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June 27, 2018

Razer Blade 15 (2018) review

by John_A


Research Center:

Razer Blade (2018)

Gamers have grown up.

Plenty of us love to play games, but also have jobs and computing needs outside the arena. We want the best of both worlds — something as sleek as a MacBook, but with the horsepower of a desktop command station. It’s a goal Razer has always shot for with the Blade, but past iterations made compromises to stay on target.

With the 2018 Blade, though, Razer may have finally done it without any downsides – aside from the price. The new Blade starts at $1,900 for an 8th-gen Core i7, Nvidia GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. Our review unit, upgraded to GTX 1070 Max-Q and a 512GB SSD, was a whopping $2,600.

A masterclass in laptop design

Razer has always tried to market itself as the Apple of gaming, focusing on devices that are expensive, but also innovative and robust. Past versions of Razer laptops, however, have strayed almost too far into the Apple camp. Laptops like the Razer Blade 14 and Razer Blade Stealth looked very much like matte black MacBooks. Yes, yes, there’s only so many ways to design a metal rectangle, but the resemblance was uncanny.

The new Razer Blade 15 bucks that trend with a fresh take on the thin-and-light gaming laptop. It’s still refined, and it still has a unibody aluminum chassis, all black except the growing green snake logo on the lid. However, Razer has ditched the indented lines on the top and rounded corners in favor of a simpler, boxy look. It’s a striking aesthetic that ensures no one will mistake the Blade for a MacBook again. The new Blade is also slightly trimmed down from 0.7 to 0.66 inches yet has become only more durable in the process. Good luck finding any flex or give anywhere on this device.

Good luck finding any flex or give anywhere on this device.

The Razer Blade 15 weighs 4.5 pounds, which is half an ounce heavier than the previous version. There’s a good reason for that. The screen has bumped up to 15.6 inches, but Razer has lopped off the display bezels to just 0.19 inches, which is even thinner than the Dell XPS 15. That keeps the overall footprint within millimeters of the same size as the 2017 model, despite having a larger screen. The top and bottom bezels are still large, but that gives Razer room to leave the 720p webcam where it belongs.

Razer isn’t alone in this new category of thin-and-light gaming laptops. Hot on its heels are the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin and the Gigabyte Aero 15, both of which are just as light, thin, and powerful. What sets the Razer Blade 15 apart is its uncompromising build quality and serious, subtle design. There’s no ugly hinges, seams, or air vents to be found here. It’ll cost you a couple hundred bucks, but if you want something that cuts through the gaming design clichés, the Razer Blade is the one you want.

Razer Blade (2018) Compared To

Digital Storm Equinox

Dell Inspiron 15 7577

HP Omen 15

Origin EON15-S

Asus ROG Zephyrus

MSI GS63VR 6RF Stealth Pro

Alienware 13 R3

MSI GS60 Ghost Pro

Alienware 15 (2015)

Asus ROG G501

Digital Storm Triton

Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Edition

AVADirect Clevo P157SM-A

MSI Global GT60 Dominator Pro

Lenovo IdeaPad Y500

Port selection is an area where you’d think gaming machines and thin-and-light laptops clash. Gamers typically want as many legacy ports as possible, while modern laptops like the Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro rely more heavily on USB-C and Thunderbolt 3.

The Razer Blade offers a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, but also three full-sized USB-A, an HDMI port, and Mini DisplayPort. The two missing connections are an Ethernet port and an SD card slot. While some will miss those, we think Razer did a respectable job picking the right ports to keep. Despite the inclusion of USB-C, the Razer Blade uses a proprietary power port – likely due to its high performance and power draw at maximum load.

Great inputs, a questionable keyboard layout

Razer Blade has a history making PC peripherals, so we expect the company’s integrated keyboards and touchpads to be excellent — and for the most part, it’s a homerun. The touchpad is now considerably larger than before, stretching across the palmrests more than any laptop other than the MacBook Pro. The smooth, glass surface uses Windows Precision Touchpad drivers, meaning gestures are responsive. It’s hands-down one of our favorite touchpads on any machine.

There’s no sidestepping the fact that Razer made an unnecessary change to the keyboard layout.

The keyboard is good, but more divisive. It’s not the key travel, RGB lighting options, or even spacing that’s the issue — all of that is great. The problem is the layout. Located in the bottom right corner of the keyboard, right between the shift key and the question mark, is an up-arrow key. While this means you get a full-sized up and down arrow key, the trade-off doesn’t feel worth it. We found ourselves consistently hitting the up-arrow key instead of typing a question mark. While we familiarized ourselves with it after a time, there’s no sidestepping the fact that Razer made a completely unnecessary change to the standard layout.

Less bezel, faster refresh rate

One of the reasons Razer claims it moved to a 15.6 screen was a wider availability of high-quality panels to choose from — and that shows on the Razer Blade. There’s now three options; 60Hz 1080p, 144Hz 1080p, and a 60Hz 4K touchscreen. We think most people will want the midrange 144Hz 1080p model, which is what Razer sent us for review. The higher-end 4K model aimed at video editors, while the lower-end option is more for less intense gaming, or shoppers who find even the base Razer Blade expensive.

Though it doesn’t top our tests in any category, the Razer Blade has a fantastic IPS panel on it. The colors in games really pop, thanks to its wide color gamut and low average color error at 2.16. In no area does it compete with something like the 15-inch MacBook Pro or the Dell XPS 15 (especially in contrast or Adobe RGB color gamut), but compared to your average gaming laptop, this thing dominates. Even if you go for the 1080p model, games look fantastic, and the image quality is among the best you’ll find on a gaming laptop. But let’s be honest — it comes to games, what people interested in this laptop really care about is the smooth 144Hz screen.

Riley Young/Digital Trends

The speaker grill is located on the keyboard deck, which is great placement. Sound quality is louder and clearer than your average laptop, but not as good as the most recent MacBook Pro.

The sharpest blade in the toolkit

The Razer Blade 15 features the Intel Core i7-8750H, which is an extremely fast CPU. Its multi-core score in Geekbench destroys mainstream chips like the Core i7-8650U in the Surface Book 2, or the 7th-gen Intel Core processor in the previous Razer Blade. For a more demanding task, we encoded a 4K video in Handbrake on the Razer Blade, and it finished in just three minutes and 23 seconds. That’s impressive. It’s second only to the new Core i9-7850HK in the Alienware 17 R5, a much larger and more expensive gaming laptop.

However, the Razer Blade 15 isn’t the only laptop with this chip. The Digital Storm Equinox features the same six-core CPU, as do other thin-and-light gaming laptops like the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin and the Gigabyte Aero 15. We haven’t tested those yet, but we’d expect to see similar results.

Razer has included high-speed storage in the Blade as well, specifically, a Samsung NVMe 512GB SSD. Configurations start as low as 256GB and max out at 512GB. Meanwhile, 16GB dual-channel RAM comes standard on all models. Although you can’t configure beyond that, Razer has made swapping out both storage and memory easy, something laptops like the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin or Surface Book 2 lack.

Don’t underestimate its gaming skills

None of the advances Razer made in terms of design or function would matter if cut corners in gaming. Fortunately, the opposite is true. The Razer Blade now includes the option of either the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q or 1070 Max-Q. The 1070 is new to the Blade this year, and it’s what we tested in our benchmarks and gaming tests.

The Razer Blade handles 1080p gaming no sweat, easily hovering around 80 frames per second in most games at max settings. Even in a demanding game like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the Razer Blade churned out 53 frames per second with Ultra settings. No, you can’t play at 60 FPS in every game – but you can in most. That’s impressive given the new Blade’s size. Consider, for example, HP’s Spectre x360 15-inch. It has an Intel G-Series chip with AMD Radeon Vega graphics on-board, and it’s similar in size and weight to the Blade, but its game performance is roughly half that of the new Blade with GTX 1070 Max-Q.

While our review unit had a 1080p display, we tried the Razer Blade on higher resolution monitors, too. We still saw solid performance at 1440p resolution, especially in games like Civilization VI, where we managed 62 frames per second on ultra detail. We also saw 46 frames per second in Battlefield 1 on Ultra. These results mean you can pair the Blade with a quality 27-inch, 1440p gaming monitor and see enjoyable results.

The Razer Blade handles 1080p no sweat, hovering around 80 frames per second in most games at maximum settings.

If you venture up to 4K, only lighter fare like Rocket League or Fortnite will be playable with settings maxed – but no gaming laptop has conquered 4K yet.

This performance was made possible with a complete redesign of the Blade’s thermal solution. The previous Razer Blade was known for throttling the GPU, a common complaint against it. This time around, a new vapor chamber cooling system ensures that throttling is not an issue, even in the most intense gaming sessions.

With that said, the Razer Blade still runs hot when playing games. Aluminum doesn’t handle heat as well as plastic. We even noticed the heat in the palmrests, which is a bit unusual. You’re not going to want this machine in your lap while you play The Witcher 3, but that’s true of most gaming laptops.

Solid battery life completes the puzzle

All of this would be for naught if the Razer Blade lacked decent battery life, but we can report the Blade lasts long enough to at least hang with the rest of its competitors.

We saw around seven and a half hours of battery life consistently, whether it was in day-to-day productivity work, or in our video loop test. That’s not anywhere near what you’ll get with battery life champs like the Surface Book 2, but compared to your average gaming laptop, you’ll be getting well over twice the life on a charge.

The Blade did struggle in more intensive benchmarks like our demanding web browsing test, where it only lasted 4 hours and 25 minutes. Keep that in mind before buying. The Blade performs well for a gaming laptop and felt adequate in our use, but it can’t compare to smaller, less powerful laptops built with frequent travel in mind.

Our Take

The Razer Blade is a work-hard, game-hard laptop. In a work setting, it blends in with sleek laptops like MacBook Pro or Surface Book 2. In a gaming setting, it’s every bit as capable as a traditional gaming laptop. You’ll see better battery life out of the Surface Book 2, and more frames per second out of the Alienware 17, but for someone who wants the best of both worlds, this is as close as it gets.

Any alternatives?

The Razer Blade isn’t alone in its ambitions. The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin and the Gigabyte Aero 15 both feature identical components, as does the Digital Storm Equinox. They’re all less expensive, but none of them can compete with the design, build quality, and battery life of the Razer Blade.

If you’re someone who plays mostly less-demanding games, the Dell XPS 15 or Surface Book 2 might be a good alternative, too.

How long will it last?

Though you can’t upgrade things like the processor or graphics card, the Razer Blade features top-of-the-line specs to ensure they won’t be outdated for many years. The expandability of RAM and storage and excellent build quality also add to the overall longevity of the device.

Razer has a standard 1-year warranty, which isn’t great, but it is in line with the offerings from nearly all major manufactures.

Should you buy it?

Yup. If you want a laptop that looks as good as it games.

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