W90 Review, by Zack Stern, PC World May 5, 2009
CPU: Core 2 Duo T9600; CPU speed: 2800MHz; Display size: 18.4 inches; Hard drive size: 320GB; WorldBench 6 rating: Good
Good game performance
Crisp, sizable, 18.4-inch screen
Screen glare due to glossy panel
Bottom Line: While high-res gaming frame-rates on the Asus W90VP boom, moderate overall performance and weak sound disappoint.
I'm not sure whether "desktop replacement" accurately describes the heft of the Asus W90VP, but I certainly agree with the included warning not to use it on a lap. Slightly more "monster" than "monstrosity," this luggable goes where it wants with a 16.1-pound body and 17.5-inch-wide frame. But that size--which is big even for a power laptop--allows for desktop-like gaming power, even though other features disappoint.
Its specs match or exceed those of a typical full-size desktop PC. You get a 1920-by-1080-pixel, 18.4-inch screen; dual ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics processors; a single 320GB hard drive plus a free bay for another; 6GB RAM; and an overclockable, 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 CPU.
The W90VP felt snappy in every application I tried. Web browsers, productivity software, and other basics posed no threat. The included Bluetooth mouse felt better than the trackpad, although that pointing device worked well too. The springy full-size keyboard includes a number pad, as expected. Aside from the fact that its design, with its large wrist rest, forces you to reach forward to type, this system could easily replace a desktop for typical applications.
It also seemed nimble in running media applications and games. Compared with similar desktop replacements, the W90VP fared reasonably well in WorldBench 6, notching a score of 105 (as high as the HP HDX18). It lagged in Photoshop and ran about average in 3D Studio Max tests, but it still had enough power for typical use. What really stood out, though, was how well it handled games. Enemy Territory Quake Wars sprinted along at 88 frames per second--performance that was toward the head of the pack. In Unreal Tournament III, its 80-fps score was a little closer to average. More-recent games, including Crysis Warhead, Left 4 Dead, and Mirror's Edge, worked well at the W90VP's full 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution, with an always-smooth frame rate. Not too shabby considering that the Eurocomm D901C Phantom-X, a monster machine, earned a mark of 133 in WorldBench 6 and costs over twice as much.
On our standard game benchmarks, the W90VP maintained its tremendous frame rates at high resolutions better than competitors did, likely thanks to its two Radeon HD 4870 chips, each with 512MB VRAM. But if you want even more power, a simple software overclocking pane increases the CPU's clock speed by up to 15 percent. All of these results combined put the W90VP among other quick PCs overall, desktop or portable.
Windows Vista Ultimate seemed quick, although it still took about 82 seconds to boot up and launch Firefox. If that launch time seems long, you could start the limited Express Gate quick-boot environment. When I tried it, the system reached its first splash screen in only 15 seconds, and I got to the Flash-enabled browser in about 33 seconds to watch a Hulu video. You can also listen to MP3s, chat on standard instant-message protocols, browse photos, and make Skype calls; but overall, this narrow environment seems more suited to a netbook than to a desktop replacement that emphasizes tons of power.
If you're considering purchasing such a giant (17.5-by-13.2-by-2.5-inch) desktop replacement, the battery life might be an afterthought to you. Apparently it was an afterthought to Asus, too: When unplugged from its massive power supply, the W90VP lasted only 70 to 80 minutes, and that's factoring in the power-saving mode. Many competing laptops lasted twice as long in tests.
At least the understated--and perhaps a little bland--design has room for the standard assortment of inputs and outputs. The W90VP even has e-SATA, IEEE 1394, and HDMI, more desktop-style fare. Aside from that, it packs four USB ports, a microphone jack, a combination headphone and S/PDIF output, a VGA port, an ExpressCard slot, a fingerprint scanner, and a multiformat flash card reader for Memory Stick, MultiMediaCard, and SD Card. The Webcam and microphone can make quick recordings. Gigabit ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth round out the communications and wireless connections. The system even has a modem jack, too--hey, when you're using a machine this massive, why not have everything?
Much of the W90VP seems at or above average, but in multimedia capabilities it falls below competitors. About a dozen capacitive touch buttons let you immediately change the volume, control music, and jump to applications no matter what else you're doing. (One dedicated button even swaps between standard and overclocking modes.) However, you can't customize the media buttons to use programs other than the included Asus media-player app. So, for example, while the volume setting adjusts the global sound level, the play buttons won't control Windows Media Center, Windows Media Player, or iTunes.
The 18.4-inch screen begs for wide-screen movies and TV shows, but the W90VP only partially delivers. Though the screen shows bold colors and good contrast, it suffers under the same curse as other glossy laptop displays do: irritating glare. Add to that the sad fact that the W90VP lacks a Blu-ray drive--come on, the screen is 1080p already!
And for a portable system that claims to be a multimedia magician, the 5.1 surround speakers are all quantity, not quality. I'd rather have had a high-quality stereo set than this lackluster array. During movie playback, only the center channel seemed distinct; since the speakers don't surround the listener, they pretty much all originate from the same point. The subwoofer made only a minimal difference in tone. Worse, sharp sounds frequently caused an annoying buzz, resonating in the case. Music could get loud, too, but it always sounded thin at best and shrill at worst. Though the W90VP is a competent system overall, Asus's subpar media choices here seem like putting regular tires on a monster truck.
The Asus W90VP matches the typical specs and performance scores of rivals, especially when powering through high-res games with its dual GPUs. Simple, software overclocking makes it a good fit for gamers. But it lacks the jaw-dropping overall performance and polish of other desktop replacements. Despite its terrific frame rates, its weak media features narrow this desktop replacement's appeal.
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