The New Razer Blade: Thoroughly Reviewedby Vivek Gowri on October 3, 2012 5:40 PM EST
Introducing the new Razer Blade
Earlier this year, Razer handed me a Blade evaluation unit and told me to go wild. Considering the company had no previous experience with developing PC laptop hardware, I was skeptical about their ability to transition from a manufacturer of gaming peripherals to a manufacturer of gaming systems. Turns out my concerns were unfounded, as the Blade turned out to be a well-designed, high quality notebook. Granted, the dual-core Core i7 and NVIDIA GT 555M graphics chip were more suited for a high-end 14” system rather than a fully fledged 17” gaming notebook, while the $2799 asking price bordered on obscene, but the Blade was a polished piece of engineering that showed that Razer was capable of producing premium grade hardware.
Fast forward eight months and Razer dropped off the new Blade at my doorstep. (They’re a pretty trusting bunch.) The new Blade looks quite similar to the old Blade, but there are some key differences under the hood. Most obvious is the significant upgrade in computing prowess, with the CPU/GPU combination being kicked up to a quad-core Ivy Bridge chip and NVIDIA’s GTX 660M graphics, but also a redesigned cooling system and a much more stable software backend to the Switchblade LCD trackpad. It’s also gotten a price drop to $2499. Do the improvements make the Blade more competitive with the gaming notebook establishment?
I absolutely enjoyed my time with the original Blade. I used it as my primary portable for a lot longer than I expected to, due to the fact that it weighed the same as the average 15” notebook while looking great and being blazing fast in day to day usage. The combination of the 2.8GHz i7-2640M and the Marvell-based LiteOn 256GB SSD proved to be exceptionally responsive in the real world, resulting in one of the quickest boot times I’ve measured (15.8 seconds). Unfortunately, at $2799, we expected more. A dual-core i7 and a GT 555M simply did not cut it, not compared to less expensive gaming systems that offered quad-core processors and far more powerful graphics cards, notebooks like the ASUS G74SX, Alienware’s M17x, and the Clevo P170. Having specifications that essentially matched the M14x just didn’t cut it at a pricetag approaching $3000.
And it wasn’t just the internal hardware that gave us pause—one of the key selling points of the Blade, the Switchblade UI, was an interesting concept saddled by inherently unstable software. When it worked, Switchblade was fun, a novel idea that could wow your friends and be useful in very specific scenarios. But it needed more utility, and above all else, more robust drivers and software.
So with this updated Blade (referred to internally as the Blade R2), Razer went about fixing the issues that were brought up. It wasn’t just the major stuff though; Razer’s CEO Min-Liang Tan told me that they combed through each and every single review and looked at every concern mentioned. This went to the level of minutia—the click sound of the trackpad buttons as well as the backlighting of the secondary functions in the Fn keys were apparently things that the design team had rethought simply because I pointed them out. After the new Blade was announced in Seattle, I had a lengthy discussion with Min about whether the trackpad buttons should have been matte or glossy plastic. It’s very rare that you see that kind of attention to detail, particularly at the chief executive level, so it’s nice to see how connected Razer is as a company and how serious they are about their PC business.
|Razer Blade (late 2012) Specifications|
Intel Core i7-3632QM
(4x2.20GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.2GHz, 22nm, 6MB L3, 35W)
Intel HD 4000
(16EUs, up to 1200MHz)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M 2GB GDDR5 (Optimus)
(384 CUDA Cores, 875MHz/950MHz core/boost, 2.5GHz memory, 128-bit memory bus)
17.3" LED Matte 16:9 1080p
AUO B173HW01 V5
500GB 7200RPM HDD (Hitachi HTS72505)
64GB Lite-On LMT-64M3M caching SSD
(Marvel 88SS9174 Flash controller, NVELO DataPlex caching software)
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 802.11a/b/g/n
Realtek ALC275 HD Audio
Single combination mic/headphone jack
|Battery||6-Cell, 60Wh (integrated)|
|Right Side||Kensington Lock|
AC Adaptor Port
3 x USB 3.0
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1|
16.81" x 10.90" x 0.88" (WxDxH)
427mm x 277mm x 22.4mm
Ambient light sensor
Ten dynamic LCD keys
4.05" WVGA LCD touchpad (capacitive, multitouch)
On spec level, the new Blade stacks up roughly where we thought it would. Near the end of my Blade review, I suggested that we would see the next iteration jump in performance plane: “The more efficient chips open up a lot of possibilities for Razer due to the thermal design; quad-core CPUs and GTX-caliber graphics wouldn't be out of the realm of imagination.” With the 35 watt quad-core parts that were introduced with Ivy Bridge, it was a given that we would see one. As such, Razer went with the i7-3632QM, a new 35W quad clocked at 2.2GHz with a max turbo of 3.2GHz.
In addition, the graphics were bumped up to the GTX 660M, a Kepler-based 28nm GPU with a GK107 core, 384 CUDA cores clocked at 875MHz, and 2GB of GDDR5 vRAM. If you’ve been paying attention to NVIDIA’s increasingly convoluted mobile graphics lineup (I won’t blame you if you haven’t), that’s the same GPU as the GT 650M except clocked higher—the GDDR5 variant of the GT 650M is clocked at 735MHz, while the DDR3 version comes with an 850MHz core clock but significantly slower memory—the GDDR5 GT 650M ends up being a fair amount faster than the DDR3 one. The GT 640M and one SKU of GT 640M LE also use the GK107 core and have the same 384 CUDA cores and GDDR5/DDR3 variants, but with even lower clocks (in the 625 to 645MHz range for the GT 640M, and 500MHz for the LE). The other GT 640M LE SKU is a 40nm part that’s essentially rebranded from one of the GT 555M’s many variants. Confused yet? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Thanks NVIDIA, we love you.
Basically, this is all to say that architecturally, there’s nothing serious separating the GTX 660M from the GT 650M that can be found in the new MacBook Pros, Samsung Series 7, and the Alienware M14x. Interestingly, the Retina MacBook Pro has a GDDR5 GT 650M clocked at an aggressive 900MHz, which is actually higher than the base clock of the GTX 660M in the new Blade. So here we go again. This isn’t to fault Razer—they were kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place with this one. NVIDIA’s lineup has basically shaken out such that the only Kepler-based GTX parts up until have been the 660M and the 680M; the 680M’s 100W thermal envelope is almost as high as the entire Blade system, which ships with a 120W power adapter, while the 40nm Fermi parts (GTX 670/675M at 75/100W respectively) obviously weren’t realistic either, leaving the 660M as the only really viable option. Will we see GTX 670MX/675MX make it into the Blade sooner rather than later? It's possible, but we'll believe it when we see it.
|Razer Blade (late 2012)||Razer Blade (early 2012)||Alienware M17x R4||Alienware M18x R2||ASUS G75VW||Clevo P170EM|
|CPU||Core i7-3632QM||Core i7-2640M||Core i7-3630QM||Core i7-3630QM||Core i7-3610QM||Core i7-3720QM|
|GPU||GTX 660M||GT 555M||GTX 660M/680M||GTX 680M SLI||GTX 670M||HD 7970|
Right off the bat, let’s address the cost versus performance question that dogged the original Blade. A comparably configured M17x will run you about $1900, though at $2500 you could get the same M17x with a GTX 680M. GK104 is just on a higher performance plane than any other mobile GPU at the moment, so it’s worth thinking about. The ASUS G75VW can be had in GTX 660M and GTX 670M flavors and rings up at less than $1500 no matter what configuration you’re looking for. Obviously, the Blade and the M17x are more premium products than the ASUS RoG systems, but the Razer is still more expensive than the nearest competitors. It ends up as either a tradeoff between the power of the GTX 680M and the portability of the Blade, or just paying a decent premium for the Blade’s design and Switchblade UI. But, at the very least, now it’s at least justifiable. The first Blade would have been a difficult value proposition to make even with a 25% price cut.
The other big hardware news is that the 256GB SSD was dumped in favor of a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive paired with a Lite-On 64GB solid state mSATA cache drive. That drive is based on the same Marvell 88SS9174 flash controller as the old Blade's SSD and runs on NVELO’s DataPlex caching firmware. Quite frankly, I’m disappointed. I get that with the size of modern video games, 256GB can be on the tight side, but I’m not sure that dumping fully solid state storage for a cached solution is the best way to go. And even with a hard drive, it’d have made more sense for Razer to go for a drive in the 750GB-1TB range instead of a 500GB drive to make it really worth the switch. Another option, if Razer really wanted to let users have their cake and eat it too? Configure the mSATA drive as a separate storage drive and use either the LMT-128M3M or 256M3M (the 128GB and 256GB variants of the current 64GB cache drive). That lets you have a decent sized SSD for the OS and applications, along with a mechanical drive for games and data storage. If I had my run of the place, I think I’d have two SKUs—one with the 64GB cache paired with a 750GB hard drive, and another one with a 256GB SSD offered as a no-cost option. I’d like to see users be given the choice, basically.
Other details include the switch across the board to USB 3.0 ports (there’s three of them, all highlighted in Razer green, with nary a USB 2.0 port in sight) and an updated dual-band Intel wireless card that supports Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi Direct. The display is the same AUO 1080p panel as before, and it’s one of the few meaningful internal components that has been retained from the original Blade. The exterior, however, looks pretty similar, and that’s a good thing. We loved the original design and it has survived mostly intact, with a bit of additional weight due to the mechanical hard drive and some revised cooling details. The form factor is like nothing else, other than maybe the dearly departed 17” MacBook Pro, and in the world of gaming notebooks, it’s just on a different planet. Look at the chart from above, an updated version of the one I had in the original Blade review: half the thickness of the M17x, three and a half pounds lighter than the G75VW. As for performance, we'll look at that in a moment.
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Zmokin - Thursday, October 4, 2012 - linkWell, I've had mine for four days now so let me tell you my impressions.
For something this expensive you tend to second guess yourself, especially with all the nay-sayers out there. Although there are a few nagging issues (see below), so far I'm still happy with my purchase.
Keep in mind I'm upgrading from a four year old laptop so my experience will probably be different from yours.
Despite some other reviews, The sound is loud enough (for me) to play music in a small room or for gaming and sounds reasonably good for a laptop. I'm not an audio expert so others may disagree.
The screen looks great to me. It's not washed out, doesn't fade much from the side or when I change the angle of the screen. No complaints.
- It is taking me a bit to get used to the touchpad location, but it's not such an annoyance as to make a big deal about it.
- Storage space. Plenty for me. I have all my music (20 gigs), lots of photos, four games, ms office, adobe suite, slew of other programs for work and all my data and I still have plenty of space left over (almost half). I'm not sure what else I would put on there except more games, but it definitely is better than the 256gb alone. I have no idea what all folks put on that they need terabytes of storage on a laptop, but more power to them - I'm satisfied.
- Awesome looks! Took it to work and everyone wanted to check it out just from the initial looks - hadn't even turned it on yet! Once the switchblade came on with all the pics and stuff - it was all over, everyone was just drooling.
- boot up speed is fast (for me anyway), around 20 secs or so. There is a lot of stuff being loaded in the msconfig startup list, some of that might be eliminated. Maybe someone more knowledgable could tell us what isn't really needed to help make it boot even faster.
- Overall weight and size of course. My backpack thanks me for replacing my old 17" Gateway! And so does my back itself. The power brick (can't really call it that anymore) is so small for so much power.
- Fingerprints! Everywhere! On the cover, on the palm rest, on the keys - it's disgusting. It looks like I just ate some fried chicken and didn't bother to wash my hands before picking up and playing with the laptop. And yes, I did wash my hands before handling it! I find myself cleaning it continuously, especially before taking it out in public since it distracts from the beauty of the beast. The worst part is that they don't come off easily. You really have to clean it as opposed to just simply wiping them off like other laptops I've had.
- Heat after long/heavy game playing. Could fry an egg on the surface. Played GW2 for four hours with everything on high minus anti-alias. Game played pretty smooth without hiccups or stuttering the whole time.
However.... I noticed the palm rest under the switchblade ui was getting really hot, and I mean really hot.
So I started feeling around. Right above the power button, it was so hot that I would have burned my hand if I would have kept it there.
So I did an informal temp measure just to see for myself if I was imagining it.
I emphasize informal since all I had was a standard home thermometer. I placed the tip on the palm rest and it quickly rose over 100F and then settled at 105.4F.
When I placed the tip above the power button, it rose to 110F and then just went to 'H' because my poor thermometer wouldn't read any higher (humans would probably be dead at that level!).
That said, reading Vivek's article, it sounds like this is normal. Still a little worrisome.
- Switchblade is good/bad. Good because it looks really neat and can be functional and versatile. I can see the potential.
However, it only works if you are connected to the Internet! WTH! As soon as I lose connection or if I'm in an area with no wifi, everything disappears and it is just a trackpad - even the buttons above the touchpad are all blank. I can't even turn it into a numpad which I think would be the least it could do. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but so far I haven't figured out how to download the profiles so that I can use the switchblade without being connected to the Internet. Dumb in my opinion.
Also, I tried to configure my own buttons across the top to add the simple functions of home, end, del, etc. to work along with the trackpad. Couldn't do it. In order to reassign the keys, you have to press the key you want to reassign it to. Since there is no home key to press, I couldn't assign it to the blank key. I found a way around by switching to their built in numpad, pressing the home key, but there is no way to assign the icon for it. They should offer a list of keys (especially those missing from the keyboard) to choose from and their corresponding icons to make this easier.
Overall I'm still happy, but the few things I mentioned do distract from the overall experience.
Zmokin - Thursday, October 4, 2012 - linkHere is a post from someone who opened the case (voiding the warranty) and installed new SSDs.
(The link goes to the forum page so you may have to wander down the posts to find it.)
karasaj - Thursday, October 4, 2012 - linkIf Razer took out the switchblade UI and made a 15 inch version etc. it would be very compelling... even more portable than this one is. As it is, this is pretty cool. I would definitely like one of these if I ever got into a situation where I wasn't traveling/transporting my laptop every day.
Death666Angel - Thursday, October 4, 2012 - linkI think this laptop is something different. It is expensive for the innards you get, but it is slim, quiet, still powerful and does things a little different. The switch from full SSD to chaching is a shame though.
What I would like to see in R3 of The Razer Blade: Make the Switchblade a 4.5-5" screen with 720p resolution, give us a Tegra3/Exynos Quad/Krait Quad/whatever based SoC with a full Android/Linux version and have the run on the small screen or if we chose to use this on the go just for internet, give it out on the big screen in 1080p and save tons of battery. That would be pretty neat.
jed22281 - Saturday, October 6, 2012 - linkSo putting aside the unique aspects of this device, how does the rMBP stack up against this purely for Gaming?*
Does the better GPU mean much better perf. at the same res. for both, or does the rMBP's CPU make that moot?
Can you till play many games (full settings or near) at the RMBP's native res. & get an acceptable frame-rate?
Anyone played with both a fair bit????
*note I have license for Win 7 & can dual-boot so that's not an issue.
jed22281 - Saturday, October 6, 2012 - link"Can you till play many games (full settings or near) at the RMBP's native res. & get an acceptable frame-rate?"
In hindsight, I realize the silliness in that statement....
One cool adv with the rMBP, would be that one can always buy an external thunderbolt GPU later for much more serious gaming, right?
I recall there being some on the market or coming, are there any decent ones out there nowadays?
themiracle - Sunday, October 7, 2012 - linkWhy Anand didnt review the envy 17 3D, it has a similar design to this one, but has better display, and a slightly better GPU\CPU, it the fastest laptop ive ever used, it has two problems out of the box, but o well, wth, maybe you can make a review
Envy 17 3D 3290nr
tariq3877 - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link- I understand ALienware are expensive but they have good after sales value too.
- I understand These other systems may have a slim Chassis but the thing that matters is the GPU on board or Slot-IN, as i used to do GPU REBALLING i can say it matters a lot.
- Best machines according to repair point of view are Acers.
- Worst machines with 90% heat and GPU failling problems are HP.
raok7 - Thursday, September 5, 2013 - linkwell this looks great and will be one of the best product!!!!!!!!!