THE GOOD The Razer Blade fits very high-end components into a slim 14-inch body, and has a programmable multicolored backlit keyboard that can perform all sorts of impressive tricks.

THE BAD Full-size gaming laptops can turn in better gaming scores, and configuration options are minimal. Adding the optional Core external graphics adapter is very expensive.

THE BOTTOM LINE The Razer Blade is a slim gaming laptop that hits a good balance between power and portability, with the intriguing promise of adding a desktop graphics card later on.

We live in something of a golden age for PC gaming, with (relatively) inexpensive desktops powering virtual-reality headsets, mainstream gaming laptops that can run nearly any game, and even hulking desktop/laptop hybrids.

Razer, in particular, has the been leading the charge toward more modern-feeling gaming laptops for some time, fitting high-end parts into very slim cases with tastefully understated designs. The latest gaming flagship from the company is an updated 14-inch system called the Razer Blade (get it?), an update to last year’s identically named version.

Like last year’s version, the graphics power still comes from an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970m graphics card, which is one step down from the current top-end of the mobile graphics stack. The major change for the 2016 edition is a new Core i7-6700HQ processor from Intel’s sixth-generation of Core i-series CPUs. Plus, the 2016 version trims a bit from both the system weight and its starting price, at 4.2 pounds and $1,999 in the US. (The 2016 version of the Razer Blade is not available to buy yet internationally, but that works out to £1,383 in the UK and AU$2,731 in Australia.)

RAZER BLADE (14-INCH, 2016)

Price as reviewed $1,999
Display size/resolution 14-inch 3,200×1,800 touchscreen
PC CPU 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ
PC memory 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2133MHz
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Unlike most other gaming laptops, there’s only one user-configuration choice to make on the Blade. The stock model has 256GB of solid state storage, but for $200 more, you can double that to 512GB.

The only other real option to consider is whether you want the sold-separately Razer Core. Announced in January at CES 2016 and expected shortly, the Razer Core is an external box built to house a single desktop graphics card (for example, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980), and route its graphics rendering power to the laptop via Thunderbolt-enabled USB-C connection. (That single wire will also handle power duties, too.) It’s $499, or $399 if purchased with a Razer laptop. That sounds like a lot for an external housing box, especially if you have to bring your own GPU — but it also provides a way to get this laptop to work with high-end desktop-only virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

The Razer Core will also work with the 13-inch Razer Blade Stealth. That system lacks its own graphics card, but it starts at just $999 and can be configured with either a 2,560×1,440-pixel or a full 4K display. The touchscreen display here has a single resolution option, 3,200×1,800.

By itself, the Blade is slim enough for everyday on-the-go use, but powerful enough for gaming, video editing, and other serious tasks. The look is not exactly buttoned-down, but the matte-black shell, rigid construction, and minimalist design don’t scream “gamer,” even if the green snake-like logo on the back of the lid does. If everyone you work with wears a tie, this might not blend into the corporate culture. If people bring their dogs to work and your office has either bean bag chairs or a foosball table, it should fit in just fine.

A Keyboard for Showing Off

Like the 13-inch Razer Blade Stealth, the keyboard in this 14-inch Blade is part of Razer’s Chroma line, which also covers standalone desktop keyboards, and provides more backlighting flexibility and features than any other laptop. It makes for a fun party trick that will turn heads when you set it up to display some multicolored pyrotechnics.

Using the included Chroma app, different sections of the keyboard can be programmed to show different colors — such as highlighting the all-important WASD keys in a different color than the rest of the keyboard. Sure, you can meticulously program a custom keyboard backlight scheme, but for most people, it’ll be enough to just run through the different presets to get a good idea of what the keyboard is capable of.

The preset called “spectrum cycling” lets the keys fade new colors in and out in unison, just slowly enough to not be distracting. “Reactive” leaves a trail of lit keys in your wake as you type, like a fading echo. “Ripple” sends a burst of a single color expanding outward, away from each individual key press. In this mode, typing causes cool-looking explosions of color all across the keyboard. You probably won’t use it on your own, but as a fun demo for friends, set the keyboard to “Wave,” and a rainbow of colors will move rapidly left to right (this movement is also reversible) across the entire keyboard.

More than enough for most games

The combination of an Intel Core i7-6700HQ and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970m puts the Blade about a step behind the very fastest gaming laptops, which have the Nvidia 980m GPU, but that shouldn’t have much practical effect in everyday gaming, where you’re likely to dial the in-game resolution down to 1,920×1,080, as even those 980m cards can struggle to play games at high details levels and nearly 4K resolutions. There are new GeForce 1080 desktop cards about to hit from Nvidia, eclipsing the somewhat old 900 series, but for now this is still the top-end of the mobile graphics card list.

In most of our application and gaming tests, a tricked out midsize Acer Predator 15 is faster, but that 15-inch gaming laptop is both more expensive and much larger, despite having a screen only 1.6-inches diagonally bigger.

Battery life is always a tricky proposition on a gaming laptop, especially one with a higher-res screen. That said, the 5 hours, 41 minutes that the Blade ran on our streaming video playback test was better than expected. It doesn’t come close to a 15-inch MacBook Pro, but a recent Samsung midsize laptop with a similar configuration ran for about two hours less on the same test.

Conclusion

The Razer Blade sits in between a few categories, making it hard to figure out who the exact target audience is. There are more powerful gaming laptops, there are slimmer and lighter midsize laptops, and there are laptops with higher-res true 4K displays. And, if you’re interested in the Razer Core peripheral, which adds significant cost, it might be more practical to start with the $999-and-up 13-inch Stealth model, then add the Core and your own desktop graphics card.

But, for high-end gaming on the go, or a laptop that works in a professional environment but also can play Fallout 4 or Doom, this is a piece of premium hardware that looks and feels great. Think of it as a MacBook Pro, but for PC gamers.

SYSTEM CONFIGURATIONS AND COMPARISONS

Razer Blade (14-inch, 2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,024MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) Apple Yosemite OSX 10.10.2; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5257U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphis 6100; 128GB SSD
Acer Predator 15 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 2TB 7,200rpm HDD
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,600MHz, 2048MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 950M; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U: 16GB DDR3 1,866MHz; 1,024MB Nvidia GeForce GPU; 512GB SSD

 

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