New Razer Blade $2199
12th Mar 2014 | 16:02
Razer looks to reinvent the gaming laptop. Again
There's something gratifying about a company keying in on customer complaints and attempting to, if not making, amends on the next version of a product.
Not that the first 14-inch Razer Blade was a disaster - we gave it 4.5 stars out of five in our review - but Razer recognized it could have been better, especially its 1600 x 900 screen.
With the new Razer Blade, available for pre-order today, Razer may have outdone itself. I recently went face to face with the next-gen Blade, and the results were stunning. The screen is vastly improved, but Razer didn't stop there. It also took the laptop's GPU to a whole new class, all the while maintaining its "thinner than a dime" profile.
It's not a perfect machine, but with a gorgeous face and snappy responses, the 2014 Blade left a lingering impression.
I got my eyes on you
I won't dance around the issue; the 2013 Razer Blade display left something to be desired for most users and reviewers, including me when I went hands on with it last year. I brought up my gripe with Razer CEO Min Liang-Tan at E3 2013, and even he said that while the laptop had an HD+ display, "it could be better."
I won't take credit for the new Razer Blade's display, but I will bask in its 3200 x 1800 resolution. Razer has packed 262 pixels per inch in the 14-inch screen, amounting to 5.76 million pixels in all. By comparison, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display has a resolution of 2560 x 1600 at 227ppi and the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display sports a 2880 x 1800 screen at 220ppi.
The Blade's display is made from an IGZO/IPS panel, and features full touch capabilities. I found it a little unnatural to reach for the screen while I was attempting to start a game, but it's nice to know the capability is there. It shouldn't be too much of a stretch to swipe and poke the glass for those used to Windows 8.1 on other machines.
On-screen images are clearly visible from every angle, and the back-lit vibrancy was hypnotizing. With a contrast ration improved 250% over its predecessor, the punchiness of the colors in the world of Watch Dogs was potent.
The glass extends edge-to-edge and while the bezel might be a tad thick, all in all the screen is like a jewel enshrined in a sleek matte black box.
Burning on the inside
The other major improvement Razer undertook with the new Blade was its graphics power. The previous Blade ran an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M, which aced our tests.
This time around, in order to accommodate the high-end screen, Razer had to step its GPU game up a notch. Now, the 2014 edition runs a brand new Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M GPU, an entire class above the 700M series. It also scored 3GB GDDR5, a kick up from the 765M's 2GB GDDR5 VRAM.
According to Razer, the new Blade scored 65% faster than its predecessor in the 3DMark 2011 benchmark. During a game demo, the average frames per second landed at 55.4.
The processor continues along the 4th gen Core i7 path, and combined we found the new Razer torched through tasks. Perhaps a little too hot.
A Razer engineer explained that the company identified a "no touch zone" along the top edge of the laptop's base (right above the F1 - F12 keys, where users' fingers typically don't wonder) that helps disperse heat generated by the supped-up specs.
While this region definitely heated up, the heat seeped as low as the J and K keys on my right and D and F keys to the left. It wasn't burning, but was uncomfortable enough for me to question how long I'd want to let my fingers linger on those letters.
The whir of the fans was also noticeable, something we didn't identify as a problem in our 2013 review. To be fair, the laptop we checked out had been running for at least 30 minutes, performing various game demos and being subjected to my hands on, so it may have reached a boiling point of sorts. TechRadar will have to perform more long-term testing to see how the new Blade holds up during regular use.
As for the rest of the notable parts, the trackpad moves the cursor at the slightest provocation, so be warned if you're sensitive to overly responsive pads. The Blade's speakers, given an extra boost by Dolby, are excellent.
The laptop features three USB 3.0 ports and HDMI 1.4a audio and video output. With 8GB of on-board memory and a starting SSD of 128GB, the Blade packs plenty of space for games, work and whatever else you want to store.
It's worth mentioning the built-in 70 watt-hour battery and 150 W power adapter, which is probably one of the smallest I've seen. The 70 Wh gets a shout out because Razer managed to squeeze it in a 0.7-inch thick frame.
Finally, the Blade's black clamshell case is a standout design element. It's sleek and attractive and feels great to the touch. It gives the laptop a bit of flare and carries that distinct Razer look.
When Razer introduced the Blade last year, it set out to redefine the gaming laptop. It wanted to prove a powerful machine doesn't have to mean a bulky one.
Razer's first go succeeded in meshing mobility with function. With its new Blade, Razer has stayed true to that philosophy while still finding ways to improve. The screen is worlds better than the original and I can't imagine other gaming laptop makers - hell, any laptop maker - ignoring what Razer has put in the Blade.
It's not just a pretty face though and Nvidia's new GPU was impressive during my short time seeing it in action.
The biggest hang-up for many will likely be the Blade's price, which starting at $2,199 (about £1,323, AU$2,451) is $100 (about £60, AU$111) less than the first Blade when it went on sale but significantly more than Apple's MacBook Pros with Retina, save for the 15-inch 2.3GHz configuration.
Still, it's a lot of laptop for the buck, and a beautiful one at that. Gazing at a gasp-worthy screen while you game may just be worth the price of admission.