The Hardware Review – Razer Blade 15 (Advanced) 2019
Razer Blade 15 Advanced29th January 2019
Money. That simple concept drives so much of the world, whether it’s shutting down governments and putting people out of work for a month or so over billions of dollars or a kid saving up pocket money to buy a game. As for me, I’ve reviewed a reasonable amount of hardware in the time I’ve spent writing for Wccftech but almost never have I spent my own money to do so. As such, what makes this review different to all my others is that I’ve spent my own money to purchase the hardware I’m reviewing, the new Razer Blade 15 Advanced (also known as the 2019 model).
Wait, WHAT?! Yep, that’s right you heard me. As tight as I can be at times, I parted with just under £2,500 of my own hard earned cash to get a gaming laptop. I’ve been in the market for a new laptop for a few years and had contemplated buying one several times but I’d always held back as my buying criteria had been pretty much non-existent until this latest generation. I was looking for something that wasn’t huge and heavy (about 2kg), was relatively thin and had a GPU that would be good enough to game on at reasonable settings for at least a few years without sounding like a jet plane during take-off when the fans kicked in.
NVIDIA launched its Max-Q offering for laptops almost a couple of years ago now and that was the first time I started to think to myself “ok, here is actually an important piece of my requirements”. For those unfamiliar (get out from that rock you’ve been living under), the Max-Q concept is a relatively simple one. Desktop graphics cards use lots of power to drive higher clock speeds and squeeze as much performance out of the chip as they can. The problem of course is that the extra power means more heat, which in a small form factor like a laptop means fans. Lots of fans. Fans cranked up to 11. Really LOUD fans. Oh and don’t forget heat pipes, and lots of other general cooling paraphernalia which mean that a thin and light gaming laptop really wasn’t a thing and battery life was atrocious given all the cooling needed. What’s more is that pumping extra power into a chip to clock it higher does give higher performance but that performance does come with diminishing returns.
Enter then Max-Q which takes the same basic chips as the desktop cards but cuts back on the clock speed and hence the power consumption (and therefore cooling requirements) of the chip. So where the desktop RTX 2070 has a 175W TDP for a base clock of 1410, the Blade 15 Advanced clocks in at 90W with a core clock of 1080. Shove a 1080p screen on it and I’m now nicely reassured that the laptop will probably last me a good few years without me getting frustrated about having to turn settings down too much in games.
So armed with my newly purchased temperature sensor (yes dear reader! These are the lengths I go to for you!), let’s take a look at what we have here.
In the Box
Slightly worried by the vaguely scuffed exterior box which arrives from the courier, I quickly open the box to find an interior which is well packed with a nicely padded frame to suspect the interior box inside the outer ones. Fairly minimalist items mean a small box with power supply, the usual compliment of Razer stickers and “Congratulations, there is no turning back” leaflets welcoming you to the Cult of Razer.
Pulling the machine itself out of the wrapping, I’m greeted with a (very fingerprint prone!) obsidian metallic slab with the customary green, triple headed snake logo on the lid. Dimensions come in at 17.8mm x 235mm x 355mm (or 0.7” x 9.25” x 13.98”). Turning the Razer Blade 15 Advanced around in my hands, the machine feels well put together and solid while opening the lid reveals hinges which have a nice feel finding a good halfway house between nice resistance and smoothness.
Specs of the model I purchased come in at:
- Windows 10 Home (blech, first order of business will be to upgrade that!)
- Intel Core i7-8750H 6 core, 12 thread 2.2 GHz, 4.1 GHz (base, boost) CPU
- 16 GB DDR4-2667 MHz
- Mobile Intel HM370 chipset
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q 8GB
- 15.6” Full HD 144 Hz IPS matte screen with a 4.9mm bezel (100% sRGB)
- 512 GB NVMe PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD
- 80Wh battery
- Per key RGB Razer Chroma keyboard
- Windows Hello webcam
- 3x USB 3.1 ports
- 1x USB-C port
- HDMI 2.0B port
- MiniDisplayPort 1.4
- 3.5mm headphone/mic combination port
- Stereo speakers, array microphone, Dolby Atmos, Kensington security slot and Intel Platform Trust embedded with a 230W power supply round out the relevant features.
Razer Blade 15 Advanced – General Use
Booting up I go through the customary Windows 10 setup (with the slight novelty of setting up my Windows Hello mugshots which I’ve never done before). As soon as I’m up and running, the first order of the day is to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, then the usual immediate installations of Chrome, Microsoft Office, Skype (normal desktop edition, not the Windows 10 “app”), Steam, Origin, Uplay, GOG Galaxy, GPU-Z and VLC along with a few other pieces start.
General usage comes across excellently. I’m migrating from a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 which has been a solid companion for day to day use but obviously struggled with any kind of gaming (X-Com with its turn based excellence being pretty much the only game I could play since it’s not overly dependent on a decent frame rate to enjoy).
The larger keyboard (I had the TypeCover for the Surface which was acceptable but not particularly good compared to a genuine keyboard with an awful touchpad) feels wonderful compared to the Surface and the touchpad is huge, smooth and accurate. Full size arrow keys are also an excellent change from the Surface although the position of the up arrow is regularly catching me out since it’s where the /? key normally rests and here I find my first fault with the Blade. I expect to use this laptop a reasonable amount for productivity and my muscle memory for touch typing is pretty set at my age. Yes from an arrow key position layout it makes sense where they’ve put the keys but bloody hell that shift to the left of the / key is seriously annoying. Minor additional annoyances are the lack of Home and End keys.
General productivity (plus continuous downloading) work has a base unit which varies in temperature between 37 degrees C where the palms of your hands naturally rest either side of the touchpad up to 40 degrees at the hottest point just above the F6 and F7 keys.
My concerns over Full HD (I’m coming from a 32” UHD desktop are unfounded and 100% scaling is the order of the day with no pixels visible on the 15.6” panel. There is a 4K option although only with a 2070, not a 2080 for some reason. Either way I’d question the ability of any of these Max-Q chips to be able to effectively drive gaming at 4K.
Build quality is excellent and my concerns over the section at the base of the monitor prove unfounded. Several years ago I had a Lenovo X1 Carbon for work and the glued down section here was not particularly well glued down so always separated from the panel and left an ugly gap.
Speaker audio is reasonable. At the end of the day these are small laptop speakers so the sound is decent considering what they are but realistically nobody is going to be using them for high fidelity audio. In general the laptop feels extremely well put together and solid in a way that the X1 wasn’t. Of course the Razer Blade 15 is heavier and this is no ultrabook but it’s very usable as a machine I’d carry around daily and be able to use without it being classified as a luggable.
With the screen set at half brightness and constant WiFi in use, the battery to download games, the battery lasts about 2 hours in high performance mode and about an extra hour and a half in balanced mode although I note that task manager highlights Origin as a fairly significant power drain, probably since it’s hogging all the bandwidth at the moment.
The family arguments over my bandwidth hogging soon begin as game installations take precedent over the kids YouTube watching. 250 GB of downloads (plus a Port Royal purchase) later and I’m in good shape and ready to start playing.
Razer Blade 15 Advanced – Gaming
Let’s be completely honest. Anyone buying this machine is going to game, otherwise there’s no reason you’d buy it over a host of lighter options without a dGPU. I’ve toyed with getting a gaming laptop for years and the Razer Blade was the first genuine contender that I thought may fit the requirement list but the 1060 in the last generation I didn’t feel would age particularly well in games and given the fan noise I heard at the press preview events over the years from non-Max-Q chips I decided to wait until there was a Max-Q machine which I thought had a GPU that would be able to game reasonably for a few years without upsetting me over setting compromises.
My game library isn’t as up to date as I’d like so benchmarks run include 3DMark Time Spy, Port Royal, the DLSS test (at 1080p), Fire Strike (standard and ultra), Tomb Raider 2013 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in game benchmarks. Tomb Raider is obviously tested at ultra settings while Odyssey is tested at both ultra and then with slightly reduced settings (see screenshots below).
Turning settings up to maximum performance to let the fans stretch their legs a bit means that although they are audible, the overall machine is still quiet (thanks Max-Q!) and performance is in the region I was hoping for.
The Assassin’s Creed Odyssey benchmark has some odd micro-stuttering at the start and end of the benchmark regardless of the settings I use but for some reason these don’t manifest in game.
Gaming battery life is obviously limited and an Assassin’s Creed Odyssey session on battery yielded an approximately 45 minute life. Temperature of the laptop topped out at a touch over 50 degrees C again just above the F6 and F7 keys while gaming with keyboard area over the critical WASD location coming in at just under 43 degrees.
There’s an obvious elephant in the room here and that is NVIDIA’s RTX ray tracing technology. I didn’t buy a 20 series card when they launched for the desktop and still haven’t. My Titan X (Pascal) is still chugging away providing playable frame rates at 4K with G-Sync, I’m not particularly a huge FPS fan so the initial game available being Battlefield V has no draw to me and even though I don’t think I’ll be particularly into it, I used my free code to get Anthem rather than Battlefield to try out ray tracing in a game.
Wider adoption of RTX in games may obviously sway my mind but the performance hit for it in current 20 series cards makes me feel that, although it may be the future of gaming, it’s not ready for primetime yet. Ideally I wish NVIDIA had released the 20 series chips with an option that had the huge die size of the 2080 Ti but given over to traditional rasterization as opposed to RTX and deep learning tech. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I purchased an RTX laptop in spite of the ray tracing technology, not because of it. I wanted a laptop which will last me in normal gaming for several years and the 2070 moves things on from the 1070 in traditional rendering performance so in that sense it was worth it. £2.5k was basically what I was looking at for the previous generation of 1070 Max-Q laptops at launch so in that sense, it’s not like I’m paying a particularly huge premium just to get RTX tech thankfully.
In general then, what I’ve found in the Razer Blade 15 Advanced (2019) is a gaming laptop which fulfils every single one of my requirements. It’s not big and heavy, has decent gaming performance which I feel reasonably confident will last me for a good few years without crazy jet-engine fans and is an extremely well put together and thought out machine. Creaks and flex are absent and the heat exhaust all along the rear and bottom rear seems to do a good job of keeping the chips cool. A GPU-Z log while playing Odyssey showed the maximum chip temperature topping out at 76 degrees C while the performance was limited by voltage while CPU temperature had a single data point at 92 degrees C but was generally kept below 86 degrees.
What we have then is a machine which I can happily say I’m glad I spent my own money on. Are there be more powerful gaming laptops? Absolutely and if portability and noise aren’t factors for you then you can find any number of 2080 non-Max-Q based 17” luggables weighing in at almost 5KG (11 Lbs) with jet engine fans. If you want something that is usable as a genuine portable laptop on a daily basis without busting through some airlines carry-on luggage allowance limits even before you put it in a bag, there’s no better choice than the Razer Blade 15 Advanced.
Although there are other gaming laptops which will outperform the Razer Blade 15 Advanced in most ways (thinner and lighter but less powerful, heaver and thicker but more powerful), the Blade gets a (first time ever from me!) overall score of 10 in that it hits every single requirement I was looking for to spend my own money (after years of waiting) for a relatively expensive machine but which to me is entirely worth it. As such, a highly deserved award awaits:
An excellent gaming laptop, suitable for everyday, real world portable use as well as providing good gaming without being too loud.
- Gaming performance this good in a 2kg form factor
- Quiet (for a gaming laptop) under load
- Excellent build quality with no gaps, creaks or high levels of flex
- Decent array of ports
- Better machines if you're after pure out and out gaming performance
- Battery life (unsurprising, it's a gaming laptop)