OCZ DIY Gaming Notebook 15" Page: 1
While the idea of gaming notebooks often conjures up images of some Counter-Strike junkie sitting on the train to work 'pwning n00bs' using his touchpad alone, the reality behind the idea comes more from the LAN gaming scene. As frequent LAN gamers will tell you, probably the worst part of attending a LAN is getting there in the first place. It's very rare that LAN events are close to home, and traveling long distances on trains or even planes certainly isn't an enjoyable experience when you've got your precious, yet extremely heavy PC in tow. However, with the release of NVIDIA and ATI's high-end mobile GPU's coupled with Intel's extremely fast and efficient CPU's, the ability to simply carry your gaming machine around on your shoulder has been realised, and the gaming notebook born.
Of course there's always a catch isn't there, and from an enthusiast's perspective, it's the total lack of customisation and upgradeability. When purchasing a new notebook, even one of the excessively expensive gaming models, you're often stuck with what the manufacturer deems as the best system configuration. Lower-end models come with slow CPU's, hardly any RAM and small hard disks, whereas the higher-end ones are fully loaded in every respect but have an extortionate price tag to match. But what if you're after a notebook with a specification that suits the games or applications you use and doesn't necessarily fit into the high/medium/low criteria that most manufacturers tend to cater for? Enter OCZ...
Once a company best known for their quality DDR 'Platinum' memory kits, OCZ has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years, expanding into new markets and bringing enthusiasts the latest technology at affordable prices. Two such products that are testament to this are the Neural Impulse Actuator and the 'Core' Solid State Disk series. However, OCZ have certainly never been a company to rest on their laurels and in the summer of 2008 announced that they would be stepping into the notebook market with a new DIY (Do-It-Yourself) range that would provide enthusiasts and regular users alike the opportunity to spec and build a notebook that exactly suit their needs. Today we're going to be looking at one of the latest models in this lineup: a Intel® Centrino™ 2 based 15" model complete with an ATI® Radeon HD3650 graphics card. But before we spoil all the surprises, let's head over to OCZ for some further information:
Building your own gaming desktop can be complicated and meticulous so who would think that building your own gaming notebook would be any easier or even possible? OCZ introduces this exciting initiative to the enthusiast, gamer, and IT professional with the new Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Gaming Notebooks. Designed to make it easier than ever for consumers to take full advantage of the benefits of building their very own gaming notebook, OCZ's DIY program is one-of-a-kind, and allows consumers to build a truly high performance notebook with their own ideal configuration in just a few easy to follow step
| Processor|| Supports Intel® Core™ 2 Duo / Extreme Processors|
(T7500, T7700, T8100, T8300, T9300, T9400, P8600, P9500, X9100)
| Core Logic|| Intel® PM45 + ICH9M|
| Memory || Supports up to 8GB (2 X 4GB) Dual Channel DDR2-800|
| Disk Storage || Supports 80-500GB 5400RPM or 7200RPM SATA Hard Disk Drive|
Supports all OCZ SSD Drives
Built-in 4-in-1 Card Reader (MS/MS PRO/SD/MMC/RSMMC)
| Display|| 15.4” WXGA (1280x800)|
| Graphics Processor|| ATI® Radeon™ HD3650 GPU with GDDR3 512MB|
DirectX 10.1 Compatible
| Optical Drive|| 24x CD-R/RW, 8xDVD+/-R, 6x DVD+/-R DL Combo DVD Drive -OR-|
16x CD-R, 10x CD-RW, 8x DVD+/-R, 4x DVD+/-RW DL, 2x BD Blu-ray Drive
| Audio|| High Definition integrated sound, built-in stereo speakers|
| Slots|| 1 Express Card 34 / 54 Slot|
| Pointing Device|| Integrated Touchpad with Scroll Bar|
| Keyboard|| A4-Sized Keyboard, Vista Key|
| Interface|| 3 USB 2.0 ports|
1 VGA port
1 Headphone jack
1 Microphone jack
1 RJ-45 jack for 10M/100M Fast Ethernet
1 RJ-11 jack for Plug & Play Fax/Modem
1 DC-In jack
| Power System|| 1 Lithium-Ion Battery (6 Cell)|
| Physical Characteristics|| 6.80 lbs with Battery Pack|
13.99" (w) x 10.14" (d) x 1.19" ~ 1.48" (h)
| Other Features|| Realtek® b/g Wireless LAN or Intel 5300 b/g/Draft-N|
Bluetooth V2.0 + EDR
Built-in 2.0MP Digital Video Camera
| Operating System|| Compatible with Microsoft Windows Vista SP1|
For what could be considered a bare-bones notebook, the OCZ DIY 15" is extremely well-equipped indeed. For starters, we have the DirectX 10.1 compatible HD3650 512MB graphics card as already mentioned, along with a reasonably-sized 15.4" WXGA screen capable of a fairly standard 1280x800 resolution. A choice between a 24x/8x CD/DVD writer or a Blu-ray drive (the former in our case) is also provided, and the Intel ICH9M southbridge gives support for both standard and solid state disk drives.
Wireless connectivity is provided by an Intel 5300 Draft-N adaptor for speedy net access, and a Bluetooth 2.0 adaptor enables the notebook to communicate easily with devices such as PDA's, mobile phones and Bluetooth mice/keyboards.
Additional devices such as a fingerprint reader, 2.0MP camera and 4-in-1 card reader also come as standard, and we will be covering these in more detail as we perform a tour of the notebook over the next few pages.
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Packaging & Contents
True to the press release shots, the OCZ DIY 15" comes in an extremely minimalistic white cardboard box complete with the orange DIY logo depicting a hand brandishing a screwdriver. Nowhere on the box is there any mention of what is contained within, not even a specifications label affixed to one of the edges or a barcode affixed to the bottom of the box. This possibly indicates that we are either looking at an early pre-release sample here, or maybe that the DIY range isn't going to be finding its way onto the shelves of computer stores, possibly being restricted to online purchasing only.
As expected, everything you need to get up and running is included. From left to right, we have the mains lead and adaptor, software drivers and manual (for both x86 and x64), a 2.5" hard disk caddy, several bags of screws, the battery pack and finally the CPU/GPU/NB cooler. For a system marketed as Do-It-Yourself, there's certainly nothing too daunting here.
Opening the box, we can see that OCZ have wrapped the DIY notebook in a clear plastic bag and placed it in the centre of two large styrofoam blocks. The accessories have also received a similar treatment, with each and every component being placed inside its own sealed bag and securely stored inside the styrofoam padded accessories box. The mains lead remains separate (probably so that OCZ can easily change the region of the notebook), but has still been given its own protection in the form of a cardboard sleeve.
Going in for a closer look at some of the more important accessories, we can see below that OCZ have provided the DIY with a 4400mAh 11.1v 6-Cell battery manufactured by SMP. This is at the lower end of 'acceptable' for a notebook (even my antiquated Sony Vaio has a 4800mAh) and will probably give around two hours of life when used for general tasks. Interestingly, the battery is also used by several other manufacturers and higher output ones (6000mAh+) that fit the laptop can be found online if you look in the right places.
The cooler, although small, looks quite efficient with a combination of copper and aluminium being used in its construction. Heat is transferred from the CPU by means of a heatpipe connected directly to copper fins, and the GPU and NB chips also receive cooling via direct contact with the cooler's aluminium base. A blower fan set centre is used to push hot air out the side of the laptop when things get too toasty.
Now let's check out the notebook in its full glory...
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One of the things that surprised us most when unpacking the OCZ DIY was just how 'plain' it was. Even the most shy manufacturers tend to place a logo somewhere on the lid and above the keyboard, but with the DIY there was absolutely nothing - no sign that OCZ had played any part in the production of the notebook at all. This is quite a shame, as the OCZ logo in itself demands attention and having it emblazoned across the front of a notebook would certainly turn heads.
That's not to say that the DIY is unattractive of course, far from it in fact. OCZ have finished the lid of the notebook in a black polished plastic that looks very modern while also doubling up as a pretty effective mirror. Unfortunately, as with all the black polished plastic electronics that seem to be the 'craze' at the moment, the DIY is a fingerprint and scratch magnet. Not ideal for a device that is going to be constantly handled and slipped in/out of laptop bags.
As you may have already noticed, the front of the DIY features standard headphone and microphone jacks; useful for singing along to karaoke while on the road? However, the sides of the DIY is where most of the action takes place, and from the images below we can see that OCZ have equipped us with 3x USB Ports (2 left, 1 right), an RJ45 network connection, a HDMI connection, memory card reader and an Express card slot. The choice of a standard DVD-RW drive or Blu-ray drive is also available, with our model being fitted with the former.
Around at the rear we have an RJ11 modem jack for when you fancy going back to the days of making a cuppa in between loading webpages, a VGA connection for hooking the DIY up to an external display or projector and finally the DC-in socket for providing the DIY with its juice.
As already mentioned in the specs over on page one, the DIY is fitted with a 15.4" WXGA screen that has a 1280x800 native resolution. The screen is yet another area of the notebook that is highly reflective and is one of those 'features' that has people split down the middle. While the deep black reflectiveness of the screen aids colour crispness and contrast along with being able to achieve blacker-blacks (washing powder advert anyone?), in daylight conditions you can expect a certain amount of glare.
Set just above the screen is a 2.0MP webcam. As you'd expect from such a small device, the picture quality isn't amazing (but still better than we expected) and the refresh rate makes things a tad laggy. However, for sitting in front of the notebook conferencing with other people the camera is more than adequate. Some sample snapshots taken from the camera can be seen here (1,2).
Thankfully, the keyboard and touchpad area of the DIY has been constructed from a rugged matte black plastic that will maintain a much better appearance than the lid. The touchpad is slightly offset to the left, which will make usage slightly more comfortable for the right-handed community, and inset between the left and right mouse buttons is a fingerprint reader.
Concentrating on the fingerprint reader for just one second - I have to say that this device is GREAT. Maybe it's just the novelty of using one for the first time, but the software provided with the device integrates seamlessly with Windows, allowing users to login to the laptop with a swipe of a finger. Additionally, the software can also be used for entering passwords into many other Windows applications, and even for logging into websites.
Above the keyboard is a total of eight hotkeys. These allow quick access to media functions such as play, pause, forward, back and volume. While these will undoubtedly prove useful for controlling any MP3's you may be playing in the background while gaming, I cant help but feel that some of these would have been much more useful as Wireless and Bluetooth on/off buttons rather than their current position as function keys on the keyboard.
The construction as a whole is quite sturdy with little to no 'creaking' when holding the notebook from any of its corners. If we wanted to nitpick, the lid is slightly flexible and probably doesn't protect the screen as well as it could, but it's still better than a lot of notebooks we've used in the past. Overall, OCZ have done a great job with the build quality and features of the DIY from what we've seen so far. So now let's move on to the next page where we explore the Do-It-Yourself aspect of the notebook and attempt to put it together without breaking anything!
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Looking Inside & Assembly
Before we get down to the building of the DIY, it's probably a good idea that we familiarise ourselves with some of the internal components. Turning the notebook upside down, we can see that there are two compartments which can be opened with a cross head screwdriver. The compartment closest to the front of the notebook houses the hard disk along with the Realtek wireless card, and as you'd expect from a modern system, the DIY uses a standard SATA interface that is capable of taking any 2.5" drive including SSD's.
Opening up the second compartment reveals access to the CPU socket, memory slots and various other components. Moving from left-to-right in the image below, we can see two DDR2 SODIMM slots followed by the 478-pin FCPGA CPU socket (pink) with the Intel PM45 chipset positioned just below. Over on the far right is the ATI HD3650 GPU covered with an orange shim and surrounded by three Qimonda memory chips.
If you're unsure what parts would be suitable for the DIY, OCZ provides a list of validated components in a PDF file
over on their website. OCZ also have a number of guides in both text and video format to assist users with the building of the notebook once you've got all of the parts. However, rather than simply linking to OCZ's guide, we've created our own video of the installation process which can be seen below:
Hopefully the video will convince you to some extent that there really isn't much to the building of the DIY, with probably the hardest parts being the inserting of the CPU and positioning of the cooler. But as always, taking things slowly and using a little bit of common sense should see a completely trouble-free install. Below are a few pictures taken during the install process that will hopefully give you a clearer picture of how everything should look:
Now that we've got everything put together (and hopefully working), let's see just how well our system performs over on the next page...
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Unlike other notebooks we've tested here on OC3D in the past, the OCZ DIY is unique in that it has no fixed specifications. This makes benchmarking the DIY quite subjective, as any results obtained from gaming, battery life or general desktop tests would be entirely dependent on the CPU, memory and hard disk chosen by the user. Higher-end components will increase benchmark results, but reduce battery life, whereas lower-end components will have the opposite effect. However, we've never had an OC3D review without any kind of testing yet, so let's see what sort of components we managed to rustle up for use in the DIY:
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 2.5GHz 6MB Cache 800MHz FSB
Memory: Generic PC2-6400 SODIMM 5-5-5-15 4GB
Hard Disk: OCZ Core SSD v2 60GB
Both the Intel T9300 2.5GHz CPU and 4GB DDR2-800MHz memory kit were snapped up on eBay for just £165, which was an absolute bargain in comparison to the ~£340 we would have had to pay if purchasing from a retailer. Additionally, OCZ was kind enough to send us one of their 60GB Core SSD v2 drives to complete the system, making this one extremely well spec'd notebook!
For the benefit of comparison, we will be including results from the following additional notebooks reviewed on Overclock3D in the past:
| System Name|| OCZ DIY 15"|| MSI TurboBook GX600|| Acer Aspire 7720G|
| Processor|| Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 2.5GHz|| Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 2.4GHz|| Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz|
| Memory|| 4GB DDR2 SODIMM 800MHz|| 3GB DDR2 SODIMM 667MHz|| 2GB DDR2 SODIMM 667MHz|
| Disk Drive(s)|| OCZ Core SSD v2 60GB|| Western Digital Scorpio 320GB|| Hitachi Travelstar 5K250 160GB|
| Graphics Card|| ATI Radeon HD3650 512MB|| NVIDIA Geforce 8600M GT 512MB|| NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GS 256MB|
| Display|| 15.4" WXGA (1280x800)|| 15.42 WXGA (1280x800)|| 17" WXGA+ (1440x900)|
| Operating System|| Not Installed|| Vista Home Premium|| Vista Home Premium|
| Battery|| Lithium Ion 11.1v / 4400mAh|| Lithium Ion 10.8v / 4800mAh|| Lithium Ion 11.1v / 4000mAh|
As we can see, the MSI TurboBook is probably the closest match for the OCZ DIY's specifications, but even then it falls short in several areas. Nevertheless, let's press on (no pun) with the battery testing and find out if the 4400mAh battery installed in the DIY can keep up with the hardware installed.
To measure battery performance, each of the notebooks had all power saving options disabled, screen brightness fixed at 100% and all power draining features such as WiFi and Bluetooth turned on. Battery Eater Pro - a battery draining application that uses a combination of GPU and CPU stressing - was then installed on each notebook and run until the notebook switched off due to lack of power. Please bear in mind that the results below should not be taken as the life expectancy of the notebook under normal use, but more a worst case scenario of extremely heavy use.
Managing to power the OCZ DIY for just over 50 minutes, the 4400mAh battery does seem to be the main weakness of the notebook. Granted that installing a lower-end CPU could help to increase battery life, but it would have been nice to see OCZ cover every system specification with a higher performance battery like the 4800mAh used in the MSI TurboBook.
To replicate the use of the notebook under normal usage conditions, the OCZ DIY was also used for several weeks on trips to and from the office with WiFi disabled and Vista's power management set to Balanced. In this scenario, the DIY stayed alive for around 1hr 20mins. This is still quite a lot less than the Sony Vaio NR11Z used previously, which could run for at least 2 hours before needing a charge.
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SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a notebook. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
SuperPI is the benchmark of choice for many overclockers as it's lightweight to download and can give a quick indication on how good a system is at number crunching. A test of 8 million itterations was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest times removed from the results and an average calculated from the remaining three.
The OCZ DIY leads the pack in almost every benchmark, mostly thanks to the T9300 CPU giving it a 100MHz and 3MB cache advantage over the T8300 installed in the MSI TurboBook. As we've already mentioned, your mileage will obviously vary depending on what CPU and memory is chosen to power the DIY.
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HDTach is a free hard disk benchmarking program from SimpliSoftware. This benchmark is not only capable of producing results on hard disk access times but also CPU usage required during disk access. The "Long bench" was run a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
As expected, the OCZ Core v2 SSD inside the DIY absolutely stomps the competition into the ground, with the average read speed coming in almost 75% faster than the standard hard disk used inside the MSI TurboBook. This, combined with the almost nonexistent 0.2ms latency, gave the OCZ DIY a punchy responsiveness that we've never experienced in the past using any other notebook.
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Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. The suite uses complex renders to guage the performance of the entire PC system in both single-core and multi-core modes. Testing was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average created from the remaining 3 results.
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
POV-Ray is short for the Persistence of Vision Raytracer, a tool for producing high-quality computer graphics. The freely available software suite is bundled with a benchmarking scene that uses many of POV-Ray's internal features to heavily test the abilities of the CPU.
The DIY once again takes a lead across the board, with the integrated ATI HD3650 GPU putting out some decent results in both 3DMark suites and showing better performance than the Nvidia 8600M GT used in the MSI Turbobook. POV-Ray and Cinebench rendering also show a preference to the DIY, mainly thanks to its higher-end CPU.
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Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording along with 2xAA, 2xAF settings at each notebooks native resolution. The benchmark was set to run a total of 5 times, with Quake4Bench automatically calculating an average result at the end of the run.
F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. Included in the game is a benchmark facility that taxes the entire PC system. This benchmark was run a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being excluded and an average being calculated on the remaining 3 results.
Bioshock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
Finishing off with some 'real-world' games, we can see that the DIY is the clear winner yet again, with F.E.A.R especially showing a massive improvement over the next nearest competitor. However, it has to be said that although the DIY does win by a decent margin, the actual FPS results aren't exactly breathtaking and wouldn't make for a very good 'experience' even using last year's games.
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While the ability to change the memory, hard disk and CPU in a notebook isn't exactly a groundbreaking feat by any stretch of the imagination, the very fact that the OCZ DIY Gaming Notebook is shipped from the factory minus these components changes the ball game all together. For the first time ever, enthusiasts and average users alike can take advantage of the cheaper hardware available online to build their dream notebooks at a greatly discounted rate. Priced at just shy of £500 over at Play.com, the DIY 15" comes in at a price similar to that of a low-end notebook. Throw in some lucky bids on eBay and a hunt around the bargain basement at your preferred retailer and you can expect to build a beastly notebook for a total sum of £700-750.
The build process is extremely easy and OCZ supply enough instructions to point you in the right direction but not overload you with unnecessary information. From unboxing, we managed to have a fully operational laptop in under 15 minutes, and as the video guide on page four will hopefully have shown, there really is nothing too tricky to contend with, especially if you've got previous experience in building desktop systems.
The notebook itself is very robust and doesn't feel like it's going to fall apart if held incorrectly or bumped about in a bag. The only exception to this, unfortunately, is the reflective black plastic lid that quickly picks up dirt, smudges and scratches making the notebook 'old' in only a matter of days. It is also a shame that OCZ didn't decide to add their branding to the DIY (on our model anyway) as the notebook does look quite bland and possibly even cheap without this.
Features of the DIY are extensive to say the least. Our model came fitted with a fingerprint reader, Bluetooth receiver and 2MP webcam, all of which worked perfectly during our week of testing. Additional options such as a Blu-ray drive are also available and will certainly make good use of the on-board HDMI port should you want to output to a TV/LCD. The only caveat in the DIY's multimedia capabilities is the on-board speakers, which are far from the quality of some other similar priced notebooks we've used and reviewed in the past.
Finally, the performance of the DIY is something that's extremely hard to draw a conclusion on as it is entirely dependent on the components installed by the user. We went for the highest we could possibly find available on eBay and ended up with a notebook that was extremely nippy, multitasking in the same league as any desktop. Gaming performance was also reasonably good for a notebook in this price range, with the ATI HD3650 GPU outperforming the Nvidia 8600M GT installed on the MSI TurboBook GX600 that we used for comparison.
Of course, all this performance does have a negative impact on the DIY's portability, restricting us to a maximum of 1hr 20mins 'light' usage (document editing) before the battery gave up. Luckily, there are higher mAh batteries available on the Internet should you not want to trade performance for battery life.
- Ability to spec and build your own laptop.
- Gain experience on how to upgrade in the future.
- Can work out cheaper if you buy components from the right places.
- Integrated fingerprint reader and webcam.
- Bluetooth receiver allows easy connection to mobile phones and HID devices like mice.
- HDMI output available.
- Robust casing. No 'creaking' or flexing of the main body.
- Fairly good GPU performance.
- Bright, clear screen.
- Notebook lid is a fingerprint and scratch magnet.
- On-board sound not too great.
- Plain appearance with no OCZ branding.
- Can be a tad fiddly to put together (especially without a magnetic screwdriver!).
- WiFi & Bluetooth On/Off functions should really be assigned to their own buttons.
- Poor battery performance when used with a high-end CPU.
- No overclocking options! Shame on you OCZ!
Please note that as 'Performance' is entirely dependent on components used, this part of the chart is to be substituted with 'Features'.
Thanks to OCZ for providing the DIY 15" for review. Discuss this review in our forums.