One thing hardware enthusiasts love is customizability. We want our computers to be different, to stand out from the crowd of boring OEM boxes, and to be personal. We love customizing our computers so much that many of us spend days, weeks, months and even years customizing and polishing our own rigs. Hardware manufacturers have not been blind to this phenomenon and they have since turned our desires into big business.
All of this is possible thanks to industry standardization of just about every component found in a Desktop PC. Extensive standardization has made it possible to take the latest and greatest hardware right off the shelf and stick it into a chassis that's nearly a decade old, and everything will still fit. Got a PCI expansion card laying around? You can throw it in just about any computer with a free PCI slot and more often than not, it will work. Getting tired of poor performance from your vintage video card? Just swap it out with a newer, more powerful model. Even the screws that hold our hard drives in place and prevent the side panels from falling off are interchangeable between different cases.
Desktop PC owners have enjoyed this level of flexibility for years and a migration to a Notebook platform quickly reminds us how we have taken this all for granted. Consumers are starting to demand the same level of flexibility that they enjoy with Desktop PCs on their Laptops. The large value-added resellers like Dell, HP and Sony have heard our cries and have begun offering more options on their products, but it's still not enough for many people. Bare-bones laptops, coined "Whitebooks", appeared on the scene promising to offer the same level of upgradeability and customization enjoyed by desktop barebones PCs.
A Whitebook is a bare-bones Laptop. Like Desktop bare-bones machines, Whitebooks are partially assembled computers that consist of a case, power supply, and a pre-installed motherboard. Sometimes a cooling system is also included in the package. The other components that make up a functioning PC, like the CPU, RAM, and hard drives are left to the end user to obtain and install. Whitebooks also offer features that are not normally included in a Desktop bare-bones package, but are expected of Laptops. These include an integrated keyboard, touchpad, LCD panel, and speakers.
While bare-bones computers are a far cry from the personalization offered by a custom system assembled completely from parts chosen by the builder, it's a huge step forward from the limited options most value added resellers provide. The flexibility offered by Whitebooks is also constantly getting better. One of the latest improvements is the introduction of a graphics interconnect standard for notebooks by NVIDIA called MXM. This slow but constant improvement could eventually lead to the same level of flexibility and customization Desktop owners currently enjoy.
Have Whitebooks really come far enough to stand up to pre-configured models from the big names? Do the additional upgrade routes come at the cost of quality and performance? That's what we hope to find out. We have enlisted the ASUS Z96JS to help us illustrate the process of configuring a modern Whitebook computer and to act as a guinea pig for our benchmarks. The Z96JS is an Intel based notebook utilizing the Centrino Duo platform. Since the Centrino Duo platform's successor, codenamed Santa Rosa, hasn't been released yet the Centrino Duo represents Intel's current flagship notebook technology. It should give us a good picture of the current state of the Whitebook and what's in store for potential upgrade paths to the new Merom mobile dual core CPU architecture.