Asus Z96Js Laptop Review

by Reads (21,454)

by Scott Schaffter

Overview and Introduction

The Asus Z96Js is a 15.4-inch widescreen "barebone laptop", meaning it comes with just the essentials such as the notebook chassis, motherboard, processor and graphics card. You have to buy the OS, hard drive and memory seperately. The advantage of this is you can customize your laptop and it works out cheaper. Following is a review of the Asus Z96Js.


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The Specs:

  • Model: Asus Z96Js
  • Screen: 15.4” WSXGA+ (1680×1050) Color shine Glossy
  • Processor: Intel Core Duo T2500 2Ghz ($190.69)
  • RAM: 2GB 667Mhz ($207)
  • Graphics: ATI x1600 256MB
  • Hard Drive: Seagate 120Gb SATA ($160.69)
  • Wireless: Intel 3945ABG ($30.20)
  • Optical Drive: Liteon 8x DVD R/RW +/- 4x Dual Layer. ($91.44)
  • Chassis: $884.46
  • Audio: Built-in Azalia audio chip, with 3D effect & full duplex Built-in Stereo Speakers and Microphone S/W Volume up/down
  • Other:
    • Integrated Azalia Modem
    • Modem supports V.92 & universal PPT
    • On board 10/100/1000 Mbps Fast Ethernet
    • Built-in Bluetooth 2.0 Included
    • 1.3MP Webcam
  • Ports:
    • 4 x USB 2.0 ports
    • 1 x VGA port/Mini D-sub 15-pin for external monitor
    • 1 x S-Video (TV Out)
    • 1 x IEEE 1394 port
    • 1 x Card Reader (MMC/SD/MS/MS-Pro)
    • 2 x Audio jack: Audio out (SPIDIF)/Mic-in
    • 1 x Express Card Slot
    • 1 x RJ11 connector for Modem
    • 1 x RJ45 connector for Ethernet
  • Dimensions: 14.2" (W) x 10.5" (D) x 1.1”-1.5" (H) – 6.3 lbs
  • Final Price after tax: $1,564.48 CAD / $1,322.92 USD

Reasons for Buying:

I purchased this laptop after owning another “built on Asus” laptop for about a year, the Z70V. It was a great notebook, but I just needed a bit more graphics power and felt now was a good time to upgrade and sell the Z70V before it depreciated in value even more. Aesthetically and interface wise the Z70V is a much better machine than the Z96Js. It seems the built on Asus lines have lost the aesthetic appeal that their Ensemble models are acquiring. I didn’t really look at many other laptops as I was looking specifically for something around 15.4” with the same resolution that I loved so much. Anything above 15.4” and 6lb isn’t portable enough for me. Asus is one of the few manufacturers to produce superb screens with great graphics in the 15.4” form factor so the choice was somewhat obvious. I considered the Asus G1 and other ensemble models but price and customizability of a “built on” turned me away.

Where and How Purchased:

I purchased the chassis, hard drive and optical drive from NCIX, a local Vancouver dealer, and the other parts from eBay. The price on this is definitely one of the major benefits of going with a barebones notebook.

Build & Design:

As usual the Asus build is superb.  There is very little flex in the screen and the overall sturdiness is great. Design though is somewhat lack luster. I am disappointed that Asus seems to have departed from its key competitive advantage of providing superb barebones and now is concentrated on its ensemble models akin to Acer’s strategy. What happened to the good ‘ol days of well designed chassis?

Problems with the design:

  • All the ports are on the right side. This personally annoys me as I like to use an external mouse and connect external hard drives so with 2 USB ports on the right it’s a bit frustrating but it really hasn’t been a big issue.
  • Lack of Audio DJ buttons. Although somewhat of a gimmick, I definitely miss the Audio DJ buttons of the Z70V.
  • Plastic look. Coming from the sleek carbon fiber chassis of the Z70V the Z96js seems almost *gasp* dell-ish.
  • Front audio ports. I personally don’t really mind this, although I did prefer having side audio ports as when I would connect to external speakers it was out of the way. But it seems front audio ports are being embraced by many manufacturers which is somewhat of a pity.

Where the Z96Js shines though is on the inside. That’s what you ultimately buy for anyway and to me performance is far more important than looks.  Three screws are all that stand in your way from the CPU, RAM and wireless installation. The optical drive installation is equally as easy and the HD features a modular design so you can easily remove it. The heat sink is brilliantly designed and covers the CPU, GPU and GPU memory all cooled by one fan. The CPU idles at around 50C. 

Finding up to date drivers is always a frustrating task and it was similarly so with the Z96Js. The mail LED was only linked to Outlook along with the Mail quick launch button which is somewhat frustrating as I hate Outlook. A friend who similarly prefers GMail and owns a Z96Js was kind enough to hack one of the widgets to turn on the mail LED when a new email arrives. A modded version of HControl also allows you to assign different programs to the quick launch buttons. Although as of now there is no support for the mail button on the Z96Js.


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Front side view of Asus Z96Js (view large image)


Left side view of Asus Z96Js (view large image)


Right side view of Asus Z96Js (view large image)


Back side view of Asus Z96Js (view large image)

 


Asus Z96Js under side (view large image)

Asus Z96Js under side exposed (view large image)

 

Screen:

I cannot commend this screen more. It is truly AMAZING! It dwarfs my Z70V’s matte screen which seems so dull and dead now. The colors are vibrant and the contrast is superb. No dead pixels for which I am overjoyed. I almost can’t believe what I have been missing! I don’t think I can go back to matte or anything lower than 1680×1050 resolution now. The mirror effect from a glossy screen can get frustrating at times when you are in bright light, especially when on battery where you have to dim the screen. See the pictures comparing the two screens for a clear example. It might be hard to tell, but the Z96j shows whites as white whereas the Z70V shows white as an off-white hazy color. The pictures don’t do justice to this screen.


Z96Js on the left, Z70V on the right (view large image)


Z70V screen (view large image)

Z96Js screen (view large image)

Speakers:

The speakers are absolute garbage. They are even worse than the Z70V’s which were quiet. But these are a joke. I primarily use external speakers and headphones so the line-output quality is more of an issue to me. But the speaker performance is still disappointing. The audio output on the Z96Js however is far superior to its Z70V predecessor which is more important to me anyway.

Processor and Performance:

Performance has been superb. Multi-tasking is great, I can fire up four programs at once and wait for them all to load and they go remarkably fast. I usually play CS:Source or UT2004. Both of which this play on full settings at native resolution.


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Benchmarks:

Super Pi Comparison Results

Super Pi forces the processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy and gives an idea of the processor speed and performance:

Notebook Time
Asus Z96Js (2.00GHz Core Duo) 1m 19s
Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s
LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo) 1m 11s
Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 16s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 1m 29s
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 53s

 

Comparison results for 3DMark05

3DMark05 tests the overall graphic capabilities of a notebook, below is how the Z96Js did compared to other notebooks:

Notebook 3D Mark 05 Results
Asus Z96Js (2.0 GHz Core Duo, ATIX1600) 3,842 3D Marks
Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB) 7,078 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB) 2,530 3D Marks
Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,273 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB) 2,536 3D Marks
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB) 2,090 3D Marks

 

HD Tune:

HD Tune provides benchmark results for the hard drive performance:


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Heat and Noise:

Heat can build up around the right palm rest as that is where the hard drive sits, but it is honestly not that bad and comparable to the heat generated by my 60GB 7200rpm Hitachi I had on my Z70V before I switched to a 100 GB 5400 RPM Seagate.  The fan noise is low, it’s even better than the Z70V which had a fairly quiet fan. It only really kicks in if you torture test or are gaming for a while.

Keyboard and Touchpad:


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The keyboard isn’t that great. It’s a bit squishy, but definitely tolerable. The keyboard layout though is frustratingly stupid. The Z70V had Windows and Fn keys on both sides of the space bar which was great. The Delete button was also at the top right-hand corner which was good, they now placed the Delete key one key over.  They also have now incorporated the wireless off switch as an Fn-key function.  Print screen has now also become an Fn-key which to me is dumbfounding. To those new to Asus notebooks and most laptops recently, the Fn and control keys are switched, which initially is frustrating, but you get used to it and now I don’t even notice (although when using a desktop I now tend to hit the windows button).


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The touchpad takes cheapness to a whole new level. The touchpad buttons are ridiculously loud and plastic feeling. Compared to the Z70V’s brushed steel they are a massive downgrade.  The actual touchpad is identical and I primarily use the tap function to navigate so the buttons are not that much of an issue for me but it’s still frustrating.


Asus Z70V touchpad (view large image)

Asus Z96Js touchpad (view large image)

 

Battery:

Battery life is one of the things Asus really should really have done better with. They got it right with the Z70V but failed miserably with the Z96Js. It sports a meager 2hrs of battery life on low brightness and using wireless. The Z70V had around 4 hours when new. I tend to be around a power outlet, but 2 hours of battery life is still startlingly bad. I don’t understand why they couldn’t have used a higher cell battery. The current battery is a measlyLi-Ion 6 cell: 4800mAh, compared to the 70000mAh of the Z70V battery. The power supply is also much larger to accommodate the higher power system and for some reason they decided to change the jack from angled to straight. Again Asus is really cutting back on its barebones notebooks, which is really disappointing to see as this was one of its unique selling points.

Operating System and Software:

I am running XP professional, no software was included, it’s a barebone. Avoiding the packaged bloat ware you get with most consumer notebooks was another reason I decided to purchase barebone.

Customer Support:

Asus customer support is superb, at least when I dealt with them directly. The support from one of the resellers I had to deal with was not as stellar. But when I had a problem with my Z70V’s audio ports they sent me a padded box with paid shipping both ways and had a total turn around time of about a week. A friend similarly had a screen and battery issue and they sent him a new LCD and battery to install and send back the defective units to cut down on turn around time. Needless to say, I didn’t hesitate to purchase an Asus again. 

Conclusion:

Overall for the price and performance I am satisfied. I don’t think I would have found the specs I wanted in anything else for the same price range. I am very disappointed with the battery life and chassis design, but I didn’t buy this notebook for beauty and what’s under the hood makes it all worth it.

Pros:

  • Price
  • Customizability
  • SCREEN!
  • Audio
  • Performance

Cons

  • Chassis design
  • BatteryLife
  • Palm rest heat (negligible)
  • Keyboard and touch pad


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