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Razer Blade (2014) Review - Part I (?)

For those who aren't familiar, the Razer Blade is a thin, lightweight, "ultrabook-like" laptop designed specifically for those who want to be able to game on the go. It's design is eerily similar to what you'd find from Apple on the latest MacBooks. A quick hit on the specs the current version ships with:

  • Intel Core i7 4702HQ
  • 8GB of DDR3, 1600MHz RAM
  • NVIDIA GTX 870M
  • 128/256/512GB of SSD (I chose the 256GB model)
  • 14" TouchScreen with "QuadHD+" resolution (3200x1800)

My first impression was: It's a beautiful laptop. It strikes the perfect balance between compact, slim and lightweight, and feeling absolutely solid in hand. Coming from a MacBook Air, I wasn't sure if this was going to be close to it or not, but it ended up being a pretty similar experience in terms of the quality feel of the device. That made for a very good quick first impression. 

Portability wise, the size is great, and Razer did a good job of keeping the accompanying power brick  small/thin, with a nice cable wrap as well. It's a small detail, but it helps the laptop travel well overall, which is important for my use case. 

She's a beauty

She's a beauty

On the first boot up into Windows I ran through the initial configuration finishes, and was presented with a clean, bloatware-free installation of Windows 8.1 (64-bit), which is a refreshing change from the norm. No stupid trialware, no useless software-- with the only minor exception being the Razer Synapse software. 

After getting in to Windows, I found the Quad+ HD resolution to be absurd and not worth using. In order for it to even be functional, Windows come pre-configured with all fonts/icons at 250% of their regular size. It makes things somewhat better, but the applications that don't recognize that configuration are impossibly small and thus, unusable. I dropped back to 1920x1080 which is beautiful on this screen and still usable in all apps (though some text/icons are still small, I prefer that). 

The Trackpad is excellent, and the buttons are probably the best PHYSICAL buttons I've used on a trackpad/laptop before. There are even  several gestures which I didn't realize were there until I used one accidentally, and then found in the Master manual for the laptop. They integrate well with Windows 8.1 (which is a piece, but it's slowly growing on me). The touchscreen is quick and responsive, though I don't find that I have much use for it about 95% of the time. Maybe if I start to use more of the Windows 8 style apps it'll come in handy, but I'm not really doing much of that yet. 

The speakers on this laptop are exceptionally loud-- MUCH louder than my MacBook Air, which I felt like had good speakers. I had to lower the volume in Windows to 20%, and still found myself dropping the volume of apps like Spotify, Youtube, etc. to less than 30-40%. 

Battery life is one of the things that got impacted in the 2014 model compared to the year prior-- mostly dueto the updated (and excessive) display. That being said, I'm very happy with the battery life overall, which is somewhere around 5 hours for me during "work usage", which I'd describe as Office, Spotify, a web browser, and the occasional Twitch stream. It's not mind blowing, but it gets the job done. 

Connectivity options are pretty limited, as is increasingly the case on these thinner "Ultrabook" style laptops. On one side there are two USB 3.0 ports, the power connector, and a microphone/headphone "comobo" jack, and on the other, an HDMI port, and a single USB 3.0 port. When using this for work, the limited connectivity isn't a problem. Almost every office has wireless network availability, and I normally would only connect a mouse to one of the 3 USB ports. When gaming, however, wireless isn't preferred-- so a USB-to-RJ45 Ethernet adapter may be required (and mine is on its way). Then a mouse and keyboard chew up the last two USB ports, so hopefully you don't need anything more than that. 

The bad:
Picture this scenario: Your new $2,000+ laptop arrives, you tear into the box like a kid on Christmas morning, you plug it in as per the instructions to let it charge fully/keep it plugged in until the battery is at 100%, you get Steam set up and you start downloading your favorite game (CSGO). A few hours later you check back in, the game is finished, the battery is charged, and you're ready for your first gameplay test.

You launch the game, set up your basic settings (resolution, crosshair, sensitivity, etc.), and jump into an Overwatch to see how the game looks, get a feel for the framerates, etc. You connect, the Overwatch case loads, and about 45 seconds later the laptop fans CRANK up. No big deal, this thing gets hot, we all know that. 10 seconds later, the laptop shuts off.

Completely. And it doesn't turn back on. 

Now since that time, it's done the same thing about 3 times (which all occurred within the same 12 hour period of time).

Afterwards, it has not overheated once, including after solid 45-60 minute deathmatch sessions which are very intense on the system. So what caused it on the first day, and why it hasn't happened since, I have no idea. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. 

It definitely gets hot when gaming, but mostly at the very top of the keyboard near the screen, and definitely underneath where the two exhaust fans are. The keyboard itself gets warm, but is still very usable.

The Important Part - Gaming in CS:GO

SERIOUS/COMPETITIVE Gaming

In the first days of gaming on the Blade I found that playing at my normal resolution (1920x1080) was extremely difficult, borderline impossible. Due to the size of the screen (14"), the player models are EXTREMELY small and thus, difficult to see, difficult to hit, and frustrating to play against. I decided to do something I had otherwise REFUSED to do for consistency's sake, and changed resolution to see if a lower res would have better results. 

I first dropped to 1280x720 and it was SLIGHTLY better, but was still a noticeably different experience than I'm used to on my desktop setup.  I dropped all the way down to 4:3 with 1024x768 (stretched), and the player models were bigger, but still not the same experience I was hoping for. If you're a lower resolution player (which is still close to a majority, if not the majority of higher level players), you might not mind this. I did, and while I'll definitely game on this laptop, it's hard to say I'll be 1 to 1 with how well I could play on my desktop. All that being said, I was pulling down 200+ FPS in almost all situations at 1024x768 in my recent CEVO match on dust2 on the Blade, which was solid. 

The refresh rate of the display is only 60hz, which is the other major adjustment I've had to make, and while it's clean and clear, it isn't nearly as smooth as I'm accustomed to. In the end, this is going to be a great way for me to get some playing time either in pugs, matchmaking, or even the occasional match if my team can't schedule around it while I'm away from home. In fact, I was able to play a match in CEVO tonight on it and believe it's a reasonable setup to frag out on when needed. It's probably BEST used for a more casual gamer, though. 

Overall Thoughts

After having used it for a few weeks, I have to say that I really, really love this laptop. It's fantastic to use to the point of almost being addicting. For my use case as a business professional who finds himself on the road from time to time but still wants to be able to frag out, this is the ideal solution. I'd guesstimate that 85% of the time it will be used for work, with the remaining 15% being a mix of gaming, and watching games (both from GOTV and Twitch). It's handled both use cases wonderfully to this point. 

If you're in the market for a gaming laptop and need something that's sleek, portable, and powerful, and you don't mind the price tag, I don't think you should hesitate to pull the trigger on this bad boy. 

The Good

  • Beautiful design, feels great and very enjoyable to use overall
  • Speakers are vibrant and loud to the point of impressive
  • Performance is fantastic, as is to be expected given the specs
  • Keyboard is VERY enjoyable to use, and does well in game
  • Portability is excellent 
  • The touchscreen is really responsive, and makes using Windows 8.1 almost enjoyable 
  • Trackpad is top notch-- the clickable buttons are tactile and crisp, and the gestures on the pad make it even more usable 
  • The Webcam gets HD quality video and works great in Skype (and even in OBS, though I haven't tested streaming on it yet)

The Bad

  • It overheated on day one, and while it hasn't done it since, it bothers me 
  • Limited connectivity options-- only 3 USB ports, a combo audio jack, and an HDMI connection
  • Price tag, as similar configurations are available at significantly lower price points 
  • The Quad+ HD screen is excessive, and I ended up just going to 1920x1080. I'd prefer they drop the price. Marketing hype.

-Ryu

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