Eschewing the unpopular and largely non-existent practice of releasing new versions of products that are worse than the previous ones, the latest version of Razer's wafer-thin gaming laptop is better than the ones that came before it. Good call. Note: Both the Razer Blade and Razer Core aren't available in Australia yet, but you can sign up to be notified of when they are.
I've been playing around with Razer's gaming laptops since the first Blade arrived back in 2012. The first Razer Blade was a 17-inch slab of black aluminium and power, outfitted with an LCD touch panel that's worked out much better for productivity than it did for gaming. It was fresh and new and hot, and some people had trouble getting the graphics settings right.
In 2013 the 17-inch model became the Razer Blade Pro, making way for the thinner, lighter 14-inch Blade. So much joy packed into a .66 inch high laptop. So light. It wasn't the most powerful gaming machine, but it wasn't supposed to be -- the Blade series aims to strike the perfect balance between performance and portability, and it's been doing a fine job of it.
The 2013 Blade was my personal gaming laptop for a while, and I loved that machine like an incredibly tiny, somewhat more entertaining child. I also left it in a backpack in my car that was magically replaced with window glass, so maybe the child analogy doesn't work.
Three years and a couple of models later and I'm playing with a Razer Blade once more. A lot of it is basically the same as last year's version, but several key features are not.
On the outside it's lighter, 1.93kg compared to last year's 2kg. The short but responsive keyboard's gone from green to Chroma multi-colour lighting, complete with support for custom game profiles that make the lights react to in-game activities. The keyboard also gets a real font, and not the custom Razer font that made it impossible for my four-year-old to find the letter R.
Find the R.
Inside we've got an upgraded processor, three more gigabytes of video ram on the GeForce GTX 970M and the 16 gigs of DDR3L memory has been swapped for DDR4. The SSD drive has gone from SATA for PCI.e M.2, more than doubling the disk read speed of the 2015 model.
The aluminium body still holds onto every fingerprint and smudge tenaciously. Get a wrap.
2016 Razer Blade Specs
- 14.0" IGZO QHD+, 16:9 Ratio, 3200x1800, with LED backlight, with capacitive multi-touch
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M (6GB GDDR5 VRAM, Optimus Technology)
- Intel Core i7 -- 6700HQ Quad-Core Processor with Hyper-Threading 2.6GHz / 3.5GHz (Base/Turbo)
- Mobile Intel PCHM 100-series chipset, HM170
- 16GB dual-channel onboard memory (DDR4, 2133MHz)
- Windows 10 (64-Bit)
- 256GB SSD (PCIe M.2)512GB SSD (PCIe M.2)
- Killer Wireless-AC 1535 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.1)
- Multi-point touchscreen interface
- Built-in webcam (2.0MP)
- Anti-ghosting keyboard with Chroma backlighting
- Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)
- USB 3.0 port x3 (SuperSpeed)
- HDMI 1.4b video and audio output
- 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo port
- Built-in stereo speakers
- Array microphone
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Dolby Digital Plus Home Theatre Edition 7.1 Codec support (via HDMI)
- Compact 165W power adaptor
- Built-in 70Wh rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery
- 0.70 in / 17.9 mm (Height) x 13.6 in / 345 mm (Width) x 9.3 in / 235 mm (Depth)
- 4.25 lbs / 1.93 kg
- Starts at $US1999 ($2710)
It's lighter and more powerful, which is great. It's also several hundred dollars cheaper, which is even better. The version with 256GB of storage starts at $US1999 ($2710), where last year's equivalent cost $US2399 ($3252).
It's still a lot of money to spend on a portable computer, and there's no doubt that there are more powerful gaming laptops on the market available for less. Once again, it's all about balancing portability versus power. None of those more powerful gaming laptops come close to matching the Blade's small profile.
That said, the power Razer has managed to cram inside this tiny frame does have its drawbacks. Heat buildup, while not as intense as in previous models, still makes gaming with the laptop on your actual lap uncomfortable, though Razer's engineers have managed to draw heat away from the region where keyboard meets screen, a problem that plagued previous Blades. Mitigating that heat during demanding games can lead to fan noise, but nothing too excessive. The speakers are OK; there isn't really room for much beyond that.
So what can the latest iteration of Razer's evil Macbook opposite do?
Computer things, of course. You can create a spreadsheet on it, no problem. Need to look up a recipe on Google? The 2016 Razer Blade is more than up to the task. Want to stalk your exes on Facebook? Boom. Done. Review over. Thanks for reading.
The Razer Blade is a gaming laptop that also plays video games.
How well does it play games? Well that all depends on what resolution you'd like to play the games at. The Blade features a 14-inch IGZO QHD+ 3200 x 1800 multi-touch monitor, which is just lovely for watching 4K video or looking at giant screenshots. It's bright and rich and a far cry from the disappointing panel we got with the first 14-inch Blade.
It's not great at running games at 3200 x 1800 resolution. It takes a pretty robust card to push that many pixels, and the GTX 970M is not that card. Perhaps the next generation of mobile graphics will be able to comfortably handle 4K on ultra settings for most games. The Blade by itself is lucky to push 30 frames per second on modern games at medium to low settings. Older and less demanding games might hit 60 FPS (Heroes of the Storm managed it), but otherwise it's not happening.
Note that I said "by itself". Another new addition to this year's model is a USB-C Thunderbolt port, which allows users to hook the Blade up to one of these:
That's the Razer Core, a box that houses a full-size GPU. Like the new Razer Blade Stealth ultrabook, the Blade can connect to the core on the fly, instantly boosting graphics performance.
So while gaming on the go, keep it to 1920 x 1080, or step up to 2K if you're feeling adventurous. Most games I played on the Blade (Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Witcher 3, Overwatch) ran splendidly at standard HD resolution. If you want to take full advantage of that 3200 x 1800 panel, all you need is the $US499 ($677) Core and a powerful graphics card. Now that I write that out, it seems like a lot, and it is, but it's good to have options.
One final note: If you're hoping for extended gaming sessions on battery power, take me to your land of hope and dreams, and we may frolic among the lolly flowers. The Razer Blade gets about five hours or so doing productive things. Non-productive, more enjoyable things like gaming will get you about an hour and a half, tops. Don't let that stop you from inviting me to your magical world.
The 2016 Razer Blade continues the line's proud tradition of balancing performance with portability. Better still, compared to last year's model it is less expensive, slightly lighter and cooler in at least one area. It's a triumphant upgrade, which is always better than a sorrowful downgrade.
In all seriousness, if I owned a gaming laptop and not a silly Lenovo Yoga Pad Pro 2, I'd want it to be a Razer Blade, and I'd want the best one. This will do, at least until the next upgrade.