by James H.
In the last year I’ve been very impressed with Intel’s Core Duo and Core 2 Duo. Owning a dual core system at home for the last 18 months means I won’t go back to a single core PC. I was a long time AMD fan but Intel has really shined with their new processors.
Long story short, finally I have been impressed enough with the recent laptops to consider buying one. A financial windfall recently (aka becoming single with no girlfriend to drain my coffers) also means that I can afford to purchase a laptop.
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In my line of work I often have a bit of spare time during my shifts, and prefer to watch a movie or develop my own websites, something that the PCs at work don’t particularly allow. Remote desktop access to my home is fine, but slightly tedious and means leaving on the PC whilst at work. I wanted a laptop that I could carry with me easily, with as much power as my home desktop has. I’m not a big gamer, but I do sometimes like to play recent games such as BF2/Stalker etc. My home PC has a 8800GTS so that would be the primary gaming machine, but the laptop needed to be able to at least play games whilst away from there.
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I am also a res junkie (cash flow and common sense permitting) and find that using a higher resolution display helps in your workflow and makes you feel less constrained. Running a widescreen 1680×1050 monitor at home means I dislike using lower resolution machines (if I wasn’t remotely sensible with my money I would have bought one of the Dell 24” or 30” displays) so I was really looking for a laptop with higher than the usual 1280×800 display to work on.
Sadly in the UK it appears that manufacturers don’t think that us Brits need these types of display, I found it incredibly hard to find a sub 1000 notebook that had a display that was higher than 1280×800, at least on anything that wasn’t a 17-inch screen. Those 5kg beasts are prone to giving you a hernia just looking at them.
Luckily on my travels through the web I noticed that eBuyer.com had a couple of Asus Santa Rosa notebooks recently listed, a 14” and a 15” model. After weighing up the differences I opted for the more portable 14” model, the Asus Z99SC, which only really lacked Bluetooth and a slightly better webcam.
I’ve used eBuyer quite frequently over the last few years and have found them to have excellent delivery options, good stock levels and generally very competitive prices. Nowhere else had these Asus laptops that I could find so I decided to order.
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You can never tell if the images you see online are just stock images, but thankfully the laptop is exactly as displayed online, and first impressions confirm why I ordered. The laptop seems smaller than I imagined (no bad thing), I guess I kept expecting it to be roughly the same as a 15” model. Weight is a subjective and personal thing, but I think the laptop is very nice to hold, I can tell I won’t be getting back ache taking this around with me. The desing of the laptop is "subdued." I personally would never own (even if it was free) a laptop such as the Alienware models. I wanted something that had a professional look to it and that would hold its looks for the next few years. Others may dislike the Z99SC due to its slightly bland appearance, but it’s a sensible design that won’t have people running for the hills.
Design and Build Quality
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Everything about the Z99SC looks well built. The case feels very sturdy and the port locations are well thought out. You can feel that the chassis is made of a plastic but it also feels like it will last a good while. Back on the subject of ports, one of the reasons that I chose this model is that the display and LAN ports are in the correct location; at the back of the laptop. I can’t remember how many laptops I discounted solely on the fact that these ports were placed on the side of the laptop. I can’t understand why this is done, a VGA/DVI port should go on the back, and not protrude into the mouse or DVD area. The same goes for LAN, I don’t want a network cable sticking out the side of a laptop, these connections all belong on the rear!
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Also the location of USB ports is very pleasing, with at least 1 on each side of the notebook, barring the front. This is common sense, and allows a user to comfortably use peripherals. Well done, Asus.
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I had some concerns over buying a laptop with a glossy display. I use a matte TFT at home and even this reflects some light, so I had reservations over the glossy displays prevalent on notebooks today. Thankfully most of my worries have been dispelled. The display, whilst suffering from reflections, is very nice. Colors are vivid and rich, with images really standing out of the screen. In my limited usage I haven’t really had many problems with reflections, but it hasn’t been very sunny recently, so time will tell (especially at work with all of the incandescent ceiling lighting). So far watching movies on the screen has been very good, with good contrast levels and reasonable viewing angles. The glossy screen does help to bring out the colors and it certainly looks more vibrant than my matte TFT at home.
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The screen will flex if you put an above normal amount of pressure on it, but even doing this there are absolutely no ripples on the LCD, so I hope that is a sign of the screen being well protected.
I experienced no issues with any graininess on the display, which I had read was a problem on Asus WXGA+ notebooks.
Again, a concern with TFT panels is the viewing angles, horizontally the screen remains fairly uniform, but vertically it is slightly worse, I have used various TFTs and I can safely say that for viewing angles it is no worse than others.
Backlighting appears to be fairly uniform, and I can only barely notice some bleeding on the lower section. Overall in general usage you will be hard pressed to notice any problems.
I was looking for a laptop with dedicated graphics onboard, I could have waited a bit longer for more versions of the newer models from ATi and nVidia to come out but I decided I didn’t particularly need a faster chip. This notebook comes with the new nVidia 8400G chip, the lowest version they currently produce. Using RivaTuner I took the specs (unsure if the speeds are increased in 3D modes) below:
|Graphics core: G86 revision A2 (16sp)|
|Hardwired ID: 0428 (ROM strapped to 0428)|
|Memory bus: 64-bit|
|Memory type: DDR3 (RAM configuration 00)|
|Memory amount: 131072KB|
|Core clock domain 0: 297.000MHz|
|Core clock domain 1: 594.000MHz|
|Memory clock: 199.800MHz (399.600MHz effective)|
|Reference clock: 27.000MHz|
I also ran some tests, but please bare in mind the immature drivers for the newer 8×00 mobile cards, as well as reduced performance under Vista, I am sure that in a few months the drivers will be improved, but if you do want to game I would suggest using XP, as I had some issues with games not running in Vista. The scores may seem a little low, but I think it will be able to play the majority of games at lower settings. Obviously if you are a gamer then you should probably look elsewhere, such as the 8600 range, but for those casual gamers willing to sacrifice some performance then this seems reasonable, but personally I might suggest another 8400 version, such as the GT or GS with a bit more grunt.
3DMark05 comparison results:
|Asus Z99SC (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Nvidia 8400 G)||1775 3DMarks|
|HP Compaq 6510b (2.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, Intel X3100)||916 3DMarks|
|HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270)||871 3DMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||2,013 3D Marks|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||1,791 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4,236 3DMarks|
|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|
|Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)||2,090 3D Marks|
3DMark06 Results and Comparison:
|Asus Z99SC (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Nvidia 8400 G)||1,037|
|Asus G2S-A1 (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, nVidia GeForce 8600M GT 256MB)||3,814|
|Alienware m5790 (1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1800 256MB)||2,625|
|WidowPC Sting D517D (Core 2 Duo 2.33GHz, Nvidia 7900GTX 512MB)||4,833|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.00GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 128MB)||1,528|
|Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB)||2,183|
|ASUS A8Ja (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 512MB)||1,973|
|Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX 512MB)||4,744|
|Toshiba Satellite P100-222 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS 512MB)||3,534|
PCMark05 comparison results:
|Asus Z99SC (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Nvidia 8400 G)||3,775 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||4,153 PCMarks|
|Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||3,987 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB)||4,189 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
Super Pi comparison results:
|Asus Z99SC (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100)||1m 12s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300)||1m 01s|
|Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300)||0m 59s|
|HP dv2500t (1.80GHz Intel 7100)||1m 09s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300)||0m 59s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo T7200)||1m 03s|
|Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (1.73 GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T5300)||1m 24s|
|Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 34s|
|HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52)||2m 05s|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400)||0m 59s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
The webcam is of the VGA variety, with a maximum resolution of 640×480, whilst this is lower than some other webcams it produces very good images with no noticeable lag on the video. I am quite happy with it and it appears to be a lot better than the USB camera I have on my home pc. The built-in camera appears to be pretty good under low light conditions, which was always a problem with my other webcam.
Processor and Performance
I have long been an AMD fan, since the days of the Athlon XPs and 64 chips, they represented very good value for money and were consistently better than similar Intel P4 chips, these days the tide has turned and Intel have really produced something special with the Core (2) Duo processors. At present AMD don’t have a viable alternative to these processors, sure there are the Turion chips but clock for clock the C2D chips are better.
The processor itself is of the newer Santa Rosa Merom class, running at 800mhz FSB. Currently the installed memory is rated at 667mhz, I will have to investigate whether its possible to upgrade to faster memory later.
The processor itself seems to sit at around 45-50 degrees Celsius during normal usage, this seems normal to me for a notebook. I have hardly heard the fan kick in, even whilst gaming for an hour or so.
Performance has been very good … it actually feels as fast in use as my home pc. Applications are quick to launch, no noticeable delays in usage and no lagging with multiple applications open. The hard drive is a standard 5,400rpm type which feels fast enough that I don’t need the speed of a 7,200prm drive. It is generally quiet in usage, and I don’t think I would want to replace it. It is a HitachiTravelstar 5K160, which utilizes perpendicular recording and 80Gb platters. I believe it to be SATA but haven’t fully checked.
Keyboard and Touchpad
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The keyboard is nice to use with a small amount of flex around the top left of the keyboard and across the keyboard in general, but this is only if you hammer away on it like a deranged monkey. In normal use keyboard flex is not noticeable. The keys are quiet, which I was also worried about when I ordered. I believe that I wouldn’t get thrown out of any libraries for using the laptop there. Key travel is around a couple of millimeters and keys have a nice spring to them. Typing this review has not given me any negative views on the keyboard. One thing that I will mention is that the function key icons for display brightness are the wrong way around. It doesn’t bother me but it may irritate others.
Unfortunately the function and Ctrl keys are swapped, but it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I am slowly getting used to their positions. I can’t understand why Asus keep changing the layout of these 2 keys across their range, for example the 15” version of this laptop has the keys in the correct position.
The Enter key is large, as well as the backspace key, which is good, in general the keyboard is good and I am sure once I get used to the layout of certain keys it won’t be a problem to use.
The touchpad sits flush with the chassis and there only appears to be 1 button, although using the left or right side gives you different buttons. It can be a bit stiff in use, needing a firm click to use but it’s not a real issue.
One thing that I will say about the touchpad is that users should take the time to set it up using the Synaptics mouse application. There are several good features hidden away there that can be useful and it also helps to fine tune the touchpad. I found that after setting the touchpad to my preferences it is a lot nicer to use, especially the scroll bar section, which was a hit and miss affair before. Now I can use the scroll section with around 90% accuracy of it actually working.
Inputs and Outputs
Front: Speakers, lid button, and status indicators
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Left: One USB 2.0, mini Firewire, headphone out, mic in, DVD drive, and 8-in-1 card reader
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Right: Two USB 2.0 and air vent
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Rear: Two USB 2.0, power port, VGA (D-SUB), DVI, S-Video, Modem port, 10/100/1000 LAN port, and Kensington lock port
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I am quite impressed by the ports on the notebook, one of the reasons I purchased it was because it has five USB ports, as well as VGA, DVI and video out, which are very useful to me. The only negative point on these display ports is that there are no screw holes to keep the cables connected to the laptop, but on the other hand if the laptop got pulled away with the cables connected I would assume that they would come off, so I wont complain too much on that point.
Otherwise there is an 8-in-1 card reader, although why manufacturers always leave out Compact Flash cards from these ports baffles me, maybe due to the size of them they are restricted but CF is a widely used format and should be accommodated. In use the card reader works as intended, and I have had no issues with it.
Then there is a firewire port, mic in and finally headphone out on the left of the chassis, I appreciate the headphone socket there as it is in an easy to use position away from the mouse.
The DVD-RW drive is good, with low noise in use, I have burnt some CDs and no coasters yet. I believe it to be a standard 8x DVD dual layer, 32x writeable CD drive with DVD RAM support. The eject button is a bit fiddly to use but I prefer it as some drives only need you to brush your hand against it to open, so I wont hold it against the drive.
So far I have only briefly tested the battery, and haven’t been that impressed, currently with wi-fi turned on and various power saving schemes set I can manage around just over 2 hours until the battery runs out. I am putting this down to the onboard graphics and the lack of decent drivers available now. I am certain that once I am actually able to update the nVidia drivers I should get more respectable time from the battery. Another Asus review from here states that they get around 4 hours (using XP), and that was on a lower capacity battery. I am sure that there must be something not setup correctly. Battery is a standard 6 cell, but due to the location of the battery I am unsure on whether it can be upgraded to a higher capacity as it sits under the front of the laptop instead of the rear.
Heat and Noise
I am glad to say that this notebook is very quiet, in a room with only outside noise you can barely hear the notebook running, it really has impressed me, regardless of what I have done on the notebook I have hardly heard the fan kick in, with only the heat exhaust showing that its running.
The hard drive is probably the loudest component, and even it is not irritating, I prefer knowing that it is doing something, and in general when not copying large files etc it is quiet.
Another plus is the heat (or lack of) whilst using the notebook. I have copied large files across the network to the notebook as well as installing applications and the notebook is only warm to the touch. I can comfortably rest it on my lap. The left wrist rest is probably the warmest part of the notebook, which is directly above the hard drive, even so it is not irritating.
Overall I think that the low heat and noise of the notebook are the things that have impressed me the most, I really appreciate the fact that I could take this notebook anywhere and not irritate other people with it.
I only have an ABG class router at home, and this (aside from my PDA) is the first PC that I have used for any extended period of time on it. The router is only around 10 feet away on the other side of what is probably only a thick plasterboard wall but the laptop picks up the signal very well, and is 90% in the “Excellent” range. I have not had a real chance to test the range of the wi-fi but I did notice that it picks up around five more access points than my house mates PC does. I wish I had the chance to test out the 802.11N but I do not know any one with these newer routers. I am at least happy that I have the option in the future to use it.
In real use browsing the Internet has been as fast as on my wired PC, with the only real problem being slow LAN file transfers (around 1.8MB/s), I am not sure if this is something to do with Vista and XP but it has been suggested that interference from other wireless devices could be to blame, and changing channels should help. Your mileage may vary.
Testing the laptop at a friends house with a similar Netgear router I was quite surprised that in testing through three brick walls I could go to the end of his garden (in total around 50 feet from the router) and still have four bars on the wireless console. Personally I think this is very good and should be sufficient for most situations.
Software and Operating System
The notebook came with 1 recovery DVD (there appears to be a recover partition also) as well as a Nero 7 CD.
Pre installed software was minimal thankfully, with only a Symantec 90 day trial of their security suite to remove. There are some Asus utilities, such as InstantFun, LifeFrame, LiveUpdate and the Splendid Utility installed, although I wont really have any use for them (apart from possibly LiveUpdate) I have left them installed. There were no other applications or trials installed, which is always good in my eyes.
I have been impressed with Windows Vista, having used XP for many years you get used to the layout of items, such as documents etc, Vista seems to have shuffled things around slightly, which can be confusing at times. In general it seems to be as stable as XP, but I still have some doubts as to whether the battery life suffers under it.
Vista to me seems to be a natural evolution of XP, the integrated media center is useful, although I am still trying to get it to recognise and play xvid/divx etc movies. Overall I enjoy using Vista, the redesigned start menu is growing on me, and the added security features, whilst irritating at times, is a welcome addition and something that XP lacked. What amuses me in this situation is that many users of Linux berate having to click OK or type in the administrator password in Vista for everything, but this has always been the case under Linux, yet they see this as one of Linux’s strong points. I have nothing against Linux, having used it many times before, and using AIX on a daily basis at work means that I am no stranger to it as an alternative to Windows. I don’t think that I will install XP on the laptop, but time will tell if it becomes necessary.
In general Vista will be perfect for many users, and after my use of it I would probably recommend it over XP as it offers more to everyday users than XP does, I am sure that over time the bugs will be ironed out and gaming will also getter better performance when more mature drivers are realeased.
Overall I am happy with the Asus Z99SC, I know I could have waited a little longer for more graphics card options, but as is the way with IT, if you hold off waiting for the next best thing you will never buy anything. Its perfect for what I wanted, a great screen, low noise, plus a reasonably fast processor. Some unbiased comments from friends have been that some didn’t like the design to start with but it has grown on them and they actually quite like it. I can agree, its certainly wont win any fashion contests but it has a subtle look about it that grows on you. I would say its more a business orientated laptop, with excellent connectivity options but can also be used for some light gaming or movies, just be sure to use some headphones or external speakers due to the poor onboard speakers and don’t be too far from a power socket.
- Excellent screen
- Low heat and noise output
- Above average touchpad/keyboard
- Excellent connectivity options
- Well thought out port locations
- Minimal bloatware/preinstalled software
- Graphics card not the fastest
- Questionable battery life
- No Bluetooth onboard
- Poor speakers
- Driver issues and application compatibility under Vista