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Posts tagged ‘nvidia’

20
Dec

The Nintendo Switch could be twice as powerful while docked


Just how powerful is Nintendo’s next game console? We won’t know for sure until January, but if the latest report from Eurogamer pans out, the answer could be kind of complicated. According to specifications provided to developers, the Nintendo Switch performance changes depending on how you use it: in its docked, TV-mode or as a gaming portable.

Specifically, sources familiar with the system have revealed two different graphic processor specifications for the final Nintendo Switch hardware — an undocked portable profile that clocks the NVIDIA Tegra GPU at 307.2MHz and a docked, TV-based profile that more than doubles it to 768MHz. Doing some rough calculations using the Tegra X1 chip the Switch’s silicon is said to be based off of, we can guess the console can push around 400 gigaflops on FP32 while docked. Yes, that’s a lot of numbers, but don’t worry about the math too much. The long and short of it is that the latest numbers show that the Nintendo Switch will definitely outpace the Wii U — but it’s still a few hundred (or thousand) gigaflops shy of its competitors.

That said, nobody really expected the next Nintendo to keep place with the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Nintendo dropped out of the race to the top years ago, and hasn’t made a move to be the ‘most powerful’ game console in over a decade. That doesn’t seem to be changing with the Nintendo Switch.

Source: Eurogamer

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19
Dec

The new Razer Blade Pro trades gimmicks for 4K gaming power


When Razer made its first laptop, it was a company best known for selling third-party gamepads and high-performance gaming mice. Premium gimmicks were the name of the game. The company routinely released products with 17 buttons, adjustable tension analog sticks or retractable parts. This flair for novelty carried over to Razer’s first gaming notebook, which featured a set of 10 customizable keyboard buttons that each housed its own tiny LED display. It was neat, but the flagship laptop was soon overshadowed by a smaller, more powerful model. Now, the company is finally giving its original notebook the upgrades it deserves: a screaming new processor, the latest in graphics technology and a keyboard without the hindrance of the original’s silly “Switchblade” interface. This is the new Razer Blade Pro.

Design

At first blush, the new Blade Pro looks just like Razer’s other CNC-milled aluminum notebooks: It has a matte-black, unibody chassis with textured details on the lid. Indeed, this is the same design language we’ve seen in every laptop Razer’s ever made — it’s just bigger. Indeed, the Blade is the largest machine the company has built to date, stretching 16.7 inches across at its widest point and measuring 0.88 inches tall with the lid closed. It’s technically “thin and light” for a gaming laptop of its class, but at 7.8 pounds, it’s not exactly portable.

The Blade Pro may have been too big to fit in my usual work backpack, but its large frame at least offers plenty of connectivity. In all, the Pro’s chassis is host to three USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI-out, a single USB Type-C socket, Ethernet and a 3.5mm audio jack. I was delighted to find an SD card reader too — something I’ve missed on every Razer Blade notebook until now.

Keyboard and trackpad

At a glance, the Blade Pro’s keys looks like any other laptop keyboard, but touch them and you’ll find something completely different. Each key falls with a satisfying click and releases with a nearly identical pop — the hallmark tactility of a mechanical switch. It’s weird and slightly wonderful, at least for keyboard snobs like myself who extol the merits of mechanical keyboards. The Razer Blade Pro is the first laptop to ship with the company’s new ultra-low-profile mechanical key switches, a new typing technology that crams the feeling of full-sized mechanical actuation and reset into a laptop form factor.

If that sounds like a lot of buzzwords, don’t worry: All you need to know is that the Blade Pro’s new keyboard is excellent. After a firm click and a soft landing, its keys spring back with a delightful push. It was an odd sensation at first, and clashed with the muscle memory I’d built up from years of typing on traditional keys. Still, the longer I used the keyboard, the more I came love it. Its 1.6mm of key travel is still a little shallow compared to the cherry-mx switches I’m used to on my desktop machine, but the Blade Pro’s keys nonetheless feel like a minor revolution in mobile typing.

The Blade Pro’s trackpad is far less revelatory, but it still defies tradition. Most laptop mousing surfaces are positioned below the keyboard, but the Blade Pro’s trackpad is placed to the right of the notebook’s keys instead. This is odd, but not necessarily bad. After some adjustment, it feels completely natural, mirroring the position one might hold a mouse relative to a desktop PC. Although I grew to appreciate the starboard pad, I still couldn’t shake old habits. I pawed at the empty space below the keyboard at least half as often as the touchpad itself. It’s hard to unlearn years of laptop use.

The Blade Pro’s keys feel like a minor revolution in mobile typing.

That odd placement aside, the trackpad itself is excellent. Razer perfected the Windows touchpad the moment it got rid of the buttons on its Stealth Ultrabook. The Pro’s trackpad area is little more than a larger version of that touch surface, and that’s perfectly fine.

The Blade Pro also has one feature I’ve never seen on a laptop before: a scroll wheel. By default, the wheel merely adjusts the laptop’s volume, but pressing the holding the Fn key will let it scroll through pages and documents. Like everything on the keyboard, you can tweak its functions through Razer’s built-in Synapse software, which also controls keyboard macros, key assignments and Chroma backlight profiles.

Display and sound

Laptop speakers are typically good but never great. The chassis of a notebook simply can’t compete with the acoustics of a home stereo or even just a decent pair of headphones. The Blade Pro, however, makes a fine effort anyway. In addition to gifting the Pro with bigger, amplified speakers than its predecessors, Razer has cut “dual firing” slots into each side of the laptop’s frame. Basically, there are two acoustic holes in the chassis that help push sound away from the machine and out into the room. The result is loud, clear and well-separated audio that can easily fill an entire room. It still doesn’t beat my stereo or headphones, but it’s enough to push the Blade Pro’s sound from “good” to “better.”

Razer laptop displays have a habit of exhausting my vocabulary — there are only so many synonyms for stunning, vibrant and beautiful. The Blade Pro’s 17.3-inch IGZO 3,840 x 2,160 touchscreen is no exception. Between its wide viewing angles, deep blacks, bright colors, 100-percent Adobe RGB colorspace and NVIDIA’s existing G-Sync screen-tear prevention tech, the machine’s display is simply excellent. Games, videos and photos all look wonderful on it.

This year, though, the Blade has earned a new adjective: necessary. The Razer Blade Pro is the first gaming laptop I’ve ever used that isn’t hamstrung by an ultra-high resolution panel. This machine is actually powerful enough to play modern games in 4K.

Performance

Razer Blade Pro (2016 (2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 6,884 6,995 E18,231 / P16,346 27,034 2.75 GB/s / 1.1 GB/s
ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS (2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ , NVIDIA GTX 1070) 5,132 6,757 E15,335 / P13,985 25,976 2.14 GB/s / 1.2 GB/s
HP Spectre x360 (2016, 2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,515 4,354 E2,656 / P1,720 / X444 3,743 1.76 GB/s / 579 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga 910 (2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, 8GB, Intel HD 620) 5,822 4,108

E2,927 / P1,651 / X438

3,869 1.59 GB/s / 313 MB/s
Razer Blade (Fall 2016) (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,462 3,889 E3,022 / P1,768 4,008 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
Razer Blade (Fall 2016) + Razer Core (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 5,415 4,335 E11,513 / P11,490 16,763 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
ASUS ZenBook 3 (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,448 3,911 E2,791 / P1,560 3,013 1.67 GB/s / 1.44 GB/s
HP Spectre 13 (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,046 3,747 E2,790 / P1,630 / X375 3,810 1.61 GB/s / 307 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 (2.3GHz Core i5-6200U, Intel Graphics 520) 4,954 3,499 E2,610 / P1,531 3,335 1.6GB/s / 307 MB/s
Razer Blade Stealth (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,131 3,445 E2,788 / P1,599 / X426 3,442 1.5 GB/s / 307 MB/s

For years, Razer’s “Blade Pro” lingered in obsolescence, two full generations behind the bleeding-edge processors and graphics technology the company put in its other laptops. Not anymore. With a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU beating at its heart, 32GB of RAM and NVIDIA’s latest GTX 1080 GPU, the new Razer Blade Pro absolutely lives up to its moniker. This is the most powerful laptop Razer has ever built and the first gaming laptop to cross my desk that can run circles around my game library at ultra-high resolutions.

The Blade Pro chewed through Titanfall 2 and Overwatch at its native 3,840 x 2,160 resolution on their maximum settings, running consistently running each game at 60 frames per second or higher. Games like Just Cause 3, Battlefield 1 and Hitman all stayed above 45 fps on their best configuration at the same resolution. Only two games in my library balked at the Blade Pro’s GPU: the Witcher 3 and Watch Dogs 2. These titles fell just short of a 30-fps average on their maximum settings in 4K, forcing me to pull them back to medium graphics settings or dial the resolution down to 1080p.

That’s not just good performance — it’s paradigm-shifting performance. I’ve lambasted the last two generations of Razer laptops (as well as other gaming notebooks) for having screens that outpaced the capability of their GPUs, forcing players to choose between ugly, non-native resolution or ugly, low-fidelity graphic settings. Now, people don’t have to choose anymore. That’s fantastic.

Oh, and were you thinking about picking up a virtual reality headset? Go ahead: The Blade Pro scored 6,908 in VRMark’s Orange Room test and 1,992 in the more intensive Blue Room benchmark. That’s good enough to comfortably run most anything in today’s VR marketplace. The Blade Pro handled everything in my VR library with aplomb and only stuttered when I used Raw Data’s resolution multiplier feature. Not bad at all.

Battery life

Razer Blade Pro (2016)
3:48
Surface Book with Performance Base (2016)
16:15
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, no Touch Bar)
11:42
HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2015)
11:34
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015)
11:23
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (15-inch)
11:00
iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2015)
10:47
HP Spectre x360 15t
10:17
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, Touch Bar)
9:55
ASUS ZenBook 3
9:45
Apple MacBook (2016)
8:45
Samsung Notebook 9
8:16
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
7:15
HP Spectre 13
7:07
Razer Blade Stealth (Spring 2016)
5:48
Razer Blade Stealth (Fall 2016)
5:36
Dell XPS 15 (2016)
5:25 (7:40 with the mobile charger)
ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS
3:03

Razer didn’t tack that “Pro” qualifier on this laptop for professional gamers. Rather, the Blade is intended to double as a work machine. To that end, the Blade Pro ran the gamut of my normal workflow as if it were a light jog, shrugging off my standard mess of browser windows, chat programs and video editing software. Unfortunately, it couldn’t do it for very long. Despite housing a huge 99Wh battery (the largest allowed on airlines, according to Razer), the 17-inch workhorse lasted just shy of four hours on battery. Sadly, that’s kind of normal for oversized gaming laptops with 4K screens, but it’s still disappointing.

Configuration options and the competition

The Blade Pro comes in just three flavors: a $3,699 model with 512GB of solid-state storage; a $3,999 build with 1TB of space; or a staggeringly expensive $4,499 machine with a 1TB SSD. Apart from disk size, all three configurations are identical, with 32GB of RAM, a 2.6GHz Intel Core i-6700HQ processor (3.5GHz with Turbo Boost), NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1080 GPU (with 8GB GDDR5X VRAM) and the striking 17.3-inch IGZO 4K G-Sync enabled touchscreen. If those aren’t the exact specs you had in mind, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

If you’re willing to compromise on size, power and screen resolution, there are definitely cheaper 17-inch laptops out there. The super-sized version of ASUS ROG Strix sports the same processor and allotment of RAM for only $1,300, but it only has a full HD display and a GTX 1060 GPU. MSI’s GT73VR Titan Pro can be had with same processor and GPU as Razer’s top build for $3,399, but it’s also more than twice as thick as the Blade Pro. On the other hand, if you were really concerned about size, you probably wouldn’t be looking at 17-inch laptops in the first place.

Wrap-up

For the past few years, Razer’s “Blade Pro” laptop was paradoxically its least advanced machine, but the latest model finally lives up to its name. With enough power to handle high-resolution video editing, 4K PC games and even virtual reality, it’s the most powerful system Razer has ever built. This is a premium laptop with a top-notch display, excellent build quality and quite possibly the best notebook keyboard I’ve ever used.

That said, the new Blade Pro is also the largest and most expensive PC Razer has ever built. There’s a lot of value to be had in its $3,699 price tag, but also some compromise. Its enormous frame makes it hard to lug around, and it fails to overcome the Achilles’ heel of its category: short battery life. If you can live with those drawbacks, though, Razer’s flagship laptop is waiting for you.

12
Dec

The Canadian AI that writes holiday chiptunes


Is there no industry safe from economic encroachment by automation and machine learning? A team from the University of Toronto have built a digital Irving Berlin that can generate Christmas carols from a single image.

Neural Story Singing Christmas from Hang Chu on Vimeo.

The Toronto researchers relied on a pair of neural networks to create the AI. The first network was trained in the art of carolling with a hundred hours of online music. This enabled it to generate a basic 120 BPM melody — complete with chords and drums — based on a musical scale and melodic profile. To write the lyrics, a second neural net was shown a picture of a Christmas tree, which served as the song’s subject. Put those elements together and you’ve got yourself a cheerful holiday ditty perfect for listening to while waiting out Robot Santa Claus’ annual reign of terror.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: NVidia

11
Dec

NVIDIA is testing its driverless car tech in California


You might see a car with a familiar logo driving around if you’re in California. The state’s DMV has added NVIDIA to the list of companies that can test their self-driving technologies on its roads, and according to The Verge, it wasted no time to get the ball rolling. While NVIDIA isn’t exactly an auto company, it designed processors for self-driving vehicles and put its own test car together, so it can take its autonomous technologies for a spin when needed. Back in September, it also announced that it’s working with Baidu to create an AI platform for driverless cars.

Automakers serious about their self-driving aspirations typically head to California for testing. Just recently, the state granted two little-known automakers (Wheego and Valeo) permission to do test drives on its roads, but its complete list includes bigger names, including Google, Honda, Ford, Mercedes, BMW and NVIDIA’s partner Baidu. You can watch NVIDIA’s AI test car named BB8 learn from a human driver in the video below:

Via: The Verge

Source: DMV

16
Nov

12 gifts for the gaming geek in your life


Whether they’ve got a fully tricked out PC gaming rig or just looking to get a little retro button mashing done on their new 4K TV, we’ve got the gift for the gamer in your life. Obviously, with some new consoles on the scene, there’s an obvious upgrade out there for the hardcore in the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S. But you don’t need to drop $300 – $400 to upgrade your favorite geek’s gaming experience. A high-end mouse, top notch controller or a new headset can make a world of difference for those glued to online battles. And, for those in your life that prefer their gaming be a little more… let’s say physical, you can’t go wrong with a board game like Mechs vs. Minions or King of Tokyo.

For our full list of recommendations in all categories, don’t forget to stop by our main Holiday Gift Guide hub.

15
Nov

HP’s tiny Xeon-powered PC puts the Mac Mini to shame


HP has unveiled the Z2 Mini, a mini PC that packs workstation-class parts, including an Intel Xeon CPU, NVIDIA Quadro mobile M620 graphics and M.2 SSD tech. By using powerful notebook-sized parts, it squeezed that power into a 2.3-inch-high case that’s “90 percent smaller than a traditional business-class tower,” HP wrote. In its top configuration, the device is twice as powerful as any mini PC on the market, letting it run up to six displays in a stock configuration.

The Z2 Mini is 63 percent quieter than HP’s business-class mini PCs, thanks to a custom cooling system. The PC maker hyperbolically describes the engineering, saying “the octagon form of the Z2 Mini is the most uniquely designed workstation in HP’s 35 years of workstation history.” HP is targeting CAD, design, graphics and 3D users, though it could make a decent gaming rig in some configurations.

Spec-wise, it comes with up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM and an HP Z Turbo Drive, with M.2 SSD read speeds over 1GB/s and a capacity up to 1.5TB. You can get one with an Intel Core i7, i5, or i3 CPU, or pay more (presumably a lot more) for Intel’s Xeon E3-1200v5 family, normally used in workstations and servers.

Another option is NVIDIA’s mobile M620 Quadro GPU with 2GB of VRAM, also geared toward workstations and officially approved for pro apps like Autocad and 3DS max. However, it doesn’t meet NVIDIA’s “VR Ready” criteria, so it’s not certified with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and would probably allow middling gaming performance, at best.

The Z2 Mini is missing a few other features, too. While USB-C is available, it doesn’t have a Thunderbolt 3 port, limiting drive options for video editors. And while it has three DisplayPort slots, it lacks an HDMI port (though USB-C can be adapted for that purpose).

As for the price, the compact PC starts at $699, which probably gets you an Intel Core i3 configuration without discreet graphics. Intel hasn’t said how much a stouter setup will cost, but it probably runs over double that with workstation components. If you’re in the market for a small, powerful PC and are tired of waiting for the next Mac Mini, however, it may be your best option. HP said it should arrive to market in December — hopefully we’ll get a better look at it before then.

Source: HP

15
Nov

NVIDIA helps the US build an AI for cancer research


Microsoft isn’t the only big-name tech company using AI to fight cancer. NVIDIA is partnering with the US Department of Energy and the National Cancer Institute to develop CANDLE (Cancer Distributed Learning Environment), an AI-based “common discovery platform” that aims for 10 times faster cancer research on modern supercomputers with graphics processors. The hardware promises to rapidly accelerate neural networks that can both spot crucial data and speed up simulations.

CANDLE will tackle three core problems. It’ll sift through genomic data to find the genetic signatures in cancer DNA and RNA that predict their response to treatments. The AI will also automatically extract and study “millions” of patient records to understand how cancer spreads and reoccurs, and accelerate the simulation of protein interactions to see how they create the conditions for cancer.

The partners haven’t said when they expect CANDLE to be ready, and it could be a while after that happens before you see the practical results. As with other AI-based medical research (including Microsoft’s), its effectiveness still depends on humans — they have to ask the right questions and collect the right data. If everything goes as intended, however, scientists could spend less time waiting for key observations and more time treating diseases.

Source: NVIDIA Newsroom

26
Oct

Microsoft makes its deep learning tools available to all


The same internal, deep learning tools that Microsoft engineers used to build its human-like speech recognition engine, as well as consumer products like Skype Translator and Cortana, are now available for public use. Redmond announced today that it is open-sourcing the Cognitive Toolkit that has led to many key developments coming out of its dedicated AI division. In other words: anyone can now train their own artificial intelligence.

Formerly known as the CNTK, Microsoft says the beta version of the Cognitive Toolkit is not only faster than previous incarnations, but it is also beats out competing deep learning toolkits – especially when crunching large datasets across multiple machines. On a more practical level for startups and hobbyists, Microsoft says the platform is flexible enough to run on a solo laptop — just in case you don’t have a server farm loaded with NVIDIA GPUs at your disposal. The public release also allows developers to bring their own Python or C++ code to the deep learning party.

The Cognitive Toolkit is available now on GitHub, but Microsoft has also put together an expansive set of documentation, complete with tutorials and example models, on its own Cognitive Toolkit site.

Source: Microsoft, Cognitive Toolkit, GitHub

22
Oct

Razer’s Blade Stealth and ‘Core’ add up to the gaming laptop I always wanted


For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of a computer that didn’t exist: something that could get me through the work day but also transform into a gaming powerhouse at home. It’s taken decades, but that old fantasy is finally starting to coalesce into reality. Laptops from Alienware and MSI can be bought with an external graphics dock that lends them the power of a desktop-class GPU. Earlier this year, Razer even made a bid for my dream laptop — but its Blade Stealth stumbled with middling battery life and by launching before its companion GPU dock hit the market. Recently the company updated the ultraportable with more storage and memory, a faster processor, a higher-capacity battery and the graphics extender that makes it so special: the Razer Core. Now that we finally have the complete package, it’s time to revisit the Stealth and see if it makes good on its promise.

Hardware

Like every Razer Blade laptop before it, the updated Stealth is a study of black, anodized aluminum accented with the glow of a customizable LED keyboard. This is hardly a surprise — the new Stealth is less a “new laptop” than a modestly updated version of the ultraportable Razer that came out earlier this year. Yes, there’s a new processor inside and a bit more memory, but all of that is contained in the same chassis as the original Stealth. Not that I’m complaining: Razer’s first take on the Ultrabook was thin, light and well built. This one is too.

The Blade Stealth ticks every box it needs to in order to qualify as an ultraportable. It measures just a half-inch thick at its fattest point, with a silhouette that gently tapers toward the palm rest. Its weight is almost negligible; it’ll add less than three pounds to your bag (2.84 pounds, to be precise). At 12.5 inches at its widest point, it won’t take up much space either. It’s solid and durable, too — there’s nothing like a CNC milled aluminum chassis to lend a device a high-end feel.

As for looks, Razer has always walked a fine line between subtle design and conspicuous branding. Like all Blades before it, the Stealth is draped in an attractive matte black finish and adorned with a glowing Razer logo. And it’s kind of cool. Maybe too cool. For Razer’s line of thin gaming laptops, the standard Blade design language looks sleek and almost sophisticated. But in a professional environment, the Stealth will stand out. Folks thinking about picking up the machine to double as a work and gaming machine should ask themselves, does the Stealth look too awesome for you to be taken seriously in next month’s board meeting? If the answer is “yes,” consider turning off the backlight behind the Razer logo and covering it with a sticker.

There isn’t a lot of room for connectivity on the Blade Stealth’s thin frame, but there’s enough. Each of the laptop’s sides houses a single USB 3.0 port, as well as an HDMI socket on the right, and a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Thunderbolt 3 connection on the left. Short of adding a built-in memory card reader, you can’t expect too much more from an ultraportable. Still, that Thunderbolt 3 connector adds some versatility; Stealth users who buy the Razer Core GPU dock will gain four additional USB 3.0 ports.

Keyboard and trackpad

Like the Stealth’s chassis, the keyboard here is one we’ve seen before — but it may also be the last time we see it. Don’t misread me: The Stealth’s keyboard is quite good. Its full-size keys are well spaced, comfortable to type on and even feature Razer’s Chroma backlighting, which allow the keys to glow in any of 16.8 million colors, with up to six accompanying animations, to boot. It’s not a bad keyboard, but Razer itself has already shown that it could be even better.

Just before Razer announced the refreshed Blade Stealth, it unveiled an iPad case that featured new low-profile mechanical keys. It’s a new kind of key technology that could potentially give laptops keyboards the feel of a full-size mechanical keyboard — complete with defined actuation and reset points and up to 70 grams of pushback force. Razer told us the new key technology was developed too late to make it into this generation of Razer laptops, but we might see it in laptops later down the line. It’s something I’m looking forward to; the Blade laptops already offer a great typing experience, but I won’t say no to something even better.

For years, I searched for the Windows-user’s answer to the MacBook Pro’s excellent trackpad — and Razer nailed it with the original Blade Stealth. The company’s trackpads were always pretty good but tended to suffer from mushy buttons. The Stealth got rid of those, and the mousing surface has been perfect ever since. It’s smooth, spacious and handles multi-touch gestures with aplomb. I couldn’t ask for more.

Display and sound

Perhaps nothing better exemplifies Razer’s attitude toward laptop design than the Blade Stealth’s screen options. The laptop’s 12.5-inch display can be had in two flavors: a 3,840 x 2,160 4K panel with a 100-percent Adobe RGB colorspace, or a 2,560 x 1,440 QHD screen with 70-percent RGB color gamut. Our review unit came with the latter, but both panels represent what seems to be the unspoken philosophy of Razer’s design process: gorgeous at any expense. Both of these display options are indeed stunning, with vibrant colors, deep blacks and wide viewing angles — but the cost is real. These beautiful screens bestow the laptop with the burden of short battery life.

To be fair, this problem isn’t unique to the Stealth — the next generation of high-resolution displays are killing laptop battery life across the board — but Razer’s latest portable was advertised as having longer battery life than the previous generation. It doesn’t (more on that later), and the display is the likeliest culprit. The Stealth’s screens are touch sensitive, too.

As standard as touchscreens have become on Windows systems, reaching across the keyboard to tap the screen still feels odd to me. That said, you have to give the company some credit: The Stealth’s display is beautiful. Movies, web pages and apps all look great, but the screen was at its best when the laptop was hooked up to the Razer Core GPU dock; playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on maximum settings at 2,560 x 1,440 is a thing of beauty.

I’ve consistently found nothing to complain about when it comes to the Razer Blade line’s audio quality, and that’s true of the new Stealth too. The laptop’s stereo speakers live on either side of the keyboard and push out balanced sound with no noticeable distortion and minimal tinniness, but there’s not much depth to the sound either. Razer recently bought THX, so the audio quality could one day improve, but for now these are merely good speakers. Not great, but good. And for laptop speakers, that’s more than enough.

Performance

Razer Blade (Fall 2016) (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,462 3,889 E3,022 / P1,768 4,008 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
Razer Blade (Fall 2016) + Razer Core (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 5,415 4,335 E11,513 / P11,490 16,763 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
ASUS ZenBook 3 (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,448 3,911 E2,791 / P1,560 3,013 1.67 GB/s / 1.44 GB/s
HP Spectre 13 (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,046 3,747 E2,790 / P1,630 / X375 3,810 1.61 GB/s / 307 MB/s
Huawei MateBook (1.1 GHz Core M3, Intel HD 515) 3,592 2,867 E1,490 / P887 2,454 538 MB/s / 268 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet (1.2 GHz Core M7-6Y75, Intel HD 515) 4,951 3,433 E1,866 / P1,112 2,462 545 MB/s / 298 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 (2.3GHz Core i5-6200U, Intel Graphics 520) 4,954 3,499 E2,610 / P1,531 3,335 1.6GB/s / 307 MB/s
Razer Blade Stealth (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,131 3,445 E2,788 / P1,599 / X426 3,442 1.5 GB/s / 307 MB/s
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520) 5,403 3,602

E2,697/ P1,556/ X422

3,614 1.6 GB/s / 529 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga 900 (2.5GHz Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,368 3,448

E2,707 / P1,581

3,161 556 MB/s / 511 MB/s

Razer calls the Blade Stealth the “ultimate Ultrabook,” and as far as light, powerful laptops go, it fits the bill. I brought the Stealth with me when I covered Oculus’ Connect 3 conference earlier this month, and it didn’t let me down. For three days, the Stealth juggled multiple active browser windows with half a dozen open tabs apiece, a mess of disorganized Google Drive documents, multiple social media streams, video and image capture and editing tools and a handful of team messaging apps. Yes, my workflow is a complete disaster, which makes the Stealth’s tolerance of it all the more impressive. The Intel Core i7-7500U CPU and 16GB of RAM shrugged off everything I threw at it.

Unfortunately, killer performance is only half the puzzle. Ultraportable notebooks are supposed to be able to handle a full day’s work on a single charge, or at least something close to it. I just couldn’t get that kind of longevity out of the Blade Stealth. Engadget’s standard battery test (looping an HD video at a fixed brightness) exhausted the Stealth’s 53.6Wh battery in a little over five and a half hours — far short of the nine hours promised on the laptop’s product page. A second test, simulating an active browser workflow, lasted just 10 minutes longer.

Battery life

Razer Blade Stealth (fall 2016)
5:36
Surface Book (Core i5, integrated graphics)
13:54 / 3:20 (tablet only)
HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2015)
11:34
Surface Book (Core i7, discrete graphics)
11:31 / 3:02 (tablet only)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015)
11:23
iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2015)
10:47
HP Spectre x360 15t
10:17
Chromebook Pixel (2015)
10:01
ASUS ZenBook 3
9:45
Lenovo Yoga 900
9:36
Apple MacBook (2016)
8:45
Samsung Notebook 9
8:16
Dell XPS 13 (2015)
7:36
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
7:15
HP Spectre 13
7:07
Huawei MateBook
6:35
Razer Blade Stealth (Spring 2016)
5:48
Dell XPS 15 (2016)
5:25 (7:40 with the mobile charger)

It’s actually not uncommon for laptops to fall somewhat short of their promised battery life, but the Blade Stealth’s failure stands out because the refreshed model was advertised as having longer battery life than the original. Our review unit didn’t. Not only did it fall 10 minutes short of the first-generation Stealth in our standard test, but it did so with a lower-resolution display than the 4K model we reviewed in the spring. To get the Stealth to run for more than seven hours on the battery, I had to reduce its screen brightness to its absolute minimum, disable all keyboard lighting features and turn off the sound completely. It’s a manageable problem, but I also didn’t see the improvement I was hoping for.

The Razer Core

If you can accept the Stealth’s middling battery life, you’ll have yourself a rather nice ultraportable — but you won’t get the full Stealth experience unless you pick up the Razer Core. This $500 accessory dock lends the laptop the power of a desktop-class graphics card, and it’s what makes my modular gaming laptop dream possible.

The GPU accessory dock is built from the same high-quality black aluminum as the Stealth itself; it’s heavy, durable and looks like a miniature desktop tower. The solid metal body is only broken by stylistic grooves on its front and top sides, a Razer logo on the left and a grated window on its right. On the back, the Core features four USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, a single Thunderbolt socket for connecting to the laptop and an AC power plug. Just don’t plan on lugging the Core around: It weighs a hefty 11 pounds.

Lifting a recessed handle from the dock’s back panel unlocks it and allows you to slide the Core’s internal components out of the metal chassis. Inside, the Core is as simple as it gets, offering users nothing more than two power supply cables for the graphics card and single PCI-E port in which to install it. Even if you’ve never installed a desktop GPU before, setting up the Core is straightforward; there’s only one place for the card to go.

Using the Core with the Stealth is easy too: As soon as you plug it in, the Core automatically installs its own drivers. I fed the Core an NVIDIA GTX 1080, which it recognized almost instantly. After it finished installing, a new NVIDIA GPU activity monitor appeared in my system tray. “There are no applications running on this GPU,” it told me. Well, let’s change that.

I challenged the Razer Core-equipped Stealth to run two of my library’s most intensive games: Just Cause 3 and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. Both were playable at the laptop’s native 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, even tuned to their highest graphic settings, but neither performed quite as well as I expected. The Witcher III looked gorgeous at 40 frames per second, as did Just Cause 3 running at a steady 50 — but with a GTX 1080 calling the shots, those numbers should have been higher.

At first, I thought the Stealth’s dual-core processor might be holding the Core’s performance back, so I switched to a less CPU-intensive game to double check. Sadly, Overwatch was underperforming as well, struggling to break 50 fps on multiple graphics presets. Eventually, I figured it out: The Core’s Thunderbolt 3 connection simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to pass the graphics processing to the external GPU and pipe the results back to the laptop. Hooking up an external monitor directly to the GTX 1080-equipped core yielded much better results: 76 to 100 frames per second in Overwatch and 60+ in Just Cause 3. The Witcher III still hovered around 40 fps at 2,560 x 1,440, but that might be the processor’s fault — that game is a CPU beast.

And there, we have the rub: The Razer Core can absolutely turn the Blade Stealth into a gaming machine, but it won’t quite match the performance you’ll get with a desktop. It’s also a segmented experience; the Core performs better when it’s outputting games to an external monitor, making games on the Stealth’s gorgeous display a worse experience by comparison. Frankly, I expected that: Thunderbolt 3 is fast, but asking it to farm graphics rendering out to an external dock and pipe those results back to the laptop eats up a lot of bandwidth. That isn’t to say the Core is underperforming, but it’s limited by today’s technology. No matter what GPU you install into Razer’s Core, it won’t be living up to its potential — but to realize the dream of an external graphics dock, you have to be OK with that. That’s where the technology is right now.

Beyond the technical bandwidth limitation, I experienced one other issue with the Core: It got a little confused when I tried to switch graphics cards. Specifically, the GPU dock failed to automatically recognize my AMD Radeon R9 Nano the same way it did with the GTX 1080. It still installed the drivers right away, but the Radeon control panel didn’t realize the graphics card was installed. When I tried to reinstall the drivers manually, the machine suddenly recognized that the Radeon software was already installed, at which point it started working.

Despite these hiccups, the Core works as promised. Getting into a game is as simple as plugging a single USB-C wire into the Stealth, which piped in the GPU, power and any accessories I hooked up to the Razer Core. Going back to mobile mode is just as easy; you can unplug the Core (even while in a game!) without restarting the laptop, and everything works fine. It’s a dead-simple plug and play experience. And it needs to be: The Core’s $500 price tag wouldn’t be tolerable if the machine were hard to use.

Configuration options and the competition

Choosing a Razer Blade Stealth configuration is mostly a question of screen resolution and storage space. The $999 base model will get you a 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U dual-core processor (3.5GHz with Turbo Boost), integrated HD 620 graphics, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB PCIe SSD and a QHD (2,560 x 1,440) display. Tacking on an additional $250 or $400 will net you 16GB of RAM and 246 and 512GB SSDs, respectively. The 4K Stealth starts at $1,599, also with 512GB of storage. Finally, the $1,999 configuration steps up to 1TB SSD.

The Blade is a decent value for an ultraportable with a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, but if you need something with better battery life, you may need to look elsewhere. Dell’s XPS 13 is still a good option, starting at $800 with an Intel Core i3-7100U, 4GB of RAM and over 10 hours of runtime, and can even be upgraded to match the Stealth’s Core i7. But if you’re dead set on a 4K display, you’re out of luck — the new XPS 13 tops out at 3,200 x 1,800. If you’re not married to Microsoft’s platform and don’t mind having only a single USB-C port for connectivity, you might consider Apple’s latest MacBook, which can handle 4K resolution for more than eight hours.

If you’re looking at the Blade Stealth in the first place, however, that Razer Core GPU dock is probably part of the reason why. Technically, the Core should work with any Thunderbolt 3 equipped laptop that supports Intel’s switchable graphics standard, but it’s only officially supported on Razer’s Blade and Blade Stealth machines. It works great on those, but at $500 it’s hardly the most affordable external graphics dock on the market. Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier sells for about $200 less but only works with Dell’s own gaming laptops, which are significantly bulkier than the Blade Stealth. MSI’s $1,300 GS30 Shadow is a thin and light laptop with an external GPU dock, but it’s stuck with a fourth-generation Intel processor.

Ironically, the best alternative to the Blade Stealth’s GPU dock might actually be a desktop computer. If you’re willing to learn to build a PC yourself, $500 can go a long way toward building a killer desktop gaming setup — one that won’t throttle the potential of your GPU the same way the Core does. In fact, taking this route won’t even hamper your ability to play high-end PC games on an ultraportable laptop: Steam in-home streaming can easily bridge the gap for most games.

Wrap-up

The Razer Blade Stealth initially caught my eye for its potential to fulfill a long-dormant dream: a portable, powerful laptop that could borrow the power of a desktop-class graphics card to transform into a gaming powerhouse. I’ve waited decades to realize this fantasy, and the Blade Stealth finally made it a reality… with some caveats. While the Stealth is indeed a powerful, thin and gorgeous laptop, its battery life keeps it from living up to Razer’s claim of the “ultimate Ultrabook.” The shadow of compromise hangs over the Core as well. At a high level, the GPU dock delivers on its promise, but today’s technology simply can’t siphon the full, unadulterated power of a desktop GPU through a single Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Still, I love the Razer Blade Stealth and Core combo. It’s not the best ultraportable, and it won’t make the most of your desktop graphics card — but it’s one of those products that “just works.” For gamers without the patience to maintain a desktop but aren’t willing to sacrifice size, weight and battery life for a full gaming laptop, it’s worth all of the tradeoffs. Ultimately, the Razer Blade Stealth isn’t for me, but the Stealth is nonetheless going to make a very specific niche of laptop-loving PC gamers very happy.

21
Oct

Engadget’s first thoughts on the Nintendo Switch


We now know that Nintendo’s next-generation game console will be the Switch, a hybrid device offering portable and home gaming in one. But there’s a lot we don’t know. What games will it launch with? How much it will cost? What’s that screen like? Will it play games on a TV at 1080p? How long will the battery last? We’ll find out more about the Switch before its March 2017 release, and the answers to those questions, and more, will likely dictate our overall judgement.

Nonetheless, we’re nothing if not opinionated, and seeing Nintendo launch a new console has got us talking. So without further ado, here are eight Engadget editors with their first take* on the Switch.

*Other opinions are also valid.

chibinickNick Summers
Associate Editor

The Nintendo Switch is both a portable and home console, and that’s brilliant news. In a year or two — once the Wii U and 3DS are inevitably retired — that means every Nintendo studio will be making games for the same system. Brilliant. If you’re a Switch owner, you should (emphasis on “should”) get a steady stream of titles every year, regardless of the support from third parties. Pikmin, Metroid, Fire Emblem. All of these franchises will soon be focused on the same console and player base, building out a library that’s attractive to more and more people.

The 3DS has a wonderful back catalog: I want that quality and diversity replicated on a big-screen TV. If Nintendo can deliver on that, I’ll be in, regardless of whether it has Mass Effect: Andromeda or not. As for the hardware itself? It looks a little finicky to me, with lots of intricate parts for children to break or lose. I’m worried about the ergonomics too — some of the different controller modes look a tad cumbersome. Sure, there’s an (optional) stand-alone controller, but that should be for home use only. When I’m out and about, I’ll be using the “Joy-Con” attachments — I just hope they’re comfortable over extended play sessions.

chibidevDevindra Hardawar
Senior Editor

Even though we’ve been hearing rumors of a hybrid console from Nintendo for a while, the Switch’s debut still floored me. Once again, Nintendo is going in a completely different direction than Microsoft and Sony. Based on the little we’ve seen of the Switch so far, it seems like a far more intriguing attempt than the Wii U. In many ways it reminds me of the original Wii; it introduces entirely new ways of playing games — local multiplayer anywhere FTW! — though it might seem like a gimmick to some.

If anything, the Switch shows how far we’ve come in mobile hardware. NVIDIA claims it’s powered by a custom Tegra processor that has the same technology as its current desktop GPUs (we’re still waiting for more specifics). The demo video shows off complex titles like Skyrim and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. At the least, the Switch seems more powerful than the Wii U, which was Nintendo’s first foray into HD gaming. Instead of pursuing 4K like everyone else, it looks like Nintendo is trying to redefine what’s possible on mobile.

In the end, Nintendo is going after the gamers who will prioritize the flexibility of gaming anywhere over bringing the most pixels possible into their living room. And after seeing both Sony and Microsoft work themselves into a tizzy to support 4K, and in the process confusing the heck out of consumers, I can’t blame Nintendo for trying something different once again.

chibikrisKris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

I’m a sassy young woman living in the big city and working hard for my money. I got no time for games. Well, not like I used to, anyway. I love the console experience for how big and immersive it can be. However, as I’ve gotten older it’s been increasingly hard to find the time and energy to sit down and focus on an expansive world that requires dozens of hours to explore. I’ve gravitated more toward my Nintendo 3DS, but it’s not on the same grand scale, by design.

Thus it’s no coincidence that the Switch reveal video was very much a lifestyle showcase, featuring people in my general “young adult” age group and how they would use the Switch. No more scheduling time every night for Zelda, no more declarations to “treat yo self” by playing Mario for a few hours. The Switch is a home console that works around your schedule. I might actually be able to get back into JRPGs. Though I probably wouldn’t bring it to fancy balcony parties.

chibihamezJames Trew
Deputy Managing Editor

There’s going to be lots of talk today about what the Switch means for Nintendo, what it means for consoles and what it means for the future of gaming. Or something. All I know is what it means for me: It’ll be the first home console I’ll buy in nearly 20 years. I mean it: I’ve not had a gaming console under my TV since the Super Nintendo. OK, I briefly owned a Wii (for a review) and lived in shared houses with Xbox/PlayStations, but nothing’s convinced me to part with my cash for a long while. Switch, on the other hand, pushes all of my buttons — in a good way.

I’ve not been abstaining from games since the SNES, obviously. I mostly play retro or handheld consoles (and retro handhelds, especially). So the idea that I could return to modern home gaming and get a new handheld makes Switch a no-brainer for me. The fact that it’s Nintendo just sweetens the deal. There’s something else I like about Switch, too. The Wii and Wii U weren’t … terrible, but the smurfy design and the cutesy Mii characters, etc. didn’t resonate with me. Switch seems to shed some of that overt softness for a slightly more grown-up feel while still looking, somehow, “Nintendo.”

chibikrisSean Buckley
Associate Editor

Last year, I predicted that Nintendo’s next console wouldn’t just be a Mario-powered Xbox — launching a standard-issue game console would have stripped the company of everything makes it fun, unique and worthwhile. I’m so glad I was right: The Switch is exactly what Nintendo needs to compete with Microsoft and Sony.

The Nintendo Switch has the potential to become the console Nintendo’s been trying to build for generations — the console gamer’s /essential/ second device. Think about it: Nintendo hasn’t tried to compete on raw power in over a decade, instead trying to woo in gamers with some sort of hook that sets its hardware apart from Sony and Microsoft. It hasn’t always worked (sorry, Wii U) but this time, it just might.

The Switch isn’t the console with the goofy motion controllers. It’s not the underpowered machine with the weird tablet, either. It’s the modular home game console you can take with you and play on an airplane. It’s not trying to replace the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 in your entertainment center, but it can live alongside it. And when you have to leave the house, and can’t take those high-powered boxes with you? Well, you’ll have the Nintendo Switch.

This bridges a gap Nintendo’s been trying to close for awhile. Remember when the company launched Smash Bros. on both the 3DS and the Wii U? When it brought Hyrule Warriors to its portable device? How it recently announced that Super Mario Maker would be shrunk down to fit on its stereoscopic foldable? That’s what the Nintendo Switch is. It’s the company giving its portable gamers what they really want: home console games. Better still, it doesn’t split its own market — Microsoft and Sony die-hards who only buy Nintendo consoles for exclusives no longer need to buy two devices to play all their favorite franchises. Just one. And they can take it to the airport, on the bus, to a friends house or can simply just play it in bed. That’s a much better pitch for being the console gamer’s essential second device than the Wii U or 3DS ever had. And that’s exactly what the Switch needs to be.

chibikrisJessica Condit
Senior Reporter

Jess was too busy writing about other new consoles to contribute her unabridged thoughts. That’s a shame, but nonetheless, we’re reliably informed that this GIF accurately represents her feelings on the Switch:

Introducing Nintendo’s next game console, Switch https://t.co/nZEPC0HWuw First impression: pic.twitter.com/dGsUyx510Z

— Jessica 👻 Conditt (@JessConditt) October 20, 2016

chibiaaronAaron Souppouris
Senior Editor

I have a fairly large, open-plan living area. If I take my Wii U GamePad to the kitchen (about 15 feet from my TV) it loses signal. As a huge Nintendo fan, all I really needed was a better Wii U. That means more portability, a better screen, and better battery life. The Switch is definitely more portable — I could take it to someone else’s kitchen. Given the lack of a stylus, it’s almost certainly going to have a nicer screen, without the horrible resistive touchscreen overlay. The one thing I don’t know about is endurance, but I’m pretty sure it’ll last the time it takes me to cook a meal.

I might sound unenthused about the Switch, but I’m really not. It’s just that I was absolutely going to buy one anyway. I’m happy for Nintendo that (for now at least) third parties are on board, but in reality I’m likely to be playing those cross-platform games on my existing systems. I buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games, and this will definitely have lots of those.

chibiseppTimothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

It looks like Nintendo has finally started paying attention to the competition, but not in the way I expected. Rather than aping Microsoft’s and Sony’s designs of oblong boxes (or sandwiches like the PlayStation 4 Pro) the console looks like a piece of lifestyle gadgetry that’d unobtrusively hang out on an end table or bookshelf — not dominate a chunk of your A/V rack. And it maintains the “friendly” look Nintendo has been hawking for decades. I’m a fan.

What concerns me though isn’t its software lineup (a new 3D Mario game! More Splatoon!), graphics prowess or even the tablet-centric nature of the system. No, it’s the iPod Shuffle-like controllers and my gigantic hands. My hand spans the width of a full-size keyboard, and my mitts cramping up is a major reason why I don’t play games on my phone or my 3DS. For the same reason, I doubt I’ll be breaking out Mario Kart on any road trips. The Wii U GamePad’s ergonomics and I don’t get along either, but at least it’s too big to lose in a couch cushion

For me, “portable gaming” means a console I can easily carry in my messenger bag or backpack and hook up at a friend’s house. And for that, the Switch looks perfect.

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