Razer Blade $1999
2nd Jul 2013 | 17:00
Thin is in with Razer's new gaming laptop
Introduction and design
We reviewed Razer's Razer Blade Pro gaming laptop last year in September of 2012, and we found the 17-inch gaming laptop highly desirable. For the screen size, it was surprisingly thin, and it packed one heck of a performance punch.
Far and away, the feature that stood out most to us the most was the laptop's incredibly thin and light profile. We're unashamed to be MacBook fans—given Apple's superior notions of design, only the most devout Windows purist wouldn't be—but we nevertheless found ourselves hoping (praying?) that Razer might be onto something in terms of design and performance.
When you get right down to it, the 17-inch laptop just isn't for everyone—certainly not battle-hardened road warriors. But a 14-inch system with a similar emphasis on portability and performance? And boasting the same kind of emphasis on thinness and good looks as the 17-incher? Well, that's a different story.
(It's worth noting that, in conjunction with the release of the 14-inch Razer Blade, the 17-inch version slides over to become the Razer Blade Pro.)
To be honest, when Razer announced the new 14-inch Razer Blade gaming system we're reviewing here, we double-checked the specs and found ourselves wondering if this might just be the new laptop we've been dreaming of.
Our only real reservation was the screen resolution, which at 1600 x 900 offers far fewer pixels than the MacBook Pro's 2560 x 1600 Retina Display.
How big of a deal is this? And how does the Razer Blade stack up in terms of gaming performance?
The short answers are "not very" and "very well".
Let's jump into the review.
MacBook-style design, but with attitude
As a general rule, we try to avoid using the word sexy when describing devices and hardware, but the 14-inch Razer Blade is undeniably, truly sexy.
The laptop boasts the same exact design aesthetic as its bigger, older 17-inch brother. The black-matte aluminum finish and cool-looking Razer insignia on the lid make it clear that, even if this system has roughly the same profile as a MacBook Pro, it is not your typical portable computer.
Fluorescent green accents on the USB ports, the logo, and the backlit keyboard enhance the gamer vibe, but thankfully not too much. You'll get second looks from everyone from your grandmother to your friends to the guy sitting next to you on the plane with this laptop. That's more than you can say for some of the other rad-gamer designs out there today.
Part of the reason the Razer Blade is such a head turner is that it's surprisingly thin and light. Measuring just .66 inches high, 13.6 inches wide, and 9.3 inches long, it's actually thinner than the MacBook Pro. Considering the hardware packed into this thing (quad-core Intel Haswell CPU, next-gen Nvidia graphics part), this is no small feat.
Even the Razer Blade's 150 watt power adapter is smaller than most laptops' power bricks, making it an appropriate work/play/travel system.
The other reason the Blade is immediately lovable is its 14-inch, 1600 x 900 display, which emits a sharp enough image that we initially thought it was an IPS panel. It's not, but it's bright enough that you can use it in broad daylight, and boasts the kind of clarity and wide viewing angles that you normally find in IPS display.
The only downside to the display is that it does not run at a full 1080p HD resolution. The only way you'll get full HD resolutions is by connecting this laptop to a flat-screen monitor or HDTV via the HDMI cable.
We'll be honest: after spending a week testing and using the laptop as our primary rig (something we do with all the laptops that come across the review desk), the 1600 x 900 resolution bothered us a lot less than we thought it would.
Cool and quiet, even while gaming
Razer has gone out of its way to craft a thermally functional rig as well. Two small, quiet exhaust fans sit on the bottom of the chassis, and two thing rubber platforms give the fans some clearance for exhaust. During normal, non-intensive gaming operations, the laptop runs cool enough that you won't ever notice the fans or any heat. More surprisingly, even during our most rigorous gaming sessions, we still didn't hear the fans.
The Razer Blade's sound design is another nice touch. On either side of the keyboard are Dolby certified stereo speakers that sound surprisingly great.
In fact, the only real glaring weakness in the Razer Blade's design is the trackpad. Even at a glance, it will be clear to most users that the left and right buttons are insufficient for heavy duty use both working and playing.
Unfortunately, the flaws go a little deeper than this. At various moments during testing, we experienced a few different glitches, the most annoying of which was a random cursor jump that appeared to be caused by some kind of sensitivity to the palm of our left hand. Imagine editing a document and suddenly finding your cursor 3 sentences up, and you can probably feel our pain.
No matter what sensitivity adjustments we made in the Synaptics settings panel, we couldn't fully eradicate the problem. To be fair, 95% of the time we experienced a reliable, accurate touchpad experience.
Regardless, we would have greatly preferred a MacBook style clickable touchpad here. The touchpad wasn't a deal breaker for us, but it's a big source of concern, and might be for more particular users.
Specifications and design
As tested, the Razer Blade we tested was configured in the following manner:
- 2.2GHz Intel quad-core Core i7 4702HQ CPU
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M
- 256GB mSATA Solid State Drive
- Killer Wireless-N 1202 (802.11a/b/g/n)
- 3 USB 3.0 ports
- 1 HDMI 1.4 out
- 1 audio out
- Bluetooth 4.0 adapter
- 70Wh battery
Of the above configuration, only the hard drive is adjustable—you can buy the Razer Blade with a 128GB ($1,799), 256GB ($1,999), or 512GB ($2,299) SSD.
The star components, of course are the next-generation mobile CPU and graphics processor. Let's get into it.
The Core i7 4702HQ is based on Intel's new Haswell architecture. It's a fairly high-end quad-core mobile CPU, and is manufactured on a 22nm process that runs at 2.2GHz in standard operations. It also is capable of running in burst modes up to 2.9GHz when all four cores are active, 3.1GHz Turbo Boost clock speeds with two cores active, and 3.2GHz clock speeds with a single active core. Hyperthreading provides 4 additional virtual threads for a grand total of 8 processing threads.
Also important: The 4702HQ has a TDP (Thermal Design Power) of only 37 watts, meaning it politely sips power while running. A 37 TDP rating is low enough that it also means we'll likely see this CPU in much smaller form-factors.
The Haswell processor integrates Intel's new HD Graphics 4600. Recognizing gamers' needs, Razer also built in Nvidia's GeForce GTX 765m discrete graphics part.
The GTX 765m is a DirectX 11, Kepler-based high-mid-range mobile graphics adapter. It has 768 cores running at 850 MHz, and 2GB of DDR5 VRAM. The chip uses Nvidia's Optimus technology, which allows the system to save power by automatically toggling between the CPU's integrated graphics and this dedicated chip based on the type of application you're running.
Network performance junkies, be warned: the Razer Blade has no Ethernet port. It does have three USB 3.0 ports, however.
The Razer Blade's performance lives up to the specs
Cinebench: 22,273 (single CPU: 5,918)
3DMark11 : 10,646 / 2,344 (Cloud Gate /Fire Strike)
Metro Last Light: 22.67 fps
Battery Eater 05: 1:24:00
Boot time: 12.8 seconds
As you've probably already noticed, we've added a few new benchmarks to our suite for gaming laptops. We got so excited about the Razer Blade's specifications we decided to beef up our tests a little bit in order to properly flex (and stress) its muscles.
How did that work out? Quite well. In Cinebench 10, which is designed to hammer all the cores in a system's processor, the Razer Blade put up the highest score we've seen from a laptop to date, outpacing even Lenovo's powerful 15.5-inch Y500 gaming laptop by almost 5%.
Even though the Razer Blade's Core i7 4702HQ proc runs 0.2GHz slower than the Y500's 2.4GHz Core i7 3630QM, it still puts up slightly stronger numbers, and with increased power efficiency. This accomplishment becomes even more impressive when you consider that this newer CPU is built for much smaller systems.
Moving on to our graphics-oriented suite of tests...the Razer Blade aced those across the board also.
In the 2011 version of 3DMark, the Razer Blade Pro put up a score of 10,646 for the Cloud Gate test, which is a notebook-oriented DX11 test that's heavy on geometry, post-processing, volumetrick illumination and physics.
In the much tougher Fire Strike 3DMark11 test, which was built for high-end gaming systems, the Razer Blade struggled a bit, throwing up a 2,344.
Finally in the Metro: Last Light test, which pushes a system's graphics and CPU processing in ways that many tests cannot, we saw an average frame rate of 22.67 frames per second at a resolution of 1600 x 900 with all details turned up. That's impressive for a laptop this thin.
At test time, we hadn't previously run 3DMark11 or the benchmark built into Metro: Last Light on any other gaming laptops that have crossed TechRadar's reviews desk. So, in order to create a baseline of comparison, we decided to run them on Lenovo's Y500 gaming laptop. The system aced our tests earlier this year because it has a last-gen mid-high-end Intel Core i7 3602HQ, but it also has two Nvidia GeForce GTX 650Ms running in SLI mode.
The comparison went surprisingly well for the Razer Blade. The Y500 put up an average frame rate of 21.33 frames per second in Metro Last Light, and scores of 12,783 for 3DMark11's CloudGate test as well as a score of 2,428 for the taxing Fire Strike benchmark. Not bad, right?
To be fair to Lenovo, the Y500 is a massive 15.6-inch desktop replacement with a massive screen that costs $750 less than this system. But still, the fact that the Razer Blade's single graphics part allowed it to essentially hold its own against two 650Ms in SLI is no small feat.
In real-world gaming, we consistently found ourselves surprised with the Razer Blade's performance. In Metro, for example, we were able to play full screen (1600 x 900) with medium levels of detail at acceptable frame rates. On most older games, such as the first Call of Duty: Black Ops, we were able to play at 1080 resolution on a connected HDTV with a high level of detail at very satisfying frame rates.
The bottom line is that this system is gaming-ready, making it a great choice for road warriors who like to play games while travelling.
Our battery life test, which uses Battery Eater 05 to fully saturate all of a laptop's systems, was somewhat surprising in that the battery only lasted 84 minutes. We were expecting a lot more, but the lower number is likely because the test forces the Razer Blade to switch on Nvidia's discrete graphics processor.
After using the laptop for a full week in more real-world modes, we can say this: In a more normal operating mode—meaning work or lighter sessions of video that don't frequently utilize the discrete graphics adapter—the battery lasts a lot longer than most systems we've seen.
One final note on performance: The stereo sound coming from the speakers on either side of the keyboard is top-notch, providing gratifying bass booms and surprisingly effective high-end effects in both games and music.
At the end of the day, a gaming laptop is measured by three key elements, in this order: its gaming performance, its portability, and its suitability for general computing productivity. Then there's cooling, a ubiquitous underlying concern that both affects and is affected by cost. Very few PC laptops master each of these elements, and this isn't even considering other intangibles like aesthetic design, input controls, and more.
Okay, let's start grading out the Razer Blade.
In the favorable category, we liked pretty much everything we saw, touched, and played with. Performance? Check. Looks? Check? Slim profile? Yes. Next-gen components? Got it.
In fact, with just a few exceptions (which we'll get into shortly), this is a very well thought-out and designed system, both for gaming and day-to-day usage. Even the keyboard, which can be hit or miss on laptops, is comfortable and responsive for both games and productivity. And we love that it's backlit in a non-gaudy manner.
The screen also bears a second mention. Even though it's only 1600x900, the display is everything a laptop display should be. It's sharp and bright, with vibrant color reproduction.
It also bears mentioning that we appreciate the lack of bloatware on this system. Far too many systems—particularly those shipped by big PC OEMs—are loaded with all kinds of apps and utilities we neither want nor need. It's refreshing to start up a laptop for the first time and see none of this. In and of itself, this is a sign that you're in the right place.
Most of all though, we like the direction Razer is heading with this series of laptops. Walking the line between performance, power consumption, and thermal dynamics isn't easy, but Razer is doing it quite well.
The fact that this laptop is so thin, lightweight, and aesthetically pleasing is more than a bonus; it puts the Razer Blade in rarified company.
The biggest gripe we have with this laptop is far and away the mouse touchpad. The left and right mouse buttons at the bottom of the touchpad are flat-out uncomfortable to use. Thankfully, you can just tap the pad itself to left-click, but you have no such recourse for accessing context sensitive menus via right-clicking. A clickable touchpad with a bottom right-hand corner that functioned as the right mouse button—like that found on the MacBook series—would be infinitely preferable.
Button placement and responsiveness can be subjective. Annoying trackpad glitches typically are not. Far and away, the most dislikable feature here is the touchpad's inconsistent sensitivity. At least once every half hour, we experienced the odd glitch mentioned previously that caused the cursor to ghost jump the cursor to another line of text while we were typing.
This feels like a bit more than a minor bug or annoyance; at the wrong moment, it can be infuriating. Thankfully, it didn't happen to us often enough to drive us over the ledge. It's not a deal breaker, but we're hoping it's some kind of temporary bug that gets fixed in a driver update. For what it's worth, we didn't see this error in the trackpad in the Razer Blade Pro we reviewed at the end of 2012.
The only other significant gripe that we have is the Razer Blade's 1600 x 900 display resolution, and even this is more theoretical than anything. Sure, a full 1080 HD display would have been nice, and a Retina Display-style 2560 x 1600 screen would have been amazing, mostly because it makes multi-tasking and working much easier to do. But again, it's not a deal breaker—particularly given the high quality of the existing screen.
The final concern we have is the Razer Blade's price. $2,000 isn't cheap, but at least for that much money, you're getting state-of-the-art components and a great looking laptop.
Ultimately and despite these few concerns, the Razer Blade sets a new high mark for what a mid-size Windows laptop can and should be. It looks fantastic, exhibits top-notch performance in both day-to-day use and gaming. And it's comfortable to work on.
In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that, with the two exceptions noted above—screen resolution and trackpad—the Razer Blade gives Apple's MacBook Pro line a serious run for the money.
In terms of performance, very few laptops of this shape and size are capable of rivaling what Razer has created. Even Apple's highest-end laptop—the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display—only has an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M as its dedicated graphics unit.
With all this in mind, we happily recommend the Razer Blade as an ideal gaming/work/road laptop.
One final note: It's worth mentioning that PC gaming laptops are experiencing an impressive renaissance right now. Ever since Windows 8 released at the end of 2012, we've seen a series of pretty amazing systems come across our desks.
This is definitely a trend worth watching.