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Monday, June 3, 2013

New Razer Blade gaming laptop shrinks down to ultrabook size (exclusive hands-on)

Is PC gaming getting conservative?
Razer, the PC peripherals manufacturer, is now a risk-taking newcomer to the world of PC gaming laptop hardware. The Razer Edge gaming tablet and funky second-screen Razer Bladegaming laptop were bold moves, both of which made experimental departures from a somewhat stale gaming-laptop pattern.

New Razer Blade laptop up close (pictures)

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Yet, the newly announced 14-inch Razer Blade is a throwback: no touch screen. No Switchblade second-screen clickpad. No convertible tablet mode. This is a laptop. A very thin, very sleek gaming laptop, the type you'd recognize.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
And, it's a smart idea.
We've had a prerelease version of the new Blade here at CNET, and have been giving it a spin over the last few days. Here are our initial thoughts.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Design: Razor-thin indeed...but traditional
The previous two Razer products were bold indeed, but not exactly recommendation-worthy. The Blade never made good on the potential of its touch-screen clickpad; few games ever had apps that took advantage of it. The Edge works as a proof-of-concept for hard-core tablet gaming, and it has some wonderful qualities, but its price and battery life keep it a niche product. Both devices, however, showed off Razer's ability to pull off some sharp designs.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The new Razer Blade is a compact version of the larger Blade, but it loses the experimental Switchblade second-screen touch pad that was shifted off to the right. Instead, there's a large, basic touch pad -- with click buttons beneath, no less -- back under the keyboard, in the middle, where you'd expect. The backlit keyboard has a standard key layout, with no intrusive macro buttons, and, oddly enough, no number pad either. Stereo speakers flank the keyboard's right and left sides.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The new Blade looks like a matte-black Retina Display MacBook Pro with a slightly wider base, even down to the details around the front lip and the recessed keyboard's curvature.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Weighing 4.1 pounds, the Blade has a practical feel. Measuring 13.6 inches by 9.3 inches and 0.66 inch thick, it's a lot smaller than most laptops, but thicker than most ultrabooks -- hence the Retina MacBook Pro comparison. It slid easily into my backpack and made for an easy commute. I don't know if I've ever seen a more easily portable gaming laptop other than the long-departed Alienware M11x. The thin, nearly ultrabooklike profile of this Blade, unhampered by the wider, surfboardlike dimensions of its 17-inch sibling, make it a candidate to be an everyday laptop as well as a gamer's tool. Plus, the keyboard is extremely responsive and comfortable to type on.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Horsepower and specs: A step above the typical thin laptop
Under the hood, the 14-inch Blade has some impressive horsepower -- even matching and exceeding the specs of the 15-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro (although that laptop came out a year ago). A fourth-gen quad-core Intel "Haswell" Core i7 processor (unspecified, since Intel hasn't officially revealed full details on its not-yet-released processors yet) is accompanied by an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The system comes with 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM. But, the Blade offers only solid-state storage options: a way-too-low 128GB mSATA solid-state drive is what comes standard, but the Blade can be configured with 256GB or 512GB. The original Blade had a 256GB SSD but shifted to a hybrid hard drive with a larger storage capacity.
The 14-inch, 16:9 matte display has a 1,600x900-pixel resolution, but isn't a touch screen. There's a 1.3-megapixel Webcam. The Blade is 802.11 b/g/n-compatible with its Qualcomm Killer Wireless-N network adapter, and has Bluetooth 4.0. Razer's released a beta version of its in-game VoIP software that works with the included array microphone.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Gaming performance
How do games perform on the new Blade? We've taken a sneak peek. After running a few early tests, results are promising. (Note: these benchmarks are early results done on a pre-release Blade unit with drivers that aren't finalized, so results may differ in the final review.BioShock Infinite ran at 47.1 frames per second at native 1,600x900-pixel resolution (UltraDX11), and 91.4fps at 1,366x768 and medium graphics settings. The more demanding Metro: Last Light ran at 16fps at 1,600x900 resolution and high graphics settings. In short, so far it doesn't seem like Blade isn't the fastest gaming laptop around, but it handles mainstream games nicely. More to come in the full review.
The downsides
Now, for the drawbacks, starting with the screen: This 14-inch display isn't Retina Display-competitive; it's not even close. It's 1,600x900 pixels, not 1080p, which is a bit of a head-scratcher at this price. Also, while it does have a matte surface, the display doesn't seem as crisp or sharp as the phenomenal one on the larger-screen Blade we reviewed last year -- it's not IPS, and the quality deteriorates when tilted at different angles. It feels middle-of-the-road...and, it isn't a touch screen. The Dolby Home Theater stereo speakers are shockingly loud, but also sounded a little rattly on this prerelease model.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Also, there aren't very many ports on the Blade. Three USB 3.0 and HDMI...and that's it. No Ethernet, no SD card slot even, and definitely no optical drive. I can live without an optical drive, but Ethernet would have been helpful considering how download-heavy Steam can get.
Finally, the storage capacity. The 128GB standard configuration won't do for serious gamers. I wish there had been a hybrid hard-drive option -- SSDs are still pricey in laptops. The upper-level cost for a 512GB model would be too much to swallow.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Perfect size?
The new Razer Blade is more of a mainstream commodity product than anything Razer's ever made, but it's still an expensive machine; the set configuration costs a pretty high $1,799. That's hard to swallow, but the upside here is that this Blade looks like a laptop you'd actually want to carry around with you and make your everyday computer...which is something you'd hope to do after dropping nearly $2,000 on it. Razer estimates about 6 hours of battery life, but we haven't even started running those tests. The most interesting question remains: when it comes to PC gaming mid-2013, is traditional hardware winning out over experimental touch design, or is Razer hedging its bets between this and the Edge?
Stay tuned for our full future review.
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