ASUS W90 is designed for games, people say it could be the best gaming notebook, that’s quite true. ASUS W90 is a 18.4-inch laptop with two ATI Radeon Mobility 4870 graphics cards connected in CrossFire, an Intel T9600 processor, 6GB of DDR2 memory. With such high configurations, it can achieve upwards of 15,000 points in 3DMark06 and manage to fluidly play Crysis at 1920×1080 resolution. No wonder it is the best gaming laptop.
- Stylish design for a gaming laptop
- Super-fast graphics performance
- Huge 6GB of memory
- Massive screen
- Hard to carry, unless you’re on steroids
- Blu-ray software didn’t work for us
- 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)
- ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4870 X2 with 1GB GDDR3 video memory
- 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
- Harmon/Kardon stereo speakers
- 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
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.
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.
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 and Benchmarks
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.
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.
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.
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.