We recently evaluated Razer's latest 14-inch gaming laptop, the new Blade, which we appreciated for its sturdy design and solid performance. We also fell in love with its hi-res screen, a QHD+ panel with a native resolution of 3200x1800. Despite looking great, it's admittedly over the top, and a major contributor to the increase in price over the previous 14-inch Blade. Razer's 17-inch alternative, the Blade Pro, is also back for 2014, and while it hasn't been tweaked as much as its smaller cousin, it's definitely an improvement over last year.
At a glance, the new Pro mirrors the physical design of the 2013 model, sharing the same dimensions and ports. The thin aluminum chassis feels great, and for a 17-inch gaming laptop, the Blade Pro is as thin and light as it currently gets, weighing 0.04 pounds lighter than last year's version.
Though it's great that some things never change, including the Blade's fantastic chiclet keyboard, the Switchblade UI trackpad is a feature that has needed refining since its inception, and unfortunately, nothing has changed since last year. The Switchblade UI, a full-color touchscreen display, with 10 customizable keys with displays of their own, isn't as enticing as it's made out to be. With the secondary display, you can run apps alongside or in unison with desktop apps, and with the customizable keys, you can define hotkeys for various applications and implement full-color icons to give them character. Sure enough, these features work, but the problem is the compromises that arise from their inclusion, especially the touchscreen.
The plastic surface that protects the display is a poor surface for a laptop trackpad. Put simply, the surface tension is easily disrupted by even the slightest amount of residue, resulting in a surface that feels inconsistent, which is reflected by the cursor onscreen. The trackpad is positioned to the right of the keyboard, which is unusual for a laptop and will take some getting used to. It makes sense from a comfort standpoint, if you can't use a mouse when gaming on the go, but it's otherwise disappointing.
The 10 customizable keys are functionally better than the trackpad, but despite how they appear in Razer's marketing images, the individual displays are recessed into the keys, rather than positioned on the top. The lensing effect that's used to direct the image toward the left, to make the image easy to see while sitting in front of the Blade Pro, makes things a blurry mess from any other angle.
Unfortunately, I found almost no worth in the ability to run apps on my keyboard. If I'm playing a game, I'm focused on the action onscreen, and if I have time to shift my attention away from the game to focus on the Switchblade's screen, then I could just as easily Alt+Tab into another window on my actual monitor. Offering this grandiose feature in place of a better trackpad, such as the one found on the 14-inch Blade, is puzzling. I'm not in love with the Switchblade keys as they are, but I can accept them because they aren't a hindrance to the overall experience.
On a positive note, just like the Blade, the Blade Pro has an extremely thin and portable external power supply, and you can't discount its contribution toward the Blade Pro's overall portability.
The new Blade Pro comes with the same CPU as last year's Pro, an Intel Core i7 4700HQ quad-core CPU at 2.4 GHz, but it's paired with a new GPU, Nvidia's GTX 860M, in addition to 16GB of DDR3 RAM--twice as much as the previous model.
|Spec||GTX 860M (17-inch Blade Pro)||GTX 870M (14-inch Blade)|
|Clock Speed||1,029 MHz||941 MHz|
|GDDR5 VRAM||2,048 MB||3,072 MB|
|Memory Bus||128 bit||192 bit|
|Memory Clock Speed||5,012 MHz||5,000 MHz|
|Pixel Rate||16.5 GPixel/s||26.3 GPixel/sec.|
|Texture Rate||41.2 GTexel/s||80.5 GTexel/s|
The GTX 860M represents a significant jump in performance over last year's GTX 765M, but it's not as strong as the GTX 870M in the 14-inch Blade, which happens to be $100 cheaper than the Pro model. In terms of hardware, the Blade Pro's advantage is that it has a slightly faster CPU and twice as much RAM, but when it comes to in-game performance, the 14-inch Blade is the stronger contender. The Blade Pro does benefit from slightly better battery life, lasting around 90 minutes during extreme gaming scenarios and close to five hours during Web browsing, word processing, and media streaming sessions.
The Blade Pro is a capable gaming machine, but as our benchmarks prove, it's not as strong as its cheaper sibling. The mismatch is a bit odd, but if you're chasing a thin gaming laptop with a large screen, rather than a machine that's both more powerful and portable, the Blade Pro is a good choice; just temper your expectations accordingly.
The 1080p LCD panel on the Blade Pro is neither impressive nor disappointing. Given its size and the money spent on other features, it's a tad unfortunate that it maxes out at 1920x1080. But it doesn't stand out in practice--only when you're weighing the merits of the screen relative to the rest of the laptop's premium features.
In terms of inputs, the Blade Pro has the essentials covered, with three USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, a headphone/microphone combo port, and HDMI out. It's worth noting that it lacks an SD card slot, which is quickly becoming commonplace in the laptop market. Considering that Razer sells this laptop for a minimum of $2,300 for the 128GB model, it's a shame that it hasn't kept up with industry standards. If you need more memory, prepare to spend $2,500 for the 256GB version, or $2,800 for the 512GB model.
Given that high cost, it's also disappointing that you'll have to settle for medium to high graphics settings. Very high or ultra settings are simply out of reach if you're chasing 60 frames per second. After running the same benchmarks as we did with the Blade, it became clear that the Pro model is the weakest of the two, even though it's the most expensive.
|Game||Settings||Average FPS||14-inch Blade|
|Bioshock Infinite||DirectX 11, Ultra preset||54||65|
|Metro: Last Light||DirectX 11, Very High preset, 16x AF, Motion Blur||35||46|
|Tomb Raider||High preset (TressFX off)||46||74|
|Watch Dogs||High preset, MHBAO||33||36|
Recommending the Blade Pro in a world where the new Blade offers better performance for less money is difficult. The extra RAM and faster CPU look good on paper, but the results speak for themselves. Unless you need a 17-inch display, you're better off, in almost every respect, choosing the 14-inch Blade if you want one of Razer's thin and light gaming laptops. The standard Blade is better at gaming, it features a remarkable screen, it's more portable, and it isn't plagued by a trackpad that's occasionally inconsistent.