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Razer Blade 15 Base Model Review & Rating

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The 2018 version of the Razer Blade is our favorite gaming laptop of the year so far, but no denying it: It’s pricey. The new Blade 15 Base Model is designed to cut less deep into your finances, though it’s still no budget machine with its $1,599.99 starting price. For the sliced price, Razer made the Base Model a tad thicker, pulled a couple of the fancy extras, and kept configuration to the more basic components. It’s still one of the best-built gaming laptops out there, though, with long battery life and lots of attractive features left intact. Our $1,799.99 tester has upgraded storage from the starting version, but it’s still well under the $2,000-plus that most Blade configurations hit without trying very hard. The flagship Blade 15 remains our Editors’ Choice, for its superior performance and slimmer build, but this less-expensive option can slot into its place, if you like everything but the price.


Turn and Face the Blade (Ch-ch-changes)

Before I get into this laptop’s nitty gritty, let’s clarify a few nomenclature things.

When I reviewed what we at PCMag dubbed the 2018 Razer Blade, the one we granted our Editors’ Choice award, it was simply named Razer Blade. With the introduction of this so-called Base Model, and given the continued existence of the company’s other laptops, Razer has specified this line as the Blade 15. (The “15,” of course, is for the 15.6-inch screen size.) As such, this review unit is the Blade 15 Base Model, while the Razer Blade from earlier this year is now known as the Blade 15 Advanced Model. That latter machine has not been redesigned since we looked at it. So, if you look on Razer’s site, it’s the same model we reviewed, just with a new name.

The various forms of the Blade have long been the gaming laptops to beat in terms of thinness, and with the 2018 Blade 15, Razer took that a step further via the adoption of Max-Q Design. This Nvidia initiative limits the power ceiling of graphics processors like the GeForce GTX 1080, GTX 1070, and GTX 1060 so that they generate less heat. Less heat output means less chassis room is required for cooling and heat dissipation. In turn, this allows higher-end graphics cards to fit into thinner chassis than they otherwise would, resulting in slim-but-powerful gaming laptops.

Max-Q, of course, extracts its pound of flesh. The performance does drop a commensurate amount in return, so as I’ll touch on in the performance discussion to come, you’ll want to be sure that you’ll actually make use of the portability aspect of this laptop to justify the reduction. This is especially true of the Max-Q version of the GeForce GTX 1060, because the basic GTX 1060 already isn’t one of the more powerful graphics chips on the market.


Snip Here, Snip There, But Mostly the Same

The Blade 15 Base Model is still thin compared to your average laptop, thanks to Max-Q and Razer’s design chops, but it does take the rare step back of becoming just a bit thicker than the previous version.

As Razer’s entry-level option in this line, this version of the Blade has the fancy vapor-chamber cooling stripped out for more traditional thermal hardware, so its chassis is a bit chunkier to cut costs. It measures 0.78 by 13.98 by 9.25 inches (HWD), a modest bump up in thickness from the 0.66 inch of the flagship version. (The footprint is the same.) It also weighs slightly less, given the cooling changes and the less beefy graphics. This model weighs 4.48 pounds, versus 4.63 pounds.

It’s the same story compared to another leading ultra-thin gaming laptop, the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin, which is 0.69 inch thick. To me, the Razer 15 Base Model looks like it is more than just a tenth of an inch thicker, but the numbers don’t lie, so this shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Other than that, the Base Model boasts the same high-end build I’ve come to love. The machined aluminum is sleek and sturdy, making for a machine that feels as premium as it is. The GS65 Stealth Thin, being mostly plastic, falls a bit short in that regard. While the advanced cooling system may be gone, its traditional setup worked well enough; you can hear it while gaming, but it’s nothing egregious. The heat output is, similarly, in check.

The Razer 15 Base Model does share the Advanced Model’s super-thin bezels (they measure just 4.9mm down the screen sides), which go a long way in making any laptop look sleek and modern. The IPS display panel measures 15.6 inches diagonally, with a full HD resolution, a matte finish, and 100 percent coverage of the sRGB spectrum. That’s the only option for the entry-level model, as opposed to the pricier versions that can come with 144Hz full-HD or 60Hz 4K touch panels. The picture is sharp, and colors are bold, though the screen doesn’t get especially bright, even at its maximum setting. With a Nvidia Max-Q GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card inside, you wouldn’t want more than an HD resolution for gaming purposes, as the 4K panel’s pixel appetite would be far too high for smooth 60fps gaming.

As with the displays, Razer’s gotten good at making comfortable keyboards, and the one on the Blade 15 Base Model is no different. The keys have just enough travel but don’t feel mushy, and as a bonus they’re backlit with customizable lighting. Razer did save some costs in this regard, though: The keys here are lit as a single zone, as opposed to the per-key backlighting available on the more expensive models.

While per-key lighting is a neat feature for aesthetic reasons, it’s hardly essential. I can’t imagine too many buyers will be too upset at its absence in exchange for a lower price. You can still change the colors and effects easily in the included software; it will just change all the keys as one unit.

The touchpad, meanwhile, is a high-quality glass surface with Microsoft Precision Touchpad support for smooth tracking and gesture capability. It feels very comfortable to use, and I maintain my stance that Razer has some of the best laptop touchpads on the market, up there with those on Apple’s various MacBook machines. The system’s speakers are decent quality, not especially loud or bassy but without the tinny quality present on many laptops.


Connectivity and Configurations

The final differences you’ll spot in the ports, of which there are plenty.

In this case, it’s the Base Model that has something that its sibling does not: an Ethernet jack. The added edge thickness allows for its inclusion. It may not be that useful for a general-use laptop, but serious gamers will appreciate it on a competition-ready gaming laptop. Gaming is best done over a wired connection, so having Ethernet built in for sessions at home is ideal, and something thinner designs often leave out.

The other difference is the power connector. The Base Model uses a 180-watt power supply, while the Advanced Model’s is 200 watts or 230 watts, depending which configuration you go for. Other than that, both models include a headphone jack, a USB Type-C port with support for Thunderbolt 3, three USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port, and a mini DisplayPort. That’s a connectivity suite to rival any competitor’s. The Blade 15 in Basic and Advanced flavors also includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0.

As I alluded to with the display, the Base Model doesn’t have as many configuration options as the Advanced Model. The $1,599.99 starting model comes with a 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor, the GeForce GTX 1060 graphics processor, 16GB of memory, and a dual-drive storage solution: a 128GB Serial ATA solid-state drive (SSD), alongside a 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive. The only component you can jack up in the Base Model is the storage, which you can bump up to a 256GB PCI Express NVMe SSD and a 2TB 5,400rpm hard drive. This is the combination our review unit has, ringing up at $1,799.99.

If you want to bounce your parts higher than that when ordering, you’ll be bounding up to the Advanced Model, which starts at $1,899.99. For that, you get the slimmer chassis and fancier cooling, the same CPU, a Max-Q GeForce GTX 1060, 16GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. The difference is, you can choose several further-upmarket options from there, including a Max-Q GeForce GTX 1070 chip and one of the aforementioned high-refresh-rate or 4K displays.


Performance: Not Quite Elite, But Quite Capable

I compared the Razer Blade 15 Base Model to a handful of competitors that serve a host of purposes as points of comparison.

They all have similar core specs (shown in the table below), and all fall within the same price range, but the Acer Predator Helios 500 shows what a superior GTX 1070 can do for just a bit more cash, while the Asus ROG Strix Hero II represents a standard GTX 1060 so you can see the difference between it and the Max-Q GTX 1060…

Razer Blade 15 Base Model

Rounding out the comparison are the Dell G7 15 and the Lenovo Legion Y730, which are on equal and inferior graphical footing to the Base Model, respectively. Because we only recently put the new benchmark suite below into action, we unfortunately don’t have comparative data for the Blade 15 Advanced Model or the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin.

Productivity and Storage Tests

PCMark 10 and PCMark 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. PCMark 8, meanwhile has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s storage subsystem. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.

Razer Blade 15 Base Model

The Blade 15 Base Model trailed the Helios 500 by a good bit on PCMark 10, but the rest all hung closely together. Its losses weren’t by big margins, and being a Core i7, it’s still plenty fast for general use, just not technically the snappiest among this batch.

The PCMark 8 Storage test results were much closer together, as these quick SSDs offer roughly the same speeds for boot and load times. If you opt for the SATA SSD on the entry-level Base Model, it wouldn’t be quite as fast as this.

Media Processing and Creation Tests

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

Razer Blade 15 Base Model

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. Lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.

Razer Blade 15 Base Model

These tests were almost as clumped together as the storage test, with the Blade 15 Base Model trading tight wins and losses with the competition. Given that they all share the same Core processor, this makes sense, though that didn’t eliminate some outliers and slight differences. As with the PCMark 10 tests, all of these machines should handle these kinds of demanding multimedia tasks about the same. If you’re a media professional, some more specialized non-gaming machines with beefier processors will do an even better job.

Synthetic Graphics Tests

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.

Razer Blade 15 Base Model

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets, in frames per second (fps). For lower-end systems, maintaining at least 30fps is the realistic target, while more powerful computers should ideally attain at least 60fps at the test resolution.

Razer Blade 15 Base Model

The Max-Q GTX 1060 has some tough competition with the Helios 500’s GTX 1070 here, and it performed…modestly. It’s clearly not as powerful, but it falls right where it should in this GPU hierarchy. The GTX 1060 is already below the GTX 1070 in the pecking order, and the tuned-down Max-Q version is at more of a disadvantage. However, you can see that it hangs close to the non-Max-Q GTX 1060, so you’re not taking too much of a performance cut compared to the standard version.

That said, you’re paying extra for the thin design, and you could get a better GeForce chip in a different laptop for around the same price. The difference between it and the GTX 1070 in the 3DMark tests’ synthetic scores is pronounced, marking a separation between entry-to-midrange and high-level performance. This is even more plainly understandable on the demanding Superposition 1080p high-settings benchmark, where the difference is a consistent 65fps versus merely 41fps. Again, the Strix Hero II, with its full-fat GeForce GTX 1060 and other near-identical components to the Blade 15 Base Model, scored quite similarly.

The Superposition test turns out to be a harsher measure of real-world gaming frame-rate capability, though, which leads us to the next set of benchmarks…

Real-World Gaming Tests

The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance.

Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings. These are run on medium and maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p to determine the sweet spot of visuals and smooth performance for a given system. The results are also provided in frames per second. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for the benchmark.

Because of the timing on our new testing procedure rollout, we don’t have comprehensive performance data from past machines for these games to churn out data tables. Still, it’s simple enough to judge the Blade 15 Base Model’s capability on both pure results and the context of expectations.

On medium-quality settings, even this tuned-down card easily pulled over 60fps in HD in both games. Crank things up to the maximum in each game, and it managed to still squeak over 60fps, though it will absolutely dip below that at times since 66fps (Rise of the Tomb Raider) and 61fps (Far Cry 5) were the averages. For comparison, the Helios 500 and its GTX 1070 was able to pull 91fps and 88fps on the same tests at maximum settings. Dialing down a few settings or choosing the merely “high” detail presets rather than the absolute maximums will ensure smoother performance.

Video Playback Battery Rundown Test

After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 1080p file of the Blender open-source movie Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.

Razer Blade 15 Base Model

Razer’s machines usually last longer than the average gaming laptop, and that remained true with the Base Model. It wasn’t even close, in fact, with the Helios 500 and Legion Y730 running for just a few hours. Nearly nine hours as opposed to two or three makes a huge difference in actually using your thin, portable laptop as a portable laptop off the charger. While the Dell G7 15 was better than those at just under six hours, the Blade 15 Base Model still comes out ahead, and handily. Batteries in Max-Q laptops are generally on the shorter side, too, meaning the Blade bucks both gaming-laptop and Max-Q battery trends.


Even With Some Compromises, Still Sharp

In the big picture, the entry-level, stripped-down version of the Razer Blade is still better than most gaming laptops out there. It’s got great battery life, a premium build, a nice display, and a lot of storage. Of course, despite the name, it’s no budget Blade, and you’re paying extra for the components that let you attain the slim design.

Because of this, as I stated earlier, be sure you will move your laptop often enough (or really care about aesthetics enough) to justify that. It is a competent gaming machine, but I can sympathize in full with shoppers wanting higher frame rates when spending $1,800. You can certainly get more power for the same money elsewhere (or the same power for hundreds less, as with the Acer Predator Helios 300), so I can’t stress enough weighing the importance of the slim design for your own usage situation.

That’s the Faustian bargain you make with Max-Q machines, though, and at least here, you get a lot of battery juice for general laptop use out of this devilish deal. The $1,599.99 entry point into the Blade 15 family is appealing, and it’s not much higher than other laptops with lesser construction bearing a GTX 1060. Our Editors’ Choice remains with the Blade 15 Advanced Model for its firepower in an even slimmer form, but if you can’t quite meet its cost, the Base Model is your ticket in.

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