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Any reviews of barebones laptops from Asus, MSI, etc?

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Last response: in Laptop General Discussion
January 11, 2007 6:37:56 PM

Having recently been through two laptop purchasing fiascos, I'm looking into building my own. Has THG reviewed the current barebones laptop offerings from Asus, Msi, VBI, and Compal (yes, Compal, not Compaq)?

I'm looking at 8 barebones models and another Acer. I have them all spec'd the same, except for the Acer, which is a factory system. I'm looking for feedback from people who have built their own laptops from barebones or have custom laptops built on these platforms:
Asus z92m
Compal HEL81 Special edition (nvidia G73mv integrated video)
Intel - VBI S96J
MSI 16323
MSI 171881
MSI 1039-B006US
MSI 1039-B005US
MSI 1029
I spec'd them all with their respective 1.6GHz CPUs: Core Duo, Core 2 Duo, Turion MT, and Turion X2. All of them are also spec'd with 1bg RAM, some are DDR some are DDR2. Cost for the processors and RAM are all faily equal - the processors are all about $200 and RAM is about $100.

Purchasing Fiasco
In early December, I purchased an Acer Aspire 5102 from walmart for $749. Don't laugh, their 2-year 'drop it off the table and pour juice in it' warranty is $68. Every shop sends them back to the factory for repairs anyway, so what does it matter where you buy it?

Anyway, the Acer had ATI x1100 video, and SiSoft Sandra and Dxdiag both listed it as PCI bus, not PCIe, so I returned it. I picked up an HP 6113z with nVidia G0 6100 video as a replacement. What a mistake.

Both laptops had AMD Turion 64 TL50 processors and 1GB of RAM. The Acer was Ati chipped (video and chipset) and the HP was nvidia chipped (video and chipset). Just as a point of reference, my desktop is an Athlon 3200+ XP (barton core) with 2GB of DDR400 on an nForce 2 motherboard- pretty much top of the line as far as 32bit desktops go (core duo aside).

The Acer's factory software load was just Windows MCE and Norton Internet Security Suite. This thing was FAST. For those of you who have ATI video cards, you are familiar with how slow the Catalyst Control Center loads. On my desktop, it takes almost 25 seconds to load. On the Acer it loaded instantly. Even Windows was fast. Everyting responded instantly, even opening My Computer and Network Neighborhood.

The HP's factory software load was ghastly. There's no other way to describe it. It took me over an hour to clean out all the demos, trialware, games, and utilities. It was also incredibly slow - nearly as slow as my desktop. Windows lagged and lurched, there were delays opening nearly everything, including the SATA hard drive (the Acer's was IDE). It was so slow compared to the Acer that I emailed tech support in a desperate attempt to speed it up.

Three days, 14 (printed) pages of email, and a phone call later, HP informed me that they didn't sell 'clean' copies of Windows, and flat out refused to do anything about the poor performance. She (the customer service rep) said that if I was that dissatisfied with the laptop, then I should just return it. I did.

So now I'm back in the market for a laptop.
My only gripe witht the Acer was the video, so I may pick up another one if the barebones thing doesn't work out.

More about : reviews barebones laptops asus msi

January 11, 2007 6:45:35 PM

I'm build one for a customer.

Its not for gaming otherwise it looks sweet.

Z84F, 17 WXGA+ 1440x900, Integrated Video, Supports Core 2 Duo, Core Duo/Solo, Celeron M 4xx, DVDRW, up to 2GB DDR2-533/667, IDE 2.5" HDD, Gigabit, Modem, Bluetooth, Webcam, ExpressCard, Card Reader, eSATA, 6 Cell Battery

Express card and eSATA very nice.

I'll run a PCmark05 & cinebench etc on it.

These are the only mild gamers.

This is the best with a real card in it.
Asus ASmobile Z92T Notebook Barebone / 15.4 WXGA / NVIDIA 7600 256MB / IDE HDD / DVDRW / Supports AMD Turion 64 X2

Asus ASmobile Z96Js Notebook Barebone / 15.4 WSXGA+ / ATI X1600 256MB / SATA HDD / No Optical / Supports up to Intel Core 2 Duo
January 11, 2007 7:22:18 PM

can I get a list of prices for the Asus units? You can pm/email if you don't want to post them directly.

Related resources
January 11, 2007 8:04:19 PM

If you're looking for reviews and personal experience, many people are in specialized forums. I.E. and . There are many others but I like these two most. Here custom, or DIY is very popular. You will also find user reviews that are very in even video. If you didnt' like the Acer 5102, I'm surprised you listed more laptops with integrated graphics like the z92m or Hel81. If you like those check out the Asus z92t or Compal (also rebranded by sager) Hel80, both with a decent graphics card for mid-level gaming. The Asus s96j is nice, and is nicer if you get a z96j which has a much better screen and bluetooth. I don't know as much about your MSI choices, but look in the forums I mentioned under the respective Makes Section. You'll find many eager people to help, and many just like you who are looking.. Good luck

PS. I found your Hel81( special edition) on ebay. The g73mv got my attention.. that part number corresponds with a go7600, in a way of thinking BUT, reference here that seems like a wierd way to word it. The Hel81 is supposed to have a gma950 video chip, and support core duo and core SOLO, not UNO.. I would be cautious if this was the computer you were looking at and ask plenty of questions first.
January 11, 2007 8:24:47 PM

It wasn't the integrated graphics, but that it kept popping up as PCI bus, which was abandoned as a graphics bus almot ten years ago. I'm not sure that it IS PCI bus, but that is what it showed up as in Sandra, DxDiag, and a couple of other programs.

I have to go on price at this point, I have to keep the build under $900. There are a few Acers in my target price range with x1400 or x1600 video if I can find them refurbished.

Video aside, I'm also looking for the best total package. For instance: the MSI 1036-B005US has a 15.4 WXGA that is 1680*1050 native res; both MSI 1039 models have BOTH ExpressCard and PCMCIA slots; the MSI 171881 has a 17" screen; and although I've never heard of Compal, it MAY have Go 7600 video.

The nVidia C51MV chipset it Go 6100, and the G73 is the 7600 series video cards, so I'm thinking that the G73MV in the Compal is the Go 7600 integrated video.

I'll check out the forums you mentioned adn see what I can learn.
Thanks for the info!
January 11, 2007 8:33:52 PM

You're welcome, Ya I'd be careful in assuming anything about the g73mv.. like i said, it's suspect and I never believe things that peak my radar. When I googled it, every one offers the notebook with the exact same , cookie cutter, description. That worries me. I mean the sites look similar too. Still it's not quite as good as it first appears because you'd still need an Optical drive, and hopefully nothing else. Never assume the picture is what you're getting.

Building for 900 or less will be tough, but with some bargain shopping you can do it, but barely. You'll have to settle for a cheap processor, small HD, minimum ram, and cheap WifiLan. Ebay might not be a bad way to go, just be smart. For your parts check sites like too who offer deals on refurbs or overstocks.
January 11, 2007 8:40:58 PM

yeah, I noticed that too. It's not at the top of the list, it's there mostly for comparison at this point. details are just too sketchy and I haven't even been able to locate the manufacturer's page for it.

I have a line on more if the Asus models, so I'll complete the specs on them and see how they stack up. I suspect that they will compare very favorably.
January 11, 2007 8:53:05 PM

Well, I can tell you the Asus S96j is compared constantly against the Compal Hel80, the key differences being, S96j has the x1600 and the Hel80 has the go7600 and express card port and fingerprint reader. That's about it besides looks..and the Hel80 can have a 9 cell battery. The hel81 has integrated graphics, and the VBI versions of both (hel81 and hel80) lack the quicklaunch buttons on the left or a finger print reader. Z92m would be the kin to the s96j Minus the x1600, and with AMD instead of Intel processors, dj launch buttons and 8 cell may have a dvi..but I only know the z92t has dvi. Check out these resellers too for pictures Rj tech might be a best value since you want to part it out.
January 11, 2007 8:55:06 PM

cool! Thanks, I'll check it out pretty quick.
January 13, 2007 5:12:40 PM

NEVER, under ANY circumstance get a notebook from MSI!

Don't even consider it.
I am not going to go into it, but trust me.
I all but had to go there with Tony Montana and a chainsaw to get warranty work done on their ABSOLUTELY inferior product.

January 14, 2007 1:47:31 AM

What model, if I might ask? Right now I'm down to 4 choices:

Asus S96Js - 1005.47
Asus Z96J - $1040.87
MSI 16332 - $1111.96
Compal HEL80 - $1008.46

All are spec'd as follows:
Turion X2 TL50 or Core 2 Duo T5500 (both 1.66GHz processors)
1 x 1GB DDR2667
DVD supermulti or DVD-RAM (depending on whether it comes with an optical drive or not)

All of them are fairly good looking machines. Personally, I think that the MSI and the Compal look better than the Asus machines, and I really like having media buttons.

That said, the deciding factor will boil down to one thing: Customer service.

like I said in my first post, I returned an HP laptop because of piss-poor customer service. All I asked HP for was a Windows CD that didn't have all the bloat-ware, and they told me that if the performance was such a big deal, then I should return it.

anyway, thanks for the replys, I really appreciate it!
January 14, 2007 5:14:04 AM

If those are the coices, go with the COMPAL if you don't like the ASUS.
I personally would go for the WSXGA+ ASUS.

i would also recommend a 7,200 rpm hard drive. Yea, it is 100 Gig, but the speed is well worth the extra cost and loss of 20 Gigs of space.
January 15, 2007 1:15:02 PM

I think if it's a choice between them I'd personally go with the Compal Hel80 and get the matte screen option. I like matte for photo/video editing and illustrator work much more than glossy. The compal has some "retro" looks and can be quite aggressive in appearance with a good paint job. They're noted as being quite sturdy and well built(though not the most beautiful, but I still like em enough). So many people carry it, you should have no trouble finding a reseller you like that has a good track record for service and support. I can vouch for XoticPc and Powernotebooks whom I've talked to both owners of and left excellent impressions. As killer said, the 7200rpm is worth the investment, more so if you're doing intensive editing or hardcore gaming
January 15, 2007 4:20:34 PM

It has come down to a show-off between the HEL80 and the Asus Z96Js (both with the 1680*1050 screens) and here's what it comes down to at this point:

ExpressCard is a new technology with very little implemented hardware. PCMCIA is well established, and while it is beginning to be phased out in notebooks, there are literally thousands of different cards on the market. It reminds me a LOT of the whole AGP vs. PCIe battle.

Video performance is also very important. I wasn't planning on only having a laptop. I was planning on a decent laptop and a Crossfire desktop, but I've decided to dump some money into my 74 Dart Sport instead of the desktop, so now the laptop will have to do double duty as a middle-weight gaming rig as well.

The Compal has both ExpressCard and PCMCIA support, but in the reviews I've read, it has scored fairly low in 3Dmark 05 - a 3093 with a Core Duo 2400. In it's favor, it has media buttons and a 9-cell battery.

The Z96J only has ExpressCard support, but it scores a much more impressive 3843 3Dmark05 score with a Core Duo 2400. (and right now, xoticPC is running a special on it for a free second battery)

Both laptops look good and have had good reviews, the catch for me is that the video is important enough that it makes for a hard decision between good video and a 9-cell battery (that I could buy later), media buttons, and PCcard/ECard support.

what to do....... 8O
January 15, 2007 5:09:26 PM

Yes, you're very much on target here. The Hel80 has a 350/350 gpu/mem clock. There is detailed information on how to OC the gpu/mem over at Notebookreview's compal forum. Donald at Powernotebooks has helped numerous compal users tweak their notebook. Overall the Hel80 has seen results of the gpu at ~450 and mem at ~380, and 3dmark in the 3800 region. I've seen the Z96j closer to 3500 stock, and only 3800 after OC, but every laptop varies some. The chief difference between the two at stock speeds.. is maybe 3-5 frames max on most demanding games. Unless you're in the 20fps range, you won't see a real difference visually. The go7600 in the hel80 saves battery and heat while it's underclocked, but is very overclockable, rest assured. The z96j with two batteries is a tempting deal non the less. I wouldn't worry much about ecard support unless it's a must have initially.
January 15, 2007 5:37:54 PM

My mistake on the battery special. It's CyberpowerPC running the battery special, but it's an S96 not the Z model, and you can configure the exact same S96 at XoticPC and add the 9-cell and come in under the cyberpower price.... if you upgrade the xoticPC to the Z96 (still with the spare 9-cell battery) it's only $50 more than the S96j from CyberpOwerPC.

Stupid question, and I'll probably email xoticPC about it: Why would they offer the upgrade to Vista as 32bit for a 64bit laptop? I'd think that kind of defeats the purpose of upgrading.

If I'm going to add the cost of XP to the laptop, I want the 64bit upgrade....
January 25, 2007 1:40:50 PM


Asus S96Js - 1005.47
Asus Z96J - $1040.87
MSI 16332 - $1111.96
Compal HEL80 - $1008.46


i am going to ask a really stupid question, but where can i find custom build parts for laptops????? please :) 

ok, i found xoticPC website, are there others??????
January 25, 2007 5:02:30 PM

for the barebones laptops themselves, I've also found,,,, and a couple others that escape me right now.

For the individual components, such as the processor, hard drive, etc.. you just can't beat

Hope that helps
January 25, 2007 6:27:38 PM

There are so many your head could spin. Someplaces are sketchy, I.E. Other places you can search for parts would be electronics overstock sites., like Sometimes you can get parts at half the price of NewEgg if you search.
January 30, 2007 12:23:42 AM

Just built a Z84 barebone.

Maybe took 10 minutes to assemble.

Boots up very fast.

Has integrated video, but its for biz guy.

I love the layout.

Has eSata and express card, totally loaded.

Waiting for Vista DVD to arrive then will load that on it.

If you want a high quality EZ to work on and upgrade get an Asmobile.

17" screen a bit big for my taste, I'd prefer something more mobile.
January 30, 2007 5:15:44 AM

You read my mind. I'm a bit of a gamer (read as an ADDICT), but I've narrowed the decision down to 6 finalists, and I'm tied on two:
15" for portability, feature set, chipset (more on this later) and price
17" for raw power, slightly lower feature set, more screen real estate for C programming and web application development

Both will get me through not having a desktop for the next year.
The finalists are <drum roll>
15", the Compal HEL80
17", the Asus Z84Jp (same as the Z84F, but has a Geforce Go 7800 with 512mb dedicated ram)

These two were picked from:
---Asus Z96Js
---MSI 16332
---Compal HEL80

---Asus Z84Jp
---Clevo M570u (rjtech model with Geforce 7800 and 1440x900 screen)
---MSI 171544

What it all came down to was this:
1. Chipset and Hard drive combo could NOT be nForce with SATA hard drive - see note below.
2. Preference for Core 2 Duo over Turion X2 (even though I'm a hard core AMD fan)
3. Overall feature set - preference for ATI video, both Expresscard and PC card support, dual hard drive, fingerprint reader... (you can see that compromises were made)

If anyone has experience with these laptops, or better yet, experience with more than one of these laptops, please post your impressions of the various models.

NOTE: nForce chipset with a SATA hard drive is specifically NOT supported by Mac OSX. nForce with PATA (IDE) is supported, along with nearly ANY laptop with an intel 9xx chipset and Core 2 Duo processors.
I won't say where to find a version of OSX that will install on a non-mac laptop, but suffice it to say that such installations do exist for those who care to dig deep enough to find them.

Before you read any farther, let me tell you that I'm not into consipracy theories, black hats hiding aliens, or any sort of nonsense. What I DO believe in is a right to disclosure, privacy, and the idea of innocent until proven guilty. For all of you reading this who skip right past the EULA without reading it, here's something scary for you to think about. If your computer is completely up-to-date with Windows Update (as mine is), you have granted MS higher administrative rights to your computer than YOU have. You have given Microsoft the green light to make "any necessary modifications, adjustments, and changes" that they see fit. Just think about what changes you can make, and contemplate that they have higher access than you do.

Why mac OSX? Simple. Read the MS Windows Vista EULA. MS reserves the right to sue you for posting benchmark results if you haven't patched windows to the latest version. Doesn't sound so bad until you realize that you cannot post comparative benchmarks. For example, once Service Pack 1 is released, you cannot post benchmarks comparing Windows Vista before and after the Service Pack without express written permission from Microsoft.

You can only register MS Vista on two platforms. This means that the first time you install Vista (or register a preinstalled copy) you use the first of two activations. If you have to reinstall it down the road, for whatever reason, you can as long as the activation code the Vista generates doesnt change.

The catch is that this code is generated by the hardware on your computer and the Windows CD key, and one of the things it checks is the serial number of your primary hard drive. So as long as you don't change the motherboard, video card, processor, or hard drive, you should be OK to reinstall without using your second Activation. However, if you activate Vista on your spankin' new laptop and upgrade the hard drive two weeks later, you've just chewed up the second activation. The next time you need to reinstall and your hardware has changed, MS will require you to purchase a full version of Vista at full price.

There are also some aspects that I have heard, but not yet verified on the MS website. The activation issue is dead certain, straight from MS themselves, as is the benchmarking issue. Depending on how you read the EULA, and whose interpretation you buy into, there could be a HUGE issue with downloading copyrighted media.

The argument is this: The EULA could be interpreted as saying that any copyrighted media that you download through Vista can only be played on the computer that downloaded it. MS could, if they so chose, prevent you from copying that copyrighted media from your computer to an MP3 player, CD, DVD, or whatever device, even if you legally purchased the media.

If you have any questions about the Vista EULA, it is available from the MS website if you want to read it. Personally, I'm going to pick up Vista because I'm a computer tech and I'll be expected to know it inside and out. But it will NEVER run on one of my personal machines.

As for Mac OSX? We all want in on 64bit computing, and it seems that for now, Apple is content to let you run hacked OSX on a PC as long as you purchase a retail copy for the license. If I can get MacOS to run on my new laptop, I WILL pick up a retail copy to stick on the shelf.

OK, enough of that. game on!

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