External DesignThe Asus C90S is a very good looking product that is not overdressed like many other powerful gaming laptops. It is a sleek and elegant design that makes the C90S look like a quality expensive product, rather than a cheap and nasty laptop. The lid features a glossy black paint job that is jazzed up with a number of gray wavy dotted-lines.
While this looks very impressive at first, be aware that the glossy lid likes to collect finger marks, and before long it will end up looking very dirty.
The lid does not use a latch to keep the laptop locked down, rather the hinges that it is fitted to are very stiff ensuring that it stays closed. While there is no real problem with this type of design, we did find that when opening the lid it was necessary to hold onto the laptop for extra leverage.
The Asus C90S weights in at about eight pounds which is heavy for a 15-inch model, but not uncommon for a powerful desktop replacement.
At the very front of the C90S we have an 8-in-1 card reader supporting MMC/SD/Mini-SD/XD/MS/MS-Pro/MS-Duo/MS-Pro-Duo along with two built-in speakers. The speakers are very weak and are barely loud enough to use for watching movies or playing games. Moving to the right side there is only the optical drive. Our test unit came equipped with a Matsushita UJ-850S DVD+/-RW DL optical drive, while an optional Blu-ray drive is also available.
Moving around to the left side of the C90S we find the majority of I/O ports, which include one RJ11 Modem jack, one RJ45 LAN jack, one D-Sub VGA port, one TV-Out (S-video/Composite Video) port and a HDMI port. Then there is a single e-SATA connector, two audio jacks supporting headphone-out and microphone-in. Further down we have a IEEE 1394 port, one MCX connector for TV-RF and a single USB 2.0 port. Finally, the laptop is also equipped with an ExpressCard slot rather than PCMCIA, which utilizes a faster serial connection and can support either 34mm or 54mm expansion cards.
At the rear of the C90S we find some Asus creativity as we discover the Turbo Engine, a powerful cooling device that is unique to the C90S. This likely comes as a much needed addition given the heat output produced by a desktop CPU even under normal loads.
We will explore the Turbo Engine in greater detail once we dive into the inner-workings of the laptop. From the outside, the module is quite large, though we never found its size to be an issue. Perhaps the biggest problems will come when carrying the laptop around, or when trying to fit it in bags that would commonly only fit standard sized 15" laptops.
Also at the rear are two more USB 2.0 ports and, of course, the power input connector.
Flipping the C90S upside down we found nothing unusual other than the Turbo Engine mentioned above. The laptop is well ventilated from the bottom and we noticed right away that there are just two removable compartments. The smaller of the two is for the li-ion 6 cell 4800mAh (53w) battery pack, while the second larger module gives access to all the core components which we'll look at shortly.
The C90S laptop we were sent had a WXGA 15.4" LCD display, which supports a native resolution of 1280x800. This may be a little small depending on your taste, with many 15-inch laptops today featuring resolutions that range from here up to 1440x900 or 1680x1050. Depending on where you get the C90S, Asus seems to be equipping it with 1680x1050 panels as well, so you will want to make sure you pick what works the best for you. This is perhaps one of those gripes and advantages of the barebones concept.
Also note that the screen is not LED-backlit which is usually preferred. Nevertheless, the picture quality was excellent, providing rich colors and excellent viewing angles. Above the LCD there is a 2.0MP rotate CMOS camera that supports face tracking functions.
The keyboard is fairly typical, though we did find the keys to be slightly larger than standard which made the C90S easy to use. The touchpad is also quite standard, though you may notice that a fingerprint reader is present, which is nice to have. The screen seemed to be well protected when the lid was closed and avoided being marked by the keyboard, for example.