ASUS W90 Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (87,493)

The ASUS W90 was designed with one goal in mind; blow all other gaming notebooks out of the water. The W90 features two ATI Radeon Mobility 4870 graphics cards connected in CrossFireX, an Intel T9600 processor, 6GB of DDR2 memory, and an 18.4” WUXGA display. With this configuration it can achieve upwards of 15,000 points in 3DMark06 and manage to fluidly play Crysis at 1920×1080 resolution. Selling for only $2,199 could the ASUS W90 be one of the best gaming notebook values on the market today? Keep reading to see for yourself.

ASUS W90Vp-X1 Specifications:

  • Windows Vista Home Premium (SP1, 64-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T9600 (2.8GHz, 6MB L2, 1066MHz FSB)
  • 18.4″ Glossy FHD LCD display at 1920×1080 (WUXGA)
  • Two 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4870s with GDDR3 video memory in CrossFireX
  • Atheros AW928X 802.11n + Bluetooth 2.0
  • 6GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM (2GB x 3)
  • 320GB Serial ATA hard disk drive (7200RPM)
  • DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive with Labelflash
  • 2.0 megapixel webcam with autofocus
  • Altec Lansing Surround Sound Speakers with Subwoofer
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 17.4″ x 12.91″ x 2.48″
  • Weight: 13lbs 4.0oz (16lbs 2.3oz with AC adapter)
  • 230W (19.5V x 11.8A) 100-240V AC Adapter
  • 11.1v 8800mAh 93Wh Lithium Ion battery
  • 2-Year Standard Limited Warranty
  • Price as configured: $2,199.99

Build and Design
The W90 looks like a gaming notebook no matter how you try to explain it.  The 18.4” chassis is far bigger than any other type of notebook, including any portable workstations. Compared to other gaming rigs the color scheme is very tasteful, with brushed metal panels and a moderately sized ASUS logo front and center. I tend to prefer the professional look over the fancy glossy painted gaming notebooks which make you stick out in a crowd.

The ASUS W90 is one of the largest notebooks that has passed through our office, with only the HP HDX Dragon and Dell XPS M2010 being larger. The 18.4” frame is designed to provide adequate cooling under stress down an Intel T9600 processor and two ATI Radeon Mobility 4870 graphics cards. This means a very thick chassis to provide airflow for 3 cooling fans and a sturdy frame so the notebook doesn’t bend when you try to pick it up. It feels like a tank, in both weight and size. Build quality is fantastic, better than most ASUS notebooks I have reviewed. Fit and finish are excellent and the materials used feel as if they will show little wear over the life of the notebook.

Access to system components is easy through a rear access panel that covers most of the bottom of the notebook. The main area houses both graphics cards, system memory, processor, wireless cards, and heatsinks. The hard drives are located in their own separate area, mounted in a tray designed to hold two drives. Our configuration only used one drive, leaving one slot open. Installing your own additional drive would be quite simple and cheap, needing only screws to attach the drive to the assembly.

Display
The ASUS W90 has one of the “all-glass” style of displays, with a sheet of plastic over the LCD. It looks great and gives the notebook a clean appearance, but it increases the amount of reflection by about a factor of 10. Sitting in a bright office setting you can see a perfect reflection of your upper torso in the background. After a while you get used to it and it doesn’t become as much of a problem, but it is worth noting since not everyone likes them. The panel has a 1920×1080 resolution, great for gaming or enjoying a 1080p movie. Colors are bright and vibrant, and contrast is excellent with the glossy panel. Vertical viewing angles are above average with a modest viewing sweet spot before colors start to wash out or invert. Horizontal viewing angles are excellent, but at steep angles you start to see reflections more than the screen.

One odd behavior we noticed during the review was the system wanting to shutoff when the display lid was closed to around a 45 degree angle. Most notebooks detect the screen closing really close to the keyboard, so it was a surprise to find the notebook shutting down when we wanted to move it to another location by slightly closing the screen.

Keyboard and Touchpad
ASUS had no problems fitting a fullsize keyboard on the W90 with its 18.4” frame and still having space left over for touch sensitive media keys on one side. The keyboard has very squared off chiclet style keys in a traditional frame. It is very comfortable to type on for extended periods of time and has excellent support to prevent any noticeable flex. Key action is smooth with a quiet crumpling plastic sound when pressed. All of the keys are fullsize with the only odd arrangement being the location of the direction keys merged between the keyboard and number pad.

The large Synaptic touchpad is one feature of the notebook that I really love. It has sloped edges around the perimeter, instead of a hard barrier to show the edges of the touch surface. The texture is smooth with a light matte texture. It is easy to use even after my hands were sweating from sitting on top of the notebook for a couple of hours. The touchpad buttons are easy to trigger without much force needed to click. They have shallow feedback and give off a muted click when pressed, not an obnoxious snap.

Ports and Features
Port selection is good, but ASUS left a lot of room open that could have been used for more ports. It is sad that the 14.1” ASUS N81Vp has more ports than the 18.4” W90 gaming notebook. The system includes four USB ports, eSATA, FireWire, VGA, HDMI, modem, LAN, and an antenna port if you get a model with a TV tuner. The notebook also features a 8-in-1 card reader and ExpressCard/54 slot.


Front: Speakers


Rear: Modem, LAN, HDMI VGA, AC Power


Left: Kensington lock slot, 1 USB, Headphone/Mic


Right: ExpressCard/54, 8-in-1 card reader, FireWire, eSATA, 3 USB

ASUS includes a wireless Bluetooth mouse and backpack with the W90, and they are actually not that bad at all for freebies. The backpack offers  some protection for the notebook beyond a slipcase and with the brick carried along as enough room for a school book or two. The shoulder straps are adequately padded with additional material at the top to lug around the 16+lbs of the notebook and accessories. The front of the bag has a semi-rigid face for protection against impacts and the rear has pockets to conceal the waist strap when not in use. The mouse felt cheap compared to most Bluetooth competitors, but considering it was free we can’t complain much. It is powered by two AA batteries and fits comfortably in your hand.

Performance
The W90 is easily the fastest notebook we have ever reviewed and even faster than most desktops. The Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 processor and dual ATI Radeon Mobility 4870 graphics cards make formidable team up again the latest games on the market. One of the games that we turn to when we really want to stress a system is Crysis, since it can make nearly every system weep with its demanding needs. With the system overlocked by 17% using the ASUS power ultiity we were able to play Crysis Warhead at 1920×1080 resolution at the Gamer visual settings getting 30-34 frames per second (FPS). This was more than playable for most people, and still offered plenty of room to tweak settings to get even higher framerates. The W90 also produced the highest 3DMark06 result we have seen, topping 15,000 when overclocked.

WPrime is a benchmark similar to Super Pi in that it forces the processor to do intense mathematical calculations, but the difference is this application is multi-threaded and represents dual core processors better. Lower numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
ASUS W90Vp-X1 (Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz) 29.080s
ASUS W90Vp-X1 (Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 3.29GHz) 23.494s
MSI GT627 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.71GHz) 28.143s
Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 (Core 2 Duo P8700 @ 2.53GHz) 30.126s
Dell Studio XPS 16 (Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4GHz) 31.827s
Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 (Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz) 38.455s
HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz)
39.745s
Gateway P-171XL FX (Intel Core 2 Duo X7900 @ 2.8GHz) 30.359s

 

PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance based on processor, hard drive, operating system, RAM, and graphics (higher scores are better):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
ASUS W90Vp-X1 (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Dual ATI Radeon Mobility 4870 1GB) 8,203 PCMarks
ASUS W90Vp-X1 (3.29GHz Intel T9600, Dual ATI Radeon Mobility 4870 1GB) 9,056 PCMarks
MSI GT627 (2.71GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9800M GS 1GB) 7,643 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 (2.53GHz Intel P8700, NVIDIA GeForce G 105M 256MB) 5,575 PCMarks
Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 512MB) 6,303 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 (2.0GHz Intel P7350, Nvidia 9300M 256MB) 4,844 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)
3,994 PCMarks
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel X7900, NVIDIA 8800M GTS) 7,749 PCMarks


3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
ASUS W90Vp-X1 (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Dual ATI Radeon Mobility 4870 1GB) 13,641 3DMarks
ASUS W90Vp-X1 (3.29GHz Intel T9600, Dual ATI Radeon Mobility 4870 1GB) 15,628 3DMarks
MSI GT627 (2.71GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9800M GS 1GB) 9,137 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 (2.53GHz Intel P8700, NVIDIA GeForce G 105M 256MB) 2,472 3DMarks
Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 512MB) 4,855 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 (2.0GHz Intel P7350, Nvidia 9300M 256MB) 1,833 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)   1,599 3DMarks
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel X7900, NVIDIA 8800M GTS) 8,801 3DMarks


31FPS in Crysis Warhead at 1920×1080 resolution!

HDTune storage drive performance results:

Speakers and Audio

The speakers were somewhat of a disappointment. Most notebooks that have front and surround speakers with a subwoofer tend to sound fantastic compared to notebooks with only two speakers. The W90 speakers produce almost mono sound with little channel separation and muddy bass with the subwoofer adding to the mix. High notes were lacking and it sounded like our music was playing through an equalizer with the higher frequencies all turned down.

Battery
Extended battery life and ultimate mobile gaming performance don’t work well together on the same system. While gaming with the W90 connected through AC power routed through a Kill-A-Watt, it measured 220W of power consumed while playing Crysis Warhead. While not gaming and running our battery tests the system consumed a humble 60W of power. At idle the W90 draws more power than most notebooks under peak GPU and CPU load. With the 93Wh battery the system was only able to pull off 1 hour and 30 minutes before it shutdown.

One idea we had to save power was to disable one of the graphics cards through the BIOS. We tried this and it chopped 15W off the consumption rate. When we went to re-enable the card we found Windows had removed it from the installed hardware list and still wouldn’t perform at top speed until we restore the system to factory conditions. It was not worth it to gain 20-30 minutes of battery life.

Heat and Noise
The ASUS W90 cooled itself pretty well when you remember that it houses two high-end graphics cards and a fast processor. After the system had been on for three hours it had become noticeably warm, but not hot. Under load the system fans were quiet audible and would probably get you noticed in a classroom setting. With three fans, one for each major component, the W90 throws out a lot of air, and needs a good amount of space behind the notebook for proper airflow.

Conclusion
ASUS really made something special with the W90. Not only is the W90 the fastest gaming notebook we have reviewed, but it is undercutting other high-end gaming notebooks by a significant amount. Comparable notebooks from Alienware or Toshiba with dual graphics cards options cost upwards of $4,000. ASUS offers this faster gaming rig for only $2,199, a perfect mix during this recession where people might not want to spend the same on a notebook as they might on a used car. Build quality is excellent, making the W90 feel like a tank in durability and weight. We think this is one of the best gaming rigs on the market right now and will take some serious thought by a competitor to try to beat it in performance or price.

Pros:

  • $2,199 for up to 34FPS in Crysis and 15,628 in 3DMark06
  • Built like a tank
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Great touchpad
  • Beautiful 18.4” WUXGA display

Cons:

  • Weighs as much as a tank
  • Laughable power consumption


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