Razer Blade (Late 2016) Laptop Review
The latest full-sized Blade rocks in every way imaginable
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Razer's computer wizards made one of our favorite laptops when their incantations birthed the Razer Blade (Early 2016). Based on the merits of this excellent, well-built laptop, it was a shoo-in for our Best of Year laptop awards. Razer combined high-performing specs with nice displays and a cool Chroma keyboard to make a laptop that's great for gamers and creative pros alike.
In a year when Apple took away ports and a traditional keyboard, Razer doubled down on both, offering up normal USB ports alongside a new-school Thunderbolt 3. To take the comparison further, Razer's newly-refreshed Razer Blade (Late 2016) (MSRP $1,799.99) blows away Apple's spendy Pro notebooks in a few other key areas that truly impact performance. If Apple's AMD Radeon graphics leave you wanting more, say hello to the VR-ready Nvidia 1060 chip Razer put into the new Blade. The Blade can trounce the more expensive MacBook Pros for a fraction of the cost.
Suffice it to say, this revised Blade is just that much better thanks to its higher-powered graphics. Razer has taken the rest of its great package forward, which leaves us with a couple of reservations. Regardless of whether you're looking for the highest-performing laptop money can buy, are seeking to replace an aging MacBook Pro, or even if you're hoping to dip your toes into VR, the Razer Blade ticks all the boxes.
About the Razer Blade (Late 2016)
This time around, Razer sent us a model with a non-touch, matte HD display that I quite liked. It's old-school, but in the best way possible. Other than that, all Blades come well-equipped with the same GPU, CPU, and RAM:
•Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor
•16 GB DDR4 RAM (2133 MHz)
•512 GB PCIe M.2 SSD
•Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (with 6 GB GDDR5 VRAM)
•14-inch IPS HD (1920 x 1080) matte display
•Killer AC WiFi/Bluetooth 4.1
•70Wh built-in battery
Like the last Blade, RAM is soldered down and limited to 16 GB only. The good news is that M.2 SSDs are increasingly common, so upgrading your storage space should be a snap. More expensive versions come equipped with a QHD+ touchscreen, if touchscreen laptops float your boat.
What We Like
Thin design that doesn't sacrifice utility
If there's one thing I'm thankful for, it's that the Razer Blade kept all of its useful, seemingly-endangered normal USB 3 ports. Even though the Razer Blade is thinner than many quad-core Intel i7-based systems, they didn't get rid of the ports you can use today, which is great for creative professionals who have already have USB devices they want to use without investing in adapters or dreaded dongles. On top of these useful ports, you also get HDMI, making quick monitor and TV hookups a snap.
If you're worried that Razer forgot to include a Thunderbolt 3 port, fear not! The new Blade has one super high-speed port that can be adapted into just about everything and anything, given you have the correct dongle. It's even compatible with the Razer Core accessory, which lets you link your laptop to a full-sized graphics card (for a price). That's the power that Razer is promoting, but even when taken on its own, the Blade is a thin, gorgeous notebook that's as fast as it is easy to tote.
Unique Chroma keyboard really lights up the place
If you like customizing things, Razer's Chroma keyboard will make you so happy. Standard on every Blade, is a fully configurable backlit keyboard, letting you change the color and pattern to suit your taste and change depending on the program you use. It's supposed to appease gamers, of course, but it's way cooler and potentially more useful than just letting game-critical keys up in a different color.
I shouldn't have to praise Razer for putting a good-feeling keyboard into the Razer Blade, but 2016 proved to be a year when bad keyboards became acceptable. Unlike the MacBook Pros you might cross-shop this Blade with, the Chroma keyboard feels excellent. Razer has paired a good amount of throw with a crisp key feel to make the Blade a solid laptop for discerning typists.
Nvidia graphics let Razer smoke the new MacBook Pro
I'm not going to beat about the bush: Razer's newest Blade toasts most of its competition thanks to its bleeding-edge Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics chip. Paired with a generous 6 GB GDDR5 video RAM in every configuration, Razer hasn't overlooked the needs of shoppers opting for an entry-level version, making every Blade more or less as powerful as the next.
Contrasted with Apple's more expensive 15-inch MacBook Pro, the new Blade is ready for VR, and can outperform the constrained ATI Radeon Pro 450 chips by a wide margin. If you're concerned with getting the most gutsy gaming and multimedia speed from a notebook, the Blade delivers big time.
Battery life is pretty decent, depending on the task
Depending on what you're doing, the Blade's battery might make it through most of a day. In our intensive PCMark 8 Home test, we saw right about three hours of runtime. While that might not sound like a whole lot, three hours is more or less average for many of the low-powered thin-and-light ultrabooks we tested in the past year.
The problem comes when you start tapping into the powerful quad-core chip inside this laptop. As soon as you ask for more, the Core i7-6700HQ chip kicks it into high gear, and, consequently demands more from the battery. We saw an extra hour from the Blade when in its Power Saver mode.
What We Don't Like
Expensive…but still competitive
Now, the Razer Blade starts at almost $1,800 for its entry-level HD, 256 GB version. That's a pretty penny for a laptop, no doubt. You can spend up to $2,700 on a completely decked-out QHD+ version with a big 1 TB SSD inside. Immediately, this is where the Blade separates itself from budget gaming rigs like the Dell Inspiron 7000 gaming.
That said, the Blade is more reasonable than some of its premium competition. How about the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro? Apple sells a $2,800 version of that laptop as a standard configuration…but you get a weaker GPU, a third of the dedicated VRAM for that GPU, and half the SSD storage. I really like the new Surface Book with Performance Base, but again, you're looking at a laptop that's $100 more expensive. Look a little closer, and you'll find that it's powered by a less performance dual-core i7 chip, and its GPU is also a weaker, older part with only 2 GB VRAM and a 512 GB SSD instead. Razer's charging a lot, but there's a high degree of value at work here, too.
Big bezels surround otherwise good displays
Razer uses nice enough IPS screens in all of its Blade laptops, and it's worth noting that the cheaper versions have a 1080p matte screen that's a throwback (in the best way possible). That said, I was a little miffed that Razer did nothing to shrink the gigantic bezels on the screens it uses. That means that even though the Blade is close in size to other 15-inch laptops, you're actually getting a 14-inch screen inside. This would have been a real slam-dunk tweak to the Blade, but I'm guessing we'll have to wait for future versions to improve this aspect of the device's design.
Trackpad still less-than-amazing
Now, I've spent a long time comparing this powerful laptop to the new MacBook Pro, but there's one place where the Mac has most Windows laptops beat: trackpad reliability and sensitivity. Razer went the old-school route here, offering up physical buttons beneath the large, glass touch surface.
The buttons are a little weird, but not a dealbreaker. What makes this device worse than some competing Windows PCs (especially those featuring the Microsoft Precision Touchpad drivers) is its accuracy and responsiveness. Scrolling, gestures, and zooming are just not nearly as good as with say, a Surface Book or the Dell XPS 13. We know that the software exists to make a decent Windows trackpad, but Razer just needs to start shipping compatible hardware in its product. The trackpad lets down the rest of the otherwise excellent computing experience that Razer has on display.
Fans can be noisy, but assure constant performance
One area where Razer's philosophy is in line with that of other gaming companies is cooling. You see, a cooler processor means it can chew through data for longer without having to throttle back and slow down. In the case of the hot GPU and CPU the new Blade sports, it doesn't take a lot to warm the laptop up. Thankfully, Razer's design features fan intakes on the bottom to ensure constant airflow while gaming or during intensive usage. The problem? This Blade can be pretty noisy. If you need a notebook computer to be near-silent, this quad-core monster isn't the rig to grab.
Should You Buy It?
If you want a desktop for on-the-go work and can put up with polarizing design touches, absolutely.
There are plenty of reasons why this laptop deserved to win our Best of Year award, but it's really the combination of all those strong assets that make this latest Blade a strong choice. With Apple sacrificing so many critical assets on its pro machines, it's great to see that Razer is unafraid to continue offering users what they want and need in a package that truly focuses in on the highest performance possible. If you opt for the Blade over a similarly-equipped MacBook Pro, you won't be giving up much, and what you get in return is a top-notch typing experience, blisteringly fast graphics, and a lower price. Headed into 2016, it's the professional PC laptop to beat. Even dyed-in-the-wool Mac people should consider the Blade they're looking to switch from the Mac to a comparable Windows PC with the best performance available.
That said, the Mac still has Razer's best beat in a few areas, most importantly, a high-quality trackpad. The Razer's trackpad is fine, but it's not as great as what we've sampled on laptops like Dell's competing XPS 15. If the Dell ever gets equipped with an Nvidia Radeon GTX 1060 chip, it'll be a formidable contender. For the time being, however, the fastest Dell XPS pales in comparison to the potent Razer.
Since Razer is giving shoppers a lot for their money, the only question the Blade raises for this laptop lover is...could I learn to live with its gaudy, green logo and eye-popping USB ports? For some, this is a non-issue, but the Blade lacks the mature, refined look of a MacBook, even if it just about matches the Mac for overall build quality. What I'd love to see in the next Blade (aside from 7th Generation Intel processors) is a version without the logo or green ports along the sides. Until then, I'd say that you should buy a skin that covers the logo, and switch to the Blade.
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