|As of late, much of the spotlight on Asus products has focused on the company's diminutive Eee PC netbook line. With a near constant stream of new models to fit nearly any possible set of requirements, it's easy to see why the Eee brand has become Asus' most recognizable. That said, the company's mobile product offerings are definitely about more than just 8- to 10-inch machines, and that's clearly evidenced by the Asus-branded rig that we're looking at today, the W90Vp.
The W90Vp pulls no punches, makes no excuses, apologies or attempts whatsoever to be something it's not. We've always heard that judging a book by its cover (or a notebook by its lid) was a bad idea, but we can tell you right now -- the W90Vp is exactly what you think it is. Big, beastly, brawny and not for the weak of heart.
The Asus W90Vp
Quite frankly, it's almost laughable that this computer can be considered a "notebook." All it takes it one moment with it on your lap, and you too will have a tough time classifying it as such. Asus has absolutely thrown caution to the wind and forged ahead with a machine that will only appeal to a niche of gamers and enthusiasts, but we definitely appreciate that someone's still willing to do it. With all the focus these days being put on bargain basement machines that can fit in oversized cargo pockets, it's a breath of fresh air to see something as completely over-the-top as the W90Vp. Not that "ridiculous" is a bad thing -- don't get us wrong -- but there's hardly a better way to describe a laptop that's over 2.25" thick at places, 17.7" from end to end and around 12 pounds with the battery installed.
On one hand, it's easy to say that Asus made no compromises here. It didn't bother scaling back the processor or GPU in order to shove everything into a slimmer case. Nor did it replace the twin HDD setup with an SSD setup to save space and weight. Neither did they leave off the numerical keypad. Heck, they even threw in a Blu-ray drive, which seems pretty smart given that the 18.4" Full HD display just might be larger than your bedroom television. On the other hand, though, we can't ignore that Asus did in fact compromise in some areas. With an absolutely gigantic surface to work with, it placed a trackpad that's smaller than that found on the 13" MacBook Air. Asus could have fit a miniature Wacom tablet on this thing, yet it chose to take the path of least resistance.
The Asus W90Vp Keyboard and Touchpad
Similar curious decisions are splattered about, making the W90Vp a bona fide Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If you're interested in seeing exactly what corners were cut, what envelopes were pushed and what barriers were broken down, follow us through the rest of this evaluations as we break the intricacies down on one of the world's largest notebooks.
|We needn't tell you, but Asus' W90Vp falls clearly and unquestionably in the "desktop replacement" realm. Everything about this machine screams performance, and unless you're seriously attempting to replicate a desktop experience with a laptop that's just marginally more portable, you should probably take your eyes (and dollars) elsewhere. Reading down the specifications list, you'd hardly know that you were looking at the innards of a notebook -- in fact, we've seen oodles of mid-range gaming desktops with far lower spec'd build sheets. Try to keep that in mind as you soak in all of the technology Asus has managed to stuff into (an admittedly gigantic) laptop enclosure.
|Design & Build Quality|
|Although Asus has produced a few variants of the W90, which was originally unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, the W90Vp is definitely one of our favorite flavors. That said, the design and build quality of this one is no different than other iterations you may have seen. For those completely new to the series, let us start with this: the machine is built like a tank. From the moment the delivery man whirls away from your doorstep, you'll know you're in for something big. We've seen kitchen appliances arrive in boxes half the size of the W90Vp's.
The machine actually ships inside of a gargantuan backpack. The pack itself is really nice. We'll be the first to tell you that said backpack will soon become a must-have accessory of yours, as carrying this thing around via any other method is just asking for trouble. As we've mentioned, this rig is nearly a dozen pounds with the also-large 12-cell battery installed. 12 pounds spread over 17" is pretty awkward, and we have to admit that lugging the W90Vp around wasn't very enjoyable. Granted, most who buy this thing won't even pick it up but once or twice a week, but if you're the frail type, you'll definitely find yourself grumbling over the sheer size and heft of this machine.
That said, we're actually thrilled that Asus decided to go big on the chassis. There's plenty of room for ventilation on the sides and bottom, and even though the fans remain on pretty much all of the time, you really have to stress the machine (say, with a crowded online deathmatch at full resolution) in order for it to become noticeably loud.
Being as frank as we can, the W90Vp is not the most attractive looking machine though. Sure, the solid colored lid is classy enough, but the oddly shaped rear speakers, the glossy keyboard bezel and the fake leather and chrome accents just don't do it for us. As we mentioned earlier, the two-face syndrome strikes again here; it seems that Asus attempted to tone down some aspects while primping others, and you're left with a machine that looks like a prop from a 90s-era science fiction movie. Of course, it still looks better than Toshiba's vivacious Qosmio X305-Q725, but it just felt a little too overdone to us once the lid was popped open.
Aside from pure aesthetics, however, we were generally pleased with every other design aspect (save for one big exception, which we'll touch on momentarily). The inclusion of HDMI and VGA was appreciated, and Asus found a way to include multiple USB ports (four in total), a multi-format card reader, a Blu-ray optical drive, ExpressCard, eSATA, FireWire (4-pin Mini socket), Wi-Fi/Bluetooth toggle switch, Kensington lock socket and audio in/out connectors around the sides. Oh, and there's also a "5.1-channel" audio system, too.
Our other big gripes are related to the keyboard and trackpad. For starters, Asus found a way to include copious amounts of blue LED lighting all around the keys. There's a touch-sensitive brightness panel, volume pad, music controls, overclock hotkey, text magnifier, mute button, webcam activactor and screen toggle switch -- all of which light up. The keyboard itself, however, does not. A gaming notebook, that will undoubtedly get used in many badly lit gaming environment, with no backlit keyboard? It just didn't seem right with all of the other LED lighting in place. They keys themselves are perfectly average. We were not pleased with the odd feeling key texture, but outside of the oddly positioned arrow keys -- which curiously straddle the actual keyboard and the needlessly squashed numerical pad -- we didn't suffer from too many typographical errors or other typing frustrations.
And then, there's the trackpad. Measuring just 3.75" wide by 2.5" tall, the actual tracking surface is tiny given the expanse of open space here. Beyond that, it's easily one of the weakest tracking surfaces we've ever used. We continually had to press harder than usual to get it to recognize inputs, and the fact that it doesn't support multi-touch gestures at all -- something even the sub-$400 Eee PC 1000HE can do -- is depressing. The only way to scroll up and down (forget about horizontally) is to take your index finger to the far right and hope you manage to strike it just so in order to activate the vertical scrolling option. And even when you do hit it, it's rarely successful in actually navigating in the manner which you want it to. Far too often we conceded and just used the up/down arrows to scroll through email threads; on a machine this expensive and this loaded with features, we can't comprehend how the trackpad was this badly neglected. Needless to say, the left/right click buttons are also among the worst we've ever used. There's next to no travel whatsoever, they're coated in a needlessly slippery gloss and separated by a nearly half-inch long fingerprint reader. Yet again, we have to wonder what Asus engineers were thinking while designing this trackpad. You literally have 17" of edge-to-edge space to work with, yet there are more square inches of stickers on the palm rests than usable equipment. The only saving grace is that with a desktop replacement, we're hoping that you'll be using an external mouse and keyboard more often than not -- but still, there's no excusing the design choices here.
Finally, we can't help but mention that the touch-sensitive buttons -- like most we've seen elsewhere -- were poorly implemented. On countless occasions we were launched into Asus' homegrown media hub by accidentally brushing over the media button, and it was only on rare occasions that we could actually get the touch-sensitive volume slider to actually do what we wanted it to do. Most times, the volume level just hopped around at random rather than escalating or deescalating with any semblance of logic. The overclocking hotkey -- which can toggle "Standard," "Power Saving" and "Overclocked" modes -- took multiple seconds to activate, often making us wonder if we hadn't actually hit it or if we brushed it one too many times. At the end of the day, you'll likely stick with hard macros and changing options via the Control Panel.
|Under the Hood and In The Box|
|As our tour around the W90Vp's expansive exterior begins, you'll notice the awkwardly designed rear speakers. Sure, they're exceptionally large and potent for a notebook, but we had to do a double take to make sure nothing was bent out of shape during shipping.
Here on the left side panel, you'll find the single Kensington lock slot, one USB 2.0 socket, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 3.5mm line-in port, and a number of exhaust tunnels accented in chrome.
Up front, you'll find left/right speakers (accented in chrome) along with a dedicated center channel driver.
Here on the right is where you'll find the bulk of the connectivity options. There's the 2x Blu-ray reader, wireless on/off toggle switch (which controls both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios) mini-FireWire (1394), eSATA and there more USB 2.0 ports.
Looping around to the the rear, you'll find another oddly shaped speaker, a middle-mounted exhaust port, a 56k modem jack, RJ-45 Ethernet port, VGA output, HDMI output and a AC power input.
Underneath, you'll find the comparatively huge 12-cell battery (which is easily removed but not-so-easily slotted in), a "subwoofer" that we never once noticed making a difference in movies or music, a few vents, a number of rubber bumpers to give this baby plenty of breathing room while parked and a few access panels for easily reaching the hard drive and RAM slots.
If you're wondering what just under $2,500 buys you outside of the machine itself, here's a list of what all is included in terms of accessories.
|The W90Vp, as expected, comes loaded with Windows Vista Home Premium. Unfortunately, that's not all it comes loaded with. The amount of bloatware packed onto this machine right from the factory is disappointing, albeit not at all shocking. You'll definitely spend your first hour of so of ownership attempting to stop that persistent Norton Trial pop-up from marring your view, and you'll spend the next hour paring down the apps in your task bar from too-many-to-count to only-what's-necessary. Look, we know there's a Core 2 Quad in here, but we're not trying to waste any cycles on needless junk running in the background.
After we had things tidied up to our liking, we found the overall experience to be top notch. Applications were responsive, loading times either met or exceeded our expectations and gaming titles were a real joy to play. Out of our suite of test titles, only Crysis couldn't be played at full 1080p with all settings maxed. Seriously. We promise to touch more on that in the coming pages, but for now we'll focus on the multimedia end of things. With a 2.0GHz Core 2 Quad Q9000 under the hood, not to mention 6GB of DDR2-800 memory and twin ATI Radeon HD 4870 GPUs in a CrossFireX configuration, it's not shocking at all that both Paint and Calculator performed admirably. All kidding aside, you can rest assured that this machine has everything it takes to show the resource-intensive Windows Vista exactly who's boss, and in common, everyday type tasks, the W90Vp simply screamed.
You may be wondering why we waited to mention the expansive 18.4" 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) LCD panel until now, but honestly, it's so good we just had to roll it into the overall experience. Realistically, the screen on this beast makes the user experience infinitely better. It's one of the brightest, most vivid LCD panels we've ever spotted on a notebook. Beyond that, it has almost unbelievable viewing angles. We looked on from the side (as in, directly viewing from the side) and could see the desktop perfectly clear. No fading, no weird coloration. The same was true when looking on from extremes at the top and bottom. Asus really did a bang-up job with the LCD, though we will say the glossy coating grated our nerves at times. Whenever this screen is viewed in low light, it's a winner; whenever it's viewed in direct sunlight, well, not so much. Reflections were almost annoying at times, and we had to force ourselves to look beyond them on countless occasions. We know -- it's hard to find a matte/anti-gloss screen on a gaming notebook these days, but we can dream, right?
It's worth restating that Asus has done a phenomenal job with the noise and cooling here. Never were the fans obnoxiously loud, and never did we find ourselves annoyed by noises emanating from the internal hard drives (yeah, drives, as in plural -- this baby's got dual 320GB HDDs, you know). Also of note, the mindlessly easy overclocking option was a fantastic addition. Asus puts the power in the owners' hands, giving them the ability to add up to 17% more power with the press of a button, and as you'll see in the benchmarks to come, this factory-loaded overclocking tool wasn't just a gimmick.
|Test Setup & 3DMark06 Results|
To give you better feel for how the W90Vp’s performance measures up, we’ll compare it to Dell’s XPS M1730 and Asus’ C90S. We’ll also compare this 18.4" beast to two desktop systems to give you an idea for how much power you can expect while on the go. Here’s a closer look at each of our comparison systems:
To begin our benchmark testing, we’ll measure CPU performance using Futuremark 3DMark06's CPU performance module. 3DMark06's test is useful for comparing performance between similarly equipped systems. This multi-threaded, "gaming related" DirectX metric consists of different 3D scenes that are generated with software and hardware GPU renderers, which is also dependant on the host CPU's performance. In these tests, calculations that are normally reserved for a 3D accelerator are sent to the central processor. 3DMark06's GPU rendering tests utilize a mix of SM2.0, SM3.0, and HDR techniques and effects.
Needless to say, the W90Vp obliterated comparable machines, many of which are rather potent in their own rights. Of note, the W90Vp just barely bested the recently released Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725, but considering that said machine also houses the very same CPU as the W90Vp (Intel's Core 2 Quad Q9000 at 2.0GHz), we're not shocked by the tiny gap (2978 on the W90Vp; 2946 on the Toshiba).
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|Futuremark PCMark Vantage|
|Our next round of benchmarks involves the complete Futuremark PCMark Vantage test suite. The PCMark Suite is a collection of single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics, and HDD test sets. This suite focuses on Windows Vista application tests and is designed to represent a subset of Windows Vista consumer usage scenarios.
As we stated early on, Asus' W90Vp is a mixed bag, evidenced yet again by its PCMark Vantage scores (which were captured while in "Overclocked" mode). While it ran circles around more dated machines, the recently recently Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q275 managed to beat it in a few areas. Not every area, mind you, but some. We suspect the omission of an SSD drive hurt it in quite a few areas on this test; twin 7200RPM drives are nice if you need the space, but they certainly aren't the fastest in the world.
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Recognizing that the W90Vp is definitely targeted towards gamers, our benchmarking wouldn’t be complete without a few scores from some of today’s popular games. On the next few pages, we'll focus on a few gaming specific benchmarks, starting with the remaining 3DMark06 modules.
No shock here -- the W90Vp and its twin 512MB GDDR3 ATI Radeon HD 4870s dominated this GPU-intensive test.
The competing machines managed to hold pretty closed here, but the more advanced Shader Model 3.0 test below is even more telling.
Another runaway victory for the CrossFireX-enabled W90Vp. For another perspective on how the machine stacks up against the rest, we’ll look at a few real-world gaming tests next.
|Gaming Performance (continued)|
|Considering that Toshiba's Qosmio X305-Q725 just recently came out -- and with the very same CPU, to boot -- we pit it up against the W90Vp in a duo of real-world gaming tests. We won't spoil too much just yet, but those hoping for good things here from Asus' latest should go ahead and get their hopes up.
Even the mighty W90Vp and its twin GPUs couldn't stand the pressure of Crysis. Sure, it was "playable," but Crysis still taxed the system mightily. That said, we can't think of too many other machines that put up as good a fight as this bad boy.
Looking forward to playing Left For Dead on your incoming W90Vp? Hope you're interested in silky smooth gameplay with every setting maxed, 'cause that's exactly what you'll get.
|Despite the fact that Asus' W90Vp comes with a 12-cell battery, that battery is having to power a desktop processor in what amounts to a desktop chipset, in addition to a pair of GPUs. In other words, you can't possibly expect this thing to last long untethered from the wall. With both wireless radios (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) flipped on, we were able to squeeze out 63 minutes before it forced itself into hibernation. If you throw a Blu-ray Disc in there, expect to see that number drop by a few minutes; if you turn the brightness down to its minimum level and kill the wireless radios, you might be able to hit the 1.5 hour mark.
Still, we'd say right around an hour is average for a machine of this type, and if you think you'd frequently be using your laptop for over an hour at a time away an AC outlet, the W90Vp isn't for you. As we stated earlier, Asus never intended for this machine to be used for any length of time without being plugged in, and honestly, we were actually impressed that it lasted as long as it did given the sheer size and hardware within. In fact, it bested Toshiba's Qosmio X305-Q725 by around 16 minutes, or in more favorable terms, just over 25%.
If you're truly planning to use this as a desktop replacement, the one hour battery life won't be an issue. It's plenty to shift your seat at a LAN party or take it from one floor to another in an apartment. It probably won't do you much good as an airplane companion, but then again, you'd need a first class seat just to open this thing up on board.
|Final Impressions and Conclusion|
All in all, Asus' W90Vp is a unique, powerful notebook that serves a certain niche. With two 320GB hard drives, a Core 2 Quad Q9000 CPU, built upon a desktop X38 chipset with a Blu-ray optical drive to boot, you'd never know this thing was a laptop based on specifications alone. As the benchmarks have shown, this machine really knows how to scream through all but the most extreme of tasks. As a desktop replacement, it serves its positioning well. In most situations, it really can act as a direct desktop replacement, and by a small margin, it's more portable than your average tower -- imagine that.
The only thing that would make this notebook more attractive in terms of sheer performance would be an SSD in place of the HDD as the primary drive. Load times on intense gaming titles were a wee bit sluggish at times, but other than that, most everything else was satisfactorily snappy. We've already voiced our dissatisfaction with the keyboard, touch sensitive buttons and trackpad, that said, everything else in this area is average or better. We're particularly fond of the Blu-ray drive, HDMI output, 5.1-channel sound system which sounds remarkable by the way, save for the "subwoofer" that doesn't seem to do much -- and we really liked its absolutely beautiful LCD.
Overall, we'd have to recommend the W90Vp if you're in the market for a beast of a desktop replacement. For everyone else, we'd recommend thinking twice before you buy in. There's no re-purposing this thing. It's a brawny gaming rig with practically no real portability factor, so be darn sure that's what you're after before taking the plunge.