When we first heard about Razer’s first foray into PC manufacturing we were incredibly sceptical. The first generation of Razer’s Blade laptop had some fairly glaring issues, such as small storage capacity and a huge pricetag. It was also exclusively available in the US, a situation that is changing with the second generation Blade, which is receiving a limited release in Australia.
Now that we have actually laid eyes on the Blade, it is safe to say that our worries are a thing of the past. It is a truly gorgeous piece of hardware, a sleek 17in laptop that oozes style and makes some radical, yet incredibly intuitive, changes to the very fundamentals of laptop design.
Most notable is the ‘switchblade’ trackpad, which sits to the right of the keyboard. It takes the form of a touchscreen LCD panel, with eight configurable buttons sitting above it. By using Razer’s Synapse software you can configure not only the display on the trackpad but the icons, and functions, of each of the buttons above. Razer has a bunch of profiles already for specific games like DOTA 2 and Battlefield 3, and the software autoswitches when the laptop detects a game being run.
By moving the trackpad to the side, Razer has been able to position the keyboard in the middle of the laptop. This results in a design that is much more comfortable to use than other gaming laptops – you’ll want to plug in a mouse for serious gaming, but the keyboard is remarkably useful. The other area in which the blade outshines other gaming models is in its thickness – at a mere 20mm thick, it makes gaming laptops from ASUS and MSI look bloated and ugly.
This focus on design doesn’t mean that the Blade sacrifices performance, however. With a Core I7-3632QM CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M and 8GB of RAM, it packs enough power to drive the 17in 1920 x 1080 screen. For storage, Razer has opted for a 500GB HDD and a 64GB caching drive, which delivers enough capacity to store a decent number of games while also being quite snappy and responsive. It’s also worth noting that while our review laptop came running Windows 7, the Blade will be running Windows 8 when it hits retailers.
This hardware translates to a smooth gaming experience, even with the detail cranked up. Battlefield 3 ran without a hiccup at native resolution with detail set to high, and in our Crysis benchmark it easily managed 35fps at high detail and a near playable 22fps at very high. It may not have the pure grunt of the Radeon HD 7970M found in Alienware’s top end M17X, but the form factor makes the difference in performance an easy one to swallow. Given there’s only a bare handful of games that will push this machine, it’s an easy choice for anyone looking for an alternate gaming device.
Of course, this performance does involve one serious compromise – namely that the battery life on the Blade isn’t fantastic (although it is far from the worst we have seen). In heavy use tests it managed a mere hour and twenty minutes, while in light use it fared better with three hours and 34 minutes of life. This is par for the course when it comes to gaming laptops, and you’ll want to be relatively close to a power outlet when using the Blade – on the plus side, whereas most gaming laptops have hulking power bricks that weigh as much as the laptop itself, the Blade comes with a tiny brick that weighs only 390g.
However, the excellent thermal engineering that Razer’s implemented on the Blade means that it never gets overly hot. It may drain batteries faster than many other laptops, but it’ll sit far more comfortably on your lap, too. Given the smaller size, this is an impressive feat, and makes the Blade even more useable.
The overall slimness of the Blade makes it a truly rare beast – it’s a gaming laptop that won’t sit shackled to your desktop by sheer size. It comes with a fairly sturdy carry bag, and unlike the token bags a lot of other manufacturers supply, we can see this getting a lot of use. The elegance of the Blade’s design means you’ll be as at home at a LAN as you will be sitting in a cafe getting some work done, or even playing a little sneaky BF3. And given the more than a little Mac-like looks the Blade sports, imagine the looks you’ll get from your fellow patrons!
The Blade is a little slower than competing top-end gaming laptops, but the difference isn’t enough to detract from its benefits. In terms of design and form factor it is way ahead of the competition, and while you pay a premium for the design touches it is well worth it. This is not a laptop for mere mortals, but if you want something with serious gaming (or CUDA) grunt, while retaining a sleek and stylish form factor, it has no equal. Not only is it one of the finest laptops to hit our labs in a long time, but it is the only laptop that we’d even consider spending $3000 on.
It really is that special.