The side of the brown corrugated cardboard box reads “For Gamers. By Gamers.” That simple statement tells you everything you need to know about where the minds from Razer’s concept and design teams focus. You’ll know Razer as the company behind several gaming accessories such as keyboards and mice to licensed gamepads and headphones. Earlier this year, they leapt into the PC market with the Razer Blade, an ultra-thin, high end computer combining the performance of upper tier desktop with the portabilityand profile of a sleek laptop. While the original may have had some setbacks in the overall graphical power and app support for the innovative Switchblade UI, they’re now hoping to capture the attention of hardcore gamers with the newest iteration of the Razer Blade. Has Razer addressed the complaints from the first system and can the new Blade live up the potential of the hefty price tag?
Weirdly enough, I was ready to check out a new gaming PC, so it’s pretty fortuitous as I’ve been pretty much a console only gamer for the last few years. Now that the sun is all but setting on the PS3 and Xbox as newer and more powerful tech emerges, I was more than anxious to jump back in the PC gaming scene. Before we get into the full review here’s a quick look at the specs.
The updated Razer Blade boasts the same light, thin profile as its predecessor weighing in at a featherweight 6.6 pounds. The overall size is 16.81" (Width) x 10.9" (Depth) x 0.88" (Height). Of course it’s not just how big the car is but what’s under the hood and the Blade stuffs quite a bit in the small case with an Intel Core i7 Quad Core Processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M, 8GB Dual Channel DDR3, and a hybrid 500GB 7200RPM HDD and 64GB SATA III SSD. Windows 7 rounds out the specs. The only real downside is that the thickness only allows for the USB 3.0, power, and Ethernet ports to rest on one side and there is no optical drive at all. I suppose for the modern gamer, a disc drive isn’t really necessary given the many digital outlets just keep that in mind if you haven’t fully embraced the downloadable future. Speaking of downloads, there’s also a built-in 802.11 A/G/N Wi-Fi for gaming on the go. I primarily played online through wireless and found it to be a fairly smooth experience, even given my somewhat hit-or-miss internet provider. The speakers seemed a bit weak but I imagine anyone who plans on playing in public will use headphones. Finally, the 17 inch screen presented a crystal clear picture and vibrant colors at a full 1920x1080 HD resolution.
Operationally, the Razer Blade boots up quickly and is ready to ready to go in a just a few moments. The SSD will get you going even quicker and should prove a very nice compliment as it adapts to your computing habits and caches your most used programs.
The key layout is very much a paired down version of their Deathstalker gaming keyboard. The first thing you’ll notice is the replacement of the number pad for the Switchblade UI- a kind of all-on-one multi touchpad that is fully customizable according to your needs. The keys had a tactile responsiveness to them akin to most other laptop keyboards so you’ll feel right at home if you primarily rock laptops for work or play.
Going back to the Switchblade UI, you’ll have 10 programmable LED keys for various functions and games. There are already preloaded apps focused on gaming, such macro-recorder for setting specific keystrokes as well as the basic number pad. UI also banks on social apps with preloaded apps serving up several one-button access to Gmail, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. So basically, you’ll be able to pick and share right out of the box without the need to jump out of the game. In addition to the included apps, a few developers have official UIs that can be used for games like Battlefield 3, SW: The Old Republic, and Counterstrike: GO. These differ from game to game, but mostly touch upon keystrokes and quick gaming setups to help eliminate menu navigation. Finally, there will be a Switchblade SDK for all you budding developers out there to concoct new apps. One thing I would like to see is a simple video recorder so you could create quick clips of your favorite moments and then simultaneously upload to YouTube. Get on it, coders!
Admittedly, the Razer’s touchpad seems a bit quirky as, traditionally, trackpads are centered and lower on the keyboard. You’ll need to get used to the right side placement for basic browsing when not using a mouse. It’s a fairly minor issue but might be a little awkward for southpaws. The Switchblade UI at first seems a bit gimmicky but I can see how (with strong app support) it could quickly become a nice toolset for a range of games. The touchpad is responsive, able to easily distinguish between individual imput. You can also customize the sensitivity of tracking to fine tune your experience.
Razer is pushing the agenda of high-end gaming system on the move. Portablity is great and all but if you can't play games then what's the point? Fortunately, the Razer Blade performed admirably in arguably the most important aspect, producing high graphical output at a solid framerate. With the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M 2GB GDDR5 video card, I found the Razer Blade more than capable of handling games on high settings. Going from the full specs, the Blade is a pretty beastly machine and should be able to handle most of your gaming needs. I can’t say for certain how far you can push the hardware but I tried out a few games to get an all-round idea of what to expect.
As I'm just now making my grand return to the PC scene, I'm a bit ashamed of my dusty Steam account. Luckily, there was a free multiplayer weekend for Modern Warfare 3. I also downloaded several demos to see how what the Razer Blade is made of. Torchlight II, Spec Ops: The Line, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Sleeping Dogs all provided several hours of entertainment for my time with the Blade. You'll be happy to hear that for the most part I was able to max out settings on Torchlight II, Spec Ops, and XCOM. Framerates rarely dipped below 60FPS, even with all the features at extreme. There were the occasional hiccups here and there when things got a bit too hectic but overall performance satisfied the graphics-hound in me.
The blistering hot, sandy environments of Spec Ops had nice contrasts between light and shadow and the Blade kept pace with silky transitions as I whipped the camera around to focus on the environment. I took the liberty of grabbing a few stills to give an approximation of how well the laptop performs.
XCOM didn't have an ounce difficulty rendering each shot, explosion, or detonation. Truthfully, this game probably isn't the graphical powerhouse as others, still, you won't miss any of the action when operating on extreme (and the art direction is quite good, too). Check out a couple of shots below.
The game that provided the most trouble was Sleeping Dogs. I had quite a bit of framerate issues when I tried cranking up the graphics to very high and tricking out all the settings such as screen space ambient occlusion and having world density set to extreme. At the extreme settings the game chunked along at an unplayable pace. A few tweaks latter and I was able to get 60 fps with most settings at high and only having to give up on a few of the higher bells and whistles. Here's a good example of the graphics quality you should expect.
As this system is touted as optimized for true portability I wanted to see how long I could game untethered. With battery fully charged I was able to get in several rounds of Modern Warfare 3 on internal power alone. All in all, I had about 2 maybe 2.5 hours detached from the cord. That's a pretty decent bit of play time considering the hardware reqs for many of the new games. Additionally, if you think you might need a little extra juice, you'll find the PSU just as portable as the PC. At a third the size and weight of other power supplies, it's pretty much able to fit in your pocket.
At the end of the day, the emphasis from Razer is that this is the most portable, high-end gaming laptop you'll encounter. While the mobility is certainly there and the hardware is undoubtedly powerful, the price might deter mid-range gamers. At $2499.99 you're facing a pretty steep entry into the world of PC gaming. That being said, for anyone needing a new computer that packs plenty of power on the go you'll be hard pressed to find another laptop boasting similar dimensions and stats as the new Razer Blade.
[Razer Blade laptop provided by Razer]