I'm a professional. I'm a gamer. But I'm not a professional gamer
. I tend to buy a new laptop about every 2 years, and recently I've maintained one thin-and-light laptop (currently a 13" Macbook Pro) and one laptop powerful enough for AAA gaming. I also have a gaming desktop, but I'm seriously trying to find a way to ditch it. Soon
. My dream is total convergence (one laptop for everything, no desktop).
A few things about me that influenced my decision to buy the Razer Blade 15:
- I'm a High Quality Touchpad Snob (HQTS). The awesome touchpad on the Macbook Pro made me intolerant of bad (small, inaccurate, bad palm detection) touchpads.
- I'm willing to pay top dollar for the best stuff. I actually manage to get a huge portion of my investment back when selling 1-2 year-old laptops on eBay, so in the end, I'm not paying anywhere *near* the $4000/year that it appears that I spend on laptops. Most of the laptop brands I buy hold their value well, and I often upgrade the Windows ones (Macs aren't upgradeable) to further increase their value.
- I value portability but also need good specs. I'm a road warrior, often on the go for work or fun, and need to have both games and my work environment at my fingertips without carrying around a massive desktop replacement workstation or something.
The way I see it, the Razer Blade 15 is a convenient fusion of a great touchpad (well, the best outside of Macbooks), portability (well, the lightest/smallest laptop with a 1070), and high enough specs to run everything I do across all parts of my life (fun and work). It was also cheaper than the brand new 2018 Macbook Pro fully specced-out, and doesn't require me to dual-boot MacOS and Windows like that would.
When I first got to the point when I realized that the Razer Blade 15 was something I wanted to buy, it was sold out. I'm sure this is a very common theme for anyone who didn't buy it in May when they sent out the "beta" launch.
Fortunately, it started coming back into stock around July 11. I ordered it from Razer's own store around 2 AM (why do I always order new laptops at 2 AM? When I'm feeling particularly weak-willed, maybe?) on Wednesday, July 11.
Now, I want to share with you the incredible (incredibly good
) shipping experience I had. I know it won't matter long term, but it was a really welcome touch and super impressive on the part of Razer and the carrier.
I live on the east coast of the US, and my laptop took 30 hours from the time I placed the order online, until the laptop was in my hands. 30 HOURS
. And it came from an incredibly far away place: Hong Kong. How the modern shipping industry can get a laptop from Hong Kong to the eastern seaboard of the US in 30 hours is beyond me. Did Razer request that it go on board a supersonic military cargo plane or something? Huge props to Fedex and Razer for this. I must've gotten really lucky with the shipment timings though. I picked it up from a local Fedex Office shop so I wouldn't have to be home to sign it, so it didn't even disrupt my workday! :)
I've read countless horror stories of people with busted RB15s with various overheating, keyboard, screen problems. My unit is perfect
. The keyboard is fully working and intact, the touchpad works well once I customized the settings, there's no backlight bleed at all, and the GPU stays at reasonable temperatures in a climate-controlled room.
So here's what I got:
- 1080p / 144 Hz / GTX 1070 / 256 GB SSD model
- I upgraded the SSD to a 2 TB Samsung 970 EVO as soon as I got it, after activating Windows so I'd have the license on my account and could re-activate on the new SSD. I actually transferred the SSD out of my old laptop, an Alienware 13 R3, but I had to wipe it to make it work properly with the new laptop, and put Windows 10 v1803 on it.
- I upgraded the RAM to 32 GB DDR4-2666. I run a virtual machine with 8 GB of RAM pretty much all the time, so it's definitely helpful.
Pretty easy. Didn't need a knife or scissors. Peel off some sticky tape and open it up. Came in a very well protected box-in-a-box. I'm not a violent opener like AvE (look him up on Youtube) but I also didn't want to destroy any of the packaging in case I needed to return it :P
I didn't really check out what was on the SSD out of the box, since I almost immediately swapped it out with a new one which I installed a fresh copy of Windows on.
I'm 99% sure this is something entirely software-related, but there is a new feature of Windows 10 Pro v1803 called "Virtualization-based Security" (which includes Device Guard, Certificate Guard, etc.) and it basically uses a virtual machine to guard your security processes on Windows 10. It also alters the boot process.
When I enabled Virtualization-based Security and Hyper-V Client (Windows 10's built-in virtual machine hypervisor), starting a VM would completely hang the OS about 90% of the time. Somewhat horrifyingly, even a full power cycle would often fail to boot the OS again from cold powered off. I discovered that plugging in a USB Windows 10 installation drive would cause the OS to boot again (why, I have no clue).
I ended up ditching Hyper-V entirely and disabling Virtualization-Based Security. The feature is probably
not this buggy on a Windows Server box with server-grade hardware. My current working theory is that one of Razer or Intel's laptop/desktop focused drivers is conflicting with Hyper-V or VBS because they use weird features of the CPU like VT-x, EPT, and different rings than usual. VMware Workstation Pro works fine.
For a second there, I thought my SSD was dead, but it turned out to be software. It's perfectly reliable even under load as long as I don't try to start a Hyper-V VM.
BTW, installing new RAM requires careful removal of some tape that apparently carries a ribbon cable from one part of the mobo to another. Didn't take the time to figure out what exactly it was doing, but I was able to carefully peel up the tape, remove the RAM, put in new RAM, then press the tape back down. Worked fine. Just don't be rough on it and you'll be fine.
Don't strip the screws!
So I have taken apart the bottom panel of the laptop exactly twice: once to install the SSD/RAM, and again when I was troubleshooting the Hyper-V problem and under the false impression that maybe the SSD was coming loose from its socket and hanging the system. The first time
I took it apart and screwed it back together, apparently I stripped one of the screw holes. Trying to remove the screw by turning it doesn't cause it to come out of the hole at all.
Fortunately I was able to get the laptop back together and the other screws fit fine (they're Torx screws, but I have an iFixit 64-bit kit so I was able to find the ideal bit for them) but I want to caution you guys NOT
to over-torque the screws when putting them back in!!!! It's ridiculously easy to strip them. One half-turn too many and you're dead. Just screw them in until the screw head is flush with the chassis. If you have exactly one screw that gets stripped, you can probably work around it by unscrewing the rest of the case and gently prying upwards to get the case open. If you get multiple screws stripped, your case will have a gap in it and that's not good, plus getting it open would be a royal pain.
I'm not planning to RMA it over this, as I doubt I'll open the laptop again for at least a year or so (maybe I will to clean it out, but I'll have to be very careful because of the stripped screw) but I don't think there will be any worthwhile upgrades coming down the pipe that would be compatible with this hardware.
The Win10 Pro v1803 experience: Gaming
"But does it game?" Oh, hell yes. It games. At 1080p you can easily
push 60 fps in almost anything except alpha games (which are usually not optimized yet; hello Star Citizen). Games that have lower requirements and can run comfortably at 100+ fps feel really fluid and fantastic. Scrolling in a modern browser at 144 Hz is nothing short of orgasmic, especially with the precision touchpad.
I'm a typical IT monkey for work. I'm able to do most of my work from my personal machine in a VM. The keyboard is generally fantastic; it feels almost like the keyboard of a Lenovo Thinkpad T530, but the keys are just slightly less "bouncy" than those (which, trust me, is a good thing). I think I prefer the keyboard of an Alienware 13 R3 slightly more -- Dell's keyboard makes accurate typing really easy -- and I also prefer a Macbook Pro's butterfly keyboard (if it's not broken :P). But it's perfectly serviceable for fast typing in most cases.
My primary gripe is that I'm having to get used to the special snowflake keyboard layout that Razer went with. The worst offense is moving the up arrow to the left of the right shift key, which I use habitually when typing on a laptop (I switch back and forth between left and right shift on desktop mechanical keyboards depending on the keyboard size). I really have to reach far with my right pinky to hit the right shift key, and hitting left shift is awkward and slows me down. I end up hitting the up arrow more often than not, and hitting the forward slash or questionmark key is even harder for some reason.
I don't think the keyboard design is necessarily
worse. It's probably fine for games that use the up/down/left/right arrows a lot; in fact it's probably easier for that use than putting the arrows on the far bottom-right. But I guarantee it will take you a lot of getting used to if you're a fast typer and need good productivity.
The other difficult part is that there's no Home/End keys on the keyboard. I use them constantly when editing text in a code editor, but now I have to use Fn + left/right/up/down -- which aren't standard shortcuts by any means, but perhaps reminiscent of MacOS a bit. I hope I'll get used to it. I really hope I do. Otherwise coding will be a nightmare on this keyboard. Just typing this article took some patience.
So how's that touchpad?
I'd say the Macbook Pro's touchpad is still better, but once you disable tap-and-hold to drag (I end u p accidentally dragging something all the time with that setting enabled), it's quite awesome. In the rare time that I need to drag and drop, I use the "click" button on the bottom-left of the pad to be a regular mouse left click, then move the pointer with another finger to drop it.
of the touchpad is fantastic. Trust me, a larger touchpad is better.
One thing I really appreciate about this touchpad for gaming is that you can be "clicking" to, e.g., pan your camera in a game, at the same time as typing (e.g. using WASD)! This isn't really possible due to limitations in the software on many other gaming laptops, which is sad. So unless you need super precise accuracy, gaming on this touchpad is quite feasible. Fine for MMOs or turn-based strategy at least.
One thing I wish they'd do is copy Apple's "force touchpad" feature where the entire touchpad can be used to make physical clicks. I tried doing that, but the resistance the touchpad gives before it'll register a click increases the further up the touchpad you go. It's only really easy to click in the proper bottom-left and bottom-right corners. So I end up "smacking" the touchpad (a light, fast touch with one or two fingers) to click because otherwise I'd have to move my finger down there and slowly press the touchpad down to use the physical click.
In short, I don't like using the "buttons" underneath the touchpad at all. I'm fine with them for drag and drop (because otherwise drag and drop is far too sensitive with tap and hold), but I'd prefer to be able to "click" anywhere and disable tap-to-click entirely. Then it would be a Macbook touchpad and I'd love it.
So, full disclosure, I have a gigabit Internet connection at home. Okay. So there's no proper WiFi solution out there (other than 802.11ad, which fails if you don't have line of sight to the router, and this laptop doesn't have it anyway) that can push the full gigabit that my Internet uplink is capable of.
Keeping that in mind, all
my other laptops (Alienware 13 R3, Macbook Pro 2016) have a more reliable
Wifi connection to my router, at the very least, I've never experienced Youtube videos dropping out until I got this laptop :P Phone, tablet, other laptops all are perfectly fluid streaming YT at 1080p60. This wifi card is probably
quite excellent, but just has some buggy driver that they'll hopefully fix (I forgive Intel because it's an extremely new WiFi chip).
The Bluetooth, that's on the same chip as the wifi, works perfectly well with good Bluetooth headphones. Bluetooth 5? Heck yeah. The range is excellent and it's super reliable, even low latency. Suitable for gaming and music listening with some high-quality BT headphones (I don't want to throw out any brand names to avoid downvotes from people who hate that brand :P)
It gets hot when gaming, but mostly just underneath
DO NOT sit this laptop on your lap and game. Please don't. It will ruin your ability to reproduce if you are male. Not sure about what it does to women, but you still probably shouldn't tempt it to ruin your reproductive system. It gets dangerously hot.
It stays pretty cool when your Nvidia card isn't in use. This is to be expected, though. It has a cooling system designed to cool a massive gaming GPU, which, when that's idle, the rest of the system pretty trivially stays at almost room temperature. Using a lot of the CPU will make it a little hotter, but not terribly much. The only thing that makes it seriously hot is gaming while it's plugged in.
Is it actually light and thin?
I guess all judgments about its physical weight and dimensions are subjective, but I would roughly describe it as follows:
- Appreciably thinner and lighter than the Alienware 13 R3 (you can really feel the difference when holding it or putting it in a bag)
- A lot thicker and beefier than a 13" Macbook Pro
- Only slightly thicker and not significantly larger than a 15" Macbook Pro
For something that's only a LITTLE thicker than a 15" Macbook Pro, having double the GPU performance of even the brand-new MBP is quite nice. That Radeon Pro 560X doesn't hold a candle to the GTX 1070 Max-Q :D Razer has pulled off a great feat of engineering in cramming such a heavyweight GPU into such a thin package.
Overall, I love it so far! I'm a happy customer.
Remember that these numbers are pretty arbitrary, subjective, and based on my emotions as well as logic, so keep all that in mind. Please don't rage if you disagree strongly with one of my ratings - it's just one man's opinion.
- GPU performance: 10/10
- Keyboard: 6/10 for being different, but 9/10 once you adjust
- Touchpad: 7/10 when compared to Macbook Pro's force touchpad; 10/10 compared to other Windows laptops
- Wifi: 7/10 currently; 10/10 once Intel fixes their buggy driver.
- Bluetooth: 10/10
- Physical rigidity/durability: 9/10
- Serviceability/upgradeability: 8/10 (would've liked another M.2 slot and less crappy bottom panel screws)
- CPU performance: I haven't really pushed it to its limit / 10
- Lack of fingerprint reader: 10/10 (I wish it had one, lol)
- Ratio of performance to weight/size: 100/10 (truly world-class)
- Connectivity: 10/10 (it's enough for me; TB3 is a welcome addition)
- Screen: 9/10 (I don't have any particular need for high res / high DPI, and the high refresh rate looks super buttery smooth for browsing, coding, videos, low-end gaming, etc. Btw I don't miss the lack of G-Sync.)
- SSD: Not Rated/10 (I barely used the default SSD and I don't intend to use it again)
- Price: 9/10 (it's "premium-priced", but better than Apple. The base model plus top-tier upgrades only ran me about $3500, which is a good $3200 cheaper than the top-end 15" MBP they just launched, and much better GPU to boot!)
- Overall: 10/10!!!!!!! <3
Edits and FAQs
Thanks for all the positive feedback on my post! Here are some FAQ answers and such.
- How do I install drivers for everything upon doing a clean install of Windows? -- You have two options. One is to download the driver packages from here and run them. Another option is to go into Device Manager, then right-click each "Unknown Device", go to Update Driver, and let it search for drivers on Windows Update. It was able to find a suitable driver for everything that way for me. You will need at least a USB mouse (or very patient tab/arrow key navigation, old-school like DOS) to do this, since vanilla Windows 10 v1803 doesn't have a driver for the touchpad. It also doesn't have a driver for the WiFi, so you'll need to plug in a USB Ethernet cable to download the drivers, or transfer the drivers on an external hard drive or flash drive.
- How's the battery life? -- I haven't tested it yet; sorry! My general advice is that a laptop with a beefy GPU -- even if it's not being used -- will tend to have horrible battery life in general, and especially a laptop as thin and light as this one, because I'm sure they compromised the battery at least a little bit to make the unit smaller and lighter. As a result, you should accept the reality that this laptop pretty much will need to be charged every 1 to 3 hours at minimum, if not just leaving it plugged in all the time. I've managed to get chargers in so many places in my life that the battery on my laptop is basically serving the role of an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS); it's there for when the mains power cuts off, not for continued use in a setting without mains power. :P You can also get an Anker Powerhouse battery pack or similar, which will keep this laptop charged for probably around 12 to 48 hours of use depending on how intensively you're running the GPU.
- The wifi seems to have gotten better over time. My current theory is that the initial wifi experience I had (bad) was due to very bad placement of the laptop in a WiFi dead zone. This isn't something to fault the laptop for, of course, because every antenna arrangement will have some dead zones. It's been better in other places around the house without even rebooting my router.
- I'm quickly getting acclimated to the different keyboard layout. I thought using right shift would hurt my pinky finger by having to stretch so far, but as of now it's pretty comfortable - it isn't hurting my hand to do that regularly, and I'm using right shift 95% of the time for shifting now (initially I decided to try and boycott right shift and use left, but it's just far too awkward for me to use!)
- Check out my new thread discussing a recently released Intel Wireless driver update that is not available (yet) through Windows Update or Razer's website: https://www.reddit.com/razecomments/8yzo1h/psa_intel_wireless_driver_update_works_on/