Razer Blade (2016) Laptop Review
Razer sharpens its Blade to a perfect edge
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It's a strange time at the very top of the premium laptop world. While we loved Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro when it first debuted, the current model starts at $1,999 for a processor that’s already two generations behind.
The other major players—like the HP Spectre X360, Dell XPS 15, and Microsoft Surface Book—are solid, but none have given us the powerful, portable, dynamic laptop that this part of the market is craving. Where is the do-it-all flagship laptop with oodles of power, a crisp display, and enough battery life to let you work during a cross-country flight?
Well, we have a shocking contender for the crown: the 2016 Razer Blade (MSRP $1,999). The new Blade ticks all the right boxes with a standard config that matches the best Windows machines and flat-out embarrasses the current MacBook Pro.
Of course, it’s still a gaming laptop, replete with both a spotty touchpad and Razer’s tribal green snake logo—a garish touch that may turn off more serious shoppers who could do without Razer's branding touches in a business meeting. If you can get past that, the Blade is a slam-dunk for the money. You may just need to do a little soul-searching first.
About the Razer Blade
Razer makes it relatively easy to pick a Blade to wield, offering only two different versions. Both include the same specs in every way, but you can either opt for 256 GB of PCIe flash storage, or 512 GB for $200 more. We had the "entry-level" model to take for a spin:
•Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor
•16 GB DDR4 RAM (2133 MHz)
•256 GB PCIe SSD
•Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M (with 6 GB GDDR5 VRAM)
•14-inch IGZO QHD+ (3200 x 1800) touchscreen
•Killer AC WiFi/Bluetooth 4.1
•70Wh built-in battery
One thing that's worth noting: even though Razer smartly uses a standard M.2 PCIe SSD for storage, RAM is soldered down and you can't add more later. On the other hand, you get 16 GB of the stuff as standard, so it's doubtful you'll find yourself looking for more anyhow.
What We Liked
Slender and sleek
Razer was one of the first companies to make a gaming laptop that ditched the stigmas of the old-style gaming notebooks; its Blades are relatively thin, made of metal, and just about as sexy as any other premium computer out there. Even the polarizing twisted-snake Razer logo can't distract from the stealthy black metal curves that the Blade embraces.
Plentiful port selection onboard, but no SD card slot
Razer isn't kidding around with the ports it put onto the new Blade, and we're not shy about giving it plenty of praise. Three USB 3.0 ports give you a lot of options for peripherals like mice and hard drives, with two on the left and one on the right side of the keyboard. Like we saw on Razer's baby ultrabook Blade Stealth, you also get a USB-C port that's powered by Intel's Thunderbolt 3 technology, the most cutting-edge port around today.
The only drawback to the Razer Blade is that even though this is an ideal machine for Photoshop or Lightroom, Razer didn't put an SD card reader anywhere on the computer. Sound the sad trombone but, all you photographers out there are gonna have to carry an adapter with you when you travel.
Unique Chroma Keyboard
Razer has leveraged the technology it developed for its gaming perhiperals inside the Razer Blade to give it perhaps the most unique keyboard of any notebook. Razer Chroma lets you completely customize the keyboard's backlight and there are even some spiffy animated presets that you can toggle on that react to your typing, or that are just there to look cool. Just the ability to tune in your favorite color is pretty neat in and of itself, and the full customizability is pretty impressive, if not overwhelming to behold. A new typeface makes this year's Blade look much more grown-up compared to the Spider-Manesque font on the 2015 version.
Even though we used a Chroma keyboard on the Blade Stealth earlier this year, the new Blade has a much better version, with longer key travel. We prefer this Blade's keyboard greatly, and if you're going to be doing a lot of writing, it's a noticeable upgrade.
Potent processing performance paired with gaming prowess
No matter which Blade you choose, this year's model has a great combination of an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU with 6 GB GDDR5 VRAM, and its bestest buddy, Intel's i7-6700HQ processor. That gives you one of the fastest mobile GPUs and one of Intel's fastest quad-core mobile processors into the same sleek notebook PC.
We're not kidding when we say that the Blade packs desktop-class performance. We saw a Geekbench score of 13,165 from our review unit. Let's look at one of Intel's i7 desktop chips for comparison—the Core i7-6700 processor you can get in a number of desktop PCs (it's also available if you build your own) has a score of around 16-17,000 depending on the system. Intel's quad-core mobile chips have been pretty great for the last few years but it's clear that the latest generation like in this Razer notebook is unbelievable. Compared to the current MacBook Pro (which uses older, 4th-generation Intel chips), you'd have to spend upwards of $2,500 to get performance that's even close to the $2,000 Razer Blade.
If you're more concerned about gaming performance, the Blade's GTX 970M isn't fooling around. In our benchmarks and casual tests, this chip showed impressive amounts of muscle, only getting taxed by games that would be considered pretty punishing on just about any system. For instance, we put the Blade through its paces running the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark on its high settings, and it managed 30.6 fps average across all of the different tests. Though we saw a little tearing on the backgrounds of the various scenes, motion was smooth and the effects looked very good indeed. Massage the settings and you'll be looking at silky-smooth framerates for today's games and beyond.
Thunderbolt 3 is a link to the future
Let's circle back around on the Blade's Thunderbolt port for a second. Not only does it double as a USB 3.1 port, and can be used with an adapter to become a DisplayPort for a screen, but Intel's Thunderbolt protocol lets you do a whole lot more. If the built-in graphics performance starts to hold back what you want to do with the Blade, you will be able to buy Razer's external Core accessory. This dock holds a full-sized desktop GPU, so you'll be able to get the latest and greatest in graphics on your Blade for years to come, albeit externally.
Impressive battery life
When we sit down to review a brawny gaming machine like the Blade, it's easy to go in with diminished expectations for battery life. With its powerful guts, we didn't expect to get more than a couple hours out of it when running our standard PCMark 8 home test. What we saw in reality was better-than-average runtime for regular tasks. Despite its quad-core i7 and Nvidia GPU, Razer's newest Blade clocked more than three and a half hours in our labs. This would be decent for a normal ultrabook like the super light Samsung Notebook 9, but it's even more impressive for a fast machine like the Blade.
What We Didn't Like
This might not surprise you, but the Blade is pricey
While the Razer Blade offers up a signature combination of nice build quality and great spec'd internals for gamers and multimedia enthusiasts alike, there's no doubt that it's an expensive proposition. Even though you get nothing but top-shelf components (even the internal SSD is a PCIe type) you're looking at at least $2,000 just to join the Razer club. From what we've come to expect from budget gaming laptops like the Dell Inspiron 15 7559, you should take a long, hard look at what you're hoping to accomplish with the money you want to spend.
That said...this year's standard QHD+ Blade is around $400 cheaper than last year's. That's a nice savings along with the extra power and battery life you'll get from it. If you're gonna buy a Blade, go all-out and pony up for the 512 GB version that's only $200 bucks more.
Fans that make plenty of noise, even at idle
There are always tradeoffs when a company shoves super powerful components into a small space, and we think that explains why the Razer Blade is so noisy. Even as I'm simply typing this into Microsoft OneNote, the Blade is audibly whirring away as if it were crunching some HD video or a bunch of RAW images from a DSLR. And that's even before you turn the fans into the laptop's loud performance mode, which bumps the fans up to their max speed regardless of the temperature of the inside of the Blade.
Big bezels on screen
If we're going to compare the Blade to other computers we need to talk about the big awful bezels that the Blade has around its display. Considering that notebooks like the LG Gram 15 and Dell's XPS 15 have near bezel-free displays, we're disappointed that the Blade wastes so much space on that border. It makes the Blade a lot closer in size to a 15-inch notebook than a 14-inch one, and we'd love to see it trim the fat just a teeny tiny bit...unless it means reducing the battery's capacity.
Trackpad isn't as good as Apple's or even Dell's
Given the Razer's premium price, we'll get down to brass tacks here—you're probably cross-shopping this with a MacBook Pro 15-inch. Even though the Mac is currently based on a three-year-old Intel chip, it gets one thing really, really right: its trackpad. Razer's smooth glass trackpad isn't unusable, but it's not in the same class as the MacBook family, which is what you'd expect for the amount of money it costs. It interprets gestures inaccurately sometimes, and it is set to move very slowly by default. Thankfully, this trackpad has physical buttons on it, so at least clicks work reliably.
We've seen the PC side of the fence make great strides with their trackpads in models like the Surface Book and Dell's great XPS 15. Though it succeeds in offering you an über-premium, high-performing Windows experience in every other way, the new Razer Blade just drops the ball on its trackpad.
Should I Buy It?
When I set out to review this Razer Blade, I thought I knew what to expect. What I didn't anticipate was how great the overall experience is. It's hard to make a computer that is this overpowered feel refined, but Razer has done just that. It's like Daniel Craig's James Bond—sharply dressed in clothes that fit impeccably well...but beneath the surface, barely-contained brutality waits to be focused at whatever needs to be accomplished to save the day.
It's hard not to mention computers like the awesome Dell XPS 15 in the same sentence as the Blade, and for good reason. Dell's gotten good at making premium notebooks that look and work as well as anybody's. The XPS 15 might net you better battery in some configurations, with a good trackpad I'd prefer in just about every Windows PC. For less money, you might be able to get a computer that's close, but it's not nearly as blazingly fast or sleek as what Razer's mad scientists have cooked up in their labs.
Even though it outdoes the MacBook Pro Retina with a new i7-6700HQ chip, the Razer Blade also has that standard Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU that makes the MacBook's AMD Radeon R9 M370X look like it's from the stone age. Razer offers up a very compelling computer in the new Blade that, out the door, costs hundreds less than a similarly-equipped MacBook Pro. Unless you're married to macOS, Razer has the Apple beat on performance and value.
The biggest issue in deciding on the Razer is that the tribal snake logo and green USB ports might be too much for folks who are more concerned with looking professional than cool. If you can live with covering the lid with a skin to hide the love-it-or-hate-it logo, this could be the notebook you're looking for. That said, the MacBook Pro remains the mainstream choice for most people, but for the iconoclasts and the gamers out there, Razer's delivered an amazing machine in the new Razer Blade.
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