Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Going inside the Vizio CN15-A1

Tools required:
1 x T5 Torx screwdriver
1 x Phillips #00 screwdriver

Wi-Fi Adapter
WD 1TB HDD
Bare CPU and GPU

With cover off


Battery 6900mAh and status LED right below

Heat pipe and exhaust fan
Close up of copper plate and pipes




The internals are very accessible by removing just 6 Torx screws. The heatpipes are very thin and the fan is loud. The fan does not seem to have any profiles as it likes to spin at full rpms or stay off during idle.

I replaced the thermal compound with MX-2 and it dropped the GPU and CPU temperature by 3C. This allowed the temperature to go below 40C when idle and the fan turned off, but as soon as the CPU ramped up it made the fan go back to 100% then back down. This behavior kept going on with anything running or opening that utilized the CPU at all. Definitely needs a firmware update!

Vizio CN15-A1 review

Good attempt, rough edges


CN15-A1 model from Amazon.com:
  • Intel Core i5 3210M Processor 2.5GHz
  • 4 GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1000GB 5400rpm Hard Drive (WD blue)
  • 15.6-Inch Screen
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (Microsoft Signature)
The laptop was immediately upgraded with a 256GB Samsung  830 SSD and 2 x 8GB DDR3 PC12800 running at 1.35v. From the short time spent with the factory install, it could be said that the OS is clean with no bloatware or extraneous services taking up CPU time or wasting precious battery.

 



 

The general shape of the laptop is clean and simple. The aluminum construction is sturdy, but it also makes it heavy at over 5lbs. The overall build quality is average and lacking in the many details that other manufacturers have spent decades honing. The edges right below the palm rest area are too sharp and make it extremely uncomfortable to use for anything but a short period of time. The sharp edge really cuts into the wrists, this should have been machined slightly to help with long term use comfort.



The 15.6" screen is the best feature of this laptop. It is bright and has excellent viewing angles. Vizio does not explicitly state what kind of panel they use in A1 model (unlike the CN15-A5), but clearly it is an IPS panel. No matter what angle you view it from the colors do not change. The screen has an anti-glare matte coating which a lot of people prefer over the clear glossy type due to the latter having reflections in bright environments. There was a slight hint of shimmer from the anti-glare matte finish, but nothing that would get in the way of every day use. The 1920x1080 resolution is a refreshing choice in a market flooded by sub par 1366x768 screens.


The keyboard is hard to use at first because of the physical shape, the keys are all flat and run into each other with no clear differentiation between keys at a glance.The fonts on the keys need to be bolder and darker for quicker visual scanning while typing. Although with more practice one could learn the key positions and improve their typing accuracy and speed. The keyboard does not have a back-light which at first doesn't seem like a big omission, but due to the thin and light lettering on the keys it's a feature that is needed badly whenever the lighting is dim.

The trackpad is mediocre and does not register inputs very well. Tracking is very jumpy and clicking takes a bit of effort as you have to really press with force. the mechanics of the trackpad are below average, but maybe Vizio can fix the tracking via future driver updates.

The lack of indicators can be a blessing or an annoyance. It only has one light on the front to indicate on/off. There are no indicators for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or HDD activity. This may be a personal preference more than anything.


The AC adapter is very large and heavy, if you are thinking of traveling this will add another 2lbs to your travel weight. The only positive about this bulky AC adapter is the orange/green indicator light to show charging status when connected to the laptop.

The fan profile needs a lot of work, it is very jumpy. The fan will stay off during idle which is excellent, but as soon as the CPU does any work it immediately starts to spin at a high rate and it's loud and distracting. Vizio should try to implement a more moderate ramp up and down to smooth out the fan noise. (This to me was the deal breaker, it just made the laptop unusable.)

Upgradability is where this laptop shines. (The chassis internals can be accessed using a Torx T5 screwdriver.) It uses a standard 2.5" hard drive mount and SATA connector. It also has two standard SoDIMM memory slots. This gives you the option to use any 2.5" hard drive of your choice and you can upgrade the RAM up to 16GB. There are no RAM or proprietary storage modules soldered on the motherboard.





 
Driver support from Vizio is very poor. Their support page does not provide all the drivers as of this writing. Some of the links to drivers were also down. A chat with support provided a Dropbox link as a temporary solution. This makes Vizio look incredibly amateurish in an era where simple driver downloads are the norm.

Certainly many people will be lured by the good specs and sleek looks, but this is a fatal mistake. Prospective owners would be smart to check out this laptop in person and spend some time using it. Just sitting with it for a few minutes will reveal most of the flaws for one to decide if they are deal breakers or not. If you need any kind of support be prepared to visit forums often as Vizio is not up to speed on support. In summary, it is a mediocre laptop and one can clearly see where they are cutting costs or lacking in expertise. Hopefully the next version will show significant improvements from Vizio.


Follow up: Going inside the Vizio CN15-A1