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Razer Blade (2012) Review
Slim and sexy, the Razer Blade (2012) laptop offers lighter, more portable gaming, and the innovative Switchblade UI, but it will cost you, both in price and features.
(4 out of 5)
- Unrivaled portability for a gaming laptop
- Innovative Switchblade UI
- Decent gaming performance
- Intel Core i7-3632QM quad-core processor
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M graphics processor
- Hybrid drive provides speedy performance
- Expensive, given the components
- No optical drive
- No traditional number pad
- Small hard drive
In the world of gaming laptops, the new Razer Blade (2012) brings a few things to the table that you won’t find anywhere else. Trackpad and display are wed in the innovative Switchblade interface, and the Blade offers unrivaled portability with a slim profile and weight that may lead you to actually pick it up and take it with you—something that the largely stationary gaming laptops can’t claim. Portability comes at a price, however, both in terms of its cost and the lack of an optical drive. If you can afford it, however, you’ll actually own a gaming laptop that has no problem going with you wherever you want to game.
The Razer Blade (2012) has an aluminum unibody design that looks very much like a black painted Apple MacBook Pro 17-inch (Late 2011) . It has the same slim yet sturdy construction, and the not-so-gentle hard edge along the edge of the palm rest. The lid has a bright green glowing Razer logo, which stands out sharply against the plain black of the lid.
The most notable aspect of the Blade (2012) is its portability, which puts other 17-inch gaming laptops to shame. Measuring 0.88 by 16.8 by 10.9 inches (HWD), the Blade weighs only 6.6 pounds, and comes with a slim 0.7-pound adapter. Contrast this with the Asus G75VW-DS71 , which is roughly two inches thick and weighs over 9 pounds (12, if you include the AC adapter). If anything, it’s actually closer in weight to the Alienware M14x R3 , which weighs 6.4 pounds, but has only a 14-inch display.
Being so much slimmer and lighter than the average 17-inch gaming laptop is a real boon for gamers on the go, but it does come with a few compromises. For example, the Blade (2012) has no optical drive. While that may not be an issue for the gamer who relies on Steam or similar online game services, it will definitely put a cramp in anyone’s style should they want to purchase a game on disc, load up an older game, or need an optical drive to use software or enjoy movies on disc.
The slim build of the Blade (2012) also raises questions about heat. I’m happy to report that after several hours of (ahem) intensive testing with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the laptop got warm, but was never uncomfortably hot in the keyboard region. This is partly due to the thoughtful design, which places the heat-generating components back toward the hinge, and an effective cooling system that keeps things cool even without noisy fans and large ventilation grilles. When we turned our Fluke IR thermometer on the Blade (2012), it reached temperatures as high as 110 degrees near the hinge, but only 92 degrees at the center of the keyboard.
The 17.3-inch display sports a 1,920-by-1,080 resolution. The Full HD display looks great while watching streaming video or looking at high-res images, but where it really shines is gaming. Whether your choice of games is the grit and smoke of Battlefield 3 or the detailed fantasy world of Skyrim, this display looks great. The accompanying audio is pretty good, with Dolby Home Theater v4 and crisp clear sound, but without much bass to speak of. For an immersive gaming experience on the go, you’ll probably want to opt for headphones anyway. If you connect up to a home theater via HDMI, you’ll be able to enjoy 7.1 surround sound.
The keyboard has square tile keys, similar to those seen on the Razer DeathStalker Ultimate gaming keyboard. The scissor switches used for these keys won’t match the mechanical switches found on premium standalone gaming keyboards, but they rival the keys found on most gaming laptops. The keys have adjustable backlight with the same brilliant green hue seen on the glowing logo. One feature, which surprisingly isn’t seen on other gaming laptops, is the inclusion of anti-ghosting technology, the same used in Razer’s peripheral keyboards, which allows multiple keys to be pressed simultaneously, an essential feature when rapidly using the complex key combinations used in MMORPGS.
Unlike most laptops, there is no touchpad on the palmrest, nor is there a numeric pad to the right of the keyboard. Instead, the Blade is equipped with one of Razer’s biggest gaming innovations, the Switchblade interface.
The Switchblade interface puts a small touch display next to the keyboard, along with 10 “dynamic display” keys—buttons with tiny individual LCD displays behind them, allowing for a variety of brightly colored, customizable icons. There are also several apps included with the Switchblade UI. In addition to basic touchpad functionality, the Switchblade touch-screen doubles as a 10-key number pad. Using other apps, the Switchblade serves as a portal to mobile versions of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and a mobile Web browser, all of which can be displayed through its own small screen. Other apps include a clock and stopwatch, a screenshot button, and buttons to record macros and activate gaming mode.
Testing the YouTube App (with Deadpool Vs. Gangnam Style, naturally) I found that the little 4.3-inch display is perfect for YouTube videos, so long as you don’t need to watch what’s on screen while typing or doing other things on your main monitor. The display is pretty far removed from the monitor, so you’ll be glancing down at your keyboard every time you want to watch it. For gamers, the real utility will be the fact that a player can pull up a walkthrough video to watch as they play on their monitor. It also seems to be perfect for TED Talks and the like, which seem to be best played in the background, with the occasional glance at a visual-aid.
Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter apps facilitate online communication, even while in game. During other tasks, it’s still helpful to have a separate display for your Gmail inbox or for following Twitter feeds. And the Browser app is excellent for pulling up information without interrupting whatever task or game you have up. That said, it’s far from perfect. The text is small enough to be difficult to read, and interacting with these apps can be a bit frustrating, with small text links and the so-so accuracy of the touch screen combining to make navigation difficult. It’s also problematic when trying to follow a link, as the link opens on the small display. It could easily be improved by simply sizing up the default text, and providing the option of opening links on your monitor.
Gamer-centric tools like Macro Recorder and Gaming Mode button are a bit more useful than basic hotkeys. The Macro Recorder pops up buttons to start and stop recording keystrokes, while the display lists all of the keystrokes made and lets you edit as needed. Gaming Mode lets you toggle gaming mode on and off, as well as popping up a menu of options to determine which keys and keystroke combinations to disable and which to keep active.
Finally, Razer also offers apps that function largely as game-specific profiles, putting your weapons, actions and macros onto the easily reconfigured adaptive keys, often with snazzy little icons for each. As of this writing, Razer offers apps for Star Wars: The Old Republic, Battlefield 3, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Team Fortress 2. In some, such as SW:TOR, the app also includes stat tracking, displayed on the touch screen. Others, like TF2, retain touchpad functionality, but place a themed image on the screen.
There are issues with the Switchblade UI, however. First among them is the fact that it requires either using the touch screen (which isn’t practical in the vast majority of games) or it requires taking your hand off of the gaming mouse to use the dynamic display buttons, disrupting gameplay. Additionally, because the Switchblade display is on the keyboard, and not at the same eye level as the monitor, any detailed data requires looking closely at your keyboard, and away from whatever’s on your monitor. Perhaps as programmers get their hands on the SDK, new apps will find better ways to take advantage of the interface.
Despite the narrow confines of the Blade’s thin profile, the gaming laptop is equipped with three USB 3.0 ports (in a distinctive green rather than the traditional blue), HDMI output, a combined headset jack, and a Kensington lock slot. With the exception of the lock slot, these are all found on the left-hand side of the laptop, but we wish that at least one USB port were relocated to the right for attaching a peripheral mouse, which is generally used on the right.
Without an optical drive, web connectivity becomes that much more important, and the Razer Blade delivers with dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11n) and Gigabit Ethernet. Bluetooth 4.0 is also included for pairing headsets and gamepads. The Blade is equipped with a 500GB hard drive, as well as a 64GB mSATA cache for faster performance and speedier boot times. This is smaller than the two 750GB drives found in the Asus G75VW-DS71, or even the multiple drives (both hard drive and solid-state) found in the MSI GT70 ONE-276US , but it is similar to the 500GB drive found in the Editors’ Choice Alienware M17x R4 , and the 64GB SSD cache is double that of the Alienware M17x (32GB).
The Blade (2012) is also blissfully bloatware free. Aside from Razer’s proprietary Synapse 2.0 cloud syncing and the software behind the Switchblade UI, the only programs preinstalled on the Blade (2012) are Microsoft Security Essentials and a starter version of Microsoft Office 2010. Razer covers the new Blade laptop with a one-year warranty and online tech-support.
The design team at Razer may have taken pains to reduce the thickness and weight of the Blade, but they were just as careful to pack in hardware that would still provide solid gaming performance. To this end, the Blade (2012) is outfitted with a third-generation 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-3632QM quad-core processor, 8GB of memory, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M with 2GB of VRAM.
In the performance categories that really count—namely, gaming and graphics—the Blade (2012) held its own. In our DirectX10 benchmark test, Crysis, the Blade (2012) pumped out 98 frames per second (fps) at medium settings (1,024 by 768 without anti-aliasing), but dropped to an unplayable 17 fps when we ramped up the resolution to 1080p and detail settings to 4x anti-aliasing. For a smooth gaming experience with decent detail, you’ll want to find a middle ground somewhere between the two.
We actually tested the Blade (2012) twice using Lost Planet 2, once to benchmark the performance with DX9 and again for DX11. Using DX9, the Blade (2012) fell behind less portable full-size gaming rigs, producing 96 fps at medium settings and 31 fps at higher resolution and detail—the Alienware M17x put out 159 fps and 77 fps, respectively, and the MSI GT70 One 276US cranked out 148 fps (medium) and 63 fps (high). The Blade (2012) did, however, top both the Asus G75VW-DS71 and the Alienware M14x R3. Using DX11, however, the Blade (2012) faltered a bit, with results that are playable only with the eye-candy dialed down, producing 42 fps at medium settings and 23 fps at full resolution.
In terms of general productivity, the Blade (2012) is among the best 17-inch laptops you’ll find. It scored 4,557 points in PCMark 7, behind only the Alienware M17x R4. The Blade (2012) finished our Handbrake video conversion test in 1 minute 23 seconds, and ran through our Photoshop CS5 test in 3:36. As one of the only gaming laptops slim and light enough to carry on a daily commute, it’s also one of the few that might take a place in your workday as well as nights and weekends.
To push the portable appeal further, the Razer Blade’s 60Wh battery lasted 3 hours 53 minutes as tested in MobileMark 2007. This outlasts the closest 17-inch system—the Asus G75VW-DS71 (2:59)—by nearly an hour, and is only minutes behind the smaller Alienware M14x R3 (4:18).
If you want truly portable gaming, there’s no passing up the Razer Blade (2012). With its lightweight, slim design, and relatively long battery life, the Blade is one of the few gaming laptops that will actually game on the go. It’s also one of only two laptops on the market to feature the Switchblade interface (the other is the previous Razer Blade laptop). You’ll get better raw performance if you pick up the Editors’ Choice Alienware M17X R4, but unlike the Alienware, you actually can pick up the Razer Blade (2012) since it’s half the weight. And while the $2,500 price of the Blade may seem a bit steep, it’s not hard to justify for on-the-go gaming.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS:
Check out the test scores for the Razer Blade (2012)
Compare the Razer Blade (2012) with several other laptops side by side.
By Brian Westover, PCMag
- Type: Gaming, Media, Gaming Ultraportable
- Processor Name: Intel Core i7-3632QM
- Processor Speed: 2.2 GHz
- Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
- RAM: 8 GB
- Weight: 6.6 lb
- Screen Size: 17.3 inches
- Screen Size Type: Widescreen
- Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M
- Storage Capacity (as Tested): 564 GB
- Networking Options: 802.11n
- Primary Optical Drive: External