When we first unboxed the ASUS W90, a behemoth that weighs 13.4 pounds, it was quickly dubbed The Beast for very obvious reasons. However, the 18.4-inch desktop replacement’s physicality isn’t the only reason the notebook earns that moniker; the Intel quad-core CPU, dual ATI Crossfire graphics cards, and 6GB of RAM enabled the machine to steamroll through every benchmark we could throw at it. Add in Blu-ray, a premium design, booming speakers, and a beautiful Full HD display, and the $2,499 ASUS W90 stands as one of the premier gaming and multimedia notebooks available today.
The first thing you’ll notice about the ASUS W90, besides its massive 17.7 x 13.2 x 2.5-inch girth, is the slick aesthetic; ASUS has taken great care to make certain that the PC screams high quality. The W90 features a gray brushed-metal lid (highlighted by ASUS’ logo), a black brushed-aluminum base (which picks up lots of fingerprints and smudges), a glossy bezel surrounding the keyboard, and leather touches near the hinges. As with many premium notebooks, the W90 features an edge-to-edge display, which is a first for any ASUS notebook.
At more than 13 pounds, we can’t imagine the W90 being lugged around very often (especially with its 2.6-pound power brick, which weighs more than some netbooks). Still, ASUS is prepared for that eventuality, shipping the W90 with a backpack. Good thing, too, since the notebook is too big to fit into most laptop cases.
Keyboard and Buttons
The wide base provides plenty of room for comfortable touch-typing. The keyboard itself has some unfortunate flex, but not so much that it’s a major issue. In addition, we would’ve preferred the keys to be covered in a glossy coating to match the eye-popping appeal of the rest of the system; the matte keys felt fine, however. A large, trapezoid-shaped touchpad allowed us to navigate the cursor around the desktop with ease, and the mouse buttons were responsive but a bit stiff.
Above the keyboard is a glossy strip that houses a number of responsive, touch-sensitive keys for muting audio, disabling the touchpad, and adjusting the screen brightness and color. Also counted among these keys is a zoom button (that gives users a 3X zoom into the desktop or Web page), a 2-megapixel webcam launcher, and a power-setting button that lets users toggle between Standard, Power Savings, and Overclocking modes. On the far left is a button for booting into the ASUS Express Gate instant-on operating system.
The ASUS AI TouchMedia control panel (a touchstrip located left of the keyboard), let us raise and lower the sound with ease, as well as skip DVD chapters. All in all, the touchkeys were responsive, but the forward skip button is located too closely to the volume strip; attempting to raise the audio resulted in several instances of jumping to the next chapter.
ASUS Express Gate
After pressing the lightning bolt–emblazoned Express Gate button, the instant-on application’s home screen appeared in 15 seconds. Express Gate didn’t remember the Wi-Fi settings we established in Windows, so we had to search for our office signal and input the password manually. Connecting to our network took 8 seconds, and another 5 seconds to launch the Mozilla-based Splashtop browser. So, from a cold boot you can start surfing the Web in 28 seconds, or wait for Windows to load, which takes 24 seconds more. Unfortunately, this version of ASUS Express Gate is based on the original design, not the attractive revamp loaded onto the ASUS F50Sv-A2.
Display and Audio
Our Blu-ray of Iron Man looked super-crisp on the 16:9, full HD (1920 x 1080) display—yet another ASUS first. The reds and golds in Tony Stark’s armor looked brilliant, and explosions and high-speed action were handled with aplomb; we didn’t see any blurring or stuttering visuals. When extending the movie to a 32-inch Samsung monitor via HDMI, we didn’t experience any audio or video hiccups.
The 5.1 Altec Lansing speaker setup (with subwoofer) provided plenty of audio punch as the Marvel Comics’ hero engaged in a firefight with the enemy. Low-end sounds truly rumbled when explosions occurred, and the jets chasing Iron Man through the skies roared thickly and loudly. While playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, we loved the sharp gunfire exchanges as we raided the enemy, as well as the chunky sound of whirring helicopter blades.
Ports and Webcam
The W90 makes use of its ample chassis to pack in a plethora of ports. The right side of W90 houses three USB 2.0 ports, eSATA, FireWire 400, ExpressCard/34/54, 8-in-1 memory card reader, as well as a Bluetooth/Wi-Fi on/off switch; the left side contains a Kensington lock, another USB 2.0 port, headphone, and microphone jacks; the back of the system has HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, and modem openings. Scattered around the perimeter are a number of cooling vents to keep the system from overheating.
The 2.0-MP webcam (with autofocus) served up solid visuals when making video calls over Skype. Skin tones looked fairly accurate in well-lit areas but almost monochrome in locales with poor lighting; this improved a little when we tinkered with the brightness and contrast settings). Our biggest gripe with the webcam was the blurring that occurred when one of the conversation participants moved too swiftly.
In terms of performance, the W90 crushed virtually everything we put before it. That was due in no small part to ASUS placing a true desktop motherboard under the hood (which enabled the system to be outfitted with 6GB of DDR2 RAM), which was paired with Intel’s 2.0-GHz Core 2 Quad Q9000 processor. In PCMark Vantage (which measures Vista application performance), the system notched a score of 4,542, more than 1,000 points higher than the 3,403 desktop replacement average. While it beat out the quad-core Gateway P-7808u FX (4,249), the other quad-core systems we’ve tested saw higher scores—the Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725 (4,619), Lenovo ThinkPad W700 (4,908), and Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds (5,296). The excellent performance numbers translated into a breezy experience with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium operating system; windows, folders, and applications opened quickly, and we didn’t experience many instances of the spinning blue loading ball.
We put the quad-core CPU to the test by transcoding a 5-minute-and-5-second 640 x 480 video clip from MPEG-4 to AVI using Handbrake. The conversion time took a speedy 3 minutes and 41 seconds, which rose to 6:22 when we compressed a 4.97GB folder of mixed media in the background using jZip. Those times were comparable to the $1,799 Gateway P-7808u FX, which took 3:36 and 5:54, respectively, on those same tasks. The $1,399 Gateway P-7807u FX, which costs half as much as the W90, took about twice as long on both tests.
To determine if the extra muscle provided by Intel’s quad-core processor could help crunch data faster, we downloaded and installed Oxelon Media Converter v1.1, which is optimized for quad-core CPU. Transcoding the same video clip took a lightning-fast 1 minute and 12 seconds using Oxelon, which lengthened to just 1:51 while compressing the 4.97GB folder. In short, we were able to simultaneously convert and transcode the file using the quad-core–enabled Oxelon Media Converter faster than when we simply transcoded the file using Handbrake. Trancoding a 2:55 720p Diablo 3 trailer from AVI to MPEG-4 took just 1 minute and 4 seconds, 1:41 with the compression processing in the background.
Excellent Graphics Performance
The W90’s graphics performance was outstanding. The twin ATI Mobility Radeon HD4870 GPUs (with 512MB of RAM each) notched a score of 11,310 in 3DMark06, more than double that of the typical desktop replacement, and bested the Toshiba Qosmio X305 by nearly 1,700 points. Its 3DMark Vantage (which measures DirectX 10 performance) score of 8,339 led all other machines and was nearly double the category average (4,203).
As we expected, the W90 offered an exceptional gaming experience. Far Cry 2 raced along at 70.9 fps on autodetect (1024 x 768), which dropped to a still-playable 54.7 fps with the resolution set to 1920 x 1080 and all the settings bumped up to maximum. These scores were in the same ballpark as the Gateway P-7808u FX (85 fps at 1024 x 768, 53 fps at 1440 x 900) and Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725 (80.9 fps at 1024 x 768, 41.7 fps at 1680 x 1050), but the W90’s scores are more impressive given its higer-res panel. Indeed, we enjoyed the fine detail of our characters fatigues and weaponry, and the game moved along briskly without any hint of slowdown when we attacked the enemy.
Hard Drive Performance
The dual 7,200-rpm, 320GB Seagate Momentus hard drives booted the W90 in 52 seconds, which was 19 seconds faster than the average desktop replacement. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, we copied our 4.97GB folder of multimedia files in 3 minutes and 19 seconds—a rate of 25.5 MBps. That’s 3.5 MBps faster that the typical desktop replacement hard drive, and 6.9 MBps swifter than the Toshiba Qosmio’s hard drive (and 12 MBps faster than its 64GB SSD).
Weak Battery Life, Average Wi-Fi Strength
Between the dual graphics cards and quad-core engine, the W90 takes a lot of energy to power, so it was no shock that we saw subpar endurance. Even though it sports a 12-cell battery, the W90 lasted just 1 hour and 23 minutes unplugged—far shorter than the 3-hour desktop replacement average. Still, we can’t imagine that this machine will be used away from an outlet very often.
The W90’s wireless strength was on a par with other desktop replacements, pushing data along at 18.7 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 16.3 Mbps at 50 feet. We successfully streamed a Legend of the Seeker HD episode at full-screen, seeing only occasional buffering.
Software and Insurance
Preinstalled on the W90 is a slew of ASUS’ utilities (including Express Gate instant-on and ASUS SmartLogon facial recognition software, which let us sign into the system with our faces), CyberLink’s DVD suite, Lifeframe (which lets you add lots of fun effects when using the webcam), LightScribe (for etching images onto discs), Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (60-day trial), and Norton Internet Security 2009 (60-day trial). ASUS covers the notebook with a very nice a two-year warranty (plus one-year of accidental damage) and 24/7 tech support.
ASUS only offers the W90 in the configuration we reviewed.
Priced $200 cheaper than the Toshiba Qosmio X305, the ASUS W90Vp-A1 one-ups its rival by offering better performance, a full HD display, Blu-ray, and a faster hard drive. Gamers and multimedia mavens alike will be hard-pressed to find another system that deftly combines robust sound, graphics muscle, quad-core processing, and high-end design. If you can swing the price tag of $2,499, the W90 is a stellar entertainment machine.