. You won’t regret trying out this notebook.

To get a good idea of viewing angles, please take a look at the video Eddie posted on this forum.

Z96 compared to my desktop 19″ CRT. This one was taken with a flash.
Notice the Z96 looks far better than my CRT iunder bright lighting conditions.



This picture was taken without a flash. Under normal lighting conditions, I think my Z96 looks better than the CRT.
The colors are better, images a sharper and clearer. The only thing my CRT has other the Z96 is a higher refresh rate.




Touchpad & Keyboard:
Touchpad is decent. Trackpad works fine, and is comfortable to use. Scrolling areas work fine. The buttons have an almost “cheap” feel to them because they are fairly loud when pressed. However, they feel solid and do not feel like they will break in any way. The keyboard works great. It does exhibit some flex, but it is not noticeable while typing. I had no problems adjusting to the keyboard. I can type perfectly well and fast on it. Some people may note that the “FN” and control keys have been “switched”. This is how my last notebook was, so it does not bother me. I still do hit the Windows key all the time instead of control while gaming, but that is because my desktop keyboard has the Windows key at the top right of the keyboard and I never pay attention to where the control key is because it doesn’t matter on my desktop. If anyone has a problem with this, you can disabled the Windows key. The keyboard also has multimedia functions when used with the FN key. you can play, pause, stop, rewind, and fast forward multimedia. The have all worked flawlessly for me so far.

Image of keyboard, touchpad, speakers(on left and right by the holes), and shortcut buttons.
Oh, the power button is on the top right, for those who wish to turn theirs on.



Speakers and Sound:
The speakers are the worst aspect of this computer. They are pretty weak. No loud at all. Bass is nonexistant. Mid-range tones are subtle. High-pitches tones are loud and clear. This produces a rather poor sound quality, but don’t worrry about this. The Asus Z96 uses an integrated HD Audio sound card. This is not noticeable with the onboard speakers, but as soon as you attach external speakers or a set of headphones, you will hear the difference immediately. The sound quality from the audio out is amazing. Absolutely superb. If you want to play games, watch movies, or listen to music, you will definately want to look into using some headphones.

Features:
The Z96 comes with a few extras. Among these are an integrated 1.3 MP camera, an SD card reader, TPM security device, and shortcut buttons. There are also the previously mentioned media keys on the keyboard. The integrated camera works fine. While not the best quality(1.3 MP does not even come close to modern digital cameras) it definately does its job. The camera can be used as a webcam to chat with other people or to take videos, etc. Definately nice to have while traveling if you use a webcam on an ordinary basis. The TPM security device allows a user to password protect their hard drive, and to create an encrypted and password locked drive within the hard drive. Comes in handy if you have valuable information to protect.

Close-up of shortcut buttons. From left to right:
Power2Gear, Internet, E-mail, Disable Touchpad.



This next picture was taken with the oboard camera. I put the Z96 in front of a mirror(and hid myself under cover )) ) to take this picture. I cropped the picture so you don’t have to look at my bathroom. Hehe. )) Camera takes pictures in 640×480 by default, but you can take videos in many resolutions up to 1280×960.



Battery Performance:
There are two batteries you can use with the Z96. The standard 6 cell that comes with it, or an optional 9 cell that may be purchased separate. I happen to have one of each. The 9 cell results in longer battery life, but is larger and heavier. It sticks out about 3/4″.

Battery life is amazing for a gaming notebook. While not quite up the the S96’s standard for some reason(still working that out with Eddie from Geared2Play) the battery life of the Z96 is still great. With maximal power savings, it is possible to get almost 3:30 with the 6 cell and 5:15 with the 9 cell. This would mean that you must lower screen brightness almost all of the way, enable ATI’s powerplay, and turn off Wifi and BlueTooth. If you were to watch a DVD with all the settings previously listed, except with screen on full brightness and using headphones, it is possible to get about 2 hours from the 6 cell and 3 hours rom the 9 cell. I would imagine about 2:30 with the 6 cell and 3:45 with the 9 cell if you were to lower the screen brightness. For gaming, with settings configured for max performance and screen at full brightness with Wifi on, you can get about 1 hour with the 6 cell, 1.5 with the 9 cell. If you turn the brightness down, it is possible to get 1.5 hours with the 6 cell and 2:15 with the 9 cell. This is much better than the average 30 minutes to 1 hour of battery life with a gaming laptop. And you can still use it for light work and get a few hours from the battery. This makes the Z96 perfect for people who want a laptop powerful enough to play games on, but that can also be used for a fair amount of time away from a power source doing things such as school or office work.


Here are some pictures of the batteries from the top. The 9 cell is above the 6 cell.


From the side. 9 cell is on the right.


From the bottom. Notice the 9 cell has rubber feet. 9 Cell is on top.


Bottom of Z96 without a battery in it. Notice that there is a lock on the left and right side of the battery.
One locks automatically(spring loaded) and the other is manual.



Noise:
This notebook is absolutely silent. This notebook emits the least amount of noise out of any computer in my house. Only when the fan comes on full, which is rare, is it ever audible. And even then, you can barely hear it. This will by no means disturb anyone. Depending on your hard drive selection, the hard disk may emit some noise. This can be avoided by changing hard disk settings. Depending on your optical drive, that also may emit some noise.

Heat:

Incredibly cool for a gaming notebook. The cooling system is incredibly efficient. Even though it only has one fan, it is the most effective cooling system I have seen. This is because the fan draws air into slots at the bottom of the computer, drawing it across the entire motherboard and its components before it flows through the heatsink and out the back. Therefore it cools everything, not just the processor and graphics card. The palm rests can get somewhat warm. The left palmrest with the hard drive underneath doesn’t get too bad, and it warmth depends on how hot the hard drive is. The right side gets slightly warmer. Still not too bad. I measured it with a thermometer at 90*F with an ambient temperature of 70*F. Still cooler than body temperature and is in no way painful or distracting. One of the majoy reasons I bought this laptop is because my old one got incredibly hot on the left palmrest to the point of not being able to be used. This one is MUCH better. The back of the bottom of the right side of the notebook gets warm around the heatsink under heavy processor or graphical useage. It is still able to be used on your lap. CPU idle temp is 53*C. Load temp is 73*C. With undervolting, the load temp drops to 65*C. Hard disk temp will depend on which hard disk you use.


Image of bottom of notebook. Notice the 9 cell, which sticks out.
Also, look at the air intake vents. Note, the fan is on the top left of the notebook.


Same as before, but with 6 cell.


This is the main air intake on the bottom of the Z96. These slits are located under the touchpad and part of the right palmrest.
Air moves through this intake, over the RAM and wireless card, across the mainboard, and then through the heatsink and out the back of the computer.



This small vent is located by the processor heatsink, opposite the fan such that the air moves over the heatsink providing additional cooling.


This is the bottom of the Z96 with the access panel removed. On the top left corner you see the fan. The heatsink is hidden under the silver covering on the fan. To the right of the fan is the cpu. Below it is the X1600. Notice that both transfer heat to the heatsink through the use of a copper heat pipe. These pipes run to the same heatsink unfortunately, but that is one of the reasons this laptop is so light. The heatsink definately gets the job done. Unfortunately, Asus has the fan to come on very conservatively. I think temps would be much lower if we were able to manually control the fan. If anyone knows of a utility that WORKS with the Z96, please let me know and I will update this. The laptop is already cool enough as it is, and it is completely silent, so there is nothing to worry about.


Here you see a back view of the Z96, specifically the heat exhaust vent. It is approximately 1/2″x3″. Plenty of airflow.



Performance:
Performance is great. While still not up to par with modern desktops, as expected, you can have some serious fun gaming with this machine. Most older games are playable at native resolution. This would include Halo and Half-Life 2. Both play at native 1680×1050 with settings maxed out at a solid 60 frames per second. Games such as Doom 3 and Quake 4 must be scaled. However, they run fine maxed out at 1280×1024. Even though it is not native, it still looks much better than WXGA. There is a minimal difference in image quality between 1680×1050 and 1280×1024. Doom 3 runs at about 50-60 FPS, Quake 4 at about 40-50 FPS. 3D mark 05 score is:3814 Super Pi 1M is 35 seconds, 2M is 1 minutes 23 seconds.

DTR Notebook Comparison: Uniwill N258KA vs. Asus Z96J
I have not done this part yet. Here are pictures of the Z96J compared to my previous notebook, a Uniwill N258KA. Will add comments when I get a chance.























Pros:
Cheap
BEAUTIFUL WSXGA screen
Fast Core Duo, upgradeable to Merom
Fast but powersaving ATI x1600
Excellent HD audio
Thin and Light
Runs cool
Great battery life
Option for 9 cell
Extra features
Placement of ports on the right side of computer for easy access
Benefits of VBI program

ITS AN ASUS!

Cons:
Headphone port is in front of computer.
Battery life is slightly less than anticipated.
Speakers are weak


Conclusion:
This is one amazing notebook. There really aren’t any cons. Sure, there are things that could be better, but nothing’s perfect. This is a great laptop for people who like to game while still being mobile, and is ideal for students and similar people who need to do work but would also like to be able to play games. I really don’t know what more there is to say. You could really have some fun with this laptop. A big thanks to Eddie from Geared2Play for getting my order out ASAP. I had my Z96 just a few days after it was released by Asus. Wonderful experience with G2P; will be coming back for all my future notebook needs, as well as telling everyone I know about G2P. An infinite loop of cheers for Eddie, one of the best Asus resellers, and one of the best resellers for that matter. Place an order with G2P and I’m sure Eddie won’t let you down.


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