When the Razer Blade first launched in 2013, it was a classy looking machine. Expensive as all hell, but it looked damn good for the price and had some of the best hardware around.
But we’re not in 2013 anymore. Competitors are starting to catch up, and the classic Razer styling is starting to age. But if you want a gaming laptop for under $3000 that’s thin enough to cart around at work, the Blade still gets the job done.
What Is It?
The Razer Blade is the middleweight of Razer’s gaming laptops, with the Razer Blade Stealth targeted at the Macbook Air/Surface Pro crowd and the 17-inch Blade Pro a full desktop replacement, complete with a GTX 1080.
The Blade is decidedly more affordable than the Pro, and a lot more portable too. A 14″ laptop with a 1080p matte or 4K screen, all models ship with Intel’s Kaby Lake i7-7700HQ (2.8GHz base clock speed, 3.8GHz boost). 3x USB 3.0 ports come as standard, as well as a single USB-C port and 16GB of unspecified DDR4-2400MHz memory.
You’ll get a GeForce GTX 1060 6GB model no matter what. The cheapest Blade will set you back just under $2800 and comes with a 256GB PCIe M.2 SSD drive. There’s still a massive premium on extra storage: the 512GB model with a 1080p screen is $3099.95, and those who need the 1TB drive will have to fork over $3699.95.
Both units come with a 165W power adapter. The 1080p model weighs in at 1.86kg, while the 4K Blade is a little chunkier at 1.95kg. The dimensions for either at 17.9mm x 345mm x 235mm (h/w/d), which is reasonably thin, but not the thinnest around. You can expect the usual standards as well: a webcam, support for Razer’s Chroma peripherals suite, an in-built microphone, 3.5mm headphone jack, Bluetooth 4.1 support and a Killer wireless card.
The keyboard, touchpad and chassis are the same as what’s in the Razer Blade Stealth, which can you read about below. Every Blade purchase also comes with a copy of For Honor or Ghost Recon: Wildlands, an indie top-down shooter called Livelock and FL Studio 12 Producer Edition, software for music production. The 4K version isn’t available in Australia yet, but it’ll also ship with a touchscreen. There’s no such option on the 1080p model.
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What’s Good About It?
The Blade built its reputation for being a gaming laptop that was as portable as a Macbook, and the 2017 model continues to deliver on that ideal. It’s no longer the thinnest gaming laptop – Origin’s EVO15-s is a fraction lighter and smaller – and competitors are catching up on features and price.
But the Blade still maintains a good balance between form and function. You can get gaming laptops with 8GB or 16GB of RAM and a GTX 1060 for much less: the Acer Aspire V Nitro and the Gigabyte P55W both come with a GTX 1060, the same CPU and more storage for just over $2000.
But they’re far, far less portable than the Blade, and therein lies the value. The Blade is as comfortable to use on the couch watching Netflix as it is on a desk, playing Overwatch or DOOM. It’s a laptop targeted at people who like the idea and size of a Macbook Pro, but don’t want to pay Apple prices or sacrifice the benefits of the PC ecosystem.
One small upgrade over last year’s model is the RAM: it’s been upgraded to 2400MHz from 2133MHz. That’s not a mammoth upgrade, but it will add a couple of extra frames here or there coupled with the move from a Skylake CPU to the newer Kaby Lake generation.
Unsurprisingly for something sporting an i7-7700HQ and a GTX 1060, the Blade plays games well. How well, you ask?
Given that the Blade doesn’t have a G-SYNC display, you’re going to want to give yourself a bit of headroom over 60fps. But as you can see, you should have no problem running any major AAA title provided you don’t mind dropping the graphics presets down to High or Very High.
The Kaby Lake upgrade has made a difference to the Blade’s battery life as well. Running at 50% brightness with Wi-Fi on, the power profile set to the Windows 10 balanced preset and the volume at 50%, the 2017 Blade happily continued playing movies for just under six and a quarter hours. You’ll get a couple of hours less under a standard productivity load, which isn’t too shabby for a gaming laptop.
What’s Not Good About It?
The Blade might be a thin gaming laptop, and so are the fans. If you’re going to be gaming regularly, have some headphones handy because this thing is loud. The best description I can probably give you comes courtesy of my partner, who looked at the Blade during an Ashes of the Singularity benchmark.
“I didn’t know you were using the PS4,” she quipped. While playing DOOM, the fans were actually so loud that I had to turn the volume up to 70% before the metal soundtrack started to drown it out. Consider yourself warned.
The touchpad, as I discovered with the latest Blade Stealth, is fairly reasonable with a little tweaking. But it shares the same major flaw, in that it’s a little too sensitive when it comes to palm recognition. I’m still waiting for manufacturers to catch up to the precision and intelligence of the Macbook touchpad, and Razer isn’t there yet.
There is one difference in that the Blade’s touchpad has discrete left and right buttons, much like the Surface Book and other laptop manufacturers. It’s not my style, and I’d prefer something a little smaller, but it works well enough. It doesn’t support Windows 10 Precision gestures, however, which more and more laptops are starting to do.
Another problem that resurfaces from the Blade Stealth is the surface, or at least the lower half. The matte surface is a magnet for fingerprints, and I haven’t been using the 4K model with a touchscreen. Speaking of the screen, the bezel around the Blade’s screen is unnecessarily massive. Laptop screens have come a long way, and hopefully in the next refresh Razer moves with the times a little.
Should You Buy It?
If you’re after a gaming laptop at the cheapest price possible, there are better choices. If you want the thinnest gaming laptop, you can find smaller. But if you want a good middle ground machine that’s under $3000, one you can comfortably use on the couch or at the pub without looking like you just pulled a noisy encyclopedia out of your bag, the Blade is a good pick.
It’s starting to show its age, having largely kept the same design for the last four years. But while competition is a lot fiercer than it was, the Blade achieves its main objective well: it takes the power of a mid-range PC and puts it into a chassis that doesn’t strain your knees or look overly garish. The pricing is pretty reasonable for the whole package on offer, although those bothered more by budget than size, weight or form would do well to shop around.