Design & Build Quality
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.