Putting the Razer Blade Through Its Gaming Paces [Update]

Razer's sleek and stylish Blade gaming laptop is slowly making its way into the hands of customers ballsy enough to drop $2,800 on an untested product from a company that's never made a gaming laptop before. Did their gamble pay off? Update: A settings tweak has changed the game.

The day my Razer Blade review unit arrived I could not get over the unit's looks. Thin and deadly, with nothing but some vents and the odd stylized squid marring its sleek black exterior, this is one appealingly design machine. Upon hitting the power switch one would be forgiven for expecting it to purr to life like some exotic sports car.

Just don't expect it to drive quite like one.

Let's take a game-by-game look at how the machine has performed so far.

Since Saturday I've been on a mad downloading spree, attempting to fulfill all of the requests I received for games to test out on Razer's new system. At the mercy of my internet connection I managed to grab several of the most requested titles, with others still in the queue.

Before we begin, here's a quick refresher on the unit's specs:

• 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 2640M Processor
• 8GB 1333MHz DDR3 Memory
• 17.3" LED Backlit Display (1920x1080)
• NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M with NVIDIA Optimus Technology 2GB Dedicated GDDR5 Video Memory
• Built-in HD Webcam
• Integrated 60Wh Battery
• 250GB SSD Storage
• Wireless Network 802.11 b/g/n Compatible
• Battery: 6 hours idle, 2 1/2 if playing "hardcore" game.
• 16.81" (Width) x 10.9" (Depth) x 0.88" (Height); 6.97lbs (Weight)

Not exactly mind-blowing specs, but then that's not what the Razer Blade is all about. As the company likes to point out, the Razer Blade is about portability and convenience more than it is about power. At less than an inch thick and weighing in at around six pounds, this is the most portable 17 inch gaming laptop around.

Now let's see how the most portable 17 inch gaming laptop around performed, shall we?

League of Legends: The Razer Blade is a monster when it comes to Riot Games' ridiculously popular multiplayer online battle arena game. Then again so is my $500 Best Buy laptop — League of Legends isn't exactly a resource-intensive title. It just looks much better on the Blade's large and lovely screen. With settings maxed and shadows on high I got a uniform 60 frames per second, by far the best performance of all the games I tried. It's also one of the only games I could recommend using the Blade's built-in Switchblade touchpad user interface to control — anything more action-intensive cries out for an external mouse. Luckily the Blade comes packed with one.

Battlefield 3: I was frightened about running Battlefield 3 on the Blade, worried I might hurt its delicate innards. Indeed attempting to run it on Ultra settings was like transforming the beautiful black box into the world's most expensive slide projector. Thankfully the issue righted itself with one simple step down to High settings, running at a relatively constant 30 frames per second, more than enough for me to get my ass shot off.

It bears noting that running anything more demanding than League of Legends generated a fair amount of heat under the unit. I've not had any problems arise from rising temperatures yet, but it does get quite uncomfortable when attempting to play with the unit in my lap. Well, first it gets nice. Then it gets uncomfortable. Or maybe it's just uncomfortable for everybody now. MOVING ON...

Star Wars: The Old Republic: BioWare's massively multiplayer game in a galaxy far, far away seriously stuttered on any setting greater than Low. Mind you it plays like a dream on Low (or as much like a dream as The Old Republic can get), and is certainly good for a couple of quick quests or a flashpoint or two while sipping your coffee at Starbucks, where America goes to tech new technology.

The Witcher 2: Here's where I was expecting the Blade to really choke. Considering the problems my high-powered gaming desktop had running The Witcher 2 at launch, surely the Blade would trip over its own sword and fall on it here. Damn CD Projekt for their patches and fixes, ruining my fun. Again the Blade managed to perform admirably under all but the highest settings, though of course the lower the graphics the better the performance.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: It was in the wintry hills of Skyrim that the Blade struggled the most, low frame rates rearing their ugly heads until I set the game to low, and even then the heads were still mighty ugly. The Switchblade touchpad also exhibited extreme amounts of lag in the latest Elder Scrolls game, scrolling a lot like one would expect an elder to scroll; incredibly slowly.


That's all I've had time to download so far, but it's easy enough to make out the general trend: Don't expect to play much of anything with the graphics settings maxxed out.

But then as Razer's director of product marketing Heathcliff Hatcher explains, that's not what the Blade was designed to do.

"We believe if performance is all that matters, then a cheaper and more powerful desktop should be the way to go. If it's a laptop, then we sacrifice some performance (but it should still play games well) but portability is just as important. 0.88" thin and 6lbs with good performance in our view is better than 2-3" thick and 12-16lbs. Again, if someone just cares about performance we think Origin makes a phenomenal laptop and they should get it. But it's just a really different product type and we didn't intend it to be a straight up head to head benchmark – how do you benchmark how someone feels when they carry a Razer Blade vs. a traditional gaming laptop all day?"

He's right, you know. Origin does make a damn fine laptop, but I wouldn't want to carry it around in my backpack all day. Someone might steal it!

Perhaps that wasn't the point.

Also keep in mind that there are video driver updates and such in the pipes that will likely render these initial impressions moot, in which case I just wasted a great deal of time.

I'll have more on the Razer Blade in the next couple weeks as I carry it about everywhere I go and fiddle about with that glowing LCD touchscreen they've placed next to the keyboard.

Update: After some time spent troubleshooting technical issues with Razer, I discovered that for some reason my unit's NVIDIA graphics card was not engaging, leaving the poor onboard Intel card to attempt to handle games that it should never have touched.

Once the good graphics card was actually working I was able to run Star Wars: The Old Republic on high with a satisfactory frame rate, Skyrim is actually playable (it auto-detects at Ultra High), and Battlefield 3 — well it still chugs on Ultra, but not quite as badly as it did before.