Fast. Small. Powerful.
These are the pillars that new Razer Blade 15 series of laptops have been built on. From the short time I was able to spend with them at a special presentation this week, I’d say they have it about right.
Slides of the specs were shown explaining the merits of each unit and as a tech person, I was very interested in the nitty-gritty. I want to know what processor is inside these machines, I want to know how they keep cool.
More importantly, I want to know how they’re going to handle all the games I try throwing at them. Despite this, I still felt my eyes wandering down from the slides to the units themselves on display.
Razer Blade 15 Laptop Preview
In hindsight, I think this was because I’ve never really owned a gaming laptop. I had a simple Dell a few years back for basic use and now I rock the Surface Pro 3 when I’m out and about. Still, I’ve never had something that could really claim to be for gaming.
My entire life as a PC gamer has been on a desktop. I built it and there’s a level of pride in that. I did the research, chose the parts and put them all together. When I sit at my station and happily play I even occasionally remark upon my very own purpose-built PC.
Part of the reason I’ve never looked into a gaming laptop is I’ve never really believed they could handle themselves. At least, not as both a portable device and gaming station. Either they’re too big for one or too small for the other and neither goal is ever really fulfilled.
When I found myself staring at these laptops I felt a weird sense of opportunity. These units were smaller than I expected. In fact, the slides and the presentation told me the Razer Blade 15 is the world’s smallest 15.6″ gaming laptop.
These things are very thin and compact. It looked like I’d easily be able to pick one up and carry it around. Rather than have the burden of transporting what I think of when I conjure images of a full gaming laptop.
Even so, I noticed the screen sizes looked quite capable.
This is thanks to the edge-to-edge design. As tech is getting better, bezels are getting smaller across all sorts of devices and it seems gaming laptops are no exception. We were told that the new design is sharp and square rather than rounded to maximise screen potential.
This felt, to me, far more fitting for something called a Razer Blade laptop. Having a screen that utilises around 85% of the body means it can be a smaller overall unit without as much sacrifice. With this, my mind started to change on the idea of a gaming laptop.
A Song of Ice and Fire
Now that I was onside I started to take everything about these units a little more seriously. The base model is packed with a GeForce GTX-1060 Max-Q card while the advanced can have a whopping GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics. These Max-Q units are a little bit slower than your standard cards you’ll find in a PC but are specifically designed for portable high-end laptops.
While they pack a little less punch they tend to run cooler which is really what you need in a portable device.
Cooling is perhaps the other biggest eyebrow-raiser in a laptop that has to handle games. Unfortunately, without longer to experiment it’s hard to say.
I was told they have a vapour chamber to handle the heat. This is a paired special layer which keeps the high temperatures away from the keyboard. Still, I’d really want to see this in action after long sessions.
Part of the selling point of these graphics cards, particularly the higher end RTX variants, is Ray Tracing. To show this off they had Battlefield V — the Crysis of Ray Tracing — available to play on one of the high-end models. Straight away I noticed the reflections and a certain crispness I wasn’t really expecting.
The 4k variant of the Blade isn’t available in Australia and is only 60Hz anyway. What we were looking at was a 1080 display at 144Hz and I honestly would have told you it was 4k when running Battlefield V.
The level chosen to display this technology was undoubtedly purposeful. The icy landscape looked cold and crisp and the slight reflections in both it and the metal were a fantastic showcase of exactly what you expect from a high-end RTX. I purposefully went up close to a barrel and shot it, burning myself.
All so I could look at how the explosion and fire reflected off the barrel of the gun. It’s certainly not a necessary feature for most players but it was undeniably pretty and I was shocked this was running on such a small device.
The crazy thing about all this is if you want more power out of these machines you can have it.
Almost everything aside from the processor is upgradable. That’s an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 6 core which should handle all your gaming needs anyway. Hell, you can even do things like video editing on these babies just fine. I know because I’ve got a very similar unit in my desktop; again the main question here would be cooling.
It’s all slotted memory and it’s all accessible so you can expand on what you’ve got. If 16GB of DDR4 Ram isn’t enough for you then you can upgrade the base model to 32. The advanced will even happily take up to 64GB. The HDDs are also fully replaceable with m.2 SSDs across all models.
Again, as someone who’s used to a desktop style of living this is especially appealing. I know it’s nothing new to be able to upgrade a Laptop but it’s not necessarily a given in all high-end units. I’m not going to say I like the idea of dropping $2,500 to just over $5,000 AUD on literally anything ever. However, the idea that I could upgrade it as time goes by instead of needing to buy an entirely new one certainly helps.
When it comes to the GPU there’s some good news there too. If you’re getting the best of the best these cards are fairly new and it’s unlikely you’ll need to replace any time soon. They’re some pretty serious tech. If you do want a bit more grunt, especially when using it more as a desktop you can connect to a Razer Core eGPU. The Thunderbolt connection comes on both models. While it’s going to be more money out of your pocket, I liked knowing that if I was going for this kind of set-up the option was there.
Lastly, when it comes to customisation, you can’t talk about a Razer device without looking at the RGB. The base model will let you colour the whole keyboard in a single dynamic. The advanced gives you complete control over every individual key. Per-Key means you can highlight your WASD keys or whatever else you want to prioritise for gaming. You could illuminate either the word ‘penis’ or have the lights make the shape of one. The options are all yours and I’m all too aware I could lose a lot of time to this kind of configuration.
Sadly, the downside of all these options is the one big one we’re not getting. When first announced, the Razer Blade 15’s advanced model was meant to also feature a mercury white. The pictures I’ve seen look sleek and it’s always cool to see a laptop in something other than the traditional black.
Aussies are just going to have to miss out on this one for now. To be fair, I’d probably only get it dirty anyway what with all that vegemite and meat pie I’d drop all over it.
A Stealthier Option
While visiting the fine folks at Razer they also showed off a couple of other cool devices. One of which was the ultrabook Razer Blade Stealth 13. This sat snugly between two Razer Blade 15 units and looked truly tiny in comparison. The Stealth isn’t by any means as impressive spec-wise as the larger Razer Blade 15 laptops but it’s also not meant to be.
Instead, this little guy packs a GeForce MX150 4B graphics and a quad-core i7 with up to 16GB of RAM. You can tell it’s designed for something a bit different to the core gaming idea behind it’s larger counterparts. This is made immediately obvious by the sigil on the back. On most of Razer’s designs, they proudly sport a neon green lit up tri-snake logo. On this, it’s a more understated black inscription. Razer is letting you know that this is more for work than play.
But boy is it for a lot of work. You can get 13 hours of battery life from the stealth as opposed to about six on the regular Blades. It’s kind of what you expect from an Ultrabook; it’s something you want to take on a plane and not worry about. The size and charge should be a convenience without thought.
I asked to try out a game, after all, that’s what you do when you see a Razer device. It’s kind of at odds with itself because the website tells you it’s a gaming ultrabook but the reps were implying otherwise. The only game loaded was Apex Legends so we logged in and booted it up. The textures were low but it felt fairly playable while I ran around gathering weapons with my poor, poor, teammates.
We finally got into a battle with another team of enemies and the framerate dropped pretty hard. Perhaps for single player or less demanding games, the Stealth would be ok but it’s just not it’s wheelhouse and that was immediately obvious.
If you’re looking at the Stealth it has to be because you need that size and extra battery life. The base unit is still $2,449 AUD which close enough to the Razer Blade 15’s cheapest offering that if you want performance you’re probably better off having the bigger screen to go with it.
Sound You Can Feel
Something that really took me by surprise was the Razer Nari Ultimate headset. This is a slight variation on the standard Nari which we called the ultimate gaming headset. What the Ultimate does that the standard doesn’t is it provides haptic feedback.
Let me tell you, that’s a wild experience in a pair of headphones. These vibrate on your head in response to sound frequencies using, what Razer is calling, Hypersense. This is ridiculous and also something I never knew I wanted.
Even when I was first told what this headset did I was sceptical.
Do I want a pulsing unit delivering vibrations straight to my brain?
Apparently, yes, very yes.
Often I’ve felt like the biggest thing I miss from console gaming since I moved primarily to PC is haptic feedback. These bring that back, right in my face, kind of literally. I am so keen to get my hands on a pair of these to try for longer than a few minutes. Hopefully to fully work out if this is truly a long term desire.
I already miss my ‘vibratey bois’ and think about them often.
I have a lot of questions though. While running in Battlefield on the Razer Blade 15 they’d vibrate lightly at my footsteps and more so when shooting or being shot at. At the time, this felt incredibly immersive but there’s the potential for it to get old during a long session.
I also want to know how they handle multiple sound sources at once. Often while playing games I’m listening to external music or podcasts. As they only react to the frequency I want to know how all this will play out.
Part of me also just wants to hide in a warm space and get lost in some music as the bass vibrates straight to my brain. Or even watch a movie and see the full effect even aside from gaming.
Hope Corrigan attended an event as a guest of Razer.