We didn’t have a 2015 Blade around for comparison—so we’re running a bit on faith here—but anecdotally, the 2016 Blade does seem better designed. Heat now appears to be contained in two main areas: the center of the underside, and then two key regions towards the center of that strip above the keyboard. And while it still gets uncomfortably hot, it doesn’t reach the searing “cook an egg, or maybe just your fingertips” temperatures of previous Blades.
One weird side effect: Part of the keyboard now gets warm. Not hot, but warm. It feels strange when you first notice it. Also, the Blade gets loud and whiny when gaming. Tiny fans, high speeds. You’ve been warned.
The dull edge of progress
As for under the hood, the story is still one of small, expected steps forward. Inside, the 2016 Razer Blade sports a Core i7-6700HQ, Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M, and 16GB of RAM. You get a jump from a 4th-generation Haswell (Core i7-4720HQ) to a 6th-generation Skylake, and the 970M’s RAM doubled from 3GB to 6GB, but the specs haven’t changed wildly to something unexpected (or exciting). The system also now uses a PCIe SSD (instead of an mSATA SSD) for a bit of extra speed.
One note about that 970M: Don’t expect to play high-end games on the Blade’s 4K UHD screen with it. That said, the display itself is great for day-to-day desktop and browsing use. It’s a bright, beautiful 3200x1800 IGZO panel with superfluous multi-touch for people who like dirtying up their laptop screen. Color reproduction is surprisingly good even at wide viewing angles. The one downside is a ton of glare: A glossy panel is better for color, but you’ll only be able to fully appreciate that fact in the dark.
The Blade is a solid performer, given its small chassis. In PCMark 8’s Work Conventional test, which simulates office work like word processing, video chat, and web browsing, the Blade scored 3,025. That number is lower than other systems with older quad-core mobile processors, probably because of the heat constraints of the Blade’s compact dimensions. (The balancing act that a company must strike between heat, fan noise, and performance gets tougher the smaller the system.) Any score above 2,000 should be a solid experience for getting work done, though.
The quad-core Skylake does show up for battle in our encoding test, where we use Handbrake to convert a 30GB movie file to an mp4 using the Android Tablet preset. The test is all about the CPU, and here Blade finished its task in approximately 51 minutes. That’s pretty damned good. By comparison, the much larger Acer Predator 17 with the same Core i7-6700HQ is slightly slower at 3,246 seconds, and the MSI GT72S (also a Core i7-6700HQ) squeaks out in front at 2,927. Both those laptops are much bulkier, I might add.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.