Razer Blade - fall 2012 review:

PC gaming's concept car

The new CPU and GPU ramp up the Blade's overall performance to levels that are finally what we expected. Street Fighter IV, an admittedly old game that we use for comparative benchmark performance on previous laptops, ran at 100.8 frames per second at native 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution and 2x anti-aliasing. The first Blade ran the same game at the same settings at 60.1fps. Metro 2033, a more challenging game for benchmarks, ran at 13.3fps at 1080p, with graphics settings at High, DX11 turned on, 4x anti-aliasing, and 16x AF. That may sound low, but the last Blade in that same test ran at 8.7fps.

So, yes, these are strong gains for the new Blade. Other games, ranging from Dirt 3 to Battlefield 3, also ran very well. Dirt 3 ran at a speedy 62.9fps at full resolution and graphics settings on high.

Are these jaw-dropping statistics? Not for the hardest of hard-core gaming rigs, no. Those tend to perform better, and many of those have slightly better graphics, too. Laptops like the Digital Storm x17 and Samsung Series 7 Gamer performed better in our tests and cost less, but these systems are also far bulkier and heavier. (Note: for this review we compared the new Razer Blade with the Samsung Series 7 NP700Z7C7-S01, not the Gamer.)

The Razer Blade still falls a little short of top-notch loaded-up customizable gaming laptops, but the Blade really does fulfill the promise of solid gaming performance in a thin body this time around.

The Blade only comes in one configuration, however. There is no loading-up. That's a relief for the upgrade-wary, but will be disappointing to any fine-tuning PC gamer. In this $2,500 configuration, 8GB of RAM is decent but equivalently priced laptops often include 16GB. Hard-drive capacity has been increased to 500GB, but it's a hybrid 7,200rpm hard drive with an additional 64GB SSD cache for speeding up access to frequently used applications and files. Doubling the previous Blade's onboard storage was smart, but considering that hybrid hard drives are less expensive, I'd have preferred a more generous bump to at least 750GB.

Battery life
The new Blade lasted through 3 hours and 31 minutes of video playback in our CNET test -- not exactly barn-burning, but better than most gaming laptops. It's also a little better than the original Blade, despite the performance increases. Obviously, playing actual games will shorten that battery life far more quickly. Incidentally, the Blade has a surprisingly compact AC charging brick.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Razer Blade has a one-year standard warranty. Razer's customer support is handled in-house, so you can expect a more boutique-style level of service for the Blade than from larger laptop manufacturers. That's more common with some other boutique gaming-PC companies like Origin. Owners of the original Blade can get a $500 discount toward the purchase of a new one, but considering the first Blade went on sale near the beginning of this year, that's a mighty quick upgrade cycle to bear.

Windows 8 and the Blade
That brings up another big question: what happens to the Blade with the arrival of Windows 8? Razer claims the new Blade is Windows 8-ready, and that the Switchblade UI drivers will be updated to support Windows 8. However, the bigger question is whether the Blade is a real Windows 8 gaming system. There are a lot of experimental, intriguing touch-screen laptops and tablets arriving imminently with Windows 8 preinstalled. These may not all be to the taste of true PC gamers, however, since many gaming stores like Steam aren't designed to run directly via Windows 8's app-driven market.

Are you buying the Blade as a futuristic laptop, or as a gaming machine? If you're looking for the former, a word of warning: many interesting Windows 8 PCs will be achieving even more eye-popping design tricks. If you're want the latter, I think it's still safe to say that the Razer Blade is one of the most aggressively designed gaming-specific laptops around.

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The new Blade makes good on its promise of improving its internal specs to a level we expected in the first place. It's still impressively thin, runs games better than before, and has a striking design. However, the Switchblade UI, while innovative in concept, doesn't yet have the sort of gaming support it needs. Who knows when it will. The Blade is the most portable of the big-screen gaming laptops, and the new version improves on the first. Is that enough for you to spend $2,500 on it? If so, this is your sleek gaming race car of choice...but just be aware that it's not cheap, nor is it the fastest gaming PC. It might, however, be the coolest-looking.

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Street Fighter IV (in fps, native resolution, 2X AA, V Sync off)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Digital Storm P170EM
Razer Blade (fall 2012)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Load test (avg. watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Razer Blade (fall 2012)
Digital Storm P170EM

System configurations:

Razer Blade (fall 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-3632QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Origin EON17-S (Ivy Bridge - Intel Core i7-3920XM)
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-3920XM; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; HDD No. 1: 1TB Samsung 5,400rpm + HDD No. 2, 3: 240GB Corsair Force SSD (x2) RAID 0

Maingear EX-L 15
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-3820QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Samsung Series 7 NP700Z7C7-S01
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3615QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 1TB Seagate 5,400rpm

Dell Inspiron 17R SE - 2051BK (7720)
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 1TB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Digital Storm P170EM
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7970M / 2GB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm

What you'll pay

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