“For Gamers. By Gamers.” That’s Razer’s motto. No longer content to merely produce console and PC gaming accessories, the Blade is Razer’s first foray into the computer manufacturing market. Having acquired engineering and design talent from various companies such as OQO, the Blade is the result of several years of refinining their craft. The primary function of this laptop, as with all things Razer, is for gaming, with an added emphasis on portability and user customization via the innovative “Switchblade” User Interface. Released in early 2012, the Blade only comes in one standard configuration. It should be noted that opening the Blade for the purposes of upgrading components or any other reason may void your warranty.
- Intel® Core™ i7 Processor
- Dual Core w/ Hyper-Threading – 64Bit
- CPU: 2.8GHz (Base) / 3.5GHz (Turbo)
- Intel® HM65 Express Chipset
- 8GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1333MHz
- 17.3” Full HD 16:9 Ratio, 1920×1080 LED Backlit
Graphics and Video
- Integrated Intel® GMA HD – Mobile Mode
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 555M 2GB DDR5 VRAM Using NVIDIA Optimus™ Technology
- 256GB SATA III SSD w/ TRIM Support
- Razer™ Switchblade User Interface
- Razer™ Anti-Ghosting Keyboard
- Razer™ Synapse 2.0 Enabled
- Built-in HD Webcam (2.0MP)
- Built-in Speakers
- Integrated Digital 7.1 Surround Audio Support (via HDMI 1.4) Dolby® Home Theater® v4 Audio
- 1x HDMI 1.4 Audio and Video Output (Supports NVIDIA 3DTV) 1x USB 3.0 2x USB 2.0
- 1x 3.5mm Audio Microphone/Headphone Combo Jack
- 1x Kensington Lock
- Integrated 60Wh Battery
- Compact AC Adapter (120Watt)
- 1x Gigabit Ethernet Port
- 1x Integrated Intel Wi-Fi 802.11 B/G/N
- 1x Integrated Bluetooth® 3.0
Size and Weight
- Width: 16.81 inches (42.7cm)
- Depth: 10.90 inches (27.7cm)
- Height: 0.88 inches (2.24cm)
- Weight: 6.4 pounds (2.92kg)
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit
- $2,799 USD
Build Quality & Design
“Gaming laptops do not exist today,” declared Razer CEO and co-founder Min-Liang Tan in a press release. A bold statement to be sure. The thrust of his argument is that, while there are certainly a number of very powerful gaming laptops on the market (Alienware, Clevo and resellers, ASUS Republic of Gamers for example), by his estimation, none of them are light and portable enough to be considered true gaming laptops, but can rather be seen as desktop replacements. The Blade is an attempt to strike a balance between portability and performance: Something extremely svelte, yet powerful at the same time. These two key factors went into the design of the machine.
The build quality of the Blade is, in a word, outstanding. In a world where more and more computer companies are trying to emulate Apple’s Macbook, one cannot help but draw some similar comparisons with the Blade. Yet, while it clearly has qualities similar to a Macbook, Blade would never be mistaken for an Apple product: this is an entirely different animal altogether.
While its thin and refined aluminum construction points to Apple, its bold black-on -green color and playful eccentricities scream something more akin to Alienware. In a sense, looking at the Blade, it’s almost as if an Alienware laptop and a Macbook Air had a baby. A paradoxical love child: large but thin. Reserved, but avant-garde all at the same time.
The laptop has a very light yet durable aluminum chassis. Similar to the unibody construction of the Macbook Pro line, the Blade is very well put together. As there is no removable battery, the entire bottom panel is one solid piece of metal. There is no flex or creaking whatsoever along the shell, and the laptop hinge is very secure leaving no wobble.
The Blade is impressively thin. At less than 1” thick (.88”), its obvious Min-Liang Tan wanted his pioneer laptop to be thinner than even the 17” Macbook Pro. However, while the laptop is significantly thinner and lighter compared to other gaming notebooks, this is not to say the Blade is small. It does have a fairly large footprint for a 17” notebook. In fact, it sits several inches wider than most 17” systems. The Blade is emblazoned with its trademark three-headed hydra logo on top and an over-sized power button, both which glow a bright neon green, which is quite nice against the matte black aluminum finish. The speaker sound bar sits above the power button.
Reviews seldom make mention of the laptop power supply, but the Blade’s adapter deserves some special consideration. While some gaming laptops have adapters weighing one or two pounds or more, with a very large footprint, Razer spent some time designing their own 120Watt adapter. The Blade power supply is nearly as thin as the laptop itself, and is about the size and weight of a television remote, again making the entire laptop more portable than most.
THE DISPLAY, KEYBOARD, AND SWITCHBLADE UI
With a considerable sticker price, potential buyers can rest assured that Razer did not skimp on internal components, and the display is an example of this. Bucking the trend of most other gaming laptop manufacturers, Razer avoided the inclusion of a glossy display and instead went with a matte finish. While some argue a glossy display can provide better color intensity and contrast ratios in certain lighting conditions, they also tend to reflect external light causing annoying glare. The Blade features a 17.3″ AU Optronix display which has excellent color reproduction and contrast with no visible light leakage. While not an IPS display, it is very bright and has impressive viewing angles. What’s more, even when dimming the display to conserve power in battery tests, at 50% and below, the Blade’s screen still functioned quite well, no squinting required.
The Blade has a full size chicklet style keyboard which has become the norm for most laptops today. The keys, while plastic, are solidly constructed and have a pleasant firm “click” to them. There is no flex noticeable whatsoever. The keyboard radiates with a neon green backlight, illuminating each key.
While many laptops these days have backlit keys, and even multi-color configurable keys, it is the Blade’s innovative Switchblade User Interface that set it apart. The Switchblade UI is based around Razer’s earlier Switchblade portable gaming device that was teased but never released to the public. The Switchblade had clear plastic keys with a customizable LCD display underneath. These keys would “switch” depending on the games being played. The Blade has 10 dynamic adaptive tactile LCD keys that can be modified to suit the user’s purposes. Below these keys sits another ground-breaking feature: a multi-touch LCD screen that can function as a trackpad, or run a variety of apps serving as second-screen for the gamer. The Switchblade UI comes with several Switchblade apps included, such as Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, and Youtube. Razer is working with developers to add game specific apps in the future.
Cooling & Noise
Given the thin form factor of the laptop along with the Geforce GT 555M Graphics Card, Razer decided to use two fans and two separate heatsinks with this laptop.
The two fan cooling system is successful in dissipating heat quickly, and while the laptop can get quite warm during gaming sessions (aluminum is a conductor after all), it is never uncomfortable (or at least with pants on). Razer also added a thoughtful design feature to their cooling system: the fan out-take vents, located on the sides of the laptop, push the air diagonally towards the rear, rather than straight out. This prevents warm or hot air blowing directly on the hands of the user.
The Blade is very quiet when running low-intensive programs, but with several webpages open and other programs running in the background the fans turn on. Even while running slow and not putting out much heat, the left fan (CPU fan presumably) runs fairly consistently. Of course when gaming both fans kick in full gear and are very audible, efficiently pumping out heat in the process.
The Blade has a 60Whr battery. With the help of Nvidia Optimus technology, combined with a less power hungry dual core CPU, Razer estimates the battery life at approximately 6 hours during light use. Naturally this was put to the test. Running Bastion for 30 minutes, watching a 30 minute video, followed by moderate internet browsing, with brightness at 50% and wireless on, the Blade ran for 2 hours 22 minutes.
With wireless networking continually downloading games from Steam, and with display brightness set at 30% (still quite bright enough to be comfortable for the eyes), the Switchblade UI set to normal brightness and the keyboard keys set at dim, the Blade ran for 3 hours and 22 minutes.
Finally, at 30% brightness, with the keys set to “dim” and the Switchblade UI turned off, and wireless networking off, only using the Blade for Word Processing and viewing photos, battery life increased to 5 hours and 3 minutes. Its evident that using the Switchblade UI takes its toll on battery life: changing the settings from “Bright” to “Normal” while running unplugged is advised.
While the Razer Blade certainly seems successful in meeting the portability requirement with its light weight and decent battery life (for a 17” laptop any way), what gamers really want to know is, “Yeah, but how’s it play?” The Blade’s 8GB 1333Mhz RAM and 256GB SSD certainly help with performance. The 256GB SSD is a particularly nice premium upgrade from the originally planned 320GB HDD, and also makes the price of the Blade seem a little more reasonable. However, the GPU and CPU really determine the overall performance of the Blade.
The Geforce 555M GT is considered to be an upper middle tier graphics card, used in some other laptops, most notably the Alienware M14X. This does not mean that all 555M cards are equal. In fact, there are several different iterations of the 555M; some which usse DDR3 RAM but have a higher bus width, while this particular card uses GDDR5 RAM with a lower bus. The Blade GPU is clocked at 675Mhz, Memory at 625Mhz, and Shader Memory at 1350Mhz. It should be noted the NVIDIA drivers are somewhat dated but Razer insists it will be updating them shortly, which should improve gaming performance. Mobile drivers made available from the Nvidia website are incompatible with the Blade (Update: The newest nVidia verde drivers now work with the Blade!).
Then there is the issue of the CPU. For power consumption and heat considerations, Razer decided to go with the i7 2640M processor, a dual core CPU. While clocked at a respectable 2.8GHz, other serious gaming laptops use quad core processors.
Windows Experience Index Score: 7.0
3DMark Vantage: P6318
3DMark 06: 11522
Because there are different kinds of gamers who enjoy a wide variety of gaming genres, it seemed appropriate to test a multiple of games, including a Shooter, RPG, Racing, RTS, and an Action-adventure game. Most of these games are known for being graphically intensive and fairly new. Two in particular were also selected for having in-game benchmarks.
Battlefield 3 (FRAPS)
Battlefield 3 is one of the best selling PC games of 2011 and features some wonderful eye candy. This game was also displayed during promos of the Blade so naturally gamers want to know how it performs. Using FRAPS, running the first level of the single player campaign, with all the settings maxed out at 1920X1080, this rendered the game very choppy and unplayable at an average of 11 FPS. Keeping the resolution at 1920X1080 and setting the graphics to AUTO (Textures at Ultra and all others at Medium), gameplay improved to roughly 24 FPS. It was possible to get the framerates to average 31 FPS on 1920X1080 only by setting the textures to ultra, and reducing all other settings to low (or off). Lowering the resolution to 1600X900 at AUTO the game ran at around 31 FPS. Finally, dropping the resolution to 1280X720 and keeping the settings at AUTO, the game was consistently playable averaging 46 FPS.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was also of the most anticipated games of 2011, boasting dramatically improved visuals since the last Elder Scrolls game. With its staggering sense of scale, a great variety of character customization, and filled with so much content, this is one of the best single player role-playing gaming experiences to date. Fortunately for Elder Scroll fans, the Blade handles Skyrim very well. In fact, even running with the new high resolution texture pack at 1920X1080, with all options set to high (shadows at high, not ultra), maximum view distance and water reflection enabled, AA and AF off, the game averaged 33 FPS even in busy outdoor areas. Lowering the resolution to1280X720 and keeping all settings the same, the game runs at approximately 52 FPS. Finally, with the AA set at 4 and AF at 8, shadow detail and decal quality, with FXAA on, the game still runs around 35 FPS on average.
Dirt 3 is a great off-road racing game offering from the folks at Codemasters. Featuring gorgeous graphics, solid gameplay, and a wide variety of tracks, it also has a built-in benchmark for testing purposes. Running the game at Ultra settings and multi-sampling at 2XMSAA , the game chugs at 17 FPS and drops down to 14 FPS, rendering the game unplayable. Dropping the resolution down to 1280X720 and keeping the settings at Ultra the game runs averages 30FPS and dips down to 25 FPS. Running the game at 1920X1080 with all settings at High, the game averaged 40 FPS with a minimum of 31 FPS.
LEAGUE OF LEGENDS (FRAPS)
League of Legends is a wildly popular (and free) online multiplayer RTS from Riot Games. This game was also demoed running on the Blade (in a continuous loop) so it seemed worth testing out. Using FRAPS, the game runs at 1920X1080 with all settings maxed out at a solid 60 FPS. Its worth noting that in some of the online photos of the Blade the touchpad is being used as a secondary display and presumably a touchscreen map. While this feature has not been implemented yet, the proposition of using the touchpanel for navigation purposes in an RTS sounds useful.
BATMAN ARKHAM CITY
Hot off the heels of one of the best action adventure games of 2010, RockSteady Studios returns with the sequel, Batman: Arkham City. This is perhaps the greatest superhero game of all time, with great graphics and gameplay, terrific voice acting, not to mention an excellent story. It also happens to have a benchmark for testing purposes. Running the game at 1920X1080 with the details set to extreme and all options on, including Direct X 11, the benchmark ran at a stuttering 14 FPS on average. However, by disabling the Direct X Features and Tesselation, as well as turning off Abient Occlusion, the game managed to run at quite playable average of 34 FPS.
Its worth mentioning that Razer’s Technical Support for the Blade has been top notch. Since receiving the laptop Team Razer made contact via email and then with a personal phone call several days later to inquire about the status of the laptop, as well as ask specifically for any input or ideas about the Switchblade UI. One suggestion back to Razer included adding a scrollable media player (for local videos and music). Customer support replied to email questions the next business day and over-the-phone support was very helpful.
So does Razer hit the mark with the Blade as the first “true” gaming laptop? In some ways, yes. Its truly difficult to quantify some of the features that the Blade brings to the table. For instance, while the Blade is by no means as powerful as, say an Alienware M18X, and one could rather easily calculate their difference in benchmark scores, its harder to put a score on the value of portability. Laptops were made to be portable right? From personal experience, as one who has owned a 12lb laptop (with a 4lb power supply brick), and has carried it around in an airport, the Blade is truly a load off of one’s shoulders. Large and heavy gaming laptops, while certainly impressive and capable of gaming at the highest settings, tend to discourage users from actually transporting them from point A to point B. As a result they often tend to become desktop replacements that seldom leave the home or even the desk, much less sit comfortably on the lap. With its slim form factor and light weight (not to mention very portable power supply) the Blade truly lends itself to be carried around. Forget that it’s a gaming laptop for the moment: it really is one of the most portable 17” notebooks on the market today, right alongside the Macbook Pro 17.
While it succeeds in terms of portability, the Blade would have to be considered a failure if it didn’t actually play games: “For Gamers, By Gamers,” remember? While its certainly not the most powerful laptop on the market today, and while not all the games can be played at the highest settings, the Blade still plays even the most modern games very, very well. Again, if you’re looking for a laptop that can run any game at Ultra Settings, this is not the laptop for you. Certain concessions must be made in playing the newest, most graphically-intensive games on the Blade. For example, if you want to game at full HD, you will likely have to dial down the graphics settings a bit. If you want to keep the settings maxed out, then you might have to lower the resolution to accommodate. In terms of gaming prowess, it would be better to think of the Blade as being more in line with the Alienware M14X. The Geforce 555M GT really helps define the Blade as being an upper-middle tier gaming machine.
The Switchblade UI, while some have been quick to brush off as a novelty feature, is actually a pleasure to use as well. Rather than having to Alt-Tab out of gaming sessions, it quickly became second nature to select the Gmail app key and browse through the inbox, as well update my status with the Facebook app. Imagine watching and listening to a youtube video walkthrough for Skyrim’s “Quest for the Cure” on the touchscreen while actually playing Skyrim. And then there are the adjustable keyboard icons for further user customization. While icons were made available for Star Wars: The Old Republic by a software update, it was quite fun designing my own icons for other games myself. With future updates on the horizon, the Switchblade UI shows Razer’s desire to innovate.
So back to the question of being the first true gaming laptop… Is the Blade the most portable 17” laptop on the market? Maybe, or at least near the top of the list. The most powerful gaming laptop on the market? Not by a mile. But the first truly portable 17” gaming laptop? In this reviewer’s opinion? Yes. It also happens to look amazing, and features a truly innovative LCD keyboard and touchpad combo that will hopefully continue to evolve as game developers interact and become more familiar with it. All of these features make the Blade an exceptional, although pricey laptop for the gaming enthusiast.