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Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core – Review

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core – Review

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewRazer has made some eye-popping moves into laptops over the past few years, but we didn’t expect the green-tinged firm to release an Ultrabook.

The Blade Stealth is a million miles away from traditional notebooks – it’s slimmer and lighter than everything else, for instance – but don’t worry if you need a gaming machine. Razer has paired the Blade Stealth with the Core graphics dock, which sits alongside the laptop to deliver desktop-level performance.

Design

Razer’s Ultrabook certainly looks the part. It’s built from stunning, dark aluminium that tapers to a slim front edge, and the design is smart throughout: there’s a green Razer logo on the lid and a couple of discreet status lights, and that’s it.

It looks like an Ultrabook, and it feels like one too. It’s sturdy and well-made, and its 1.28kg weight is tiny – less than half the weight of most gaming laptops. The Blade is only 18mm thick, so it’s easy to slip into the sveltest of bags.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewThe stunning, light and sturdy Razer is bolstered by solid media credentials. The speakers sit on either side of the keyboard and they offer surprising volume and punch – the mid-range and high-end are crisp and there’s even a little bass despite the lack of subwoofer.

The screen starts off well, with a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution and a fantastic IGZO construction. It’s also a touch panel – something that’s never seen on gaming panels these days.

The Stealth looks stunning, and different from every other gaming notebook, but the Ultrabook design does mean inevitable compromise.

The keyboard, for instance. There’s no room for a numberpad or any extra buttons like macro keys, and the keys are shallow – there’s less travel here than on the Chiclet designs used on other gaming notebooks.

The keys are fast and consistent, and the aluminium beneath the buttons is solid, but the lack of movement means that the Blade isn’t great for gaming – there’s just not enough feedback for frantic button-bashing. It’s far better for typing.

Each button has an individual RGB LED, at least, and they can all be customised in the Razer Chroma app. The trackpad is fine, too; the large surface is smooth, and the two built-in buttons have the fast, light action that we expect from gaming notebooks.

There’s compromise elsewhere. You only get a couple of USB 3 ports, an HDMI output and a single headphone jack, and there’s no internal access.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewThe Razer Core

The Blade Stealth is a high-quality unit, but it’s hardly groundbreaking. Instead, Razer saves its innovation for the Core.

This £500 chunk of technology houses a graphics card and connects to the Blade using its Thunderbolt port – so the GPU can be used to provide top-tier gaming on the Blade, or by connecting to an external monitor.

The 5kg unit is 300mm long and has a PCI-Express x16 slot inside, and it looks great: it’s got slatted areas that aid in heat dissipation, and it works with Razer’s Chroma lighting software. A handle at one end allows the internals to be pulled free, and the Core provides four USB 3 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet connection.

A small PSU provides two eight-pin power connectors that deliver up to 375W of electrical oomph, and the Core is compatible with most modern GPUs – from AMD’s Radeon R9 285 and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 750 onwards.

Adding a GPU to the Core and using it with the Blade Stealth will always provide a hefty gaming boost, but don’t expect to replicate the graphical abilities of a proper desktop PC.

For starters, the Blade’s low-power processor and DDR3 memory will bottleneck any modern graphics cards, and the Thunderbolt 3 connection only offers the bandwidth of four PCI-E lanes – not the full 16. That’ll impact on beefier GPUs which require the extra bandwidth.

Bandwidth is also why the Core’s Thunderbolt 3 cable is just 18 inches long – any longer and its bandwidth is halved.

The price could be an issue, too, especially as you might have to buy a graphics card. The Core certainly works best if you’ve already got a GPU that can be used.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewComponents

Of course, the Blade’s internals mean that this machine can’t really quality as a gaming laptop – at least on its own.

The processor has the Kaby Lake architecture, but the Core i7-7500U is a low-power part. That means it only has two Hyper-Threaded cores rather than the four you’ll find on most mobile Core i7 chips, and it also means it’s clocked to just 2.7GHz with a Turbo Peak of 3.5GHz.

It’s got less cache than full-fat Kaby Lake CPUs, and the Blade Stealth doesn’t have its own discrete graphics chip. Instead, it makes do with Intel’s HD Graphics 620, which is an integrated part that peaks at just 1,050MHz.

The low-power processor only supports DDR3 memory at a peak speed of 1,866MHz, so Razer has installed 16GB of that older hardware in this machine. Elsewhere, there’s a 256GB Samsung SM951 SSD, but no hard disk.

There’s no Ethernet, either – connectivity only stretches to dual-band 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.0.

This specification won’t hack gaming, but it’s still ample power for general computing and for Office tasks. It’s also entirely normal for Ultrabooks and other low-power, light devices.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewFull Specification

CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U
Memory: 16GB 1,866MHz DDR3
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
Sound: On-board
Screen size: 12.5in 2,560 x 1,440 IGZO touchscreen
Hard disk: 256GB Samsung SM951 SSD
Weight: 1.28kg
Ports: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x Thunderbolt, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x audio
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 321 x 206 x 18mm
Extras: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit, dual-band 802.11ac WiFi
Warranty: 1yr RTB

Performance

The low-power processor and its integrated graphics chip couldn’t get any of our test games running at a solid pace, although that’s hardly a surprise.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewFallout 4 could only hit a 17fps minimum when running at 1,280 x 720 and with Low settings, and we could only get Witcher 3 to run with a sluggish average of 22fps. Crysis 3 only ran at 19fps with its weakest settings selected.

We only got a playable average when we ran older games. Bioshock Infinite hit 36fps with middling quality settings and resolutions, but that’s it. If you’re not using the Core, this laptop is only good enough for older or less demanding games, like modest eSports titles.

The processor isn’t exactly fast. Its Cinebench result of 331cb is several times slower than full-fat Core i7 mobile parts, and its lack of multi-threaded ability is manifested by a weak score of 8,119 in Geekbench’s multi-core test – thousands of points behind other chips.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewThe i7-7500U’s single-core score of 4,139 is better. It’s not a surprise, because the Kaby Lake cores still run at a peak Turbo speed of 3.5GHz. It’s a good indicator that this chip will handle single-threaded applications like Word and some basic Photoshop without breaking much of a sweat, although it will still struggle with multi-tasking. It helps that the SSD is decent – we have no complaints about its read and write speeds of 1,299MB/s and 856MB/s.

The low-power processor and integrated graphics chip also means battery life is solid. The Razer lasted for almost four hours in an application test with everything turned up, and it managed almost nine hours in a low-power test with the screen’s brightness reduced.

The machine’s exterior stayed cool and quiet throughout tests, although the CPU did occasionally reach a peak temperature of 90°C. That’s a little high, but it’s unlikely that this Ultrabook’s processor will be pushed to that point too often.

Core Performance

We tested the Core with a mighty GTX 1080 Ti and a more modest Radeon RX 480 card to see what sort of benefits can be gained from Razer’s £500 lump – and how they compare to a proper Core i7 desktop with the same GPU.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewThe Core and the GTX 1080 Ti allowed the Razer to play all of our test games at 4K. Its weakest average when outputting to a 4K screen was a 36fps result in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and it delivered a stonking result of 67fps in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

The sheer power of the GTX 1080 Ti is great, but it also meant there were more bottlenecking issues when compared to a proper desktop. The desktop system ran 4K games at averages between 42fps and 86fps – overall, the desktop’s averages were 26% faster than the Core at 4K, and its minimums were 49% quicker.

Those gaps increased at lesser resolutions. At 1080p the Core’s averages were 62% behind the full-fat desktop PC, and at 1440p the Core and its GTX 1080 Ti were 60% slower.

The bottlenecking was less of an issue with the RX 480, although that card couldn’t run games at 4K – its best score there was a 28fps average in Battlefield 1, and many games returned averages in the teens.

The RX 480 had no issues playing games at 1080p and 1440p, though – at Full HD it ran at 37fps or better, and it ran at 33fps or better at 2,560 x 1,440.

At 1080p the full-fat desktop PC with the RX 480 was 44% quicker than the Core on average, with this figure dropping to 27% at 2,560 x 1,440. Even though the RX 480 wasn’t playable at 4K, there wasn’t much difference in performance between the card in the Core and in the proper desktop – just a 12% improvement when we used the full desktop system.

The conclusion, then, is that the Core will always deliver a significant improvement over Intel integrated graphics – it takes games from unplayable to playable, and enables higher resolutions. It transforms the Blade, taking it from Ultrabook to gaming option, and is ideal for gaming at home or at events.

That’s great, but the bottlenecking never goes away, and will be more prevalent with beefier cards that have far more headroom for 4K screens and VR headsets.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewScreen

The IGZO touchscreen is a rare bit of kit to find in a laptop. These screens are made using smaller transistors than the ones found in traditional LED panels, which means the pixels used are smaller too – which means slimmer panels and higher resolutions.

Screens that use IGZO technology are more frugal than IPS panels, although they’re usually more expensive – hence why they’re rare in laptops. They’re usually seen inside smartphones and tablets, where the pricier pixels can be offset by the smaller physical size of the screen. Here, though, the 1440p panel is superb – the 12.5in diagonal means it’s crisp, and the touch functionality works well.

The impressive technology was bolstered by excellent benchmark results. The brightness and black levels of 342cd/m2 and 0.29cd/m2 are both superb, and they combine for a contrast ratio of 1,179:1. That’s better than most gaming notebooks manage, and it means deep black levels and vivid, well-defined colours throughout.

The average Delta E of 2.25 is good, and those accurate colours are delivered across 93.3% of the sRGB gamut – another fine figure. The screen has solid viewing angles, and the Razer’s panel has better uniformity than most gaming notebooks, with less than 10% brightness variation across most of its sectors.

The only minor issue is the colour temperature, which sits at 7,586K. That’s too cool, although it’s not a terminal problem – the panel looks a little pallid in certain scenarios, but it never appears washed-out to the point of distraction.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewConclusion

Razer’s £1,350 Blade Stealth is an excellent bit of kit. It looks the part, it’s light and sturdy, and the IGZO screen offers huge quality levels and a solid resolution.

The Kaby Lake processor delivers ample performance and longevity for this class of machine, and the speakers are good. There’s compromise when it comes to the keyboard and the port selection, but that’s entirely expected for this kind of laptop.

That’s also where the Core can provide some respite. It’s expensive, at £500, but its build quality and design are superb – it’s easy to use and will survive life on the road. It provides a solid boost, too, allowing the Blade Stealth to deliver genuine gaming performance. That said, its results are dependent on the graphics card, and bottlenecks mean it’ll never achieve parity with a desktop.

If you’d already considered spending £2,000 on a gaming notebook, though, Razer’s two products can be a tempting alternative – the Blade Stealth is a capable laptop that’s far more lightweight, while the Core can provide gaming oomph. These are niche products, perhaps, but they offer huge quality and are another option if traditional gaming notebooks don’t cut the mustard.

Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - Review

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core
Author Rating
4Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewRazer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewRazer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewRazer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - ReviewRazer Blade Stealth and Razer Core - Review

About Author

Mike Jennings

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