Can a better high-res touch display and new graphics make Razer's latest gaming computer the ultimate portable powerhouse?
Ah, to be thin and beautiful. In the world of laptops, that feels like the mission across the board, except when it comes to gaming laptops. But what if there were a Retina MacBook Pro of gaming? What if it had a super high-res touch display and outstanding graphics, and it weighed under 5 pounds? Does this sound like dream come true?
Razer has been chipping away at the "thin gaming laptop" category with the Blade for the last few years, starting with a 17-inch model and adding a 14-inch version in 2013. But the 2014 model makes some big improvements, mainly in its upgraded Nvidia graphics and seriously improved IGXO 3,200x1,800-pixel-resolution touch display. The Razer Blade is a beauty. And it is thin. And it's probably the most exciting gaming laptop out there right now.
|Razer Blade 14 RZ09-0116 (2014)||MSI GE60 Apache Pro-003||Maingear Pulse 14 (2014)|
|Display size/resolution||14-inch, 3,200x1,800 screen||15.6-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen||14-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen|
|PC CPU||2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ||2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ||2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702MQ|
|PC memory||8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 870M||4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 860M||2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 850M|
|Storage||256GB SSD||1TB HD||500GB HD|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
Last year's 14-inch Blade ditched the second-screen touch UI of the 17-inch Blade Pro and went for a look that felt like a Retina Display MacBook Pro clad in black. The look is the same this time, and there's no problem with that; gaming laptop or not, the Blade is an all-metal stunner that's wonderfully sleek and very solid.
At 0.7 inch thick and 4.47 pounds, this is a laptop that'll slide easily into any backpack. The keyboard and touchpad are also really good, well-placed and responsive. The keyboard in particular has "antighosting," which basically means multiple simultaneous keys pressed together register well. The two discrete touchpad buttons feel a bit flimsy, but that's a minor quibble; for gaming you'll probably use an external mouse, anyway. Navigating Windows 8.1 is a breeze thanks to the touchscreen, making this one of the best gaming laptops for those who might still want to do everyday tasks with touch.
From the glowing green keys on the keyboard to the glyphlike Razer logo that glows from the back lid, this is a gaming laptop that picks understated style over flashy rainbow LEDs and blocky chrome grilles. I appreciate it.
The Blade's new IGXO 3,200x1,800 display is its best new feature. The original Razer Blade I first reviewed had a spectacular display, but last year's 14-inch model had an unimpressive non-touch, lower-res 1,600x900 screen. It was a major disappointment, considering how good the rest of the 2013 version was.
The new display is glass-covered, brighter, and very vivid, has excellent viewing angles, and it's multitouch, too. Gamers may not care about that, but touch on a gaming laptop is an incredibly rare thing. It means that users can enjoy this Blade as an everyday laptop and not feel like they've compromised. Touch on Windows 8 is a very good thing to have.
Games, of course, aren't really meant to be played at that absurd resolution, and some Windows gaming apps aren't optimized for it, either. Steam's main UI seemed to be downscaling to lower-res. But, for everyday app usage and extra desktop real estate, extra pixels are always good.
So how does the new Blade handle games? An onboard Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M GPU with 3GB of DDR5 RAM stands towards the high end of the Nvidia laptop graphics spectrum (but not the absolute highest), and does very well indeed in our tests.
BioShock Infinite ran at 66 frames per second at 1,920x1,080 and high graphics settings with UltraDX11; or at 98.5fps at the same resolution and Medium graphics. The more rigorous Metro: Last Light test ran at 15.3fps. Games looked sharp -- BioShock Infinite looked really good at 3,200x1,800 as well, but obviously at that high a resolution you're better off ratcheting down the graphics level to medium or lower settings. The onboard speakers pump out surprisingly loud and crisp audio, too.
I really liked playing games on this Razer, but after just a half an hour the bottom of the chassis got seriously hot. That happens with gaming laptops, but this runs a lot hotter than last year's Blade. And battery life while gaming drops pretty quickly. We got only around 92 minutes of battery life when playing games on medium graphics settings, which shouldn't be surprising. After half an hour or so on high with speakers blasting, my battery dipped down to 60 percent.
Like all Razer laptops, this one is Razer Synapse 2.0-enabled, too, which means it saves game settings for keyboards and peripherals in the cloud and allows deeper customization.
There are three USB 3.0 ports on the edge of the Blade, along with HDMI. It has Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. That's all you'll really need to stay connected. A 2MP Web camera and array microphone are better than you'll find on your average laptop, in case you also want to do in-game chat.
Thanks to its 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4702HQ processor, the Razer Blade 2014 edition performs fast -- but not any faster, really, than the 2013 version. It's still more than enough for nearly any computing task you're likely to think of, but it's not a pure speed gain. Gaming is another story, as you can see above: those tests took a big leap forward on the strength of Nvidia's new generation of 800-series GPUs.
Battery life, unfortunately, took a hit: last year's Blade lasted an impressive 7 hours, 46 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. This year's version only lasted 4 hours, 27 minutes. That's no different than most other gaming laptops, but the Blade's big advantage of last year is gone, traded for different advantages in display and gaming graphics. Playing games at different settings on battery power gave us between 1 hour and 90 minutes of life, really no better than an oversize gaming desktop replacement.
The Razer Blade's lone configuration variable is solid-state drive (SSD) storage: you can choose a 128, 256, or 512GB solid-state drive. The three cost $2,199, $2,399, and $2,699, respectively. (Availability and pricing outside the US will be announced later this year.) The smaller 128GB is really not enough for a laptop that's this expensive and high-end, especially if you plan to download full-size games via Steam, Gog, or Origin. Our review configuration, the 256GB $2,399 version, seems like the one I'd pick, although if you're in for this much money, maybe you'd just want to go whole hog since game downloads aren't small.
This is an expensive laptop, and a nonconfigurable one, but it's not that bad a deal compared with others on the market. A recent 15-inch MSI GE60 and the latest Maingear Pulse 14 both cost around $1,000 less, but they drop the GPU a few steps to the GeForce 860M and 850M and downgrade the display to a 1080p non-touch screen.
You're paying for style and and a thin profile with the Razer Blade, as well as the better-than-HD touchscreen, higher-end GPU, and expensive SSD storage.
"If the Blade had a display like its 17-inch cousin, this would be an Editors' Choice laptop." That's what I said last year about the Razer Blade 14. This Blade definitely offers up the fantastic display I dreamed of, but it doesn't have the same great battery life -- and it's more expensive.
But this Blade is a near-perfect balance of all the great things you'd want in a dream thin gaming machine. It's the best Blade yet, even if it's a bit of a compromise, especially on battery life. You can't always have everything, but this Blade comes close. While I'd love to see a lower-priced model with a standard 1080p touchscreen and better battery life, there's still nothing cooler happening in gaming laptops anywhere else right now.
Razer Blade 14 RZ09-0116 (2014)
(64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz, 3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 870; 256GB SSD
MSI GE60 Apache Pro-003
(64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M; 1TB 7,200rpm HGST hard drive
Razer Blade 14 (2013)
(64-bit); Intel Core i7-4702HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M; 128GB Samsung SSD
Maingear Pulse 14 (2014)
(64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702MQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 850M; 500GB 5,400rpm Seagate hard drive
(64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ; 32GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 880M;(2) 256GB SSD RAID 0 1TB 7,200rpm HGST hard drive