Building an Intel 915PM Sonoma Notebook Yourself

Building a notebook computer has never been easier or cheaper than it is right now. An average computer enthusiast can assemble a whitebox notebook chassis in less than 15 minutes! You might also be surprised to find that a notebook is actually easier to order and build than a desktop computer.

One reason building a notebook is so easy is that there are not many brands to pick from, as only a handful of ODM?s have notebooks in the channel. The hardest step in building a notebook is finding the chassis that is right for you. ASUS, MSI, and AOpen are some companies that offer whitebox notebooks that should be familiar.

When building our Sonoma platform we wanted to go with a chassis that offers a wide screen WSXGA+ monitor, Geforce 6600 or better graphics, and dual channel DDR2 memory. With specific wants like those mentioned one can really narrow the choices down to a select few whitebox notebooks. To finalize your selection consider your brand loyalty and the aesthetics of the notebook.

Intel Sonoma DIY Guide

Legit Reviews decided to use the ASUS Z71V notebook chassis for our mobile gaming platform and had a goal of making it happen for under $1750 for everything. The notebook features a 15.4? WSXGA+ (1680X1050) TFT widescreen display, PCI Express Graphics with an MXM slot, and Dual Channel DDR2 memory operating at 533MHz. Best of all the graphics are delivered from the 128mb Geforce 6600 video card for a rich mobile gaming experience.

After a bit of research it was found out that this is the same exact notebook chassis that Voodoo PC uses on their ENVY N:532 notebook.  The base price for the N:532 on the Voodoo PC website is a mind staggering US $2950. After upgradingto the 770 Pentium M for an additional $489.16, the 80GB hard drive for $10.32, and paying a flat rate of $116.76 for shipping the grand total for the Voodoo notebook jumped up to US $3509!

Time to see what the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) builder can get the same system for minus the cool paint, metal carrying case and free t-shirt.

Legit Reviews DIY ASUS Z71V Price List (Includes Shipping):

Grand Total: $1690

After adding up the prices we find that building your own notebook actually cuts the cost of a "luxury" gaming computer in half.  Since the same notebook chassis and name brand parts are used no corners are being cut.  If a builder wants to reduce some of our high end luxury items (the processor and dual layer DVD burner) they can shave off hundred more on the price.  Many of the above components on the price list can be changed to fit your needs. The entire point of listing the parts and showing the prices is to show that building your own notebook will give you the ability to save $1819 over purchasing one from an expensive computer boutique. 

Doesn't seem too bad now does it? Let's go on and see how easy it is to put one together.

Installing the Memory & Processor

Once you take the notebook out of the box, it needs to be disassembled to allow the hardware you bought to be installed. You'll begin this process by removing the two screws on the 2.5? hard drive (HDD) bay and remove the hard drive tray by removing the two screws that hold it down. With the tray removed select either the IDE or SATA interface connector that is provided (you can use either notebook IDE or SATA drives on the ASUS Z71V) and then mount the hard drive to the mounting tray using the four screw holes on the bottom of the tray. Once the HDD and mounting tray are assembled you can then slide the drive back into the chassis rear-end first and then press the HDD connector to the connector on the motherboard and push them together gently. Make sure you re-install the hard drive hold down bracket otherwise the hard drive may become loose from the motherboard when shifted from one location to another.

ASUS Z71V Memory Installation

The next step is installing the notebook memory. To accomplish this, we'll need to remove both the keyboard and back cover. With the notebook still flipped over you will see two screw holes labeled ?K? for keyboard. Remove these screws and the nine additional screws that are holding down the elevated back plate. Once the screws are removed you will gain access to the inside of the case.

ASUS Z71V Memory Installation

The keyboard must be removed to install the primary memory module. With the back removed, carefully flip over the notebook and open the unit to gain access to the keyboard. After the two screws labeled ?K? have been removed from the bottom of the chassis the only thing holding the keyboard are three small tabs that lock the keyboard into place. These tabs are located above the keyboard right above the F1, F8, and Ins (Insert) keys. Using a thin screw driver or the corner of a credit card carefully push the tabs towards the monitor until the keyboard becomes free. LR has found it best to do this starting from one side to the other and gently lifting on the keyboard at the same time. Once the keyboard is no longer attached to the chassis it may be lifted back for the memory to be installed. Please note you do not have to fully remove the keyboard ribbon like the image below.

ASUS Z71V Memory Installation

If you are installing a single memory module (DDR2 Single Channel) it should be installed under the keyboard as it is the primary SO-DIMM slot. Install the memory by lining up the notch in the module to the memory slot and plug in the module at a 30-degree angle. Push it down towards the board until the latches on both sides snap into place. Once the module has been snapped into place, press the keyboard back into the chassis and ensure all three tabs have been locked into place then flip the notebook over. We also suggest replacing the two screws labeled ?K? as they are no longer needed for the build. If using a pair of memory modules for dual channel performance insert the other module in the secondary SO-DIMM slot on the back side.

ASUS Z71V Processor Installation

Now that the hard drive and memory has been installed, we'll move onto the processor. The notebook comes with the processor heat sink installed, so remove the heat-pipe assembly and make sure the CPU socket is unlocked by using a flat head screwdriver and turning the lock to the unlocked position. Place the Intel Pentium M Processor into the socket and lock it into place by turning to the locked position (clockwise). Carefully angle the heat-pipe cooler back into place over the processor, making sure the screw holes line up with the heat-pipe and the notebook. With the heat-pipe in place carefully tighten the screws like you would for a car wheel in a cross pattern to avoid cracking the processor. The arms on the retaining bracket are labeled one to four and the screws should be tightened a few turns at a time until they are tight in this order.

Optical Drive & Wireless Card Installation

ASUS Z71V Optical Drive DVD/RW

Now that the memory, processor, and hard drive are installed you can install the Toshiba optical drive that comes with the special face place for the ASUS Z71 series. This is by far the easiest install of the project since it simply slides in and locks into place.

ASUS Z71V Optical Drive DVD/RW

The wireless controller card is installed exactly the same way as the memory modules. Line up the notch on the Intel Pro Wireless card with the socket and insert the card at a 30-degree angle. Once the card is placed into the socket push it down to lock it into place. The black antenna is attached to the main lead and the white to the auxiliary lead. The antenna is pre-wired around the LCD display, so no wiring is required of the consumer for the wireless card to be installed.

ASUS Z71V Wireless A/B/G Card

Now that everything has been installed the notebook covers can be re-installed and installation is complete. Power the system on and continue by installing the operating system of choice!

A Closer Looks @ PCI Express Graphics:

The graphics card comes pre-installed and shares a heat sink with the Intel 915PM chipset. The ASUS Z71V does use an MXM interface and should MXM upgrades cards become available this is one of the first notebooks on the market that will be able to take advantage of the technology.

ASUS Z71V Geforce 6600 GPU

Stay tuned for an article on how to do some more custom tweaks to help make the ASUS Z71V notebook perform better!