The first Razer Blade was not a high performance gaming laptop, nor was it meant to be. It was designed with a balance of portability and power in mind, and the allure of a 17-inch gaming laptop that weighs less than 3.1kg was enough for the unit to sell out at every turn, paving the way for a second edition.
The second generation Razer Blade is not quite a high performance gaming laptop, but it's getting better.
Appreciating the original Razer Blade required a dramatic shift in the way I thought about portable gaming machines. Form factor always took a back seat to performance. When the initial Blade specs were revealed alongside the unit's $US2800 price tag, I openly scoffed. I could buy a much more powerful laptop for half the price. Aside from the dangerously sexy look I could think of no reason to shell out that much money.
It's amazing the difference four pounds can make.
The average gaming laptop is not a particularly portable thing. It's self-contained, certainly, but I wouldn't slip one into my backpack for a weekend wandering around E3 or San Diego Comic-Con. I tried it once, and wound up exhausted with an incredibly sweaty back. Since then it's been the Macbook Air for me, not a particularly game-friendly system.
The Razer Blade can run games, it's got a 17-inch 1080p screen, it's made of metal and weighs 6.6 pounds. I can carry it comfortably with one hand.
The second revision of the hardware is all of that, only it runs games better and costs a little less.
Externally not much has changed between the first and second versions of the Razer Blade; without looking closely one would be hard-pressed to tell the two apart. First there are the vents on the underside of the system, now wide open as opposed to the shark-gill slits of the original.
The bottom still gets uncomfortably hot to the touch during extended gaming sessions. I'd imagine the vents were modified to keep the more powerful hardware within from burning grill marks on the user's thighs, Burger King style.
The only other significant exterior change is the buttons beneath the Switchblade UI.
They're a raised a little higher and a bit more clicky, making the touchpad a much more viable control option. I still prefer an external mouse, but I'm not incredibly inconvenienced if one isn't available.
The New Razer Blade
Availability: September 2012
Product Specifications: •Intel Core i7-3632QM 2.2GHz (3.2GHz with Turbo Boost)
•NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 660M with NVIDIA Optimus Technology
•2GB Dedicated GDDR5 Video Memory
•8GB 1600MHz DDR3 Memory
•17.3-in. LED Backlit Display (1920x1080)
•Built-in HD webcam
•Integrated 60Wh battery
•500GB 7200rpm HDD
•64GB SATA III SSD
•Wireless Network 802.11 A/G/N + BT4.0
•42.7 x 27.68 x 2.23cm; 3kg
Support for the interface's programmable buttons is growing slowly — there are now premade profiles for Battlefield 3, Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike Go and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The more support it gets the less gimmicky it feels, but let's face it — it's still pretty gimmicky. I'd drop cash on a slightly smaller version of the Blade with a regular track pad in a heartbeat.
And I still love the damn keyboard. Those flat keys go against everything I've ever believed a keyboard should be, but they are just so damn responsive and easy to hit, just as they were on the Star Wars: the Old Republic Gaming Keyboard Razer put out. I'm seriously considering investing in the non-branded Deathstalker Ultimate just so I can touch them on a regular basis.
The key changes between Razer Blade the first and Razer Blade the second are hidden deep within its striking outer shell. The overly ambitious 250GB SSD drive of the first unit has been replaced with the more reasonable combination of a 500GB SATA / 64GB SSD combo. The NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M has been replaced with a GeForce GTX 660M — not a particularly powerful mobile video card but a step in the right direction.
By far, the coolest upgrade is the processor and Intel Core i7-3632QM 2.2GHz (3.2GHz with Turbo Boost) — so new that I couldn't write about it a week ago without making Intel incredibly angry. Razer introduced the second generation of the Blade with the tagline "The Beauty is now the Beast". This CPU is what they were referring to. It's blazingly fast, able to juggle several dozen browser windows and various applications without breaking a sweat.
Despite all that power under the hood, the second generation blade still chugged a bit with our standard benchmark games running at the unit's native 1920x1080 resolution with all the bells and whistles enabled.
That Total War: Shogun 2 score made me cringe. The game itself was playable, but not particularly enjoyable. Arkham City didn't give me too much trouble, and frankly I was surprised the Metro 2033 score was so high — it's rather brutal.
Taking things down to 1280x720 made each game much more playable, but I'd rather play games in 1080p on a display that's natively 1080p.
While there's definitely room for the Razer Blade to improve, particularly in the graphics card department, the second generation of the surprisingly portable, seductively stylish gaming laptop is a marked improvement over the original. The $US2500 price tag is still too much for my blood, but it's getting markedly more difficult to repackage and return to Razer once the reviewing is done. If the Blade's success continues and Razer's part costs continue to drop, who knows? Maybe I'll flee the country once they get around to releasing the Mk3.