Asus ProArt PA90 review

The Asus ProArt PA90's steam-engine design speeds past the trash can Mac Pro

With a motorized lid design for ventilation, the ProArt PA90 is like a steam engine ready to handle your most demanding office tasks
MSRP $2,999.99
With a motorized lid design for ventilation, the ProArt PA90 is like a steam engine ready to handle your most demanding office tasks
With a motorized lid design for ventilation, the ProArt PA90 is like a steam engine ready to handle your most demanding office tasks

Highs

  • Compact and stylish design
  • Thunderbolt 3 support for future expansion
  • Innovative liquid cooling and airflow design
  • Fast workstation class performance
  • Can also be used for casual gaming if needed

Lows

  • Dual external power bricks add to bulk
  • Quadro GPU delivers middling performance
  • Bundled keyboard is flimsy

With the new Mac Pro, Apple has re-embraced the tower. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there still searching for a compact, powerful PC though.

Asus’ ProArt PA90 is more trash can than cheese grater, but if you crave a space-saving PC, Asus’ ProArt PA90 brings Windows 10 and discrete Nvidia Quadro P4000 graphics to a Mac Pro-inspired aesthetics. Can the sleek silhouette of this little workstation convince those waiting for the new Mac Pro? At $3,000, the ProArt PA90 has more than just a sleek silhouette. It’s got some workstation-class power, right where it counts.

Matte sheen

Lacking the literal polish of last year’s glossy Mac Pro, Asus’ mini PC comes in a much more understated matte gunmetal blue finish. The choice to go with a sand-blasted finish makes the ProArt less prone to showing dust and fingerprints, if you’re prone to frequently rearranging your desk space. Despite its demure aesthetics, the ProArt is a premium PC. Its choice of metal for the enclosure not only adds to the desktop’s durability, but the material gives this 12.78-pound computer a nice heft.

And unlike Asus’ ROG Strix line of gaming desktops, the ProArt is targeted strictly at creatives needing a workhorse PC, and its design reflects a much more restrained approach with clean lines and subtle curves. The only added flourish here is a subtle blue glow from the LED located underneath the lid up top. It’s not as intrusive as the Tron-inspired lighting on the Corsair One Pro i180, but if you’re switching from the Mac Pro’s decidedly more minimalist approach, you still may find the backlight a bit off-putting.

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Chuong Nguyen/Digital Trends

At 14.4 inches tall, the ProArt looks like a towering skyscraper against small form factor desktops like the Mac Mini. But with a 6.9 square-inch footprint, the ProArt’s squircle-shaped base occupies less desk space than the 7.7 x 7.7-inch Mac Mini. This desktop is marginally shorter than the Corsair One Pro, but with the top motorized lid expanded for airflow management, both PCs are about the same height as a large college textbook. This form factor makes it easy for you to move the ProArt between offices or maneuver the desktop between workspaces or job sites without having to rely on caster wheels like the 2019 Mac Pro.

Unfortunately, by going the compact route, Asus was not able to perfectly pack in all the components to power the ProArt. Whereas most PCs have internal power supply units to give the surrounding space a cleaner look, the ProArt instead is saddled by two massive external power bricks that deliver a combined 410 watts. That’s a lot of power, but it limits some of its portability.

Keeping a lid on it

Whatever you feel about the design of the ProArt, Asus made good use of the space, packing in modern silicon, liquid cooling, and a neat ventilation system to keep all the modern components inside.

Cool air is pulled in through the vents on the rear and sides of the PC, and the motorized lid of this “trash bin” will lift and lower as needed to release hot air. Whereas Corsair went with a more aggressive grill that makes the top of the One Pro i180 look more like a manhole cover, the lifting lid on the ProArt is a novel solution that harkens back to the era of steam engines, resembling the safety valve on a boiler. Asus claims that when raised, the design allows 38 percent more air to flow through the ProArt, helping to keep the internals running at optimal performance. This lifting airflow system isn’t new to the ProArt, however, and is seen on various Asus PCs, like the Active Aerodynamic System that allows the ROG Zephyrus laptop to bellow out its body to allow for greater air intake.

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Chuong Nguyen/Digital Trends

Combined with liquid cooling system for the processor, the air design also means that fans don’t have to spin as fast to move air through the system, leading to more quiet operations. In use, even under heavy stress, the ProArt was very quiet, and the Asus’ engineering efforts really paid off. Additionally, the lid also helps to keep dust out of what would have been an exposed top grate.

More advanced gamers can push for higher performance by connecting a better graphics card to an eGPU to the ProArt’s Thunderbolt 3 port

The motorized plastic cap on top is attached via magnets and can be removed to further maximize airflow. Once the lid is propped off, you’ll find a series of screws neatly concealed at the top, and removing the screws provide access to the desktop’s internals. Hiding the screws under the keeps the overall design clean, while still providing a route to service the ProArt if repairs are needed. Despite Asus providing a way to access the ProArt’s internals, this is one of the least upgradeable workstations we’ve tested. Everything is soldered on except the RAM, meaning you’ll want to choose your configuration wisely at check-out.

Thankfully, the ProArt embraces Thunderbolt 3, which at least gives you the ability to add docks, drives, and a more powerful eGPU should your needs change. That’s not common in desktops, so we appreciate the addition here.

Ports not designed for consumers

The ProArt comes with a healthy assortment of ports, allowing it to handle all the peripherals and accessories you throw its way with ease on this system. Even as expensive, high-end gaming rigs ship without Thunderbolt 3 support today, that’s not the case with the ProArt. Thunderbolt 3 support means that you can add a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C dock to this system, perfect for office environments, or even connect an eGPU to the ProArt to give it a graphics boost. Though the Nvidia Quadro P4000 graphics inside may suit your needs today, you can easily upgrade to Nvidia’s newer Turing-based RTX graphics in the future by connecting an eGPU enclosure, like Razer’s Core X Chroma.

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Chuong Nguyen/Digital Trends

On the front, you’ll find two USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 ports, a headphone jack, and microphone port. Like on the One Pro, the placement of these ports towards the bottom of the ProArt makes this desktop more suited for use on a desk, rather than on the floor beside your desk. Two more USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C ports, Gigabit Ethernet, a second audio jack, and four DisplayPort connectors round out the port selection on the rear of the ProArt.

Given the workstation heritage of the ProArt, a consumer HDMI port is noticeably absent on the ProArt. Though the Quadro P4000 GPU on our upgraded review unit – priced $3,299 as configured – is competitive with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX line of consumer graphics, gamers will likely look elsewhere given the lack of HDMI support and the business-class pricing of the ProArt. Here, video output on the ProArt is routed through the DisplayPort or USB-C ports on the rear.

Full steam ahead

Given its price relative to performance, the ProArt represents a more affordable alternative to Apple’s Mac Pro. All configurations of the ProArt ships with Intel’s latest 9th-gen processors – a Core i7 processor comes standard on the $2,999 entry-level model, while our upgraded $3,299 review unit ships with a better Core i9-9900K processor on an Asus board with an Intel X390 chipset alongside 32GB of memory. Given the Core i9-9900K processor, performance of the ProArt is very similar to larger gaming systems, like Origin PC’s Neuron and Digital Storm’s Aventum X.

Given the similarities here, processor performance of the ProArt is very similar to its gaming rivals, despite this workstation’s more compact size. The ProArt’s single-core result of 6,290 points and multi-core performance of 34,410 points on Geekbench 4 makes it competitive against the Origin PC Millennium’s 6,357 and 34,309 points, respectively, given both PCs share similar processors.

Creatives working on larger files, however, may want to consider desktops with even more processing power. Corsair’s One Pro i180 ships with a 12-core Intel Core i9-9920X, while the larger Origin PC Neuron tops out with an 18-core Intel Core i9-9980 XE Extreme processor for even better performance. For comparison, the Corsair One Pro’s more powerful processor earned it a multi-core score of 36,609 using the same benchmarking tool. And although HP’s Z2 Mini G4 lacks discrete graphics options, it can be configured with Intel Xeon processors as well.

The Asus ProArt PA90 took 78 seconds to encode a video using our Handbrake video test, and the result here is similar to the 77 seconds it took the Origin PC Millennium to accomplish the task. These results were a bit slower than the 73 seconds it took the Intel Core i9-9920X equipped Corsair One Pro i180 to encode the same video. These marks are certainly impressive, and the results hold true in real-world usage. The ProArt PA90 was speedy juggling multiple browser tabs, Microsoft Office files, and even handling medium to larger media files using Adobe’s Creative Cloud applications. The system is even ISV-certified and ships with a fairly clean build of Windows 10 to ensure speedy performance.

The ProArt supports up to three drives. Our review unit ships with a fast 512GB Samsung NVMe solid-state drive alongside a 1TB Seagate hard drive. This is a nice compromise, allowing you to store apps on the faster SSD, with the cheaper HDD used for storage of larger files. Though not the fastest solid-state drive we’ve tested, but the ProArt’s SSD is still quite zippy, delivering read and write performance of 1,111 MB per second and 632 MB per second. The M.2 SSD can be swapped out in the future.

GTX-level graphics

All configurations of the ProArt PA90 ship with Nvidia’s discrete workstation-class Quadro graphics, and our upgraded review unit arrived with a Quadro P4000 card. Here, you’re getting GTX-level graphics based on Nvidia’s previous generation Pascal architecture rather than the new Turing-based RTX graphics. This means that the ProArt won’t benefit from the new ray tracing or tensor cores found on the RTX series graphics, and the performance difference here likely explains why the ProArt is priced up to $2,000 less than the competing RTX 2080 Ti-powered graphics on the Corsair One Pro i180.

As expected, the ProArt PA90’s 3D Mark Time Spy result of 5,527 points using Underwriter Laboratories’ graphics benchmarking tool is 57% lower than the Corsair One Pro’s score of 12,842 points. Performance here is about what you’d get with Nvidia’s GTX 1650 Ti processor. Even though the ProArt isn’t designed as a gaming system, this is enough graphics power for gamers looking to play most modern games at FHD resolution. Creatives working in multimedia-heavy workflows, like video editing and detailed rendering, may want to add an eGPU to the ProArt or choose an alternative that delivers stronger graphics performance.

In our gaming benchmark, all of the games that we tested played smoothly in 1080p, so gamers not pushing for maximum details at higher resolutions won’t have any problems with the Quadro P4000 graphics on the ProArt. Casual gamers will do fine with a basic setup, but enthusiasts can push for higher performance by connecting a better graphics card to an eGPU to the ProArt’s Thunderbolt 3 port. With the Nvidia Quadro P4000 graphics, games with less heavy graphics rendering can be pushed to 2K resolution with higher game settings and perform fine, while games with heavier rendering will struggle above 1080p resolutions.

Testing the Quadro graphics with modern, less graphics strenuous games like Fortnite and Civilization VI, we found that the system played above 60 frames per second (FPS) across all game settings through 3K resolution. At 4K, both titles dipped to 40 FPS.

Graphics intensive games, like Battlefield V and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, both started struggling at the highest game settings when played in 1080p resolution. Battlefield V, for example, performed at 63 FPS on medium settings at 1080p resolution, but dipped below 60 FPS once the settings were turned up to ultra. The situation was very similar with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and stuttering became noticeable in ultra mode even at 1080p. Both titles stayed under 60 FPS with noticeable dropped frame rates through 2K and 4K resolutions.

Lighter titles such as Fortnite and Civilization VI can even be pushed to 1440p, or 2K, resolution at lower game settings. At this resolution, games with more complex rendering may begin showing signs of stuttering.

On one hand, it’s nice to know that the graphics card will be able to handle most games. However, given that this workstation is targeted at creatives, many of whom will pair the ProArt with a capable 4K display, using higher resolutions for workflows and being constrained to just 1080p for casual gaming may be a jarring experience. Aside from gaming, the ProArt really shows its strength in workstation-related tasks, like content creation. Working with CAD rendering files, Photoshop edits, and Adobe Premiere Pro video editing all felt speedy. The Quadro P4000 graphics architecture was tuned for these types of tasks, and the speed shows when you’re using the ProArt PA4000 for what it was really intended to do.

Give the limits of this space-saving form factor, it’s understandable why Apple went back to the classic tower. The 2019 Mac Pro, for example, can now support up to four graphics cards thanks to the tower’s increased volume. That’s the trade-off for the ProArt’s smaller, closed-off design.

And even though the ProArt is a capable PC for creative work, productivity tasks, and even gaming, you’ll likely want to invest in better peripherals for this system. Business users and gamers accustomed to higher quality keyboards will likely want to bring their own keyboard and mouse for an upgraded experience. The ProArt ships with a matching keyboard and mouse, but the included accessories here are flimsy – the plastic feels cheap, the keys are mushy, and there is some creaking and rattling with the keyboard itself.

Warranty

Asus’ warranty coverage for the ProArt makes this system feel more like a consumer system than one that’s targeted for the more strenuous conditions of an enterprise environment. The ProArt is backed by a standard one-year warranty, but there aren’t any options to extend or upgrade the coverage. PC manufacturers targeting their systems towards businesses – like Dell, HP, and Lenovo – either offer longer standard warranty periods of up to three years, or allow buyers to upgrade the length of their coverage to up to five years for an added charge. Even the competing Corsair One Pro i180 comes with a two-year warranty.

Additionally, many of these companies also offer coverage upgrades that include on-site repairs or next business-day shipping.

Our Take

The Asus ProArt PA90 is a modern alternative to Apple’s trash can Mac Pro, and given its performance to price factor, a decidedly more affordable option than Corsair’s One Pro i180 for offices that may not need such extreme performance from a compact workstation. Equipped with Intel’s latest 9th-gen processor, the ProArt is one speedy PC, making it a great desk companion for creatives.

It does have limits, though. It doesn’t have the graphics power that other workstations offer, and upgradeability remains an issue.

Is there a better alternative?

If you’re in the market for a gaming system, there are better alternatives at $2,999. Mainstream gaming towers, like HP’s Omen Obelisk and Dell’s Alienware Aurora R8, come with similar 9th-gen Intel Core i9 processors coupled with newer RTX 2080 graphics. These PCs also cost less than the ProArt’s entry price. However, if you need a powerful workstation in a compact package, there are relatively few alternatives.

The Corsair One Pro i180 is perhaps the closest competitor to the ProArt. As a more premium alternative, the Corsair ranges up to a more powerful Intel Core X extreme processor and upgraded RTX 2080 Ti graphics, making it a more well-rounded and versatile system for both work and play. However, at a cost of $4,999, it comes with a significantly heftier price.

Another good option is the tiny Mac Mini. Though it lacks discrete graphics, we found its performance to be admirable, especially given its size.

How long will it last?

The ProArt PA90 has plenty of power, but its reliance on an older graphics architecture means you might hit that bottleneck in the future. Given its more limited internal upgrade potential, the ProArt feels and acts more like a laptop. Thankfully, if you need more graphics performance, Thunderbolt 3 support gives this PC a lot of flexibility. Adding an eGPU may be an easy way to upgrade the ProArt’s performance, but desktop real estate occupied by the external graphics enclosure negates the space-saving benefits of this PC’s compact form factor.

Should you buy it?

Yes, as long as you have the need for unique PC like the ProArt. Few workstations are as stylish and as powerful, and though it’s not for tinkerers, creatives will quite happy with the simplicity and the performance.

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