Normal folk are looking to notebooks as replacements for their desktop PCs. But you ain’t normal folk—you want power, flexibility, and upgradeability in your mobile rig.
We hoped Asus’s C90S would provide all this with its use of a desktop Core 2 Duo socket. That LGA775 socket gives the C90S a big price advantage over other laptops; a desktop 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo E6600 will set you back about $200, less than half the price of a mobile 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T7700. Desktop CPUs are also far easier to find than their mobile brethren.
But the C90S’s real promise is in upgradeable graphics. It sports an MXM Type II module, which is equipped with a GeForce Go 8600M GT part, but Asus plans to offer a faster DX10 part to replace it someday.
The laptop’s bottom cover is attached with four screws and easily slides off, making it simple to install parts on this rig. We replaced the stock 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo in under a minute. Changing the GPU is a little trickier but can still be done in just a few minutes.
The C90S packs in most notebook must-haves, including 802.11g/b, a fingerprint reader, a camera, Bluetooth, and not one, but two Mini PCI Express slots. The C90S also sports an HDMI 1.3 port and an eSATA port in addition to an ExpressCard slot.
Sounds good so far, but a few fundamental problems impact the upgrade story. The C90S uses Intel’s older 945P chipset, so Penryn support is unlikely. The real bummer is that quad-core support is also out of the question due to thermals and the chassis’s power limitations.
Asus originally claimed that overclocking would be one of the C90S’s niftiest features—the thinking was that you could overclock a 2.4GHz Core 2 up to 2.93GHz. Our second review sample would not allow BIOS overclocking, but the company said manual overclocking would be included in production notebooks. While the 1.86GHz Core 2 part we used let us overclock by as much as 20 percent using the Windows app, we couldn’t get the 2.66GHz part to run faster than 2.93GHz.
The thornier problem centers on GPUs. Although the C90S uses an MXM Type II module, Nvidia’s spec isn’t quite as “specific” as one would hope, but a new revision is in the works. It’s unlikely you could buy an upgrade module from another vendor and use it in the C90S, but the good news is that Asus has pledged to offer module upgrades directly to consumers. We must point out, however, that most companies don’t have long enough attention spans to carry through with these policies for more than a few months. So until we see Asus actually offer videocard upgrades for this machine, we’ll withhold judgment.
The C90S offers pretty good performance numbers, even when compared to a desktop rig. It’s actually faster than a 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-60 in Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0, Photoshop CS2, and Nero Recode 2. Because the notebook sports a relatively low-res screen (1280x800), we had to hook up an external monitor to run our game tests. In them, the C90S gave us disappointing runs of 20fps in Quake 4 and 18fps in FEAR.
Battery life, as expected, is not good, but Asus makes no apologies for this because the C90S is designed to be a desktop replacement that will likely never leave the home. At most, DTRs need just enough power to go from the kitchen
to the patio or from the living room to the bedroom.
However, the run time isn’t as poor as we initially expected. We looped the punishing 3DMark06 test for 80 minutes before the battery went flat. With a desktop CPU and 8-series GPU onboard, that ain’t half bad.
What’s bad is the noise. The C90S is able to run a toasty desktop processor by using a massive four-fan “Turbo” vent. With the proc overclocked to 2.93GHz and running a CPU-intensive encode, all four fans spool up to unbelievably loud levels. You can set the notebook to quiet mode, which gives it the acoustics of a normal notebook, but you can’t overclock as much.
In the end, the C90S is clearly flawed. Under a heavy load, it’s loud and hot. The low- to midrange 8600M GT part is also pretty lackluster, considering this rig is supposed to compete with gaming notebooks. However, we’d be lying if we said Asus’s concept behind the C90S doesn’t have potential. With a slightly larger chassis and support for quad-core procs and a faster GPU, we think there’s something here.
Laptop with an upgradeable CPU and GPU now a reality.
Won't take a quad-core CPU; ships with a midrange GPU; loud!
|Asus C90S |
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 (2.66GHz overclocked to 2.93GHz)|
|RAM||2GB Patriot DDR2/667 (two 1GB sticks)|
|HARD DRIVE||Seagate 80GB SATA |
|OPTICAL||TSST TS-L462D |
|Ports||HDMI, eSATA, three USB ports, VGA out, TV out, IEEE-1394, ExpressCard, modem|
|VIDEOCARD||GeForce 8600M GT |
|SOUNDCARD||RealTek HD Audio |
|Asus C90S |
|Premiere Pro 2.0||2,037 sec |
|Photoshop CS2||251 sec |
|Recode H.264||1,974 sec |
|FEAR 1.07||18 fps|
|Quake 4||20 fps|
|Our current desktop test bed is a Windows XP SP2 machine, using a dual-core 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-60, 2GB of Corsair DDR400 RAM on an Asus A8N32-SLI motherboard, two GeForce 7900 GTX videocards in SLI mode, a Western Digital 4000KD hard drive, a Sound Blaster X-Fi soundcard, and a PC Power and Cooling Turbo Cool 850 PSU.|