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Asus W90 review: Asus W90

Asus' Republic of Gamers brand usually lags behind Alienware and Dell XPS laptops, but that looks set to change thanks to the W90. Potentially the fastest gaming laptop in existence, Asus hopes it will dominate the gaming world in the same way its Eee PC range has cornered the netbook market. It's available to buy now from £2,228.

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8.8

Asus W90

The Good

Stylish design for a gaming laptop; super-fast graphics performance; huge 6GB of memory; massive screen.

The Bad

Hard to carry, unless you're on steroids; Blu-ray software didn't work for us; pricey.

The Bottom Line

The W90 is the fastest gaming laptop we've ever tested. Its hyper-quick graphics card and enormous 18.4-inch screen has opened a can of industrial-strength whup-ass on its Alienware and Dell XPS rivals. Just make sure you're strong enough to carry the thing

Design
In some ways, the W90 isn't very well thought through and is actually rather rubbish. We're not saying that because it's not fast or well-equipped, but because it's so damn heavy. The weedy, game-obsessed teens that need it the most will struggle to get it out of the box. It weighs a back-breaking 6kg and measures 443 by 328 by 63mm for goodness sake! Don't even think about using it on your lap -- unless your knees are reinforced with Kevlar.


Underneath, there's a subwoofer. It won't shatter windows with its volume, but it complements the laptop's five other speakers and adds some depth to the sound

But despite it being massive, the W90 is actually quite good-looking. There's not a single garish colour in sight and any flashing lights are purely functional. The lid and interior section are primarily finished in a conservative brushed-metal effect, and it even has touches of leather on either side of the keyboard. It is, in our humble opinion, the best-looking gaming laptop ever created.

Open the lid and you'll be greeted by a full-size keyboard complete with a dedicated numerical keypad. To the left of this is an array of touch-sensitive buttons for adjusting the volume and skipping forward or backwards through tracks. More touch-sensitive buttons can be found above the keyboard. These, in order of appearance from left to right, mute the volume, toggle the activation of the mouse trackpad, adjust the brightness of the screen, switch the display's colour mode, zoom in or out of the screen, activate or deactivate the 2-megapixel webcam, or overclock the W90. That's right -- the W90 is overclockable at the touch of a button, but more on that later.

Features
The W90 is available in a variety of specifications, depending on which part of the world you're in and where you buy it from. Here in the UK, it'll ship with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9550 clocked at 2.66GHz, but if you're serious about speed, you can also cop one with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000. Any CPU inside your chosen W90 can be overclocked at the touch of a button. Our 2.66GHz T9550 leapt up to 2.96GHz, which is a pretty respectable increase.


The most important touch-sensitive button is the instant-overclocking button on the far right, which gives the laptop a 15 per cent speed boost

The processor itself is mounted not on a laptop motherboard, but on a modified desktop board. This brings several benefits over the Intel PM45 chipset found in most gaming laptops. Firstly, it has a new 1,333MHz system bus -- an improvement on the 1,066MHz bus of old -- and adds support for new, high-speed, dual-channel DDR3 memory. Impressively, Asus has installed 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM in each of its three memory slots for a total of 6GB of RAM -- the most we've seen in any laptop, and any off-the-shelf PC, come to think of it.

This being a gaming laptop, the W90 has a pretty potent graphics chip. It sports an ATI Mobility Radeon 4870 X2 graphics card, which is ludicrously potent. According to ATI, a pair of these graphics-processing units delivers over one teraflop of performance, a measure normally reserved for supercomputers. Clearly, that bodes well for chucking polygons around in a first-person shooter.


Games aren't the W90's only area of expertise. The laptop ships with a Blu-ray reader drive so it should be possible to enjoy high-definition movies. It didn't work for us, though, as the bundled copy of WinDVD 8 is incompatible with the laptop's 64-bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate edition, which is a serious oversight. Still, you can always watch a little standard-def television thanks to the bundled hybrid TV tuner, which supports both analogue and Freeview broadcasts.

Storage isn't as impressive as we might have hoped. Asus hasn't neglected this area entirely -- it has twin 320GB drives -- but compared to the 1TB of storage in Asus' M70, or the promise of the 1TB SSD in Asus' VX5, the 640GB of storage is something of a disappointment. Or maybe we're just being greedy.


The W90 eschews garish colours and flashing lights in favour of understated brushed metal and strategically placed strips of leather

The W90's 18.4-inch display is worthy of note. Not only is it noticeably larger than the 17-inch panels you get on most desktop-replacement or gaming laptops, its resolution is higher, too. It runs natively at 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is the same number of pixels you see in top-end 'full-HD' TVs.

The screen is finished in a glossy coating, which we'd normally hate, due to the fact it renders laptops almost unusable outdoors. But we'll forgive the W90 this shortcoming, as you'd have to be an absolute moron to want to use it outdoors.

The W90's sound system complements its graphical ability well. It has by far the loudest speakers we've encountered on a laptop. It has a total of five Altec Lansing speakers -- two above the keyboard, three on the front edge, and a subwoofer mounted underneath. It can't possibly compete with a dedicated speaker system, but it's loud enough to fill a room and create the impression of half-decent surround sound thanks to second-generation Dolby Home Theatre audio enhancement.

Asus could easily have included furnished the W90 with the aforementioned specs and called it at day, but it hasn't. The machine also sports clever little touches such as a built-in fingerprint reader, a 2-megapixel autofocus webcam, facial-recognition software, gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n high-speed wireless support. The whole package is pretty comprehensive, but given the price, anything less would be a travesty.


Round the back, you'll find HDMI and D-Sub video outputs for connecting the W90 to a big-screen TV or projector

Performance
We can't make you wait for the results any longer -- the W90 is the fastest gaming laptop we've ever tested. Its 2D desktop performance, however, wasn't as impressive as we'd hoped. Its Core 2 Duo T9550 clocked a score of 5,550, which isn't quite as impressive as the 7,216 achieved by the quad-core-CPU-toting Asus G71V.

3D performance was utterly staggering, however. Its ATI Mobility Radeon 4870 X2 graphics card, which has two graphics processing units on a single adaptor, helped it achieved a 3DMark 2006 score of 13,344, which eclipses the Alienware M17's score of 11,315. In real terms, the machine managed to propel Unreal Tournament 3 at a rate of 162.2 frames per second.

The W90's instant overclocking feature doesn't really make an awful lot of difference to its gaming abilities. With the CPU overclocked to 2.9GHz, it returned a 3DMark 2006 score of 14,056, which is staggeringly high for a laptop, but not a dramatic improvement over the W90's score at standard frequencies.

We expected the W90 to fall flat on its face in a matter of minutes when disconnected from the mains. Surprisingly, it lasted 1 hour 18 minutes while playing a looped DivX video file. That wasn't long enough to actually finish the movie, but it's pretty impressive considering most gaming laptops give up before an hour has passed.

Conclusion
The W90 is an epic machine. Not only is it the fastest gaming rig we've ever encountered, it's also well-designed and sensationally well-equipped. If you're strong enough to lift it, and you can afford the thing, you have our blessing to buy.

Edited by Jason Jenkins