Smaller, faster, less expensive
By now you know Razer's game when it comes to laptops: custom builds of handsomely outfitted specialty gaming machines that cost a pretty penny. Their latest outing, the 14-inch Blade, hits all of those marks. But it adds a new mark with portability.
As their marketing is keen on telling us, the machine is thinner than an on-end dime, coming in at 0.66 inches thick. And at about 4 lbs in its all black aluminum chassis, it really feels like you could take it anywhere. Even the power supply is a skinny little sliver of a thing. Razer has made sure that you have no excuse -- you should take this machine with you everywhere.
And with a lower price point, you may be able to afford to take it with you.
Razer Blade 14-inch (2013)
You'll be glad to take the 14-inch blade with you as it's quite a looker. Predecessors also looked great, but there was always at least one aspect that held them back from totally winning me over in the looks department. That's definitely not the case now. Every inch of the machine is matte black in color, save for the green key backlight and the matching Razer logo. The power button is now an understated black metal key -- a welcome change. Even the large touchpad and speaker grills manage to work towards its sexy, powerful looks. There isn't one corner of the Razer that doesn't look the part -- even the bottom side looks sharp with its fan grilles and non-skid rubber bar feet. Again, this is a ridiculously beautiful machine, from edge to edge.
From my experience, the 14-inch Razer isn't just a pretty face. There's enough meat under the bun to do just about anything I threw at it proud. Our review unit centered around an Intel Core i7-4702HQ running at 2.2 GHz, with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M supplying muscles to the party. 8GB of DDR3L-1600MHz and 256 GB Samsung hard disk round out something that looks a bit like a gussied-up MacBook Pro Retina on paper, but proves to be more than you'd expect in use. The base machine comes with a 128GB SSD, priced at $1,799.
Now, you won't quite get high-end desktop performance -- you shouldn't expect that from the GTX 765M. But you will get something comparable, and definitely falling in line with other high-end gaming laptops out there. Even with some iffy video drivers, 3DMark's read on the system says that it falls in line with gaming laptops out now.
There's certainly enough under the hood to make full use of the 14-inch 1,600 x 900 screen the Razer sports, which means that current games will run at its top resolution maxed out perfectly fine. It's no 1080p, but you're getting HD resolution at great frame rates. I ran through a couple of levels of both Resident Evil: Revelations and Remember Me, with graphical settings set on max, with a frame rate of 60 frames per second locked in. Play was consistently buttery smooth in both cases. Alan Wake and Dishonored looked great, though the latter showed frame rate dips in places at top settings.
I ran the same benchmark test I did with the last Razer Blade machine in Hitman: Absolution and managed to get much better frame rates, with the 14-inch averaging 53 FPS, beating out the 17-inch's 15 FPS. Keep in mind that the max resolution is quite different for the two machines. Finally, Metro: Last Light played admirably at the Razer's top resolution, though I know from experience with my own gaming rig that it probably wouldn't fare as well at 1080p.
Well, they looked great graphically, but the display itself won't knock your socks off. While the resolution is nicely matched with the machine's graphical horsepower, it lacked color vibrancy and deep blacks. The viewing angle is sufficiently wide for the 16:9 format screen, but move too far any one way and you'll see the colors dim even further. Given its design and build, the Blade begs to be compared with Apple's MacBook Pro Retina. It stacks up nicely until you get to the display; from there it's a letdown. All that said, the display does its job. Maybe a future version will come with a nicer screen.
Razer did a fantastic job with the input devices, though. They ditched the Switchblade UI, but you won't miss it. The keyboard is a dream -- fast and responsive. The touchpad is the best I've used on a Windows computer with its smooth feel and crazy fast responsiveness, though the pad's buttons are a bit short for this thumb presser.
On the slim edges of the Blade you'll find USB 3.0 ports, an audio jack, and an HDMI port, but there is no Ethernet jack.
The new Blade machines only come as Windows 8 builds.
I found myself continually impressed with how quiet the 14-inch Blade ran. Even after several hours of continual gaming at full throttle, the Blade's thermal system kept things quiet and cool. I had to put my ear up to the machine to hear its cooling at work, and even then I could barely hear it. Only once did it have to spin up to a higher speed to cool things down, and that was only for a minute or so. I could definitely feel some heat dissipating through the Blade's aluminum body, but it never became too hot to touch. I can only imagine the design work that went into making this possible. Very impressive.
Some might be impressed by the battery life, too. Razer worked in bigger batteries and better power management to squeeze out some extra minutes of play in the new models. The 14-inch let me replay the first few chapters of Resident Evil: Revelations for about three hours before having to plug in. And the Blade is delightful when used as a premium work/internet machine.
I answered emails, filed stories, watched YouTube videos, and surfed from the comfort of my couch on battery power, nearly doubling my gaming time. While this total general use time falls short of some of the Ultrabooks and newer MacBooks out there, when you consider what's running under the hood, it's still respectable. And when you compare the three hours of gaming time to its predecessor's miserable hour or so, the 14-inch comes out smelling like a rose.
The new 14-inch Blade is plenty powerful, and it comes a package that is much smaller than your typical gaming notebook. It's the smallest, lightest, and sexiest PC gaming rig out there, and a fair bit cheaper than its predecessors at its $1,799 starting price.
While we've seen other Blades before, this new one is sort of a dream machine as it would serve wonderfully during the day as a premium portable notebook with plenty of power and battery life. Then, after work, you'd have a killer gaming machine that handles even new titles with confidence.
Can you get more for the money? For raw horsepower, yes. Definitely. But when you figure in the engineering, styling, portability, and performance, the 14-inch Razer Blade is one hell of a deal.