Asus W90 review

6 May 2009

Expensive, bulky and heavy, but this beast of a laptop is the fastest gaming machine we've ever seen.

Price when reviewed: 
2,256(£2,399 inc VAT)
5

You wouldn't know it to look at, but the Asus W90 is one of the most explosive laptops we've ever seen: beneath the understated brushed aluminium chassis lurks the first laptop in the world to deploy a pair of ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4870 graphics chips in CrossFireX.

Accordingly, the W90 achieved the fastest gaming results we've ever seen from a notebook. Our low and medium-quality benchmarks (1,024 x768 and 1,280 x 1,024) were decimated at 77fps and 48fps respectively, and the Asus' score of 37fps in the high-quality Crysis test is the best we've ever seen from any laptop.

The GPUs' adept handling of complex graphics is further demonstrated at 1,600 x 1,200 with the settings turned right up; in our most demanding graphics benchmark - a test that cripples many desktop PCs - the W90 managed a playable 30fps.

The Asus doesn't want for 2D power, either: the 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo Mobile T9600 raced to a score of 1.38 in our benchmarks, a score that few other laptops can match.

It's worth bearing in mind that the finished version of the W90 will have a slightly slower 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo T9550 processor instead, but we can't see this change having a huge effect on performance.

Also worth noting is the motherboard chipset. While most current-generation laptops come with Intel's popular PM45 Express chipset, Asus has opted for something a little different. Instead of a mobile part, the W90's motherboard boasts Intel's X38 desktop chipset.

Asus has also broken ground with the memory, including 6GB of DDR2 RAM in three SO-DIMM slots, which is the most we've seen in any laptop.

Along with twin 320GB hard disks and draft-n wireless, as well as an HDMI output, eSATA and FireWire, most of the entertainment bases are covered. Only the lack of a TV tuner prevents it from completing a clean sweep.

All this power, understandably, doesn't come cheap in terms of bulk and weight: the record-breaking hardware is encased in a huge 6kg chassis that dwarfs even the giant Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds.

It's clearly not designed to be carried around in a shoulder bag - even lugging this machine from the desk to the boot of your car is going to take some effort.

It does at least look okay and build quality is good too. Commendably Asus has eschewed bright lights and tacky plastic, opting instead for discreet, brushed aluminium with flashing LEDs kept to a minimum. The keyboard and trackpad feel solid and dependable, and able to withstand extended periods of gaming.

Five Altec Lansing speakers are dotted around the case, with a subwoofer pumping out rich, full bass to compliment the accurate, snappy treble. And the screen offers comparable quality.

The native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 is enough to fully exploit high definition media, and while our review sample only came with a DVD writer we're assured the finished product will boast an integrated Blu-ray drive.

Battery life isn't much - a mere 77 minutes in the light use test - but as mentioned above, this Asus is no frequent flyer. The W90 is, however, one of the quickest and best-looking gaming notebooks around, and well worth a look for that alone.

It doesn't come cheap, of course, but for desktop-rivalling performance nothing else comes close.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,962
Price inc VAT £2,256
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 5
Performance 6

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 443 x 328 x 57mm (WDH)
Weight 6.100kg
Travelling weight 7.2kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T9600
Motherboard chipset Intel X38
RAM capacity 6.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 3

Screen and video

Screen size 18.4in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,080
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Graphics chipset 2 x ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4870
Graphics card RAM 1.00GB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 640GB
Hard disk usable capacity 594GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Seagate Momentus 5400.5
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical drive Samsung TS-L633A
Battery capacity 8,800mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem yes
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 1
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 4
FireWire ports 1
eSATA ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Front, above keyboard, bottom
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM yes
Fingerprint reader yes
Smartcard reader no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 77
Battery life, heavy use 66
Overall application benchmark score 1.59
Office application benchmark score 1.59
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.64
Encoding application benchmark score 1.49
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.65
3D performance (crysis) low settings 48fps
3D performance setting Medium

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium
OS family Windows Vista