2018 Razer Blade 15
Another year another laptop. Anyone who knows me knows that I change electronic devices like I change my clothes. I’ve jumped back and forth between a daily driver Macbook Pro and a daily driver Windows machine for years now. I was just coming off of a 2017 Macbook Pro 13 that I recently sold, and I’ve been using a combination of an iPad Pro and a Lenovo Yoga Core i5, which I bought in January to run Linux exclusively, and I’d been missing the ability to run two 4K monitors simultaneously like I could do with the Macbook, so the hunt for a new laptop began.
I like the thin and lightness of the Macbook, but wasn’t a fan of the limited hardware, especially for the price. I’ve said this a million times before – I love OS X, but I don’t like the value for money you get with the hardware. To get a dedicated GPU, Apple makes you step up to the 15″ Macbook Pro, and then you’re north of $2,000 for a bad GPU. Still, nobody can beat Apple’s build quality, and nobody can beat their customer service. I’ve walked in to an Apple Store with a problematic laptop on two occasions now (one was my fault – I zapped it with static electricity and it stopped charging), and less than a half hour later walked out with brand new ones. It’s hard to beat that, and so far nobody else can even come close. Still, you’re paying for that experience, one way or another.
I decided it was time to swing back to Windows this time around. A couple years ago I bought an Aorus X7 with two GeForce 970s in it. I liked the upgradability of that unit. The RAM, NVME drive (of which it could hold two), and 2.5″ SATA disk could all be upgraded. Nothing else as “thin and light” at the time offered that. For a dual GPU beast, the chassis was very thin, though it did get hot. What I didn’t like about the Aorus was the cheapness of the screen around the bezel. They used a stick-on bezel that while made of metal, was very thin and almost immediately started to warp, I’m assuming due to heat. The size and weight also convinced me that I didn’t want to go back to a big 17″ laptop.
I started looking at MSI, ASUS, and a few others. I’d been down the Alienware road before, and although they’re upgradable, they’re chunky and heavy and “plasticy.” I very much liked the look of very thin bezels like the Dell XPS 13 and 15, and the thinness of gaming laptops like the MSI GS65 Stealth. Whatever I decided on, I knew it wasn’t going to come cheap. A good GPU, thin chassis, good build quality (preferably all aluminum), nice display, good keyboard, and upgradability were all key requirements.
Then I saw a YouTube video. What’s this? A new Blade? One without super thick bezels? And it’s upgradable this time? I’m listening. Ok I’m done listening, I’m buying.
Thoughts after 30 Days Use
The new blade has a body milled from one piece of aluminum, much like the Macbook Pros, though it’s black. The display lid is also made from aluminum, and the bezels are very thin. I do like the look of the body. It’s very sleek and the RGB keyboard is cool. Even when it’s off it looks cool. The unlit key labels are very dark and the unit looks like a weapon. I’m not a fan of the logo on the lid, but that can be blacked out with a skin. At least they let you shut the light off behind the logo with software. I have no complaint build quality-wise on the body. The only complaint that I would have about the body’s finish is that it gets smudged up fairly quickly and those smudges aren’t easy to remove.
The keyboard is ok, not extraordinary, but much better than the keyboard on my 2017 Macbook Pro. The touchpad is great for a Windows laptop. Not as good as a Macbook Pro touchpad at all, but better than any other Windows touchpad I’ve used. I had to go in to settings and disable tap (without physical press) to click though, as the palm rejection isn’t good and my cursor would jump all over when typing due to my palms touching the trackpad. This wasn’t a big deal for me as I usually disable that setting anyway, but if you like tapping to click without pressing the touchpad, you may find that annoying.
Like most thin and lights, it’s loud when under load due to the fans, but after undervolting it by 120mV, it’s better – at least the fans don’t run audibly at idle now. Battery life is surprisingly good. I’ve been able to get 6 real-life hours out of it running productivity apps and a browser, which is better than my Aorus was capable. The Coffee Lake CPU might have something to do with that. Like with any other thin and light gaming laptop, you aren’t going to get much time out of the battery when trying to game. I haven’t even tried it, but I’ve read it dies in less than an hour. The power brick is fairly large. Not nearly as large as the 250W power brick that came with my Aorus, but not small either. If you’re in a professional environment and you flop that power brick up on to a table, you’re going to get some comments. As tested though, the laptop itself doesn’t generate any attention in the same environment – unless you have some craziness with the per-key LED keyboard happening. I have mine set to a full RGB spectrum cycle at a very slow rate, so it looks cool but doesn’t attract too much attention.
My unit came with the GeForce 1060 and the 144Hz 1080P display. I feel that a 1080P display at 15″ is preferred, especially since Windows still sucks at resolution scaling, and even more especially when you have multiple displays connected. Luckily with this laptop, I can run two external 4K monitors at 1x scaling, and run the built-in 1080P display at 1x and everything plays nice together. I currently have two displays attached via the Mini Display Port (with a MDP to HDMI 2.0 adapter), and via the Thunderbolt 3 port (with a Thunderbolt to HDMI 2.0 adapter). Both displays are running at a full 4K 60Hz with no issues. There is also a HDMI 2.0 port, but I haven’t tried running a third external 4K display via that port yet. I don’t like that they put the display ports on the right side of the unit, as that’s the side you mouse on, but it’s a minor complaint.
You also get 3 USB 3.0 ports and a headphone jack. There’s no SD card reader, which would have been nice. I’m used to carrying all sorts of dongles and stuff in my backpack because of the USB-C-only Macbook though, so carrying a USB SD card reader isn’t the end of the world, and I typically have one in my backpack anyway.
The software experience out of the box was great. There’s no bloatware that comes installed, just the standard Windows bloatware that you have to get rid of (Candy Crush and other crappy game demos). Not having to wipe the laptop out of the box to reinstall a fresh copy of Windows is nice. I had a similar experience with my Aorus – clean OEM install, no need for a wipe. Razer installs their Razer Central software, which is used for updates and things, along with their Razer Synapse 3.0 software, which is used to control the LED keyboard. Neither are intrusive and both share a system tray icon.
So far the only odd thing I’ve noticed, and it appears to be common, is that the unit uses so much power when you’re playing a demanding game and the GPU is working hard, that even if you’re plugged in to AC power, the battery won’t charge. Windows indicates the battery status as “plugged in, not charging.” The battery doesn’t deplete, but it doesn’t charge either. Keep this in mind if your battery is low and you want to play a game while charging and you have to leave soon. You won’t get any extra juice. I noticed one time when doing this that it began charging again as soon as I closed the game and the fans spun down and things returned to “normal,” and another time it only started charging again under the same circumstances when I unplugged the charging cable from the laptop and plugged it back in. Odd. I don’t remember if the Aorus did this or not, and only realized it on this Blade 15 after reading about it and then trying it for myself.
Other than that one odd quirk, it’s been a good laptop so far. I’m very impressed with the build quality and the stability, even after undervolting, and being able to unplug for so long while doing productivity tasks on a gaming laptop is the icing on the cake. Hopefully reliability holds out. This is my first Razer product, and reviews seem to be pretty polarizing between “love it and hate it.” We’ll see.