Razer Blade £2000
30th Sep 2012 | 18:30
Razer's signature gaming laptop has been redesigned for more power with no loss of portability
In both form and function, there's a lot to love about Razer's new 17-inch Razer Blade gaming laptop. It's attractive, thin, lightweight, and very, very fast.
Far and away, however, the feature everyone notices first - and that you'll want to show off to your friends, family, and fellow/random tech nerds - is first-of-its-kind Switchblade touchpad interface. This unique new feature turns the Blade's touchpad into a fully functioning second screen that allows you to check your email, watch YouTube videos, or - best of all - amplify your gaming experience.
This final point is the most important of all because from the hardware to the battery life to the right-hand position of touchpad, the Razer Blade is decidedly gaming-ready.
The question is: Is it worth the top-shelf $2,500 (£1,500) price tag? Answer: If you have the cash, the answer is yes. Consider this: At this point in time, it's literally not possible to get this much power on another laptop with a 17-inch screen in a chassis this thin and light.
We'll get to the Switchblade UI touchpad shortly. Let's start at the top.
Razer Blade lives up to its name
Even considering the impressive Switchblade second-screen touchpad, we still can't get over the size and shape of this system. At .88 inches thick and weighing only 6.6 pounds (a touch under 7 pounds with the power brick), this is an exquisite feat of modern engineering. Most laptops with the Razer Blade's specs are literally twice as thick and weigh 10 percent to 20 percent more.
These dimensions felt even more impressive when we remembered that Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air measures .68 inches at its thickest point. It's not packing nearly half the power of this portable.
Aesthetically, we immediately fell in love with the Razer Blade's sturdy black matte brushed aluminum chassis, which sports Razer's distinct-looking logo illuminated in green. The system's green backlit Chiclet-style keyboard is impressively gamer-y as well.
The Razer Blade has a 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 display. It's not an IPS screen, but it has great viewing angles and very nice color tones - enough so that we initially thought it was an IPS panel.
The laptop measures 16.81 inches in width and 10.90 inches in depth. It has a full-size 6-row keyboard, and the Switchblade UI touchpad can serve as a numerical keypad.
(And no, it's not yet time to talk about the touchpad. You'll have to keep waiting.)
The star of this new laptop is a brand new Intel Ivy Bridge CPU: the 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-3632QM.
The successor to the 3612QM, the Core i7 3632QM is a high-end mobile part containing 4 cores and 8 threads. The CPU, which like the rest of the Ivy Bridge line, is fabricated on Intel's 22nm process, has a TDP of 25 Watt. With all four cores active, it's capable of turbo boosting up to 2.9GHz, and can also boost to 3.1GHz with two active cores and 3.2GHz with a single core active.
Translation: This CPU is really, really fast - and power efficient.
The CPU does have Intel's integrated HD Graphics 4000, but Razer taps Nvidia's upper mid-range GeForce GTX 660M as the graphics workhorse. DirectX 11.1 compatible, it's ideally suited in terms of power consumption and output for the Razer Switchblade's ginormous HD display.
We also like the hybrid 500GB drive, which is an ideal mobile solution because it delivers a large amount of storage capacity, but also offers rapid access of the most utilized data via an integrated 64GB SSD. Some day, we'll play on laptops with 750GB solid state drives; until then the hybrid is a welcome alternative. We experienced lightning-fast boot times and the system comes out of sleep mode in a very snappy manner.
Also nice: The dual-band Wi-Fi network adapter is capable of exchanging data on both 2.4GHz and 5.0Ghz frequencies. That's a nice touch, given the large number of performance routers that also operate on both frequencies. At shorter ranges, the 5.0GHz is ideally suited for high-performance data transfers.
Other key specifications include:
- 8GB RAM DDR3 1600MHz
- Free upgrade to Windows 8
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 60Wh battery
3DMark 06: 14,422
Cinebench 10: 20,026
Battery Eater '05: 82 minutes
Given the internal specifications above, we were excited to get the Razer Blade out on the open road to see what it could do. The answer, it turns out, is a whole lot.
A week ago, we reviewed Toshiba's 3D Qosmio X870, which we found to be an astoundingly powerful gaming machine for the remarkable price of $1,900.
We're not surprised that the Razer Blade holds its own in head-to-head benchmarking comparisons. In our 3DMark test, which inflicts DX9 pain and suffering on the graphics processor, we were quite pleased with the results.
The same goes for our Cinebench 10 test, which soaks all four CPU scores. The Qosmio's 100MHz advantage gives it a slight 4 percent performance advantage there. Both systems' performances, it must be said, are top notch.
So, what does this mean in terms of real-world performance? We stretched the Blade out in our current obsession, Borderlands 2, and at 1920 x 1080 with no antistrophic filtering on, saw decent frame rates in the high 20s and occasionally low 30s. At lower resolutions such as 1280 x 1024, the frame rates improved considerably.
We saw similar results with other DX11 games. Bottom line: You're not going to get 60 frames per second with current-gen PC titles at 1080 resolution, but you'll be pleased with the results.
The upside of the new Intel CPU, which boasts some new power efficiencies, is that it results in surprisingly solid battery life. In our Battery Eater test, which continuously hammers away at the hard drive, graphics processor, and CPU until the battery completely discharges, we saw an eye-opening result of 82 minutes.
It's worth noting that, in normal use, the Razer Blade's battery performance is commendable. We were able to go almost 6 hours while typing and browsing away. That's impressive.
Switchblade Touchscreen Trackpad
It is finally time to discuss the Razer Blade's fancy, newfangled touchpad, dubbed the Switchblade User Interface. In short, the Switchblade is amazing, innovative, and remarkable. In a lot of ways, it's kind of like having a touchscreen phone embedded onto your laptop.
The Switchblade UI is comprised of a multi-touch track panel that is also a 4-inch, 800 x 480 LCD screen, ten backlit soft keys that Razer calls Dynamic Adaptive Tactile Keys, and the Synapse software utility that allows you to customize and program the UI for games, general usage, and more.
The Synapse utility requires a log-in to use, but in exchange it stores all your settings, add-ons, and customizations online for you, including mouse sensitivity, keyboard lightning, key bindings, and more so that if you ever upgrade to a new system or Synapse-compatible keyboard, you'll be able to take all your settings with you.
Some of the ways you can use the 10 keys above the touchpad include:
- A numeric pad
- A gaming mode that locks out the Windows key and Alt-Tab
- The ability to launch a web browser in the display in order to search for cheats, tips, or anything else
- YouTube - you can watch a game walkthrough without having to leave the game
- A clock
- Game timer that allows you to create countdown timers
- Facebook, of course
- One-press screen capture utility
- Macro recorder for capturing game actions
The Switchblade UI also comes with some game-specific applications and settings for Star Wars: The Old Republic, Battlefield 3, Team Fortress 2, and Counter-Strike.
The Switchblade UI and Dynamic Adaptive Tactile Keys automatically update when you play games that have pre-loaded settings, like the above. With these games, you'll have a bunch of actions available at the press of a button.
As an example, in Battlefield, you can use the touchpad to quick-switch between weapons and use context-sensitive controls. In SWTOR, you can access all sorts of data on the second display.
Over time, we should see support for more and more games. The rub is that because this is such a unique feature, we may never see a high volume of game customizations for the Switchblade UI. (Razer also makes a DeathStalker keyboard as well as a SWTOR plank that both feature a second screen.)
If you want to take full advantage of this next-generation touchpad, you're going to have to spend some time learning how to fully customize the soft keys to function in the manner you like using the Synapse software utility. It's not the quickest procedure, but assigning functions and mapping macros to the keys is fairly straightforward.
You can even access a library of images that you can assign to these custom in-game functions.
Finally, you can also customize the touchpad wallpaper with whatever image you'd like.
Switchblade UI will continue to evolve
We'll admit to being initially skeptical about the Switchblade touchpad, but after spending a considerable amount of time playing games and operating on it, we came away impressed.
For gamers, the ability to program the 10 soft keys to access items and call up various powers and abilities is a game-changer. More importantly, the right-hand position of the touchpad (which we were initially bothered by) and the high responsiveness of it make it fairly intuitive to game on this system without an external mouse. We were even able to play Borderlands 2 on this thing.
However, it's not perfect. While the touchpad itself is remarkable, its location on the right-hand side of the keyboard will take some getting used to for mundane tasks.
After several days of pounding away, we still found ourselves trying to apply our thumbs and right forefinger to the inches of empty space beneath the keyboard, only to remember that the touchpad is in the odd and unique position of the right-hand side of the laptop.
To be fair to Razer, the touchpad has to be there in order to fulfill the promise of being an authentic gaming laptop. A bigger problem is that the left and right mouse buttons, which are positioned right below the touchpad, feel almost like an afterthought and are poorly suited for gaming. In addition to having poor travel when pressed, these buttons are so thin that it's easy to miss them.
Furthermore, the positioning of the Razer-function button is also in an awkward position. It's close enough to the cursor keys that we found ourselves frequently mistaking it for the right-cursor button. The good news is that there's no harm done when you hit. And that you'll get used to it. Remember hitting the Windows key on the first keyboard/laptop that had one of those? (Yes, we're old. But along with that age comes gobs of experience, right?)
Finally, we consistently found ourselves wishing that we could somehow use the touchpad to continue to navigate Windows while simultaneously using it to watch Gangnam style on Youtube. That's a pipedream, we know, but the beauty of the Switchblade platform that it will be upgraded over time. Maybe some day?
For now, this feature is way ahead of its time. In coming months and years, we fully expect to see more and more keyboards with embedded second (and even third) screens.
All this said, if you're not a hardcore gamer, you'll probably find the Switchblade UI superfluous. Truthfully, if you're not a hardcore gamer, you're probably not thinking about spending $2,500 for a laptop.
Let's wrap this review up.
The best thing we can say about the Razer Blade is that it is very fast indeed. The third-gen Ivy Bridge Intel CPU is a real workhorse in terms of performance and power consumption. And we like the decision to eschew Nvidia's highest-end mobile gaming part in favor of a more modest (but still powerful) high-mid-range 3D adapter for the same power-performance reasons.
The second best thing we can say about the Razer Blade is that it's easily one of the coolest-looking gaming laptop TechRadar has ever seen or tested. It's the kind of system you can show your wife or girlfriend and actually elicit some oohs and ahhs. That counts for something, right?
It would be easy to write off the Switchblade touchpad UI as a gimmick, until you see it in action. Not only is it a boon for gamers, but its customizable nature should allow for some fantastically unique uses in the future. We're excited to see if and how this evolves.
This is clearly a UI platform to build on, and the fact that the Switchblade is based on your log-in information means that if you upgrade laptops in the future, you won't have to set everything up again from scratch.
Even the audio quality—delivered via a soundbar in the center of the laptop—is ideally suited for gaming, delivering crisp highs and a surprising amount of thump at the low-end.
Finding things to dislike about the Razer Blade is fairly difficult. It's easy to get grumpy over the $2500.00 price tag. But if you're searching for portable power in a chassis that won't make you feel like you're breaking your back, this is the high point. And the high point always costs a premium.
Other negatives include the keyboard, which feels a little too stiff for our tastes, and the mouse buttons, which lack the responsiveness we like for gaming. The first complaint is fairly subjective—a stiff keyboard isn't the worst for gaming. And because it's highly likely you'll be playing games with an attached mouse the second point may not be that relevant. (Using the touchpad itself for mouse-clicks during standard computing is perfectly fine.)
Perhaps the most noticeable shortcoming is that it does take some time to get used to the location of the touchpad during normal day-to-day computing tasks if you aren't using an external mouse.
Even four days after beginning to use the Razer Blade, we found ourselves twiddling our thumbs below the keyboard in vain to move the cursor around.
This said, the position of the Switchblade touchpad is important because it enables laptop gaming in a way that most systems—Toshiba's lightning-fast Qosmio X870 included—do not.
We're very much impressed. From top to bottom, the Razer Blade is a very well-thought out design, and is a joy to use on a day-to-day basis.
Given the brooding chassis, evil-green glowing lights, and raw power, we couldn't help but think of this rig as the anti-MacBook.
It's hard to imagine porting around a 17-inch laptop, but at only a little under 7 pounds all-in and with surprisingly stellar battery life, the previously unthinkable is perfectly reasonable here. The notion that you could sit in a café and play Borderlands 2 on this thing pleases us.
The hardest-core gamers will marvel at the quick key effects the customizable Switchblade UI permits. Everyone else will marvel at how cool it is.