Razer’s Blade 15 Base is not necessarily broken, but it can be used anyway. This is characteristic of the company’s excellent design chops – caught in a loop to bend it in much the same way as last year and the previous year.
The laptop’s aluminum body is still impressive to look at and use. And yes, it does have a webcam, unlike some of the laptops we recently reviewed. But the effect it emits is becoming obsolete, and Razer has not yet addressed all the annoyances that have existed since the 2018 design. It’s a magnet for fingerprints and stains, and for a laptop starting at $ 1,699.99, the lack of a biometric reporting method is staggering. You must enter your password or PIN every time you log in.
In terms of design, it’s no longer as up to par as Razer would hope. Some competing machines, such as the Asus Zephyrus G15 and the MSI GS66 Stealth, are thinner, lighter and more aggressively priced to tackle the Blade, with the same (or more) features on tow. 2021 could be the year when other manufacturers catch up or overtake it.
We’ll have to wait and see if Razer’s next steps for this laptop are more exciting than the early 2021 model offers, but at least some of the improved specs inside make it feel a little fresh. The $ 2,199 high-end “Base” configuration I tested includes the Nvidia RTX 3070 graphics chip, along with Razer’s first QHD screen in a laptop. These are new specs for 2021, and Razer is one of the first to ship a machine with both. But there are some issues with the starting block.
I’ll get to the details a bit, but first I need to let you know that the latest Nvidia driver can make the Blade more or less unusable if you change the wrong setting. In fact, the built-in Razer Synapse software uses Nvidia Optimus, a technology that alternates between integrated and dedicated graphics for efficiency and performance. Unfortunately, if you install the latest GeForce driver from Nvidia and try to use the RTX 3070 as the dedicated GPU at all times, it will no longer display an image. You need to completely repair the machine and erase all your data from it. So from the date it was published, this laptop is actually is a little broken.
Razer says he’s working on a solution with Nvidia, and I’m confident he’ll figure it out. But it’s only fair to test this machine with the outdated drivers – just like everyone who buys this laptop will have to do. Even with older software, it performs about as well as I expected it to play, given the specific specifications of this RTX 3070. Razer recently started posting the detailed specifications of its GPUs on its website (which according to the manufacturer’s discretion may vary), as Nvidia now requires.
The RTX 3070 graphics chip in this configuration has a maximum power consumption of 95W with a clock speed of 1,290MHz (which increases to 1,410MHz). It is not surprising that the GPU, given the thin build of this laptop, cannot be wild compared to the GPI Leopard from MSI. But that does not mean that it is not able to play. Although other intensive tasks like performing 4K video in the current state are not doing so well. I’ll touch on that later.
Red Dead Redemption 2 runs at 1440p with ultra graphics settings enabled, averaging 53 frames per second. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which also runs at its highest settings with ray detection shadows set to ultra, displayed an average of 46 frames per second. I easily wanted to test more games, but unfortunately I no longer have space on the 512 GB SSD included with the Blade 15 Base. Of course, I put things around to get more tests done, but this amount of storage is insulting in a $ 2,199 laptop. It’s a small consolation that more NVMe M.2 storage can be added with its second open lock, but you have to advance the cost. Back to the test, the open world game Horizon Zero Dawn, with all the graphics tricks set to ultra, it ran an average of 71 frames per second.
The Blade 15 Base performs worse by a small margin compared to the new Asus Zephyrus G15, which also has a QHD screen and a slightly more powerful RTX 3070 (same clock speed, but with a higher 100W power ceiling). In the real world, you can see that Asus’s laptop does a few extra frames per second better than we do. Otherwise, the performance should be similar. In short, it almost meets the bar for a smooth 60 frames per second gameplay with QHD resolution, and hitting a graphics setting or two would get you there in most cases.
It is interesting that both laptops earn more money to get the RTX 3080 on a thin laptop. These machines perform almost as well with QHD games as the MSI GS66 Stealth with a QHD screen with an RTX 3080 clocked at 1.245MHz and 95W and cost $ 2,599. If you do research, you can really put money in your pocket.
Like my experience with MSI’s QHD screen, I’m surprised that Razer’s QHD 165Hz refresh rate panel is the first on a laptop, because it’s a very good first attempt. The viewing angles are generous, the colors are rich but accurate, and the big pixel density boost obviously looks fantastic. The jump from 1080p to 1440p is noticeable during everyday tasks such as browsing a browser or playing games. Text appears clearly and watching content or playing games in the original QHD resolution offers a better experience than a 1080p panel can offer. I think it’s worth paying a premium, and the extra $ 200 that Razer charges is equivalent to other manufacturers.
As I mentioned earlier, Nvidia’s driver (at the time of publication) is causing some issues on the Blade 15 Base. I did not notice any issues during games or during general use, but the ability to do things like output 4K videos is very limited. The most damning example of this is our Adobe Premiere Pro test, where we run a project of five minutes and 33 seconds from our Edge video team to see how long it takes. With the default driver, it took six minutes, 40 seconds. I went ahead and downloaded the new driver, just to see how much improvement it could make. The same test took just three minutes, 46 seconds. This is where we expect the performance to be for these specifications.
If you’ve used any of Razer’s Blade laptops in the last few years, you’re actually used them. If this is not the case then maybe your keyboard and trackpad are fine too. The keyboard has keys with lighting, and you can adjust their color or lighting pattern as extravagantly or subtly as you prefer. Razer has the problematic arrangement of the direction keys starting with last year’s model, so the layout is just as ideal for my 9-to-5 workflow as for games. Unlike every other laptop that Razer currently makes, this one does not have an IR webcam with Windows Hello or any other biometric login method. This is a disappointing failure, but unfortunately not a new one. In our June 2018 review, Blade 15 is criticized for the same thing, saying that the on / off button, which looks (and should be) like a fingerprint reader, is not one.
The setup of ports should be suitable for most people, but this is one of the most important areas where this Base model differs from the more expensive Blade 15 Advanced model. Both have a Thunderbolt 3 port and an HDMI 2.1 port (which can have up to 4K resolution at 120 frames per second). In addition, Ethernet is exclusive to the Base configurations, while the Advanced models have a number of exclusive ports and features, including a UHS-III full-size SD card reader, a Windows Hello IR webcam, charging up to 20V via USB C, along with Bluetooth 5.2 and Wi-Fi 6E. I’d love to swap an Ethernet port for an SD card reader in the Base, but if you get one in a 15-inch Razer laptop, the minimum cost will be up to $ 2,499 – and you’ll lose the Ethernet -gateway. The strategy of separating ports based on the model cost is outdated and out of touch, as the machine for creators and gamers is almost as good as the Advanced model.
The last thing I will touch on is the heating and cooling, something that Razer has struggled a bit with previous models. During games, this one also gets nice, but it does not look noticeably worse than before. It also did not exceed my threshold of what I would consider a hard laptop, even during intensive loads. Its 65Wh battery can also last about six hours. This is the claim of Razer for a long life, and my experience matches it in the battery saving mode.
The Blade 15 is a capable, well-designed laptop that first-time buyers will enjoy for many reasons. This particular setup is notable as the first base with a sleek QHD screen, making the RTX 3070 perform well for both gaming and productivity. However, the lack of biometrics and an SD card reader can be tricky for some, as the extended Advanced model has both. In addition, it’s hard to give the Blade 15 Base a pass again as it’s getting easier to find other thin and light laptops with similar prices with just as many features and sleek designs.
Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge