AJP Z71A review
Building on the success of its Centrino brand, Intel’s new Sonoma platform promises more power, longer battery life and an even greater number of features. New technology normally brings a high price tag, but one of the immediate benefits of Sonoma has been some aggressive pricing, as witnessed by AJP’s Z71A. A notebook at this price immediately sets us searching for compromises, but there are surprisingly few.
The 1.6GHz Pentium M model 730 provides the processing muscle and offers a good balance between cost and performance. While the processor itself operates with a 533MHz front side bus, the Z71A doesn’t take advantage of the 915 chipset’s DDR2 memory support. Instead, there’s 512MB of standard DDR RAM running at 400MHz. All the same, it raced through our application benchmarks, returning an impressive score of 1.75 – high enough to consider this as a potential desktop-replacement system.
Unlike Evesham’s Voyager C510 (see p70), though, which shares the same chassis, the Z71A relies on Intel’s integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 900 for 3D performance, rendering it all but useless for 3D gaming. Our standard Unreal Tournament 2004 benchmark, running at a resolution of 1,280 x 1,024, returned a paltry and totally unplayable 8fps.
Despite Sonoma’s promise of extended battery times, performance isn’t spectacular in this area. With the CPU fully loaded and the screen set to its brightest, it lasted for two hours, five minutes. With only light use and the screen set to the minimum readable level, the battery lasted a more practical three hours, 48 minutes, so you can reasonably expect a battery life somewhere in between. You’ll manage a full film on a single charge, with DVD playback lasting two hours, three minutes in our tests.
It’s a screen that deserves to be looked at, too. Despite the budget price, the 15.4in 1,280 x 800 WXGA panel is sharp and bright, lending itself well to anything from a spot of photo editing to extended periods of word processing. It has unusually good contrast for an LCD panel and performed superbly in our technical tests. Colour ramps were smooth with no banding, and there was no sign of pixel jitter either. DVD playback benefits from the widescreen aspect and decent contrast, with reasonable viewing angles and a good level of detail in dark scenes.
The other area prone to suffer from compromise when budgets are tight is the keyboard, but even regular typists will find little to irk them here. There’s a satisfying level of positive feedback from the keys and, save for the infuriating placement of the function modifier key where we’d expect to find Control, the layout is sensible. There are page navigation keys running down the right-hand edge and conveniently grouped cursor keys. The only drawback is that it’s slightly rattly – potentially distracting in a quiet environment, but certainly louder than the quiet fans. Despite that, the Z71A remained cool even during prolonged intensive use.
You won’t be found wanting for storage either, as AJP has fitted an 80GB Hitachi model. That’s enough to keep a healthy suite of applications, as well as a decent music and photo collection. And, when you do need to back up or offload files, Toshiba’s TS-L532A DVD writer will burn to both +RW and -RW formats, although not dual-layer discs.
Elsewhere, you’ll find four USB 2 ports on the back of the machine, with another one usefully located on the side – a great improvement on the two ports to be found on many other machines. There’s an S-Video out port next to the VGA port, as well as an SD/Memory Stick/MMC card slot and four-pin FireWire port on the side. As befits the full Sonoma specification, Intel’s PRO/Wireless 2915 mini-PCI card supplies 802.11a/b/g wireless, while Realtek’s 8139 chip provides 10/100 Ethernet. The only notable omissions are serial and parallel ports.