When it comes to gaming laptops, Razer's ultra-thin Blade systems are in a league of their own. No, they aren't the most powerful machines on the market, but they are the thinnest. Portability is valuable, but it would be meaningless if it came at the cost of performance. This isn't the case with the Blade, which tears through games with Nvidia's second best mobile GPU and a decent Core i7 CPU from Intel. Neatly organizing that much hardware into such a sleek chassis, without damning it to overheat, is a commendable feat, and while other manufacturers have come very close to matching Razer's handiwork, it's still the leader of the pack. Unsurprisingly, Razer's back with new Blades for 2015, and today we're looking at the thinnest of the bunch: the 14" Full-HD model.
Razer has created a gaming laptop that closely resembles Apple's MacBooks, albeit with a modest amount of flare; the Razer logo on the lid and the keyboard's optional green backlighting are the only tells that it's a gaming product. The black anodized aluminum chassis feels a lot better than the plastics used in most laptops, giving it an appreciable air of class. Of course, looks only get you so far; it's what's under the hood that matters most.
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|Laptop||New 14" 1080p Blade||New 14" QHD+ Blade||New 17" Blade Pro||14" Blade (2014)||17" Blade Pro (2014)|
|Display||1080p, 14"||3200x1800, 14"||1080p, 17"||3200x1800, 14"||1080p, 17.3"|
Intel Core i7 4720HQ
2.6GHZ / 3.6 GHz
Intel Core i7 4720HQ
2.6GHZ / 3.6GHz
Intel Core i7 4720HQ
2.6GHz / 3.6GHz
Intel Core i7 4702HQ
2.2GHz / 3.2GHz
Intel Core i7 4700HQ
2.4GHz / 3.4GHz
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M / 3GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M / 3GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M /4GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M / 3GB
NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 860M / 2GB
|RAM||8GB DDR3L||16GB DDR3L||16GB DDR3L||8GB DDR3L||16GB DDR3L|
|Storage||256GB SSD||256GB SSD||128GB SSD + 500GB HDD||256GB SSD||256GB SSD|
The latest 14" 1080p Blade costs $2,000, and comes with an Nvidia GTX 970M GPU (3GB of VRAM), a quad-core Intel Core i7 4720-HQ CPU (2.6GHz base/3.6GHz turbo), 8GB of RAM (DDR3L-1600MHz), and a 256GB SSD (SATA M.2). For $2,400, you can get the 256GB QHD+ Touch model, which features a hi-res, 3200x1800 touchscreen, 16GB of RAM, and the same GPU and CPU configuration found in the 1080p model.
That leaves the Blade Pro model. Shipping in April, this large, 17-inch version of the Blade has a 1080p screen, but also a unique touchpad with a full color display next to the keyboard that can be used independently from Windows to browse the web or watch YouTube. Interestingly, the Pro comes with a weaker GPU than the standard Blade. Depending on which Pro Model you're looking at, expect to spend between $2,300 (128GB SSD + 500GB HDD) and $2,800 (512GB SSD + 1TB HDD).
While it's not the pinnacle of portable gaming tech, the standard 14" Blade packs enough power to run modern PC games at respectable framerates using max or near max settings.
|BioShock Infinite||1080p, Ultra Settings, DirectX 11||88 FPS|
|Tomb Raider||1080p, Ultra Settings, TressFX, FXAA||55 FPS|
|Metro: Last Light||1080p, DirectX 11, 16x Anistropic Filtering (no Tesselation, Adv. PhysX, SSAA)||60 FPS|
|Battlefield 4||1080p, Ultra Settings, 4xMSAA||55 FPS|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1080p, Ultra Settings, DirectX 11, Extreme Tesselation||34 FPS|
The new 14" Blade holds up very well under real world conditions, but a fair warning for those investing in a long term gaming solution: you can't replace or add to the Blade's RAM configuration. To be fair, 8GB is a good amount for now, but not being able to install RAM may prove to be a thorn in the side of some people down the road. Other manufacturers make it easy to swap RAM in and out of a laptop, but in order to keep the Blade thin, presumably, Razer had to solder its memory chips directly to its proprietary motherboard. It's a given that the GPU and CPU aren't upgradable, so keep these things in mind when investing in a gaming laptop, especially one with 3GB of VRAM. This detail will likely be the first weak-link in the chain as developers continue to push visuals and thus hardware requirements.
With only three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI out, and a combo headphone/microphone port, the Blade's connectivity options may leave some users wanting. While it's understandable why Razer might opt to avoid the likes of a SD Card slot or an Ethernet port in the name of thinness, it's questionable which is more valuable: portability or utility. The lack of an ethernet port is the biggest issue we faced, as it made downloading large games a longer process than we'd like. While it's got a good WiFi radio, with support for 802.11a/b/g/n/ac+, we eventually reached for an ethernet to USB adapter. This obviously sped things up. For a system designed around downloadable games, it makes you wonder: why doesn't Razer include an Ethernet adapter?
Like the Apple products it resembles, the Blade is fitted with a chiclet style keyboard. The flat, spaced out keys are great for typing, and surprisingly good for gaming as well. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the mouse buttons beneath the touchpad. The touchpad itself is smooth and responsive, but the buttons feel flimsy. The subtle physical feedback you feel when pressing a button is important because it signifies that the input has gone through, and when the timing of the feedback feels off or hollow, you notice. There is so much right about the Blade's design, but if there's one aspect that needs another pass, it's the mouse buttons. They aren't horrible, but there's definite room for improvement.
For such a thin laptop, the Blade's battery lasts a decent amount of time while it's untethered from an external power source. We kept the Blade alive for nearly four hours while gaming, and if you're keen to use it for non-gaming activities with a slightly dimmed screen, expect that count to rise as the CPU's less taxing HD Graphics 4600 GPU takes over. The good news is that the Blade's power supply is only slightly thicker than a large candy bar, so it won't weigh you down if you need to carry it on the go.
With a 256GB SSD, the Blade can move move data quickly, but it doesn't necessarily hold a lot of data. A 512GB drive would at least alleviate some of the space constraints that occur when installing multiple games, but unfortunately, Razer doesn't offer the option on the 1080p model.
The new 14" Blade is a capable, portable, and great looking gaming laptop, but more than ever, the it's facing competition from outsiders. Gigabyte's P34WV3-CF2 has the same CPU,GPU, and RAM configuration, and although it's .13 inches thicker, Gigabyte's gaming laptop weighs over half a pound less than the Blade. It's also worth noting that it has four USB 3.0 ports, an ethernet port, and an SD card reader. You also get more storage for your money with the included 128GB SSD and a 1TB 5400 RPM HD. With all of these additions, and easily upgradable components, why is Gigabyte's laptop $400 cheaper? It's equally powerful, more useful, and cheaper, but it doesn't have the same build-quality that's present in the blade. In short, for the Blade, you're paying for not just for it's hardware, but also for the craftsmanship behind the product.
If you pick up a Blade with all of its limitations in mind, you won't be disappointed. While it could benefit from a few more connectivity options and the ability to upgrade components, it's an incredibly well built gaming laptop that's thin and powerful. It's not the cheapest option around, but it's not always about comparing specs and numbers if you take build-quality seriously. Here, the Blade is the slickest gaming laptop money can buy.