For better or for worse, most of the notebook manufacturers seem to be most interested in sending us their top-end gaming laptops for review. We hope to have a roundup of several "normal" laptops in the near future -- you know, laptops that weigh less than five pounds and hopefully get over three hours of battery life. In the meantime, we do have several monster notebooks to review, starting with the ASUS W90Vp-A1.

ASUS has a couple variants of the W90Vp; the A1 version we're looking at today is essentially identical to the X2 version, except for the fact that it has dual 320GB hard drives. Considering the difference in price, you might want to pick up the X2 if you can find it and add a second hard drive yourself. As for the rest of the components, this is one behemoth of a "laptop".

Several companies are now shipping 18.4" notebook chassis, generally loaded with high-end components. In the case of the W90Vp, you get a quad-core Q9000 processor, dual 320GB 7200 RPM hard drives, and 6GB (3x2GB) of DDR2-800 memory running at DDR2-667. The LCD is a high quality 1080p display, and although it uses standard CCFL backlighting it looks better than the vast majority of laptop displays we've used.

Obviously, the stars of the show are the dual ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards in CrossFire. (Note that there are two GPUs on separate PCBs; this is not a mobile variant of the 4870X2.) This is the first high-end gaming laptop we've reviewed in a very long time that utilizes an ATI graphics solution, and as such we are very interested to see how it performs. On the desktop, NVIDIA still holds the crown for the fastest GPUs, but ATI is managing to compete very well in terms of overall price and performance. One of the main ideas in ATI's current GPU lineup is the use of multiple reasonably sized GPUs instead of a single monolithic GPU core.

What's interesting is that NVIDIA is sort of following that same approach for notebooks; the current top-end GTX 200M NVIDIA solutions do not stem from the desktop GT 200 series but instead build upon an enhanced G92M core. The new core is a 55nm part instead of 65nm, with up to 128 SPs. That should give it a similar die size relative to ATI's Mobility HD 4870 -- perhaps even slightly smaller. The desktop 9800M GTX+ has 754 million transistors, which should be relatively close to the GTX 280M. Needless to say, that's a far cry from the 1.4 billion transistors utilized in the desktop GTX 280! How will the GTX 280M compared to the Mobility HD 4870? Unfortunately, we can't conclusively answer that question yet, but we should have NVIDIA's competing solution in-house for testing soon. In the meantime, we do have an (aging) 8800M GTX SLI solution, with updated drivers. That brings us to the next topic.

NVIDIA Achieves Holy Grail of Drivers
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  • nubie - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Well. . .

    If there was a PCI-e standard for mobile, then maybe you could choose your graphics and the laptops would have to work properly with standard drivers?

    What if you used DisplayPort for the interface to the display? Then you could plug in any graphics chip and it would work with the standard drivers.

    You would of course need "thermal" stages, where you had a cap on the amount of power that it could dissipate, but if you wanted to set your PC on a fan and cut out a vent you could move up.

    I think that a standard needs to be set already. There is no excuse for making a handful of extra or different pins, or form factors off by a few millimeters just so that you can't build your own system or upgrade it.

    I would hope that as time progresses you could put a faster chip on a smaller more advanced process into an older laptop, or just choose the exact graphics you want (IE less powerful) in a system with the processing power you need.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Unfortunately, the biggest reason for a lack of unified mobile GPU standards is that OEMs along with ATI and NVIDIA like to compete in a variety of ways. Look at Apple and imagine trying to tell them they their laptops need to conform to a standard layout.

    It *could* happen, and for higher performance laptops with discrete GPUs like the W90Vp, that would be ideal. In fact, the GPU modules in the W90 look very similar to the GPU modules from NVIDIA. The problem is, no one wants to do the work to make sure upgraded GPUs would work -- plus you need to worry about having not just a standardized form factor, but standardized heatsinks/fans.

    Ultimately, a standardized notebook form factor would probably lose more customers than it would gain. Everyone would complain about the "boring design and aesthetics", and the number of new bugs/problems we'd see would probably skyrocket. But hey, maybe someone will prove me wrong on this and make the idea work....
  • Goty - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Wait, NVIDIA managed to release drivers on all platforms simultaneously ONCE and suddenly they have a unified driver model? I'd have to wait and see if that trend continues down the road, but I'm not holding my breath.

    There's also the issue that a large number of notebooks simply won't accept the drivers directly from NVIDIA.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    NVIDIA previously had a mobile driver program where they committed to quarterly updates, and they delivered on that three times (though the first wasn't quite "quarterly"). The drivers started out several months behind the desktop releases, and now we have drivers released on all platforms twice (185.81 and then the final 185.85) - though granted they're mostly the same thing.

    As far as laptops where the NVIDIA drivers won't work, are they in the "unsupported" list? They've worked on every laptop I've tried, which ranged from 8600M to 9500M to 8800M SLI to 9800M. What laptops specifically don't work or have problems? Or are these problems caused by old and cluttered Windows installs where malware or something else gets in the way?

    If NVIDIA doesn't continue to release unified drivers, we'll certainly point it out, but at the same time they've already strongly committed to minimum quarterly updates. That's more than anyone else has done for mobile graphics.
  • rbfowler9lfc - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Really impressive battery life. You can watch a 1080p movie on the road, as long as it doesn't last longer than 1h. Bah!

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