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Razer's Second-Generation Blade Notebook Review: Focusing On The Z

Razer's Second-Generation Blade Notebook Review: Focusing On The Z
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Razer recently sent us its second-gen Blade, complete with a Core i7-3632QM quad-core CPU and GeForce GTX 660M. Eight gigabytes of memory, a 500 GB hard drive, and an SSD cache round out this 17" gaming notebook. Would you believe it's less than 1" thick?

Notebook designers talk about the “Z” (axis) when they refer to the designed thickness of a machine or components inside. The lower the Z, the tougher it is to add complexity and dispel heat. Hence, most gaming notebooks are on the thicker side, since they need the room for large heat sinks and fans. A thermal solution capable of removing the 150+ watts of heat that a high-end gaming system produces simply couldn’t fit inside a MacBook Air. High heat can lead to several unwanted effects. It can shorten the life of batteries and traditional hard drives. Heat can also make a machine uncomfortable to use. In a notebook with a Z as low as Razer's Blade, getting components to fit in, while also getting heat out, becomes the major challenge.   

Razer’s motto is “For Gamers. By Gamers”, and it started catering to that demographic in the 90s. Initially, Razer focused on high-end gaming mice to help enthusiasts get the most performance possible by staying on the cutting edge of technology, functionality, and ergonomics. Over the past decade, though, we've seen the company expand its portfolio to include keyboards, headsets, console controllers, and even gaming laptops.

When Razer expanded its line-up with the original Blade, it was a major departure from most gaming notebooks that came before. Razer designed the Blade to generate as much performance as possible in a portable machine, yet it still incorporated a large 17” screen. The company eschewed the bulk and heft of laptop frames commonly used in other 17” gaming machines in favor of a thinner, sculpted body that reduced overall weight. Instead of a large OEM power adapter, Razer created its own, which was lighter and smaller. Instead of a typical trackpad, it included a small touchscreen running the Switchblade UI and ten customizable keys.

The original Razer Blade (released at the tail end of 2011) dealt with thermal challenges by employing a dual-core processor and Nvidia's GeForce GT 555M, a combination that didn't require as much cooling as competing 17" gaming machine. Unfortunately, the match-up also caused the first-gen Blade to lag behind other notebooks in measures of absolute performance. The machine was capable of mid-range gaming, sure. But it was also slower than other systems selling at lower prices. Razer's Blade had the looks and the portability, but it lacked muscle. In the quest for a low Z, the performance trade-off was a little too severe. 

The second-generation Blade, which we are reviewing today, represents a major effort to upgrade the machine's performance, while retaining the thinness and features that set the original apart. With a unique quad-core CPU that only dissipates up to 35 watts and a highly-overclocked GeForce GTX 660M, the new Blade should move up a couple of tiers in terms of speed. The cooling system is completely revamped to be more effective than the original, too. To save space, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are covered by one card. In the end, the second-gen Blade should be what Razer's customers were hoping for all along: the right mix of looks, performance, and portability. Is this the one?

Razer Blade (Second Generation) System Specs
Processor
Intel Core i7-3632QM Quad Core: 4C/8T, 2.2 GHz Base Clock Rate, 3.2 GHz Maximum Turbo Boost, 6 MB Shared L3 Cache, 35 W TDP
Platform
Intel HM77 Express Chipset
Memory
8 GB Dual-Channel DDR3 at 1600 MT/s
Graphics
Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M 2 GB GDDR5 with Nvidia Optimus Technology
Solid State Drive
Lite-On LMT-64M3M64GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD with Nvelo Dataplex Software (Cache Acceleration)
Hard Drive
Hitachi HTS725050A7E630 500 GB 7,200 RPM Hard Drive (Primary Storage)
Display
AU Optronics B173HW01 V5 17.3" FHD 16:9 Glossy LED Backlight LCD, 1920x1080
Wi-Fi
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 AGN 2x2 HMC Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Adapter (802.11a/g/n) + BT V4.0
Ethernet
Realtek RTL8168 PCIe 10/100/1,000 Mb/s Ethernet
Audio
Stereo 2.0 with Dolby Home Theater v4 and HDMI 1.4 Support
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Webcam
Integrated Webcam / Microphone
Security
Kensington Security Slot
Ports
USB 3.0 (x3), Headphone/Mic Combo, HDMI v1.4
Battery
Integrated 60 Wh (64.5 Wh Capacity as shown in test unit)
AC Adapter
120 W
Weight
6.6 lbs
Dimensions
16.81" (Width) x 10.9" (Depth) x 0.88" (Height)
Warranty
One Year Tech Support, Labor, and Parts.Extended 2 year warranty (excludes battery) for an additional $299.99.
Price
$2,499
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Top Comments
  • 11 Hide
    Pyree , March 24, 2013 11:49 PM
    g-unit1111I very badly need to get a new laptop but this one is way too rich for my blood. I would definitely consider this if it were about $1K less.

    Lenovo Y580/Y500 GT650m SLI
  • 10 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 24, 2013 10:26 PM
    Wow, this is a very thorough review! Great work!

    This notebook has looked into almost every possible detail. I was particularly impressed that in the heat run, the "WASD" key area was cooler than the rest. This bespeaks extreme attention to details.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    ShadyHamster , March 24, 2013 10:12 PM
    Having all the I/O on the left isn't such a bad idea, keeps the right side clear so cables don't get in the way if you use a mouse close to your laptop like i do.
  • 10 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 24, 2013 10:26 PM
    Wow, this is a very thorough review! Great work!

    This notebook has looked into almost every possible detail. I was particularly impressed that in the heat run, the "WASD" key area was cooler than the rest. This bespeaks extreme attention to details.
  • 5 Hide
    Chairman Ray , March 24, 2013 10:45 PM
    This is an amazing system. Great job by Razer! I won't be buying it due to the steep price tag, but definitely going to recommend it to those who are willing to pay for the best.
  • 5 Hide
    xpeh , March 24, 2013 11:10 PM
    While the price is steep, this laptop is definitely one of the best looking gaming laptops I've ever seen.
  • 2 Hide
    g-unit1111 , March 24, 2013 11:47 PM
    I very badly need to get a new laptop but this one is way too rich for my blood. I would definitely consider this if it were about $1K less.
  • 11 Hide
    Pyree , March 24, 2013 11:49 PM
    g-unit1111I very badly need to get a new laptop but this one is way too rich for my blood. I would definitely consider this if it were about $1K less.

    Lenovo Y580/Y500 GT650m SLI
  • 4 Hide
    slomo4sho , March 25, 2013 1:32 AM
    xpehWhile the price is steep, this laptop is definitely one of the best looking gaming laptops I've ever seen.

    IMO having a $1000 gaming desktop and spending $500-600 on a laptop when Haswell comes out is probably much more economical for the occasional gaming on a laptop paired with a sold desktop to enjoy the higher quality graphics. Even at $2500, this laptop can't even keep up with the $500 budget gaming build from last month.
  • 0 Hide
    de5_Roy , March 25, 2013 2:47 AM
    nice review. :) 
    my real amusement came from the apu-powered laptop's performance, though. it bottlenecked the discreet gpu so badly.... :D 
  • 4 Hide
    corvak , March 25, 2013 4:06 AM
    Gaming laptops have never been priced in a range that makes them worth buying for me. They don't really have enough battery life to really take advantage of portability, and the price/performance is in a whole other league if you compare it to any desktop build.

    Even buying a cheap laptop for travel use alongside a gaming desktop is likely to come in cheaper than many of these.
  • -1 Hide
    Goose_Nipples , March 25, 2013 5:28 AM
    ARMY'S KA-Bar?!?!?!?! Hooooooold up my friend. Devil dog here who's jimmies have most assuredly been rustled.
  • -1 Hide
    Cryio , March 25, 2013 5:47 AM
    Was it just me or did I actually see Battlefield 3 perform BETTER than Black Ops 2, on max settings (albest FXAA+4xMSAA vs 8xMSAA). The f**c CoD...
  • 1 Hide
    oatmeal25 , March 25, 2013 6:00 AM
    This laptop is not for me. I care more about performance than style.

    The Lenovo Y580 WAS a great affordable option (a third to half the cost of Razer's model) with similar performance to this system. Sadly is was recently discontinued and replaced by the inferior Y500.
  • 1 Hide
    A Bad Day , March 25, 2013 6:07 AM
    Um, couldn't I get a Lenovo Y580 for the same hardware config? Or a Sager NP 9130 for around $1300 with less weight?
  • 0 Hide
    de5_Roy , March 25, 2013 6:15 AM
    Quote:
    Was it just me or did I actually see Battlefield 3 perform BETTER than Black Ops 2, on max settings (albest FXAA+4xMSAA vs 8xMSAA). The f**c CoD...

    i think it's because the bf3 bench was the single player campaign which is gpu bound - the 7970m gpu performs less restricted by the apu.. irc tom's cod bop ii review didn't have cpu benchmarks. i didn't know that it was more cpu bound. that's why the msi gx60's performance looks so pathetic - which in turn gives the impression of bf3 performing better than cod bop ii.
  • 2 Hide
    blazorthon , March 25, 2013 6:22 AM
    slomo4shoIMO having a $1000 gaming desktop and spending $500-600 on a laptop when Haswell comes out is probably much more economical for the occasional gaming on a laptop paired with a sold desktop to enjoy the higher quality graphics. Even at $2500, this laptop can't even keep up with the $500 budget gaming build from last month.


    Although I agree with what you say about the costs, to be fair, you can get $1500 or so laptops that compete with the last low-end SBM system (which was $600, not $500) in gaming performance. For example, a $1450 configuration of one of Clevo's laptops get's a quad-core i7 3640QM (a little better than the one in this Razer) and a Radeon 7970M (much, much faster than GTX 660M).
  • 0 Hide
    gxpbecker , March 25, 2013 6:42 AM
    Nifty, but yes you can get a MSI with a bit more power
    The GT60 comes with the same CPU but with 660m, 670mx, 675x and 680m/mx for 1500 - 1900 range. For gaming laptops those are my fav. Now the size/weight are not comparable LOL

    Wife is running a GT60 with the 670mx and it takes everything beautifully. Very surprised at how cool it runs even after a few hours in GW2 lol
  • 0 Hide
    dscudella , March 25, 2013 7:07 AM
    I couldn't live without a 10 key on my laptop. Something I've gotten used to.
  • 0 Hide
    warezme , March 25, 2013 7:31 AM
    The Razor has come a long way. When the first version came out I was going to buy but it had tooo many limitations for the price. Much of this has been cleared up. Unfortunately, I probably won't be shopping for another game laptop for a while since I bought the M17X and while huge compared to this, it is still performance wise a superior machine and highly expandable with more ports than the Razor can offer.
  • 4 Hide
    zyzeast , March 25, 2013 7:40 AM
    I just spend less than half that much on a 15" 1080P MSI GT60 with a GTX 675M video card and same CPU, yea it's thicker but as awesome as this thing is, it's not worth the price tag.
  • 3 Hide
    bokeh , March 25, 2013 8:20 AM
    Quote:
    Um, couldn't I get a Lenovo Y580 for the same hardware config? Or a Sager NP 9130 for around $1300 with less weight?


    Both the Lenovo and Sager have 15.6" displays and are much more traditional designs. The Blade is Razer's statement on how a gaming notebook can be engineered and built. You get a lot of features and much more style than the Lenovo or Sager. There is nothing wrong with choosing any of those 3 machines if they suit your needs and budget. What computer you ultimately choose will depend on what matters to you. My goal is not to help sell a system. My goal is to help the readers of Tom's Hardware make well informed decisions.

    If there is something out there that you want to see reviewed, feel free to send me a PM.
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