Summary: With two Mobility Radeon 4870 GPUs, dual 7200 RPM hard drives, an 18.4" 1080p display, and 2.8GHz Core 2 CPU, the ASUS W90Pv packs more horsepower than most desktop PCs. Remarkably of all though the system retails for $2199-$2499 depending on the SKU. Is this really the ultimate gaming notebook? Find out in today's review!
Take a close look at the image above. Notice the desktop PC and speakers in the laptop's reflection? This picture summarizes our feelings on the ASUS W90Vp laptop perfectly. It's literally a desktop PC in disguise posing as a laptop.
The W90Vp isnít just an average desktop PC either. The system sports serious gaming PC credentials. For instance, the notebook is equipped with dual ATI Mobility Radeon 4870 GPUs running in CrossFire mode. Packing 800 stream processors and 512MB of VRAM, the Mobility Radeon 4870 is just about as good as it gets right now when it comes to mobile graphics. Equipping the notebook with two of these GPUs is simply an extraordinary amount of graphics horsepower for a notebook PC Ė most desktop gaming rigs donít have this kind of power on tap.
But it doesnít stop there. Running alongside the dual GPUs are dual hard drives. ASUS ships the system with two 160GB 7200 RPM hard drives from Seagate striped together in a RAID 0 array, Core 2 Duo T9600 CPU mounted on a motherboard based on Intelís X38 chipset, 6GB of DDR2-800 memory, 5.1 Dolby-certified speakers, and finally, one of the most gorgeous laptop displays weíve ever seen, an 18.4Ē 1920x1080 display backed by ASUSí Zero Bright dot display policy which guarantees that the display will ship free of dead pixels or ASUS will replace it free of charge within 30 days of purchase.
Like we said, this system packs more power than most gaming desktops.
It shows too. The ASUS W90Vp is one of the largest laptops weíve laid our eyes on. Measuring 17.5ĒW x 12.9ĒL x 2.08ĒH and weighing in at 12.5 lbs with battery, calling it a ďlaptopĒ is a bit of a oxymoron as the system is so large you probably wouldnít want to run it on your lap for long periods of time. ďPortable gaming desktopĒ is a more fitting description of what ASUS is providing here.
Have a look at the rest of the systemís specs:
Whatís in a name?
As anyone whoís followed ASUSí notebook line will tell you, traditionally ASUSí gaming notebooks that have fallen under the Republic of Gamers line have been designated with a ďGĒ (presumably for gamer) followed by the model number. ASUS began this with the launch of their G1 and G2 notebooks back in 2006 and have continued this tradition with their latest G50 and G70 series notebooks. ASUSí W90 line have then traditionally focused on the multimedia crowd looking for a high-end notebook for watching movies.
Mobility Radeon graphics
ASUS ships the W90Vp with one of the most brilliant laptop displays weíve ever seen. Not only is it brighter than the displays that ship with most notebooks, colors are vibrant with accurate representation; blacks are deep and dark while on the other end of the spectrum, whites are nice and bright.
Weíve got to admit, weíre a little late in getting this review up. We received the W90 notebook on March 30th, however, GPU launches in April from ATI and NVIDIA prevented us from spending much time with the system until May. In that time ASUS has since replaced the notebook SKU weíre reviewing with a newer SKU sporting a quad-core CPU (Intelís Core 2 Quad Q9000) and Blu-ray drive for $2499. Our particular SKU shipped with a dual-core Core 2 Duo T9600 and DVD drive for $2199.
We touched on this topic on the first page of this review, but in case you missed it, the W90Vp isnít your traditional Republic of Gamers design. Gone are features like the gaming LEDs and styling found on the ASUS G50 and G70 series of notebooks.
This isnít a new design direction for ASUS. Rather the notebook has been adapted from ASUS W90 series of multimedia notebooks, which are more understated designs focused on the media buff who wants to watch movies on the go with his laptop.
The system sports a brushed aluminum lid emblazoned with the ASUS logo in the center. The lid is latch-less, so you donít have to press a button to open it. The latches securely hold the lid in place, but we wouldnít classify them as firm: the lid quivers back and forth when the system is pushed and pulled.
Open the lid and youíll find an edge-to-edge display, a first for ASUS. Here youíll also see that the palm rest and the rest of the system base are built from black brushed aluminum.
This gives the system a higher quality look and feel (and also helps to reduce weight), although as a result the system is prone to collecting smudges and fingerprints. For added flair, ASUS even flanks the power and Express Gate buttons with fake leather (leatherette?). Fake leather on a gaming notebook? Thatís definitely a first! This is another obvious sign of the notebookís original intended market -- multimedia-focused consumers.
As a high-end notebook, the system is equipped with many of the features youíd expect to find on a laptop of this caliber. Touch-sensitive buttons are provided above the keyboard for turning on the webcam, muting sound, adjusting brightness, magnification, disabling the touchpad and switching power modes (standard, power saving, and overclocked). The buttons are lit up with blue LEDs, as are the power and Express Gate buttons.
Here you can also spot two of the systemís six Altec Lansing speakers, weíll be discussing these gems in more depth a little later.
To the left of the keyboard ASUS provides additional touch-sensitive buttons for media playback (play/pause, fast-forward, rewind, etc) as well as volume control.
The system itself feels likes itís been built for taking punishment. The phrase ďbuilt like a tankĒ definitely comes to mind. This is probably due in part to the systemís hefty weight, but the chassis itself does feel like it has been designed for durability. Thereís very little keyboard flex, and all the hinges feel solid.
ASUS outfits the W90Vp with a generous number of ports. On the right side of the system ASUS includes three USB ports, an eSATA port, IEEE-1394 Firewire, an 8-in-1 memory card reader, Express Card slot, and an on/off switch for the Bluetooth/WiFi. Here youíll also find the systemís optical drive. On the left side of the system ASUS includes an additional USB port, headphone and microphone jacks, and a Kensington lock.
ASUS equips the W90Vp with a full-size keyboard with numpad. Typing aficionados used to the clicky feel of old school keyboards will like the W90Vp keyboard. Keys provide nice tactile feedback and arenít mushy like many laptop keyboards. The feel isnít as clicky as a midrange desktop keyboard, but definitely provides more click-feel than other notebooks.
Unfortunately, the touchpad ASUS uses with the W90Vp isnít quite as good. The left and right buttons are tighter than a drum, and have very little travel. In fact itís so bad they almost feel like an extension of the chassis itself, rather than functional buttons. When it comes to tactile feedback, these are among the worst left and right mouse buttons weíve seen on a notebook, particularly one of this price range. In addition, to their glossy nature, the notebookís buttons attract fingerprints easily.
The touchpad itself lacks support for multitouch gestures, and the button for scrolling takes practice to get it right.
Fortunately as a desktop replacement the W90Vp will most often be paired with an external USB mouse, otherwise the trackpad would be a bigger issue.
One advantage of using such a large chassis for the W90Vp is that its larger size helps to improve airflow inside the system. All too often weíve seen notebooks and HTPCs with small chassisí have to overcompensate for the lack of airflow by spinning the fans faster in order to keep the system components cool.
Three cooling fans provide the system with cool air. Each fan is responsible for cooling the systemís main hotspots, namely the GPUs and the CPU, with hot air exhausting out the vents located at the back of the chassis.
The fans run extremely quiet while the system is running at the Windows desktop. Our Extech sound level meter only goes down to 40 decibels, and even with the meter resting on the center of the W90Vpís keyboard we couldnít register a sound reading. We wouldnít be surprised if the system was running below 30 dB while running apps at the Windows desktop. In fact, the W90Vp was so quiet, even under load we couldnít get a reading, the system just whispered along quietly while running the Crysis GPU benchmark looped. Only when the system was overclocked did we finally register a reading: 44.8dB.
Audio duties are handled by a 5.1 speaker set from Altec Lansing. Two of the speakers are located above the keyboard, just above the numpad and escape key. These are the left and right surround channels when listening to movies and other 5.1 content. As such, they arenít quite as powerful as the mains, so youíll want to make sure theyíre configured properly in the Realtek HD audio manager control panel.
The main channels are located on the front edge of the system and are decked out with what ASUS describes as ďstereo speakers designed to resemble the heating vents of a high performance super carĒ. Our guess is ASUS is referring to the Lamborghini Reventůn here, as ASUS happens to have the exclusive rights to producing Lamborghini laptops. The center channel and subwoofer are also similarly tricked out.
In terms of audio performance, we were really surprised by the W90Vp. Most of the so-called gaming notebooks weíve seen have shipped with underpowered speakers with disappointing highs and lows, only the midrange sounds somewhat passable. The W90Vp isnít like this though. The system actually delivers bright highs, and excellent midrange. And for once we donít feel like the system is lacking in power. In fact, ASUS has done a brilliant job mixing volume level with the capabilities of these speakers. They donít fall over themselves like most notebook speakers do when you crank the volume all the way up to the max. We threw a mixture of different games at the system, and all sounded surprisingly good. Like most notebooks, we were expecting the W90Vís subwoofer to have a problem with booming sounds like shotguns and explosions, but it handled them well.
With that being said, the lows are still a tad on the weak side, but on the other hand it probably isnít realistic to expect a 1.5Ē driver to deliver floor-thumping bass. The lows are certainly deeper than other notebooks weíve seen.
Are these speakers better than a set of midrange desktop speakers? No. Again, expecting these drivers to outperform setups twice their size isnít realistic. Thereís only so much you can do given their size and power limitations. Are they better than most high-end gaming notebooks? Yes. Easily in fact.
In case you donít recall, Express Gate is a custom Linux distribution sold commercially under the name Splashtop. Itís developed by DeviceVM. DeviceVM offers a number of different apps for their Splashtop OS ranging from games, to media playback, to browsing the web.
The idea is pretty simple. Rather than waiting to boot up Windows so you can perform a quick Google search or check for movie showtimes, a procedure that can take a minute or more, the Splashtop OS can boot within seconds. From there youíve got near instant access to the Internet or other Splashtop applications. ASUS Express Gate features the Splashtop web browser, Splashtop music player (which can search your HDD, DVD/Blu-ray player, or external storage for audio files), Splashtop chat (which supports popular IM programs like AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo! Messenger), Skype, games, and Splashtop photo manager. The games program actually is nothing more than an extension of the browser, taking you to DeviceVMís game page where you can play a pretty decent selection of casual online games. The photo program is just that, a small application for viewing photos stored on your hard drive or external storage.
The web browser is probably the feature youíll use most, and itís actually not that bad. Itís based on Firefox 2 and supports features like tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking for online ads, and offers native Adobe Flash support. Resolutions supported range from 800x600 up to 1440x1050.
Once inside Express Gate you can also restart your PC, turn off the system, or boot into the main OS.
Express Gate can be launched via its own button located on the left side of the W90Vp chassis, directly opposite of the systemís power button. You press the main power button to launch your system OS (the system ships with Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit), or the Express Gate power button to launch Express Gate. While seeing two power buttons may seem a little confusing at first, we actually prefer this to the implementation ASUS uses on their motherboards, where you essentially have to manually launch your system OS every time you boot up your PC or wait 10 seconds for the primary OS to load automatically on its own.
Our only real gripe about Express Gate as its implemented on the W90Vp is time. You see, we still remember the good old days when ASUS integrated the Splashtop software on a built-in flash memory chip located on the motherboard. With the OS embedded in memory, Express Gate would load in just 6 seconds on a system with a decent CPU. From there you could load the brower in another 2-3 seconds.
Nowadays ASUS integrates Express Gate on the systemís hard drive to cut costs. Only ASUSí most expensive $300+ motherboards still ship with the built-in memory chip. Relying on the hard drive instead of the dedicated hardware comes with a huge performance hit. In our testing, the W90Vp loaded Express Gate in 13 seconds. From the Express Gate splash page it then took an additional 14 seconds for the Splashtop browser to load. Thatís a total time of nearly 30 seconds compared to less than 10 seconds previously!
From start to finish, it took the W90Vp 74 seconds to load Windows Vista. So the time savings are still there, but theyíre not nearly as drastic as theyíve been in the past.
Webcam and micropohone
ASUS ships the W90Vp with a 2.0 megapixel webcam and an array microphone. That means that the system ships with two integrated microphones for optimal mic performance (both are located right above the 18.4Ē display).
Turbo Gear Extreme
Like most gaming notebooks, the W90Vp can be overclocked for added performance. ASUS bundles the system with their Turbo Gear Extreme software, which can be used to switch between various power modes (standard, power saving, overclocked).
Before you can dial in the OC youíd like, youíll need to make sure that the system is plugged into an AC outlet, then youíll need to manually boot up Turbo Gear Extreme from the Windows Programs menu. Once launched, youíll then need to specify how much of an OC you would like (you can overclock the system up to 17%).
If the CPU is able to run cool at your predefined settings, Turbo Gear Extreme will OC the CPU up to 3.276GHz. The neat thing about this is even with the processor overclocked to the maximum Turbo Gear Extreme will allow, the system fans donít automatically crank up to their highest settings. ASUS has done a good job of balancing performance with tolerable noise output.
ASUS ships the system with a 12-cell battery. Considering the W90Vpís specs, we didnít expect the system to run long on battery power, and in that regard the system didnít disappoint. Battery life while gaming was limited to just 57 minutes. Running just Internet Explorer at the Windows desktop, battery life surged to 88 minutes.
ASUS ships the W90Vp inside one of the largest laptop boxes weíve seen. Inside the packaging youíll find the system sitting inside a pretty sweet-looking ASUS clamshell backpack.
ASUS also ships the system with a matching USB mouse.
You also canít miss the massive power brick that the W90Vp needs. It weighs 2.5 lbs and is larger than any other power brick weíve seen. The ASUS brick makes the original Xbox 360 power brick look like a lightweight. This is fitting considering the size of the ASUS system.
In terms of software, fortunately ASUS keeps bloatware down to a minum. Thereís the ubiquitos 90-day trial version of Norton Internet Security that pretty much all manufacturers provide and thatís it. Youíll also need to load up ASUSí standard suite of software (including Splendid and Turbo Gear Extreme), but we donít consider those applications to be bloatware. ASUS also includes copies of Microsoft Office Home 2007 as well as CyberLink PowerDVD, ASUS Lightscribe and ASUS Lifeframe, and finally ASUSí facial recognition software, Smartlogon.
Performance: Packing two Mobility Radeon 4870ís, dual hard drives, and a 2.8GHz Core 2 CPU with 6MB of cache, it obviously goes without saying that the W90Vp is a powerful performer. The system delivered very playable frame rates even with the detail levels cranked up and the system running at its native res of 1920x1080. Crysis nearly hit 30 fps with high settings at this res. Other demanding games like STALKER also ran well.
With so much graphics horsepower inside, you wonít have to compromise on any graphics settings with the W90Vp. You can run pretty much all the graphics settings of a desktop PC equipped with dual Radeon 4850s running CrossFire, albeit with slightly slower performance due to the slower graphics clocks.
18.4Ē display: ASUS equips the W90Vp with a beautiful 18.4Ē 1080p capable display. The panel delivers vivid colors and offers massive viewing angles: you wonít have to worry about sitting in the sweet spot with this display.
At 1920x1080 games ran razor sharp and thanks to the aforementioned frame rates, FRAPS runs with games like Crysis and STALKER werenít unplayable slideshows.
Audio: ASUS doesnít skimp on the audio side of the equation either. The company has sourced a six speaker setup from Altec Lansing thatís Dolby Home Theater certified. Weíve spoken with the folks at Dolbyís PC unit, they donít just slap their badge on anyoneís product who pays for the logo. Dolby-certified products have to meet certain minimum specifications before theyíre approved.
The Altec Lansing speakers ASUS uses are quite good. Their highs and midrange are where these speakers are at their best. They manage to handle full volume without distorting too.
Value: Priced at $2,499 (our SKU sells for $2199 but is no longer available) the ASUS W90Vp is a terrific value. Just look at what youíre getting here. An 18.4Ē display that looks as good as anything youíd find on a desktop PC, dual MR4870 GPUs, one of Intelís fastest mobile dual-core CPUs, dual 7200RPM hard drives, and a whopping 6GB of memory. These kind of specs would set you back at least $4,000 if this notebook was sold by Alienware.
Oops, thatís right, they donít offer a system with an 18.4Ē display or Mobility Radeon 4870 graphics do they?
Excellent cooling: Despite packing two GPUs, a fast Core 2 CPU, and dual hard drives, ASUS manages to keep everything cool without having to crank up the system fans to unbearable levels, or leave your lap burned in the process. How did they manage to do this? In large part, this is thanks to the size of the ASUS chassis. While some may not tolerate a notebook of this size, the added space helps improve airflow, making it easier for the fans and heatsinks inside the system to do their jobs.
Features: Besides the systemís impressive specs list, the rest of the laptopís features standout as well. Youíve got touch-sensitive buttons for media playback, volume control, OCíing, etc, ASUS Express Gate, an array microphone and 2.0MP webcam with autofocus, and a full-size keyboard with numpad.
The only feature this system is missing is backlighting for that aforementioned keyboard.
Massive size: Weighing it at over 12 pounds and over one foot in length and width, the ASUS W90Vp is a massive notebook. Believe us, youíre not going to be able to use this system flying in coach. Your back wouldnít appreciate lugging this system through the airport anyway. I think my UPS driver even had some comments for ASUS when he dropped it off.
$2,500 buys you the most powerful gaming notebook on the planet right now. It really is that simple. The beauty of the system is itís not like ASUS slapped in the dual MR4870 GPUs and called it a day either. They paired the system with a slick-looking display, powerful speakers, and a cooling subsystem powerful enough to keep everything cool without rivaling a vacuum cleaner in noise.
It really is amazing that ASUS managed to pull all this off while still managing to keep the price tag well under $3,000, which seems to be the starting point for most gaming rigs of this caliber, and a decked out example like the W90Vp selling for north of $4,000.
You could make a very convincing argument that this is both a Bullís Eye and Editorís Choice product all in one package. Because of the W90Vís outstanding value and performance, we wouldnít disagree.
Sure, we wish it had a bit more style, and weíd gladly pay a little extra for a backlit keyboard. It would also be nice if Express Gate actually booted in 8 seconds and the touchpad buttons provided more tactile feedback too (theyíre a little too stiff and have practically no travel). But these are pretty minor gripes considering everything else ASUS is offering. There were so many other places ASUS couldíve cut corners and compromised (speakers, cooling, etc) that we donít think these are huge issues.
ASUS gets so much right with this notebook, we canít wait to see what they do when they come up with a successor thatís built from the ground up as a true Republic of Gamers product. Remember that the ROG label was just slapped on at the end before the system went out the door to retailers.
Right now ASUSí Eee PC notebook line is getting all the attention from press. But in our opinion, itís notebooks like the W90Vp that are the real standouts. ASUS has put together an impressive array of hardware in a large, yet powerful package and priced it for the masses. It truly is one of those groundbreaking products that makes you question why spend the extra money on a gaming notebook from VoodooPC or elsewhere.
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