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Razer Blade 15 review: hot under pressure

Speed, lights, and (nearly) everything nice

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

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Most of the excitement around gaming laptops is about potential versatility. It’s great that you can play PC games at ultra settings on a thin-and-light laptop — something the new Razer Blade 15 does with proficiency — but the challenge is finding one that can also work as a practical everyday laptop, something that can blaze through intensive workflows like photo editing, having two dozen tabs open, and Slack at the same time.

Many of the gaming laptops we’ve been testing can do those things, but they lack the more detail-oriented comforts that are the makeup of a great laptop: good battery life, an excellent trackpad, solid build quality, and speakers that sound good.

The new Blade 15 starts at $1,899, but this unit as configured with a six-core Core i7, GTX 1070 with Max Q, full HD 144Hz display, and 512GB SSD retails for $2,599 — making it an expensive machine. An equivalent MacBook Pro with an older quad-core CPU, 16GB RAM, and 512GB storage is $2,799. Meanwhile, the MSI GS65 with identical specs retails for $1,999 exclusively at BestBuy.

The Razer Blade 15 is expensive, but that price gets you many of the things missing from lesser gaming laptops. It’s gotten my hopes up for being not only a great gaming laptop, but a great laptop in general. Unfortunately, it gets hot under pressure.

This new refresh for the Razer Blade 15 uses a squared-off unibody design and has the smallest footprint of any 15.6-inch laptop in its class. It still has the best build quality of any gaming laptop: there’s no keyboard or palm rest flex and the display needs to be aggressively twisted to exhibit any flex. This is impressive for a thin-and-light system that weighs 4.63 pounds and is just 0.68 inches thick.

High-end laptops can’t flex. Razer gets this

On the sides, the Blade 15 has three USB-A ports, one USB-C Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm combo audio jack, and a proprietary reversible power jack. That covers most of the ports you’ll need for gaming, though it would have been nice to have an SD card slot for creative work.

Razer’s unibody design evokes Apple’s MacBook Pro, and it makes for a premium-feeling computer that justifies its high cost. However, with the latest processors and super-powerful graphics cards, it seems like the spec sheet has outgrown the chassis design.

Hot, hot, hot!

Under heavy workload, the Razer Blade 15 becomes scorching hot. It is, without exaggeration, the hottest gaming laptop under strain I’ve used. The heat extends from above the function key row down to the palm rests. It’s not the kind of thing you can ignore — if you play long enough on the Blade, you’ll feel the heat under your fingertips and palms. Forget about trying to use it on your lap.

Razer says the Blade 15 has a “vapor chamber cooling system,” a unique system made of 68 heat exchangers and two 44-blade fans that are supposed to both dissipate heat under the machine and move it away from you. This system works well enough to prevent the Blade 15 from overheating and shutting down, but you can still feel warmth in the palm rests, as well as the suction of air from the fans that are near the left “Tab” and “Enter” keys.

The heat is only an issue when doing heavy-processing (gaming, video editing, etc.), otherwise the Blade 15 keeps a quiet and cool profile with Firefox tabs, Spotify, Discord, and Slack apps open. But the Blade 15 was built to game — and it does — but it’s much worse at managing heat than other gaming laptops in this class. This results in not just discomfort, but also a concern that the Blade’s high-end internal components will wear out faster than if they were cooled better.

Aside from all the heat, the Blade 15 powers through the latest games like a champ. It can run a variety of popular PC games at ultra settings and over 100FPS with ease, including but not limited to: Destiny 2, Rainbow Six: Siege, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Battlefield 1.

The Blade 15 can square up with more games than you own

All of these titles played well without having to turn on “Gaming” performance mode within the Razer Synapse app, which increases fan speed (and noise) while also boosting the GPU an additional 100MHz and an additional 300MHz for the VRAM. There are noticeable (10–15 fps) performance improvements when using the Gaming mode, but since the Blade 15 can already push things over 100fps without it, I didn’t find it necessary.

The Blade 15 can eke out between five and six hours of battery life for basic productivity tasks and web browsing, provided you dim keyboard and screen brightness. It’s slightly better than the MSI GS65’s battery life under the same conditions and far ahead of competing gaming laptops like the ASUS Zephyrus M, which hardly lasted three hours.

Razer’s default display for the Blade 15 is a 60Hz FHD panel, with 144Hz FHD and 60Hz 4K options. I can’t think of any circumstance where you’d want to spend $1,899 on a gaming laptop and not get the benefit of a faster refresh display, so gamers should pony up for the 144Hz panel or go home. Photographers and video editors will be better suited by the higher-resolution 4K panel, which also offers touch capability and 100 percent Adobe RGB coverage.

Preeetty colors...

The 144Hz I’ve been testing display is dimmer than other laptops — noticeably so — a low point which is slightly offset by its claimed 100 percent sRGB compliance. Using a Spyder5Ultimate colorimeter, I ended up getting 95 percent sRGB coverage instead of the advertised 100 percent  — mass-produced displays can have some variance — however, Razer claims both the FHD and 4K versions come correctly calibrated out of the factory. The difference is also not likely to be noticeable to your naked eye.

Overall, the Blade 15’s display does a solid job with color reproduction, with enough contrast, saturation, and vibrance that you could pick up differences in color in a colorful game, like Destiny 2. The dimmer display makes it hard to use the Blade 15 outdoors or by a sunny window, but it’s fine for indoor gaming sessions.

The Blade’s keyboard is similar to the one on the prior generation, with a good tactile experience and extensively customizable RGB lighting options. But the keys are surprisingly small, especially for a laptop of this size.

These keycaps couldn’t get any smaller, could they?

This is not just a matter of personal preference, because a simple glance at competing laptops in the same class will tell you that the Blade 15 has the smallest keycaps. I may have nimble fingers, but even I ended up having several missteps before I got used to the keyboard, which took a few days. Also, the right shift key is to the right of an arrow key, which is very difficult to get accustomed to.

Fortunately, the Precision touchpad on the new Blade 15 is a major improvement over Razer’s previous offerings, putting it in line with the Surface devices in terms of smoothness and responsiveness. It’s a big touchpad, supports all of Windows 10’s multifinger gestures, and is overall pleasant to use. Like most other modern touchpads, it has integrated left and right click buttons, as opposed to the separate buttons on the old Blade, but I didn’t find that to be an issue.

A great touchpad and good speakers

Speaker grilles flank the sides of the keyboard, taking up a considerable amount of real estate and for good reason: they sound good. There is enough detail at high and mid frequencies to fill a small room with sound from a music video or game, along with a touch of bass that gives it a sense of presence. These are the best speakers on a gaming laptop I’ve tested this year.

For some reason, Razer has chosen not to include Windows Hello support — via fingerprint or facial recognition — despite the power button being the perfect spot for it. It’s 2018 and every laptop over $1,000 should have the technology; especially for a $2,000+ monster like the Blade 15.

Despite a few missteps, the Blade 15 has great performance, sleek design, and the ability for user customization all the way down to fan speeds. Unfortunately, a lot of the excitement fades when you experience just how hot the Blade 15 can get under heavy workload.

It’s almost everything I wished for... almost

Still, the Razer Blade 15 is the best attempt at a high-end gaming laptop that can also work as a primary, everyday computer. It has the best build quality, sound, and battery life of any current gaming laptop, and can still game like a desktop. On top of that, it’s thin and light enough that you can take it anywhere. For all of that, the Blade 15’s price is worth it.

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