last updated May 12, 2010
latest update in bold
Read and enjoy!
I think one of the biggest change in notebooks since I got mine is a new attention to style. Many of the latest notebooks have a glossy finish and are thinner and lighter and so I guess my Z71V is beginning to show its age in that it doesn't always look as good in comparison to the other computers in the room. On the other hand, it still looks okay, and although there is some wear on the paint of the left palmrest and part of the letter E is worn off the keyboard, it's fairly minimal compared with several other (and newer) notebooks that I've seen, so that makes me happy. I still regularly get asked about it when people see it, which I think is impressive for a notebook older than most out there.
You may notice a little scratching on the bottom from when I used the wrong sized screwdriver and ended up stripping the screw and needing to get it out with vice grips. Rick from ISTNC was kind enough to send me some extra screws after I told him about it, but there's still some scratches remaining from the vice grips. There's also a small white section just below one of the USB ports that resulted from me accidentally dropping the computer about 3 feet. Everything still works fine, though. (see section on "durability" for more)
Unfortunately, the head of one of the underside screws ended up getting stripped which required some "creative troubleshooting" (involving a Swiss Army knife and a pair of Vice-Grips) to get it out. This also means that the underside of my computer surrounding the now empty hole where the screw used to be bears evidence of the struggle, but thankfully, it's in a limited enough area that it's not too unsightly.
The screen looks good. The high resolution widescreen display makes me feel like I’ve got a ton of space to work with. I was initially worried that the text would seem too small, but it’s perfectly readable. I’m taking advantage of the screen space to view multiple programs side-by-side, and it rocks! After looking carefully, I did find one stuck pixel (always blue), but it’s in the lower left corner of the notebook, and I don’t notice it very much. Honestly, unless I'm specifically looking for it, I don't ever see it now. When I initially got the computer, several people with the same model had complained of a “sparkle effect” or what looks like a slight shimmer or color unevenness on bright lighter colors. I do notice this effect, but I guess it's more of a personal preference on whether this is an annoyance or not. For me, it's not a big deal and I don't even notice it when I'm not looking for it. Some people have also made complaints that the Z71V screen is not bright enough. My personal experience is that it's brighter than most matte screens I've seen. I think glossy screens do look better on the whole, but I'm still quite satisfied. Movies sometimes do appear somewhat dark on standard settings, but some adjustments of the Nvidia control panel can eliminate this issue. Viewing angles on my screen are wide enough that people sitting next to me can easily see my screen (which is sometimes a bit embarrassing if I'm playing games in class )
Build and Durability
The machine seems to be built very well. There’s very little flex anywhere. The case feels very solid, and the plastic case seems very un-plasticy. I tested the screen shielding by poking the back and looking for discororations: there were none. MUCH better than my old Sony that would get a discoloration if you breathed on it wrong! The screen stays at whatever angle I put it at, and although after close to 3 years it does have a very slight wobble if shaken back and forth, it still feels quite solid. There was one somewhat subpar component in the notebook. The heatsink for the graphics card is a fairly simple aluminum tube attached to a fan. The heat transfer is done via a blue thermal pad. This is not ideal and some Z71V owners have had their graphics cards overheat due to the less than ideal cooling solution. However, forum member White Heat managed to design a much better heatsink and I bought one. The new heatsink, with Arctic Silver 5 thermal grease replacing the heatpads, dramatically lowered the temperature of my graphics card. At idle, temps lowered from the high 60s to mid 50s, and at load, temps dropped from the 90s to the mid 70s. If you ever read this, thanks White Heat!
Regarding durablility, I'll admit that I'm not terribly careful with my electronics, and my computer has been bumped, dropped, hit, spilled on, and in its case it's been thrown, dropped in the snow, and left for hours in sub-zero temperatures.
After one of the aforementioned drops, the plastic hook that locks the notebook closed snapped off. However, the good folks at ISTNC fixed it for me and got it back to me about a week after I sent it to them. My reseller rocks!
I've also noticed that the glue for the rubber foot closest to the CPU is coming loose. I have to periodically stick it back on. It's a small thing, but it's helpful to know. I'm guessing that its proximity to a heat-producing component made the glue less sticky. The rubber foot ended up falling off completely, and I replaced it with one from a spare battery.
In July 2008, after over three years of ownership, my motherboard spontaneously died. One day, the computer just wouldn't boot anymore - the power light would come on and the CD drive would spin up, but nothing else would happen - no splash screen, etc. Due to the fact that my 3 year warranty had expired a few months previously, I unfortunately had to pay for replacing my motherboard out of pocket. Again, Rick from ISTNC was very helpful, as he only charged me his price for parts and did the labor himself for free. Still, since it turned out that my motherboard was frying my video card, both had to be replaced and so it cost $357 to replace them. As a result of this, I had to drop my opinion of my notebook's build quality down from a 10/10 to 8/10. However, it's been running along nicely again ever since the motherboard and video card got replaced, so I'm hopeful that that is the only serious build quality issue I will have with the notebook.
I found out later that when my reseller replaced the motherboard and video card, he also replaced the custom video card heatsink (described above) with a stock one. I didn't notice this until over a year later when I was wondering why the card was running hotter than I expected. Thankfully, I was able to exchange the stock heatsink with smilepak for his custom one since he had just purchased a new notebook and would not be using the Z71V as much. Still, I wish that my reseller had told me that when he did the replacement.
Weight & Mobility
The notebook is easy to carry around the house by itself, and for travel or commuting, it came with a handy notebook case. The case can fit several other books, notebooks, etc. and has both a handle and a shoulder strap. When it's fully loaded up, the case can get somewhat heavy, but with just the notebook, it's not too bad. It's light enough to easily carry under your arm, but heavy enough so you don't forget it's there. I've taken my Z71v with me to several classes, used it on planes, in my car, in hotels, and various other places. It's easy to pack up and easy to put away, although it's just barely small enough for airplane tray tables. If you're going to be using your notebook on the plane a lot and aren't going first class, I'd probably recommend a 14" model.
The sound is quite good for a notebook, and the built in speakers can pump out enough volume to make DVD audio clear and distinct, even from across the room. However, they are still laptop speakers and have their limits. Deep bass notes will often come out muddy and distorted, especially at maximum volume settings. And that's the time to plug in headphones or auxiliary speakers into the Audio out port, which outputs a powerful and clear signal. Sound is one of the Z71v's best features. Both analog output through headphones and digital optical output via a toslink cable with an optical minijack provide a good signal. The port also can auto-detect which type of cord (digital or analog) is inserted and adjust output accordingly.
The keyboard feels great. Keys are nearly silent, and have adequate travel or “bounce”. Some have commented on the location of the Fn key as annoying, but I find it convenient for usage when I'm using the hotkeys. Also, the keyboard letters are still very clear and distinct after a year and a half's use. Keyboard wear is minimal.
The touchpad works well in general. It’s very sensitive, and sometimes I brush past it and inadvertently move the mouse or click on something. That’s not necessarily a negative for the computer, but just something that took some getting used to. The buttons work well, but are distinctly louder than the keyboard. The scrollbar is useful. The farther you move your finger on it, the faster it scrolls. It’s a pretty cool feature, especially on big documents and web pages. It also has a sidescroll feature you can access by sliding your finger along the bottom.
When Synaptics (the company that made the touchpad) released universal multitouch software for all their touchpads, I tried it for a day or two on my computer but found it somewhat annoying and it made the touchpad too jumpy, so I went back to my existing non-multitouch driver and have been very happy with it.
Performance and Benchmarks
Benchmarks on AC Power in Windows XP using NBF MobileForce Nvidia 169.09 driver, 250/500 clock (stock)
The battery initially lasted 2.25 hours playing a DVD. Doing basic applications (word processing, surfing the internet, etc.), it lasted between 3.5 and 4 hours, enough to easily get through my 3.5 hour long classes. If you're going to be on a long flight or need more than 4 hours of battery life, I'd suggest getting the modular battery that swaps for the optical drive.
Since installing Windows 7, my battery life seems to have taken a hit. Instead of getting 3.5 hours, I'm getting closer to 3. This could be as a result of the increased workload of the graphics card for the aero interface and TwilightVampire suggested that it may be a result of superfetch, but it is lower than it was in WIndows XP.
And following my own advice, since my classes have recently been changed from 3.5 hours long to 4 hours long, I decided to purchase the modular battery. I received it while my main battery was being RMA'd (see "problem resolution 2" below), and so I found out that the modular battery lasts close to three hours by itself, which makes sense considering that it has about 3/4 of the capacity of the main battery. After recieving my new replacement main battery, I checked the battery life. It turns out that due to a difference in voltages, neither Windows nor NHC can correctly estimate the time remaining when both batteries are in the computer, so I did some real-life tests, and my average total battery life with both batteries while word processing & surfing the internet was around 6 hours. Changing from one battery to the other happens without a hiccup. There's a very smooth transfer. So I am quite satisfied with the modular battery. On a side note, I purchased the modular battery from the same place I bought my computer: Integrated System Technologies. They were prompt in shipping, with the modular battery even arriving 2 days earlier than expected! Again, my hat is off to these folks!
Addressing battery wear on the Z71v is an interesting situation, as there is a marked difference between batteries manufactured in 2005 and ones made in 2006. With this in mind, and since I have one of each, I'll provide battery wear information separately for each one.
After replacing the first 3 main batteries I received due to the charging problem (see Problem Resolution), the 4th one I received was finally free of it, although still a part of the old design. After 11 months of use, the battery wear was 12%, equaling approximately 1 percent wear per month. About that time, I wondered if I could reduce that wear level by running the battery calibration utility found in BIOS. However, after repeated attempts, it just made the wear level worse! After running it a few times, that battery ended up at 42% wear. And unfortunately, when I tried to get it replaced, it turns out that while Asus warrantees their notebook batteries for a year, they warrant their replacement notebook batteries for only 3 months, so I had to buy a new one to get the full battery life back. I ended up keeping the old battery as well, and decided to try getting the cells replaced by the folks at www.batteryrefill.com The process took about 10 days and cost $90 ($10 less than a new battery). However, after I got it back, it worked well again! They also used slightly higher capacity cells, giving a small boost in maximum capacity (66000 mWh vs 65000 mWh initially). If you've got a battery that's wearing out, they're worth a shot. [b]However, it seems that changing the cells with new ones only extended my battery's operation lifetime a little. It has completely died by now and is completely unusable. This makes me reconsider my recommendation of Battery Refill, but it could also be a result of the battery that I sent in having been one of the older defective 2005 models. I guess like anything, try it at your own risk.
The modular bay battery that I have is now at 38% wear after 37 months of use, which is pretty good. It's just a bit over the 1% wear per month that I originally expected, but over such a long period of time it's been very consistent.
Unfortunately, there has been one major side effect of installing Windows 7, and I have also seen the same thing happen in some versions of Ubuntu. If I am using both main and modular batteries, then as soon as the modular battery runs out of suppliable power, the computer abruptly turns off instead of switching to the main battery like it's supposed to do. This has meant that I no longer actually use my modular battery since it cannot achieve its function (extending my battery life) with my current OS.
My newer battery got to around 80% wear after 28 months of use, which unfortunately meant I had only half an hour of battery life with my primary battery and around 2 hours total with both it and the modular bay battery. I was somewhat surprised at how much faster the main batteries I had seem to wear out in comparison to the modular battery.
I have since bought yet another battery, and this one seems to be performing much better than any other battery I have had before. It has maintained the same charge level for the roughly 10 months I have had it, which is encouraging for the future.
Since purchase, I have run a variety of different operating systems on the Z71V. It came with Windows XP, and while XP works fine on the computer, it had some deficiencies, such as taking a longer time to boot and load than other operating systems I tried. Ubuntu Linux also generally runs well, with the most recent versions being better able to detect my graphics hardware and other accessories that earlier version had more difficulty with.
My current operating system is Windows 7, which I have been using since the public Beta testing. While my wireless card was more complicated to install, everything else was either installed automatically or could be installed via Windows Update. I have found that Windows 7 tends to boot faster than XP on my computer, looks better, and is easier to use when networking and attaching peripherals.
Heat and Noise
The laptop stays wonderfully cool most of the time. According to Mobile Meter, the CPU has a temperature range of 37-66 degrees Celsius, averaging 40 degrees Celsius on battery and 58 degrees on AC power, before undervolting. And the only places it gets noticeably warm are on the strip of plastic between the touchpad & the keyboard, around the "Built on Asus" tab just below the screen, and on the bottom in the back. It’s not uncomfortably hot anywhere even after over 6 hours of use.
Something I may have failed to mention earlier is that the fans are typically not loud at all, only ramping up to noticeable levels when the computer is running a processor-intensive application or game. The Z71V has 2 fans. The GPU/chipset fan is on constantly, but is typically near silent so it's only noticeable when in a very quiet room. The second fan is for the processor, and it is louder, but it only turns on when the CPU gets over 55 degrees Celsius which typically does not happen unless I'm running the aforementioned intensive programs. My hard drive is also very quiet in operation, making the computer near ideal for use in classes and libraries. The only distinctly loud part is the DVD drive, which is a bit noisy when it's running.
Something of note is that the GPU/chipset fan is typically a bit louder in Ubuntu than in Windows. I think that happens because there aren't any power-saving features for the linux graphics driver. However, perhaps due to that, graphics performance tends to be slightly better in Ubuntu than in Windows.
I used Notebook Hardware Control in Windows XP, Linux Processor Hardware Control in Ubuntu, and RMClock in Windows 7 to lower the CPU voltages for each multiplier and I'm running the computer on "dynamic switching" now. Undervolting enables the processor to use less electricity while maintaining the same output, which lowers its temperature and increases battery life. The voltages I'm using now are as follows:
While I overclocked my graphics card a couple of times early on just for fun (and restored it to normal when there weren't any dramatic improvements in gameplay), within the last year I also "upgraded" my CPU from a 1.86 Ghz Pentium M 750 to an overclocked 1.7 Ghz Pentium M 735 that runs at a stable 2.26 Ghz by changing the multiplier from its initial 100 Mhz to 133 Mhz. While this procedure requires a CPU pin modification in most cases, the Z71V has a dipswitch next to the CPU slot that can force the CPU to operate at either 100 Mhz multipliers or 133 Mhz multipliers, so the overclock was attained effortlessly. My "new" overclocked CPU cannot be undervolted as much as my former CPU at the higher frequencies, but it can be undervolted to the same level with the lower frequencies, so it uses the same amount of power as my former CPU at idle. The increase also gave a noticeable performance boost.
The ambient light sensor works very well, and doesn’t darken the screen to a point where you can’t see it, just to a point where it doesn’t appear overly bright. You can adjust how much ALS will darken the screen in each setting. It's a whole lot easier than manually adjusting the brightness in various settings, and it saves battery life, too!
Audio DJ CD player
In my opinion, this feature would have been much more effective if it played DVDs. CD playback is only so-so. Music seems to play well, but vocal can easily be drowned out by instruments, and it’s sometimes hard to hear what the singers are singing.
Edit: you can control the volume via Fn+F11 or Fn+F12. I haven't had the "singer getting drowned out" problem again, so maybe I just played a bad test CD. It's actually not too bad, if you don't have a CD player handy and don't mind a lack in very low bass tones.
The drive works well for me. It is capable of reading and burning CDs, DVDs, and dual-layer DVDs. It is compatible with most media brands and types that I've used. The only media that has not worked are blank Memorex dual layer DVDs. Burning a CD takes 6-10 minutes. A DVD burns in roughly 15 minutes, and a dual-layer DVD completes in roughly 25 minutes.
I bought mine from Integrated System Technologies. I recently visited their website and it seems that they're in process of changing their company name to Carolina Computer Technologies. Rick, the owner, answered a string of questions that I had about the notebook when I first placed my order, and Gwen, the co-owner, sent me e-mails detailing the Z71v's process through pre-order, build, and shipping. They even set my name up in Windows! You can't do any better than that!
Sadly, the computer reselling business is a difficult one and my reseller seems to have gone out of business. Their web site has been taken over by a different company and no trace of them seems to exist any longer. While I am sad that they went out of business, I am still satisfied with the excellent level of service and warranty support that IST provided to me.
After just about 3 months of use, my battery would no longer charge to full. I told Rick at IST about my problem, and he replaced the battery with a working one. Plus, I didn't have to pay a cent for shipping either way. (IST provides free ground shipping both ways for any warranty issues)
Problem Resolution, part 2
After about a month on my replacement battery, that one stopped charging to full also! I called Rick again, and he said that he was not allowed to ship Z71v battery replacements because Asus was looking into the issue and wanted to process everthing themselves, and also because Asus suspected that IST's spare batteries could be from the battery series affected. So instead, I had to go through Asus directly. This was my timeline with Asus:
Friday, September 2, 2005: I called Asus and they gave me a service number and told me they'd e-mail me return information.
Thursday, September 8th, 2005: I still had not received return instructions, so I called Asus again. The same day, I received an e-mail from Mila Chao saying that the initial report got lost in the system. She apologized and wrote out the return instructions.
Friday, September 9th, 2005: I shipped the defective battery to Asus via USPS Priority Mail.
Friday, September 16th, 2005: Asus sent me an e-mail saying that my new battery had been shipped.
Monday, September 19th, 2005: FedEx dropped the battery off at my door, and it's now charging in my computer.
I was not as happy with Asus' own tech replacement service as I was with IST's service, because I had to wait a week for an RMA number and return instructions, and because I had to pay for shipping to Asus ($7.59 for Priority Mail), but they came through in the end, so I'm happy again.
Problem Resolution, Part 3
Aaaaand, take three: after 3 months, the battery Asus gave me stopped charging to full also (stuck at 50%). I talked to Rick about it, he dealt with the problem this time instead of having me talk to Asus, and a week later, I've got the new battery and it works fine. This time Rick used a cross-ship method where he sent me the battery first & then I send him the old one. All in all, a very quick & pleasant exchange process (although I wish I didn't have to keep exchanging batteries in the first place!!!) Basically, for Rick & ISTNC, for Asus not fixing this earlier.
When I ordered the Z71V, computers were more expensive than they are now and instead of maxing it out, I got a fairly mid-level configuration. Over the years, I have since upgraded the RAM from 1GB to 2GB, the CPU from a Pentium M 750 at 1.86Ghz to a Pentium M 735 overclocked to 2.26 Ghz, and most recently from an 80GB Seagate Momentus hard drive to a 320GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue hard drive. These upgrades were all easy to do since the internal structure of the Z71V makes all the upgradeable parts easily accessible.
At this point, my Asus Z71V is now as upgraded as it can possibly be. It has the fastest processor available to it, the most memory, and and the largest and fastest hard drive (without moving to an SSD, which are currently too expensive to be worth it on an older notebook). It is running the latest Windows operating system and I can still play most of the games I want to. I'd say that's pretty good for a notebook that many would say is at the end of its technologically viable lifetime. When I first bought this notebook, it was with the expectation that it would last 5 years. I am glad to say that it has done so in splendid fashion, and despite a few bumps has been a very capable and reliable machine for the majority of that time. We shall see whether there will be another update after 6 years of use or if I will have bought a new computer by then, but regardless, I expect my Z71V to last for several more years down the road.
Technology changes all the time, and the idea of continually updating a review over time is not just so you can consider whether or not to buy a Z71V, which would be considered very out of date now, but so you have an idea of the long-term reliability of an Asus notebook. Although there were difficulties, I am overall very satisfied with my notebook and will likely buy another Asus when it comes time for me to upgrade. Thank you for your time and I hope my review has been helpful.