Razer Blade: The Kotaku Review

When I see the term 'gaming laptop', the first word that comes to mind is 'performance'. And when I hear of a gaming laptop with a price tag of nearly $US2,800, I imagine a system that can readily outperform any less expensive machine.

That's just the way I've traditionally evaluated a gaming system -- I am paying for performance. Judging by the initial reaction to Razer's modestly-spec'ed Blade laptop, I'm not alone. While many members of the PC gaming crowd were intrigued by the Blade's unique design, more still pointed and laughed, wondering why anyone would spend so much money when a similarly-powered system could be had for half the price.

It's a valid question with a simple answer: Razer isn't selling power.

Ah. Then what the hell are we spending $US2800 on?

I have to admit I was among the Blade naysayers even as I unpacked the review system. After the initially-promised pre-Christmas launch came and went, I wasn't even sure the system would make it out the door. And once it made it from Razer's door to mine, I was willing to believe, despite the tech specs staring me in the face, that this ultra-expensive system was an under-performing waste of cash that could barely run Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The Razer Blade Price: US$2799.99 Product Specifications: • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 2640M Processor • 8GB 1333MHz DDR3 Memory • 17.3-inch LED Backlit Display (1920x1080) • NVIDIA GeForce® GT 555M with NVIDIA Optimus Technology • 2GB Dedicated GDDR5 Video Memory • Built-in HD Webcam • Integrated 60Wh Battery • 250GB SSD • Wireless Network 802.11 b/g/n Compatible • Battery: 6 hours idle, 2 1/2 if playing "hardcore" game. • 16.81" (Width) x 10.9" (Depth) x 0.88" (Height); 6.97lbs (Weight)

A call from a Razer representative set my system settings straight, and since then I've been enjoying modestly impressive performance. It wasn't on the same level as the Origin EON17-S I reviewed last year, but then Origin is a company that is selling performance. Besides, the $US3000 Origin costs more.

The last-minute swapping of the originally spec'ed 320GB 7200rpm SATA hard drive with a 250GB solid state drive (without increasing the system cost) means games load much faster than they do on my plain old SATA desktop hard drive -- which will soon be replaced with an SSD. If you've yet to make the switch, do it. It's lovely.

So the Blade's performance is pretty good. Nothing to write home about, but certainly able to run any current PC game you throw at it on at mid to high graphics settings. It's just not $US2,800 worth of performance.

If it isn't power that justifies the price tag, it must be something the Blade has that other gaming laptops don't. What's so different about Razer's machine?

Portability

There are plenty of gaming laptops in the same price range that readily outperform the Blade, and they all have one thing in common: They are huge. We're talking two inches thick, upwards of 4.5kg. These aren't machines you bring with you for a quick trip to Starbucks. These monsters sit on your desk and loom at you menacingly. Maybe you'll take them on a trip with you, but they'll stay in the hotel room the whole time, scowling at the housekeeping staff.

The Blade is a gaming laptop that's meant to be toted about. Weighing in at under 3kg it's only slightly heavier than a 17-inch Macbook Pro (starting at $US2499, add $US500 for a 250GB SSD), and at only .88 inches tall it's slightly thinner. The unit carries its meagre weight well; a single one-handed heft is enough to set it apart from any other 17 inch gaming laptop I've owned or tested.

As I tested the system with Star Wars: The Old Republic I found myself carrying it about my apartment, taking it with me from room to room. I even fought Jawas on the toilet, and aside from some heat issues (from the laptop, not the toilet) it was a rather comfortable way to play. I could have used a better battery life, with only 40 minutes of hardcore game time with performance maxxed before it sputtered and died, but that inconvenience is offset by the system's ridiculously small power brick -- more of a power candy bar.

You set up a traditional gaming laptop. The Razer Blade you open and play.

Design

Inspired by a combat knife, the Blade is as sleek and sexy as a gaming laptop can get. With a built-in battery and no optical media drive the matte black surface of the outer shell is interrupted only by a set of ports on the left side, a thin pair of heat vents on the underside, and Razer's squid-like green logo resting between a set of slight ridges on top.

It's the sort of design that the Apple faithful gladly pay extra for. I can't help but imagine sales would be through the roof if they replaced that squid logo with a piece of fruit with a bite in it.

The Switchblade UI

The Blade's most unnecessary extravagance, the Switchblade UI is remnant of the Razer Switchblade, a seven-inch portable PC gaming concept Razer showed off at CES 2011. It essentially replaces the standard laptop track pad with a four inch LCD touchscreen with two rows of fully customisable buttons on top. Each button features a tiny screen that can be loaded with any tiny image you wish, from the icon for a particular skill in your favourite game to a tiny Kotaku K that when pressed launches my favourite gaming website (they paid me to say that -- I guess they pay me to say everything).

The four inch screen can be used to watch YouTube videos, browse the web, read Twitter, or any number of things you can do just as well on the brilliant 17 inch 1920 by 1080 screen sitting right in front of you. It can also, in certain situations, display game statistics and such; if it catches on I could see it being used for so much more.

It's a nifty little addition, but not a particularly huge selling point, especially since its placement has the tendency to make right-handed laptop users quite irate. Considering a similarly Switchblade-equipped Star Wars: The Old Republic gaming keyboard from Razer runs $US250, I'd say it likely ups the price of the Blade as well.

And that's what Razer is asking you to spend $US2800 on: A gaming laptop with moderately good performance, stellar design, an intriguing but ultimately unnecessary gimmick, and more portability than any other portable PC game machine.

Oddly enough, those positives represent the biggest challenge for Razer and their deadly new gaming laptop. They're coming into a performance-dominated market and asking consumers used to paying for power to think about portable PC gaming in a completely different way -- and then pay for it.


Comments

    So it's basically a portable Blizzard game machine. SC2, WoW and Diablo III will all run smoothly on this, but the more graphically intensive and/or poorly optimised games will sputter.

      I do not mean to be rude, but a poorly optimised game will under perform not matter where you run it.

      A game should be optimised to best make use of the platform it runs on (be it PC or console). Adding more hardware only masks the problem at the cost of the consumer.

    Would not spend the money on this, not a chance. US $2800, wonder what it will be here. Hell for basically the same price you can get a better alienware. And I would not buy one of those either.

    This is one of the most beautiful laptops I've ever seen. If I was in the market for a gaming laptop, I'd probably be getting this - most gaming laptops are enormous and incredibly ugly. It's a unique product that Razer have come out with here, I wish them the all the best with it, I hope this type of laptop becomes more common.

    I think this review sums it up nicely, intriguing. I love that razer has really stuck their neck out to try something new, at the least I hope it doesn't bite them back.

    Who the hell games on laptops any ways, what a waste of money not to mention if you bring it anywhere someone will probably relieve you of it.

      People who fly a lot for work.

      Well, i do, for one.

      It's funny that within PC elitists, there is a sub-group of desktop elitists that snort and look down there nose at laptops constantly.
      Why?

      I don't have the space for a dedicated desktop PC. I bought my laptop 5 years ago, and only really noticed it falling behind about a couple of years ago, but have no need to change it until just in the past couple of months, now that most the games i want to play are getting REALLY intensive.

      I also like to be able to game wherever i feel comfortable. I don't want to have to retreat into a separate small room, alienated from the rest of my house. I want to sit at the kitchen table. I want to sit on the couch, in front of the TV. I want to laze about in bed, gaming.

      Yes, laptops have a much higher price point, but you have no right to claim it's a "waste of money". What you're expressing in a personal opinion and preference, and the phrase "waste of money" shouldn't appear at all. It's an opportunity cost, that all.
      A "waste of money" would be flushing your most recent paycheck down the toilet, or setting fire to it.

      I would happily pay $1000 for a laptop that can play games competently, if i could afford such a thing at the present time. Heck, my last one was $1200, back when i had a disposable income.

      Also, a laptop doesn't mean you have to take it everywhere with you. If you have a 'gaming' laptop, and you take it with you to school or leave it ANYWHERE, other than your house, unguarded, you're just asking for trouble.
      To me, it would be like being stupid enough to pick up that dastardly piece of soap that slipped out of your hands whilst in the prison showers.

      NOW - on to the Razor laptop itself.
      TO ME this is a complete and utter waste of time. $2800us for a computer that can't compete, spec wise, with a $1800 laptop.
      Funnily enough there are some reasonably thin and pretty gaming laptops done by other companies that also don't cost anywhere near that much.

      As a Marketing student, albeit only finishing first year so far, it is a MASSIVE risk to charge such an exorbitant price for a laptop purely on size alone. If they had half a clue they would be using a market penetration method as at this point the only people whom i would expect to buy this (admittedly lovely looking machine), would be the hardcore Razer fans.

      For me, i just can't see the value in it, but it is definitely pretty.

        +1 I'd hate to have a gaming desktop, meaning I'm forced to play in a separate room. My laptop only has a gt 540m and even though it's not the best performer, I still love it. And besides, not everyone has $2000+ to blow on a desktop anyways.

          well, desktops are often much cheaper than a laptop for something similar.
          A $2000 desktop is really going to be close to top-of-the-line type stuff.
          Especially if you DIY.

          But, yeah - as you said, being confined to a single place is a real downer when it comes to computing/gaming.

          I think my housemates might get a bit PO'd if I played in the living room, because of the Tourettes I suffer from when playing MW3\BF3...

        Well said, Chuloopa. While there are more expensive, most of the cost of a laptop is in the miniaturisation and cooling (it isn't easy).

        That being said, like others I do not see any problem with laptop gaming. Heck, I have a Mac Book Pro and it does the job well for both games and work.

        And before anyone lampoons me, boot camp works fine - it does not lag out the game.

          Oh, great! I'm now alligned with a MAC USER! *rolls eyes*

          LOL -JOKING! PLEASE DON'T HIT ME!

          But yeah... mang, dat cooling - some hardcore stuff and even then it still runs pretty hot sometimes. lol
          It is TOTALLY worth 3rd degree burns on my leg though.

            Ralax, Chuloopa. I'm not actually a sole Mac user. I use Mac OS X, Windows 7 and Linux (Debian and dirivatives) for my work and own play.

            I recently went for a Mac Book Pro for the battery life and weight. And it is money well spent, I can easily do my work (often involving virtual machines) on the battery for hours on end and still not drain it.

            The fact you can run Windows on Mac these days is a plus as you can have the great hardware with the operating system you prefer. I have even heard of co-workers who got rid of OSX and run solely Windows or Linux instead.

            Oh, about the heat - I actually cheat and sit my lunch under my Mac so I can cook it while playing Star Craft 2, :-P.

            Just kidding.

              Thats how i cook my eggs in the morning!

        I've sworn off laptops for gaming. I've had plenty of issues with fans dying or graphics cards konking out 2 years into its life. Dell was pretty evil and wanted to charge me $600 bucks on a 3 year old graphics card -_-'

        Taking apart some laptops is annoying too. Had to dismantle 80% of my old dell lappy before I could even get to my dead graphics card =(

        Unless you travel frequently I think desktop is the way to go.

          Precisely why you never buy a Dell Laptop.

          Giving your money to dell can often be akin to pissing your money down the sink.

          My current laptop is a Toshiba and has lasted me 5 years, including it being dropped on the ground quite a few times.
          Can't say enough good things about it.

          This is also with never formatting the thing - not even once.

            From experience, I've found the reliability of a laptop is more reliably judged on the model, than by the brand. Most brands have lemons and gems in their line-up.

            I myself had a Dell laptop that got me through 3 years of Uni, 1 year of flitting between houses, and still works (but the battery has died). Similar reviews from others with the same model; it's replacement was garbage however.

            I now use a HP laptop, one of the most vilified and hated models for reliability and value. I seemed to have lucked out with a model that is an island of quality in the otherwise awful sea of other models.

        and as a marketing graduate, that statement makes no sense.

    Damn, beasting..

      Waste of money though.

      An average of 3-4 hours is pretty bad though..

    I think the biggest issue is the battery life! " with only 40 minutes of hardcore game time with performance maxxed before it sputtered and died" Why would you even bother? If you have to plug it in it kind of defeats the purpose.

    IMHO... more dollars than sense etc.

    The touch screen is a nice idea... but not as part of a laptop, maybe they should release a usb device for a normal pc.
    Of course the big issue is you have to look at a touch screen to see what you are doing....

    this sounds like it has failed as a gaming laptop.

    Who needs portability for a gaming laptop? 99% of the time you are going to want a stable power/internet connection anyway. Gaming laptops work best as 'desktop replacements'

      Agreed. I have a G73SW and the thing's a tank. But as a result, it has room for moar/bettar stuff, and adequate cooling. I don't see how portability would be an issue unless your laptop weighed more than 5 kilos.

        I WANT it to way more than 5kg!

        BEEFCAKE!!!

        *knocks out 50 laptop presses and goes into laptop squats*

          *Hears a laud crack and find Chuloopa on the floor.*

          IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE FORUM?!

          Then you can take your 5+ kilogram laptop to LAN's and be the strongest kid there. You can also act as a bouncer/standover man/enforcer/mediator for when those rascally/rowdy gamers get out of hand.

          You'll also rest safe in the knowledge the Razer Blade owners are likely tiny stick-men with no upper body strength, due to being owners of such inifnitely tiny and weightless laptops. They'll be no challenge for your beefcake. Ness. Ism.

            You guys have no idea about weight.

            I have a HP HDX laptop, nicknamed 'The Dragon' and that's nicknamed by HP. It's got a 21inch screen, full keyboard with numpad, it has a subwoofer in it (I'm being serious). It weighs easily over 10kg's. Cost me 4g's about 5 year ago, this thing is still a monster.

    All I want to know is: capacitive or resistive.

      Because if there's one thing for sure, if it's Capacitative...
      *puts on sunglasses*
      I won't be able to resist.
      YYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    angry birds on touchscreen anyone?

    So the takeaway here is. Get an SSD!

      SSD's are great, but for the fact they have a finite number of writes (like all flash memory) per drive. Means they have a limited lifespan and are guaranteed to fail - the speed of which depends on how much/how often you're writing to the drive.

      It's about the only thing that's stopped me from getting one, really.

      (Also, bear in mind this is my understanding of SSD, so if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me.)

        You're right about the limited writes. This is why I love my current laptop; it has a 256GB SSD for the OS and games and a 750GB 7200RPM HDD for the games I like slightly less. Typically I don't move much around on the SSD, so it's much less of a problem than if I used an SSD-only machine.

        In all honesty though, with regular use the drive speed difference is unnoticeable; it's only with larger files/games or OS that you'd notice any real difference.

          Thank god you clarified that "difference is unnoticable" with except OS. The OS speed is STUPIDLY faster, turn on computer to browing the net in under 30 sec is almost MAC speed :p. There is no comparison between spinning discs and solid state.
          WRT the life-span. I figure by the time 512G become cheap enough to replace my 128G, I'll be needing the space anyway. Also, I hear the lifespan is pretty long these days. ALSO, I've had plenty of HDDs fail on me, so it's not really an issue to me. I'm pretty sure all the fault tolerance etc will tell me when my SSD is failing anyway (ignorance is bliss if I'm wrong).

    Pretty as it looks, every razer product i've bought has died within a few weeks. I wouldn't trust them with a burnt match much less a $2800 (no doubt more when arrives in AUS) laptop since they cant even make mice and keyboards well enough.

    Also 40 minutes of battery life? Jesus christ what a pile of crap.

    Wonder why cant the company who create graphic card just made the card as equal as a ps3 !!!!! plus ps3 or xbox 360 cost 400 AU $ Each and could run high and on huge HD screen and for pc graphic card we have to spend 2 or 4 card just to run on one huge screen to get a better gaming performance !!!

    How well would this machine "Razer Blade" run Minecraft, skyrim playing and youtube and homework.

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