Razer Blade 2016

[Editor's Note: what follows is a review of the 2016 version of the Razer Blade. This is our review of the latest Razer Blade.]

Over the past few years, gaming laptop makers have focused on looks around the screen just as much as they have on looks within the screen. 

Naturally, Razer spurred this trend with the Blade, and while the latest updates to the laptop that sparked the trend are minor, they solidify its position as one of Windows’s best answers to the MacBook Pro.

Nothing has changed visually about the new Blade since first review in 2016 in August, though some change has gone on inside, namely an upgrade to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip. Is that worth an upgrade or making the plunge now?

Price and availability

Even from the price cut back in August, Razer managed to slash prices by the hundreds once again. With a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) and FHD (1,920 x 1,080) screen option returning, the Blade goes for $1,799 or £1,749/AU$2,599 now, while the QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800) IGZO screen with the same amount of storage will cost you $2,099 or £2,049. (No super HD screen for the Aussies, sadly.) 

Many, even us, have compared the Blade to Apple’s MacBook Pro line in the past. With the latest changes to Apple’s leading laptop, that comparison rings true louder than ever.

So, the Blade’s appeal to you relies just as much on its design as it’s ever have, perhaps even more so now with the latest Nvidia graphics stacked against the AMD chip used in the MacBook Pro.

Latest news

Nearly two months after reviewing the Razer Blade, we’ve stared directly into the eyes of not only its (expensive) powerhouse of a sibling, the Razer Blade Pro, but a three-screened monster known as Project Valerie as well. Though it was swiped from right under our noses in January, Razer showcased a glimpse of the future with a GTX 1080-enhanced laptop designed for 4K gaming across a trio of displays.

What’s more, Razer has prototyped a projector concept that takes holograms to a whole new level, extending your gameplay beyond the screen of your PC to the walls of your living room. It’s only supported by one game, but overall, the thought of 100-inch 4K game projections is an idea that would have many gamers weak in the knees. However, if you want something more affordable from Razer, it has a new Razer Blade Stealth on offer as well.

Razer Blade 2016

At first glance, the Blade’s design has gone unchanged in the past year. Since we last reviewed the Blade in August, that’s largely true. But even in these short months, Razer has managed to improve the chassis even further with some subtle changes.

Design

For instance, the Razer Blade is lighter than ever all over again: from 4.25 pounds (1.92kg) since the last revision to just 4.16 pounds (1.88kg) now. It’s tough to say whether you can feel the difference, especially since the Blade laptops have been historically thin and light. 

Not much, if anything, has changed about the Blade’s shell. It’s still built from a sheet of aircraft grade aluminum put through a CNC mill that’s anodized and coated in a slick black paint.

All of the logos and buttons are in their respective places and look or feel exactly the same. Inside, however, Razer must have upgraded the logic board, as it made room for a USB-C port in addition to the existing three USB 3.0 ports.

The device maker is also touting an improved thermal design with this Blade, which now supports an Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics chip. That said, this thermal upgrade makes using the laptop on your, well, lap while under heavy load singe a little less.

Though, we find the fans to whir a little too loudly than we’d like when the system is under load. That said, it’s nothing the pair of gaming headphones you’re already using can’t alleviate. 

One of the ultimate keyboards

Razer has finally broke past Alienware and MSI’s laptops in introducing its Chroma lighting system for PC keyboards to the Blade, and maintains that lead with the latest Blade. Loaded with the same software that owners of Chroma desktop owners use, the keyboard sports all individually-lit keys that can display any of 16.8 million colors just like before.

You can assign a unique color to each key on the board through this software, allowing you to highlight your most-used keys (i.e. WASD) or color code them for specific scenarios (e.g. in strategy and MMO games). You can save these assignments across profiles, and soon they’ll be playing directly into your games, should game developers adopt Razer’s kit available to them.

Razer Blade 2016

And, to think this is all said before the fact that, mechanically, this is by far the most improved version of Razer's keyboard yet. While travel doesn't feel any deeper than before, feedback feels as if it's been improved for a punchier typing experience. (The glass-coated trackpad feels just fine, though we wish Razer would drop the separate mouse buttons already.)

Improving the keyboard was an indisputably smart move on Razer's part, considering how essential it is to the whole product. With little else to stop it, let's see how this Blade cuts the mustard. (So sorry.)

First reviewed December 2016

Likely responding to desire for more choice, Razer has widened its options a bit for Blade purchasers. When buying a Blade, you have three choices per screen option now: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of SSD storage?

This being a gaming laptop, surely you know that this question has at least one wrong answer.

Razer Blade 2016

You’re going to want 512GB of storage at minimum, with the average PC game eating up 10 or more gigabytes on a hard drive these days. For that, you’re paying at least $1,999 or £1,949/AU$2,999. If it doesn’t look like much has changed since last year, that’s because it really hasn’t. The processor is still a 6th generation Intel Skylake part and the Thunderbolt USB-C port remains – and now the Nvidia GTX 1060 is featured throughout all models.

You’re going to want that 512GB sooner or later and, especially if you’re not willing to void any warranties by installing a larger SSD on your own, you won’t have many options. 

That the Alienware 15 offers a 128GB SSD-plus-1TB hard drive bundle (with largely the same components otherwise) for $300 less, as of December 2016, should put the Blade’s modus operandi into context.

Meanwhile the 15-inch MacBook Pro for late 2016 offers just 256GB of storage and the same amount of RAM with AMD’s Radeon Pro with 2GB of video memory starting at a whopping $2,399 or £2,349/AU$3,599.

Razer Blade 2016

So, the Blade’s value is easily bested by competing Windows laptop makers, whereas Apple can’t come close. Razer has made great lengths to make the Blade more affordable, but apparently so did everyone else but Apple. 

The result is a gorgeous laptop that might be an even stronger video editing and gaming machine than Apple’s for hundreds less. And, if portability and style aren’t your chief concerns for a productivity-and-play machine, you can easily get more power and space for less.

At any rate, how does the new Razer Blade perform with its new graphics chip? 

Razer Blade 2016

Performance

The Razer Blade is, unsurprisingly, among the strongest-performing gaming laptops you can buy today. The upgrade to the laptop’s graphics this time around is much more pronounced than a mere video RAM bump. The generational leap from 900 to 1000 series GPUs is apparent in the Blade’s latest benchmark scores.

 A number more than 2,000 points higher than the previous model in Fire Strike all but guarantees reliable frame rates in most games at 1080p resolution with the settings tweaked to your preference. However, not even the latest graphics chip can handle every game at the highest possible settings in that resolution, clearly. 

Each in-game benchmark sees increases by more than 10 frames per second, yet are still well below 60 fps at Ultra settings. With that in mind, consider what the 3,200 x 1,800 IGZO screen is getting you, as gorgeous as it is.

Of course, many of you are likely saying to yourselves (again) that the same performance in laptops can be found for way less. Trust us, we know. But (again), remember that few, if any, of those options are built anything like the Blade.

Gaming aside, the new Blade will be able to handle pretty much every task that the average user would think to throw at it with aplomb. With Thunderbolt 3 and a GPU with triple the video RAM, creative professionals might find this laptop to be an even better proposition than the latest MacBook Pro. However, there’s one area in which the MacBook Pro will win every time against the Blade.

Battery life

For an Ultrabook with a higher-than-HD resolution and dedicated graphics, the Blade actually offers decent longevity. A shocker, we know, though it’s testament to Intel and Nvidia’s hard work on the power management front and in part to Razer’s refined design in terms of thermals and space.

With this revision, battery life remains largely unchanged, but pales in comparison to the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s 7 hours and 45 minutes of juice that we tested. (Especially considering our test unit sports a 1080p screen.) 

While its PCMark 8 Battery Life score remains more than 3 and a half hours, the machine lasted for 5 hours and 21 minutes in our local video loop test at 50% brightness. That’s a mighty long time for something with all the parts to qualify as a “gaming laptop,” but a bit below the score we recorded in August 2016.

[Editor's Note: We suspect that our PCMark 8 result differs from Razer's promise of 5 hours because our testing parameters differ slightly, as noted via our link above the Benchmarks sidebar.]

Razer Blade 2016

Razer pegs the Blade at 5 hours based on its own runs of the PCMark 8 Battery Test, so our benchmarks aren’t far off.

Granted, you won’t get these numbers while playing games or editing several streams of HD video. Regardless, the Blade looks like a slick companion for getting some work or play in with on those nationwide flights.

While still out of reach from many, Razer’s vision for its leading laptop is all but refined. This year’s last edition is a revision on the existing design, but the brand new graphics could help Razer achieve status in a wider subgroup of the well-to-do: creative professionals – especially now that, in some areas, the Blade is a better deal on paper than Apple’s latest MacBook Pro.

The video editor that just so happens to be a PC gamer, it looks like Razer’s after you with this green machine. And, with stronger graphics than ever, it’s definitely worth your consideration.

Razer Blade 2016

We liked

Razer has crammed more into its Blade laptop than ever while somehow making it the lightest it has ever been all over again. More (and better) ports and stronger graphics with the same battery life – yet, there’s a (albeit barely) smaller device containing it all.

The updated and improved Chroma keyboard lighting brings fun and personalization to the experience of using a Blade, but also tactical advantage and an overall more premium look and feel. Who knew that the arms race between Alienware and Razer would really be about keyboard lights?

We disliked

While Razer has widened the available options when purchasing a Blade in bringing back the Full HD screen option and three storage options, it would be nice to tweak other parts of the system before checkout, like RAM and even the GPU. Understandably, that would require more engineering work on Razer’s part to ensure more parts work with its chassis designs.

And, new graphics are always a welcome addition, but this time around they’ve made the Blade a bit louder than we’d like. While headphones might save your ears from competing over the fans to get that cutscene dialog, those around you will undoubtedly hear the turbines.

Final verdict

We’ve always appreciated Razer’s Blade gaming laptops for their attention to build quality and design. It’s something that, at the time of their debut, was a bit lacking in the world of Windows notebooks. From the start, Razer has always been after a very specific type of gamer.

And, it’s with this latest revision that we finally see who that is. With the addition of Thunderbolt 3 and now the latest graphics tech: Razer has made its Blade a rather appealing option to people that both work (or study) in visual fields and happen to be PC gamers.

It’s a broadened niche nevertheless, but at least this one is easier to understand (or let pass without silent judgment from the DIY diehards) than simply “PC gamers.”

Razer Blade 2016

Being focused on value at TechRadar, Razer’s laptops have always been difficult to sum up. There’s no doubt about the Blade’s build quality and attention to detail, not to mention its graphical capabilities.

It will always be true that the same level of performance can be found within laptops that are generally bulkier and uglier (albeit lacking in modern features by comparison) for hundreds less. But now, with an even further reduced price when stacked up to the leader in laptops for creative types, Razer’s proposition puts the question of “what’s valuable to you?” front and center.

With stronger graphics than ever, the new Razer Blade is the veritable MacBook Pro of the PC scene, with all of the well-earned, esteemed accolades (and small derisions) that implies.

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