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First off big thanks to ASUS Singapore for providing this loan unit for this review.
The ASUS Mini PC ProArt PA90 was released in 2019 as a workstation that targets creative professionals, more specifically creators who work with 3D or 4K video editing. Let me tell you straight up that as a computer for graphic design or photo editing, it’s a serious overkill.
My review will be from the perspective of a visual content creator, someone who does graphic design, edits photos and 4K videos on a daily basis. My current main computer is the 2013 Mac Pro which has a similar form factor so I’ll also cover what you can expect from such PC form factor.
First thing that surprised me was the size.
For a Mini PC, it’s not that mini. The height is 36.5cm, which is about 1.5 times the height of the 2013 Mac Pro. I like the small footprint though, which is about the size of my palm, as it doesn’t take up much space on the table. The weight is 5.8kg.
The included wired keyboard and wired mouse are alright. I would only use them as backup.
The wifi module in the full metal PC body isn’t great at getting signal so you’ll need to use the included wifi antenna to get good signals.
Two humongous power bricks are needed to power the computer. One’s a 180W, the other’s a 230W (or 280W on some models). Cable clutter could be an issue here.
These are the possible configurations:
- Processor: Intel® Core™ i9-9900K / i7-9700K / i5-9400 Processors
- Chipset: Intel® Z390
- Graphics: NVIDIA® Quadro® P4000, NVIDIA® Quadro® P2000, NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 2060, NVIDIA® Quadro RTX4000
- Memory: 8 GB Up to 64 GB, DDR4 at 2666/2400MHz, 4 x SO-DIMM
- Storage: 2.5″ 500GB Up to 1TB SATA 6Gb/s HDD, 128GB Up to 512GB M.2 SATA SSD, 256GB Up to 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD
- LAN: 10/100/1000/Gigabits Mbps
- Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac , Bluetooth® 5.0 , or 802.11 ax, Bluetooth® 5.0
These are the ports:
- 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 2
- 4 x DisplayPort
- 1 x RJ45 LAN
- 2 x DC-in
- 2 x External Wi-Fi antenna
- 1 x Audio Jack(s)
- 4 x DisplayPort or 2 x HDMI + 1 x DisplayPort
- 2 x Thunderbolt® 3
The PA90 is big is due to the huge NVIDIA Quadro P4000 graphics card that has to be fitted inside.
DIY upgrade is limited to installing more memory and a 2.5-inch SSD. You’ll need to remove a few screws from the top to perform those upgrades.
If you don’t mind performing the upgrades, then yeah, sure you can install up to 64GB RAM and 8TB of SSD (Samsung 8TB QVO).
The actual usable storage for the 256GB storage model is just 225GB after installing Windows 10 Pro. Some computers have such small internal storage nowadays is because creators use external storage, NAS or DAS, anyway. I edit off external USB 3 SSD on my Mac Pro and it’s fast enough to handle 4K 30FPS videos. The PA90 has Thunderbolt 3 so you can handled even larger and high spec video files.
Some models will have HDMI depending on the graphic card option.
The NIVIDIA Quadro P4000 with 8GB RAM is able to drive four 5K monitors or two 8K monitors. That’s quite impressive. It makes more sense to get the Quadro graphics card if you work with VR and/or 3D.
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What’s the selling point?
Well, obviously the combination of design and power.
Let’s face it, you’re not buying something like this for maximum upgradability. This is for people who want a powerful computer that looks good and don’t think about upgradability. The only type of upgrade is replacing the whole system several years later.
The design does look good. When paired with a 15-inch monitor as shown above, you can see how massive the PA90 is by comparison.
I’m not sure how dusty the side vents will be though after months.
The top lid will raise when the PC starts. The system is water cooled and there’s a fan. The fan is audible but not loud. Air intake comes from the side vents and escapes though the top.
When the system gets above 80 degrees Celsius, the lid will go even higher. The hot air will go up and out from the side due to the lid design. So you will not want the PA90 at a distance where you can feel the hot air blowing into your face.
The lid moving up and down is actually louder than the fan. I wish ASUS would have some settings to keep that lip permanently at the highest position since the lid going up and down is kinda unnecessary. If you put this under your table then the lid movement noise is not an issue. But if it’s on the table, you will hear the lid go up and down.
The lid actually snaps onto the top with magnets. When you remove the lid, you will see screws that you can unscrew to get into the system to upgrade parts.
The LED lights beneath the lid actually changes colour depending on the CPU load.
The NVMe used is the Samsung PM981 MZVLB256HAHQ with sequential read speeds up to 3GB/s, and writes at 1.3GB/s.
Booting up the system took 18s.
Working with huge complex Photoshop files is effortless. Saving a 1GB Photoshop file took less than 5s.
Shown above is a 14000 x 7000 Photoshop file with multiple layers. Navigation, zoom and pan, is smooth as butter.
When changing the hue with the adjustment layer, I could drag the slider and watch the changes reflect instantly. On less powerful computers, moving the slider will make the PC pause for a second or two before the changes are shown.
This computer is too powerful for just graphic design work.
Photo editing performance is excellent.
These are the export times for 100 24MP RAWs with Adobe Lightroom
- ASUS PA90 with Intel i9-9900K (8 x 3.6Ghz): 1m 27s
- Mac Pro 2013 Xeon (4 x 3.7Ghz): 3 min 17s
- Macbook Pro 2015 (4 x 2.5Ghz): 3min 21s
- Surface Book 3 Intel i7-1065G7 (Quad 1.3 – 3.9Ghz): 3 min 50s to 4min 41s
Loading thumbnail previews for those RAWs took few seconds.
The NVIDIA Quadro P4000 is VR-ready and works great with 3D software from Autodesk. There’s also Independent software vendor (ISV) certification so chances are you won’t see weird user interface artifacts or glitches when using 3D software. Better software compatibility is the main reason to go with Quadro graphics cards.
This graphics card is definitely able to handle complex scenes, textures and export times are quick with the 8 cores.
Modeling 3D and rendering single frame doesn’t really push this system. If you’re into 3D animation, that’s where you will see the 8 processing cores come in handy.
4K video editing is probably the most demanding of all tasks I do.
The PA90 can edit and play 8-bit or 10-bit 60FPS H264 videos without dropped frames.
It took around 1min 10s to export a 5min 4K project in H.264 with no effects using Adobe Premiere CC. And it’s 1min 45s to export in H.265. Basically, it takes 1/4 or 1/3 of the video length to export. This is fantastic performance.
Some of my art tutorial videos are 40 minutes long. With my 2013 Mac Pro, it will take 2 hours or more to export in H.264. Sometimes when exporting multiple videos, I leave the Mac Pro overnight to export. If I work with the PA90 on a 40min 4K file, export time is just 10+ minutes. That’s a significant improvement
The processor speed boosted to over 4.5Ghz and was able to maintain that throughout. The lid did not even rise. Processor was running 20% and Quadro P4000 was at 100%.
Creatives who work with deadlines will appreciate this sort of performance. Think of a wedding videographer who can now edit and export high res videos in a faction of the time on the same day.
Gaming is certainly possible with the Quadro card but performance is just alright. When playing GTA V, I had to lower the resolution to 720P just to get 40+ FPS, At 1080P with high graphic settings, it was just 24-30FPS.
Well, the PA90 is a workstation rather than a gaming PC so my expectations wasn’t that high to begin with. If you game, maybe it’s better to go with the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060.
At the time of this review, a PA90 with Intel Core i7-9700K, NVIDIA Quadro P4000, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD + 1TB HDD cost US $1799 (from Newegg).
Here in Singapore, on Lazada, these are the official retail prices for the two configurations available:
Intel Core i7-9700K 16GB 256GB M.2 SSD (PCIe) Quadro P2000 – S$3,499
Intel Core i9-9900K 32GB 256GB M.2 SSD (PCIe) Quadro P4000 – S$4,699
The price can vary quite wildly depending on the seller and configuration. At the time of this review, the Quadro P4000 is around US $800 so a huge portion of what you pay goes to the graphics card.
There’s no doubt this is a powerful computer. It’s made for creators who need the processing power. You’re not going to push the system even if you model 3D with high res textures. This is a computer for those who export 3D animation frames and edit 4K videos.
Upgradability is limited but there’s really not much to upgrade except for the RAM. You can get more storage with external TB3 storage.
If you’re thinking of upgrading from your current computer, the ASUS PA90 is an option you can consider. It’s more than powerful enough to handle H.264 and H.265. When H.266 comes around, I’m sure it can handle that as well. So this is a system that should last for years.
The only two downsides for me would be the lid that goes up and down, and the two humongous power bricks.
Where to buy
You can probably also find them from online computer retail stores.