- Excellent 18.4" 1080P screen
- Good gaming performance
- Responsive touchpad
- Missing eSATA
- Mediocre battery life
by Kevin O’Brien
The ASUS N90SV-A2 is an 18.4″ multimedia gaming notebook designed for people who might not need the power of a W90, or have the budget for one. Offering dual hard drives, NVIDIA Geforce GT 130M graphics, optional Blu-ray playing capabilities, and a FullHD 1080P display the N90 is perfect for someone who wants a true multimedia hub for their dorm room or office. With prices starting as low as $1,399 online depending on configuration, is this 18.4″ multimedia rig worth it? Read our full review to find out.
ASUS N90SV-A2 Specifications:
- Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64 bit)
- 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9550 (1066MHz FSB, 6MB L2 Cache)
- Chipset: SiS 671DX+968
- 4GB PC2-6400 RAM (2GB x 2GB)
- 2 x 500GB Seagate 5400rpm
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 130M 1GB GDDR2 VRAM
- 18.4″ 1080P HD FHD LCD 1920×1080 (Glossy)
- Optical Drive: BD-ROM + DVDRW+/-
- Wireless: Atheros AR928x B/G/N Wifi and Bluetooth 2.0
- 8-cell 14.8V 4.4Ah 62Wh battery
- Dimensions: 18.4″ x 12.4″ x 1.8″
- Weight: 9lbs 8.3oz
- Warranty: 2-year global, 1-year accidental damage
- Price as configured: $1,799
Build and Design
ASUS gave the N90SV a clean and sleek look with sharply defined contours and a classy pinstripe glossy black finish. When closed the N90 appears to be quite slim (for an 18.4″ notebook) with a sharpened front edge that slowly expands out over the screen and gradually slims down again towards the rear. The exterior is tastefully finished with the glossy black plastic and a thin plate of chrome that connects the two screen hinges. While the ASUS logo is displayed front and center, it doesn’t appear to be too large or obscenely flashy.
Inside the N90 the pinstripe black finish continues around the palmrest and keyboard, transitioning to solid black directly around the keyboard and media keys. I was hoping for touch sensitive media keys on a notebook at this price range, but these worked very well, and the physical volume control was a nice perk. The speakers are located right above the keyboard, covered with a fine mesh grill. Overall I think the looks are great, but I wish they went a bit further with the high price tag of this model.
Build quality feels very good with solid feeling plastic and few creaks or squeaks. Given the thin chassis that also happens to be over a foot and a half wide, there is some additional flex if you are holding it near one of the corners … but that is expected. The glossy surface feels durable and scratch resistant to a point, but not scratch-proof. One side benefit of having no touch-sensitive media keys is less swiping over the glossy plastic around the keyboard, which can sometimes create fine scratches over time. The only complaint I have in relation to build quality is so much space was left open and utilized. ASUS could have easily fit on almost double the USB ports, but instead left a lot of open real estate.
Screen and Speakers
The 18.4″ FHD 1920×1080 display is above average in quality, with bright colors and very good contrast levels thanks to the glossy surface. For a small dorm room or office the screen is large enough to properly sit back and watch a movie with a few friends. Paired with the Blu-ray drive the movie experience is great compared to even tiny 15.4″ or 17″ notebooks. Viewing angles are average, with about 15 to 20 degrees of vertical viewing range before colors start to distort. Horizontal viewing angles span further, viewable to about 70 degrees before reflections off the glossy surface overpower the displayed images. Backlight brightness is fine for viewing the screen in a brightly lit room, but limit any outdoor use to a heavily shaded are.
The speakers are located below the display, underneath a thin plastic grill. The oddly small speakers feel misplaced on an 18.4″ multimedia notebook and sound underpowered. Peak volume levels were weak, and the speakers sounded very tinny at higher volume levels. Bass and midrange were lacking, leaving only higher frequencies to fill the room. For enjoying a quick movie or listening to streaming music they will probably be more than adequate, but for the best listening experience use the headphone jack or HDMI out for digital audio through a stereo.
Keyboard and Touchpad
ASUS was easily able to fit a full-size keyboard into the N90SV, with room to spare on each side. The keyboard is comfortable to type on once you get used to the keys, which are shaped different from more common keyboards. The keys are more squared off with sharper and more defined edges, and have less of a “cup” to the key surface. Once you get past the shape of the keys the typing surface feels great, with very good support under strong typing. Some flex was noticed under significant finger pressure, but it was minimal at worst. Individual key action was smooth, with a shallow press needed to activate it. Noise while typing wasn’t significant, with only a mild click when each key was pressed.
The N90 offers a large Synaptics touchpad that is a dream to use. Sensitivity is great and with a soft matte finish it is easy to flick your finger around the touchpad and accurately move in on your target. No lag was noticed during use, with my only complaint regarding the touchpad being the default settings. The sensitivity was set a little high, and it was easy to lurch the pointer across the screen by touching your palm to the side of the touchpad by accident. Some minor tweaking of the settings helped fix this, as well as just getting used to the large layout of the notebook. The touchpad button is a rocket style button, with a single solid bar for triggering the left and right button. Moderate pressure was required to activate the button, having shallow feedback and giving off a muted click when pressed.
Ports and Features
Port selection on the N90SV is average compared to other notebooks we have reviewed, but it feels underutilized with the amount of open space around the sides of the notebook. The notebook offers four USB ports, VGA, HDMI, two headphone out, microphone in, and LAN. For expansion the it has an ExpressCard/54 slot and SDHC multi-card reader. One feature lacking that is very disappointing is eSATA, used for high speed external storage. This connection should have not been left out of an 18.4″ multimedia notebook. For HD movie playback, the N90SV-A2 sports a Blu-ray drive, which is nice if the notebook fill the role of multimedia hub in a home theater.
ASUS includes a notebook carrying case and wired mouse with the N90SV. The case works well to protect the notebook from scratches and damage, but doesn’t have as much padding as other retail bags. The wired USB mouse works as intended, but feels and looks pretty cheap. In a pinch it is a good mouse to store in your bag as a spare, but beyond that I think most people will replace it with something better.
Performance and Benchmarks
System performance with the Intel Core 2 Duo T9550 and NVIDIA GeForce GT 130M was excellent, showing little lag except under higher resolution gaming tests. The notebook flex through normal tasks such as web browsing, startup and shutdown, and playing HD movies with ease. Testing both 720P and 1080P movies files the notebook played the video without any framerate problems, and outputted clear digital audio in-sync out through HDMI.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
|Notebook / CPU||wPrime 32M time|
|ASUS N90SV-A2 (Core 2 Duo T9550 @ 2.66GHz)||28.485 seconds|
|Sony VAIO FW (Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz)
|Dell Studio 17 (Core 2 Duo T9300 @ 2.50GHz)||31.574 seconds|
|Dell Studio XPS 16 (Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz)||31.827 seconds|
|ASUS F50SV-A2 (Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz)||31.857 seconds|
|Gateway P-7805u FX (Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz)||34.287 seconds|
|HP Pavilion dv6z (AMD Athlon X2 QL-64 @ 2.10GHz)
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
|Gateway P-7805u FX (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GTS 1GB)||6,637 PCMarks|
|ASUS N90SV-A2 (2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9550, NVIDIA GeForce GT 130M 1GB)||6,464 PCMarks|
|Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3670 512MB)||6,303 PCMarks|
|ASUS F50SV-A2 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, Nvidia GeForce GT 120M 1GB)||6,005 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO FW (2.53GHz Intel T9400, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3470)||6,002 PCMarks|
|Dell Studio 17 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650)||5,982 PCMarks|
|HP Pavilion dv6z (2.10GHz AMD Athlon X2 QL-64, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4530 512MB)||4,119 PCMarks|
3DMark06 graphics comparison against notebooks @ 1280 x 800 resolution (higher scores mean better performance):
|Gateway P-7805u FX (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GTS 1GB)||9,190 3DMarks|
|ASUS N90SV-A2 (2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9550, NVIDIA GeForce GT 130M 1GB)||5,778 3DMarks|
|ASUS F50SV-A2 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, Nvidia GeForce GT 120M 1GB)||5,152 3DMarks|
|Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3670 512MB)
|HP Pavilion dv6z (2.10GHz AMD Athlon X2 QL-64, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4530 512MB)||3,254 3DMarks|
|Dell Studio 17 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650)||2,974 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO FW (2.53GHz Intel T9400, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3470)||2,598 3DMarks|
HDTune for the built-in hard drives:
Gaming performance is slightly below full-on hardcore gaming notebooks, but still very respectable. In Call of Duty: World at War with high detail settings the notebook handled 1080P resolution at 16 to 20FPS. Lowering the resolution down to 720P, speed increased to25-30FPS. Bioshock varied more at 1080P resolution, going between 20-30FPs depending on the amount of action on the screen. Lowering the resolution to 720P, framerates sped up to 40-45FPS. Left 4 Dead was similar, going to 20-30FPs at 1080P, and 40-50FPS at 720P. If you tweak the detail settings, you should have no problem getting consistently high framrates in most games.
Left 4 Dead @ 1280×720
Left 4 Dead @ 1920 x 1080
Call of Duty 5 @ 1280×720
Call of Duty 5 @ 1920×1080
Bioshock @ 1280×720
Bioshock @ 1920×1080
Heat and Noise
Thermal performance of the N90SV is excellent. The notebook barely breaks a sweat even after running benchmarks and games. The large surface area of the notebook helps dissipate heat quickly, and the end result is a very lap-friendly notebook. Cooling fan noise was also minimal, staying off most of the time, and when on it was very quiet.
Power consumption was oddly high with the SiS chipset, just like the F50SV we reviewed a while ago. During low activity the system idled at a high 26 watts, whereas slightly smaller sized and similarly equipped gaming notebooks might draw closer to 20 watts. Because of this our battery figures were below average. With the system set to “Balanced” mode, screen brightness set to 70%, and wireless active the N90SV stayed on for 2 hours and 9 minutes.
Overall ASUS N90SV-A2 is a decent large format multimedia notebook, handling most modern games and HD video without any problem. It has great design with very good build quality, something that is becoming a common trend with ASUS notebooks these days. Feature selection is good, with the onboard Blu-ray player with this model, but the missing eSATA is a downside. While the price is high compared to similarly configured 17″ notebooks, most online retailers are selling the lower model for $1,399, which drops the second hard drive and Blu-ray reader. With the 18.4″ display this notebook could easily take the place of a small TV in a dorm room, playing HD movies and games in full 1080P resolution.
- Excellent 18.4″ 1080P screen
- Good gaming performance
- Responsive touchpad
- Missing eSATA
- Mediocre battery life