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Micro Express IFL90 review: Micro Express IFL90

Micro Express IFL90

Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops
Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.
Michelle Thatcher
6 min read

When you visit the Micro Express site, you might be amazed by the IFL90's $599 starting price--until you realize that $599 buys you a box with no CPU, no Wi-Fi, and no operating system. The more realistic $1,054 baseline price includes at least a processor and OS, while our review unit's $1,699 price included Intel's top-of-the-line Core 2 Duo processor and a discrete Nvidia GeForce graphics card. Those components helped the Micro Express IFL90 post some very respectable scores on our performance benchmarks, besting the performance of a similarly configured HP Pavilion dv6500t ($1,769) and almost matching that of the pricier MacBook Pro ($2,499). While its performance--and better-than-average battery life--impressed us, the IFL90's ho-hum black case and slightly heavy weight failed to dazzle. Still, looks aren't everything, and home users who want a moderately priced laptop with plenty of performance (and who don't need to carry their laptop often) will be well-served by the Micro Express IFL90.


Micro Express IFL90

The Good

High-end components for the price; strong performance and above-average battery life; solid keyboard; two powered USB ports that can draw power even when the laptop is off; lengthy two-year warranty with lifetime phone support.

The Bad

Dull design; slightly heavy; speakers produce mediocre sound; merely adequate 3D performance best suited for casual gamers.

The Bottom Line

Inside a merely average shell the Micro Express IFL90 delivers strong performance and above-average battery life for home users who want a media-friendly laptop at a good price.

Weighing 6.7 pounds without its AC adapter, the Micro Express IFL90 walks the line between the midsize and desktop replacement categories. Its considerable size and bulk mean you'll likely move it only from room to room in your house. Users in search of a more portable 15.4-inch laptop can look to the HP Pavilion dv6500t or the MacBook Pro, which weigh one half to one full pound less than the Micro Express.

Watching movies is a pleasure on the Micro Express IFL90's 15.4-inch, wide-aspect screen, which produces deep blacks and rich color. We were only slightly annoyed by the minor reflections on its glossy finish; there is no matte finish option. The display features the 1,280x800 native resolution that is typical for its size. We would have appreciated a sharper resolution (similar to the MacBook Pro's 1,440x900 screen) while watching movies, but at least the IFL90's existing resolution ensures text and icons are easy to read. Above the display sits a 2.0-megapixel Webcam with dual-microphone array for Web videoconferencing.

In its broad case the Micro Express IFL90 includes a very comfortable, almost-full-size keyboard that feels more solid than most other laptop keyboards. The roomy touch pad lets your finger glide smoothly, and its buttons give easily. As with many laptops, we occasionally grazed the touch pad while typing and accidentally misplaced the cursor; fortunately this occurred infrequently enough to be only a minor inconvenience, though we still would have appreciated a hardware switch to disable the touch pad, as found on the HP Pavilion dv6500t. To the right of the touch pad sits a tiny fingerprint reader. Above the keyboard are light-touch buttons to launch Internet Explorer and Outlook--unfortunately, these cannot be programmed to launch the applications of your choice. Two more light-touch buttons let you adjust video and audio settings depending on use (for example, the audio button automatically optimizes sound settings for music or speech). The last light-touch control is a mute button; we were left wanting volume controls. Overall, the light-touch buttons felt a little cheap and we couldn't always tell if we'd actually activated them. A more traditional button on the left side of the keyboard deck activates "Smart Charging," which the company claims will shorten the time it takes to charge your battery. There's also an on/off button for the powered USB ports that lets you draw power from the ports without booting the system. This unique feature would be unbelievably cool if only the IFL90 included an instant-on media player--we could easily imagine watching movies and listening to music on USB travel speakers, all without booting into Windows. Even without that functionality, it's still incredibly useful for charging USB devices, such as an iPod, while the laptop is powered down.

The Micro Express IFL90 incorporates all the ports and connections you'd expect to find on a midsize laptop, with the bonus of two high-power USB ports that give you the option of running high-power peripherals from the laptop. Another bonus: the system's ExpressCard/54 slot will make it easy to add a TV tuner or mobile broadband down the road. The laptop's stereo speakers are located along the front edge, which is handy if you want to listen to music with the lid closed. Unfortunately the speakers produce merely passable sound that becomes muddled at high volumes.

Incorporating the processor and chipset from Intel's latest Centrino Duo platform, the Micro Express IFL90 performed admirably on CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks. Its performance closely matched that of the $2,499 MacBook Pro; it also topped the $1,769 HP Pavilion dv6500t, which included a slightly slower processor and a lower-level graphics card. Running Quake 4 at 1,024x768 resolution, the Micro Express IFL90's discrete graphics card even provided decent enough frame rates for casual gamers--though it certainly doesn't pack the graphics punch needed to compete against the best gaming rigs, such as the Alienware Area-51 m9750. Given its performance on our benchmarks, we think the IFL90 would make a decent all-around laptop for home use.

We were initially annoyed that the Micro Express IFL90's standard battery extends an inch off the back of the laptop. However, the extra size helped the IFL90 top three hours on our DVD battery drain test--more than an hour longer than the HP Pavilion dv6500t, which had a smaller battery. The 15-inch MacBook Pro, which included an energy-efficient LED-backlit display, lasted 26 minutes longer than the IFL90. This test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and typical office use.

Micro Express backs the IFL90 with a two-year parts and labor warranty--twice as long as the typical laptop warranty. Even better, the company also offers toll-free phone support for as long as you own your computer--a nice perk that we wish more companies offered. The company's support Web site is limited to simple driver downloads; we would have liked to have seen a decent knowledge base, customer forums, or the opportunity for a live chat with technicians.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Micro Express IFL90

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Micro Express IFL90

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Micro Express IFL90

'Quake 4' performance (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF  

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Micro Express IFL90

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
OS X 10.4.8; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 ; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GT; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

HP Pavilion dv6500t
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB Nvidia 8400M GS; 200GB Toshiba 4,200rpm

HP Pavilion dv9500t
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600M GS; 120GB Western Digital Scorpio 5,400rpm / 80GB Western Digital Scorpio 5,400rpm

Micro Express IFL90
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia Geforce 8600M GT; 80GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; Intel GMA X3100; 80GB Hitachi HTS721080G9SA00 7,200rpm


Micro Express IFL90

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 6Performance 8Battery 7Support 7