Review: Razer Blade (2014)

In summer 2013, Razer released its groundbreaking 14-inch Blade, a super-slim gaming rig that pushed the boundaries of portability in a graphics-focused laptop.

Well, 12 months have passed, and Razer is back with an update. No longer called the unsexy “Blade 14-Inch,” it’s now officially known as The New Razer Blade. (For those with wider eyes and fatter wallets, the 17-inch version is also still available. It’s called The New Razer Blade Pro.)

The last year has been a relatively quiet one for computing, as you can quickly see from a cursory glance at the core specs of the 2014 Blade. This model has the same CPU—a 4th generation Core i7—the same 8GB of RAM, and the same 256GB SSD (128GB is also an option). The graphics card has been upgraded to a GeForce GTX 870M, but that’s really just a single-generation hop from what last year’s computer had installed. Non-gaming performance is about the same across the board, and the port selection—three USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI connector—hasn’t changed.

There is one big change afoot however, and that’s with the screen. Razer takes resolution from a so-so 1600 x 900 pixels all the way up to 3200 x 1800, a 4x increase in pixel density on the same size display. It’s also now a 10-point touchscreen, which isn’t a necessity for PC gaming, but which is always handy for navigating Windows 8. Of course, as was the case with the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus, which packs the same resolution into a 13.3-inch screen, simply getting around Windows will often leave you squinting and trying desperately to click on minuscule buttons. Presumably most users of this laptop will be spending most of their time using WASD or Razer’s Sabertooth Xbox-style USB gaming controller rather than the silky touchpad, so this is probably not as big as deal as it is on a more business-focused laptop.

Gaming at this resolution can be quite dazzling, and for the most part the Blade is up to the task. The upgraded GPU pulls in framerates that better the 2013 Blade by margins of 70 to 100 percent on most benchmarks. And at full, native resolution you should have no trouble playing relatively recent game titles and keeping framerates above 60fps. Some new games like Watch Dogs and synthetic benchmarks like Heaven 4.0 do stutter a bit at this level—the cooling fan roaring like a fire hose while it’s grinding away—requiring a drop back to a more manageable resolution like 1920 x 1080 pixels. But for the most part if you’re conscientious with quality settings you’ll have a stellar experience.

Razer makes a big deal about the color capabilities and viewing angles of its new IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) display technology, but I wasn’t blown away by either of these. For the most part, I found colors to be a bit washed out, and viewing from diagonal angles revealed significant light bleed from the edges of the screen. The overall brightness of the screen is also significantly lower than that of the 2013 Blade, a likely side-effect of the addition of touchscreen technology.

Another big issue: Razer has also raised the price of the Blade by 20 percent. That’s tough to swallow given that the only major change here is in screen resolution, and I expect many who were ready to shell out $2,000 for a Blade may understandably balk at $2,400. For what it’s worth, the new Blade is also 1mm thicker and 9 percent heavier, now tipping the scales at 4.6 pounds, and battery life has fallen from over five hours to a little shy of four.

With its iconic green-backlit keyboard, sturdy matte-black chassis, beefy audio, and top-shelf performance, there’s plenty to like in the New Razer Blade. Unfortunately, that comes at a cost that is becoming a bit difficult to swallow.

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