Handling, design and build: looks over practicality
Before even getting it out the box, you can tell that the Asus NX90 stands out from the crowd. This impression is confirmed once you get the beast out: it has obviously been made to take pride of place on your desk and not in a grubby rucksack. Its wide format is indeed impressive! Already particularly wide with an 18.4-inch 16:9 format screen, it's surrounded by two large speaker bars on either side.
The NX90 sets a good deal of store by its classy looks and has a polished aluminium hood and wrist rest. Although it gives a visually interesting effect, this material is definitely high-maintenance when it comes to cleaning (scratches and finger marks). The rest of the machine is in good quality matte black plastic.
In terms of its finish, it's hard to fault the NX90. It has been well-assembled and the machine is robust.
The keyboard is very nice to use thanks to the wide, supple keys (17 x 15 mm), giving rapid and quiet keying. Big multimedia keys are very well integrated into the keyboard. Indeed we much prefer this type of key than touch buttons which only have the advantage of being aesthetic. However, it's a shame that there's no backlighting on what is such a high-end machine! We also regret the lack of number pad, replaced by the two touchpads. Difficult to understand Asus' thinking here.
Strangely, the NX90 has two touchpads (multitouch) on either side of the keyboard. Sure, it's nice that Asus isn't favouring the right (or left) handed, but frankly, the layout chosen isn't without posing a few problems. Although the glide is nice and precise thanks to the matt coating, the touchpads are positioned vertically, while the screen is all about width! This is hardly practical and you can't help but think that there was plenty of space for a giant touchpad where all that glossy aluminium is under the keyboard. Looks have won out over practical design and ease-of-use suffers as a result. Perhaps the people at Asus reckon that this type of laptop will only be used at home and therefore with a mouse.
The webcam is particularly disappointing. It lacks fluidity and the bright areas of the image are overexposed. Note also, the lack of sharpness. It's usuable for occasional instant messaging but it's a real shame to have to add a webcam if you want to do more than that.
The NX90's fan does a good job at staying quiet. You do however hear a permanent muffled outlet of air at the back of the machine, where the fan expels hot air. During heavy processing, the noise increases a notch and the fan then becomes clearly audible in a quiet room.
It was nice to see that the connectivity of the NX90 includes USB 3.0, with two ports on the right hand side. There are two other USB 2.0 ports, one of which is an e-SATA combo. There are also HDMI and VGA outs, an RJ45 (Ethernet Gigabit) and a 4-in-1 memory card reader. In terms of audio, the headphones out also offers an optical S/PDIF and there's an audio in in addition to the mic.
There's also a Blu-Ray player, which will allow you to make the most of the Full HD screen resolution.
Under the PC, there's nothing apart from two orifices for the fan! Don't expect to be able to get at the components without completely dismounting the machien, something which is not to be advised given the delicacy required for such an operation.
| Asus NX90 from above
||Headphones, mic, line in, 2 USB 3.0s, 2 USB 2.0s including a combo e-SATA, HDMI, VGA, RJ45, TV, power supply
|Blu-Ray / DVD burner combo, memory card reader, USB 2.0
||Touchpad left and touchpad right with respective left and right click bars
Processing: at ease with multimedia
On such a scale and with its high end positioning, the NX90 was never going to make do with a small processor. Asus has alloted it a quad-core Intel Core i7-720QM. This is one of the best processors on the market for laptops.
Already used in many high-end configurations, the Core i7-720QM means the NX90 scores a handsome 139 across our battery of tests. This is to be compared to 100 for our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400).
In practice, you can do anything with this machine, from photo and video work to gaming.
High definition video playback (HD 1080p, Blu-Ray equivalent) can also be handled by the processor alone or the dedicated NVIDIA graphics card. We do however advise you to use the excellent video decoding capacities of the graphics card. For that, you'll just need software that supports the graphics card hardware decoding. This is the case with Power DVD 9 or Media Player Classic HC for example. The processor is then totally freed up, which reduces energy consumption and makes it available for other tasks.
3D gaming: limited graphics settings on recent titles
The Asus NX90 hasn't especially been designed for gaming. Its NVIDIA graphics card, the GeForce GT 335M, will do though to enjoy some recent titles at native resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). You will however have to limit graphics settings on the most demanding games. This is the case with Crysis for example, which is only playable at low settings, while Far Cry 2 can run at medium settings no problem, as can Fallout 3.
Audio: two little speakers to really push the envelope!
The NX90's audio is from Bang & Olufsen, a company specialised in high-end audio-visual equipment and which also does the audio for certain Audi, Aston Marin and Mercedes vehicles. Asus is really talking up the audio on the NX90 and this is borne out in the space allocated to the speakers. Once the covers are off, you can see two small speakers at the bottom which communicate with decent-sized resonance chambers.
The result is no doubt one of the best we've heard on a PC laptop. Although we're still not talking low-end, the speakers deliver well-rounded, relatively deep mediums, without spoiling precision. The sound is clear and detailed. Of course, audio enthusiasts will keep their headphones to hand or link the computer up to an amp. Nevertheless, the NX90 does offer very good quality sound for its category.
Mobility, battery life: stay close to a power source!
Only 1h46 video playback (screen at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in and wi-fi deactivated) is what you get with the Asus NX90. Best to keep your charger close-by, then, and not stray from the power socket. This is hardly surprising given the capacity of the battery: 5600 mAh isn't enough to ensure decent battery life for such a high-performance computer with such a big screen.
If you add its size and weight in to the equation, you'll soon see that the NX90 hasn't been made to be carried around. 4.4 kg and 53 cm wide make it a heavy, awkward thing to lift - even moving it around at home will cause some to pause for thought. We rather see it on a desk or in the living room, fulfilling the role of a sort of all-in-one.