The new Blade 15 is incredibly compact and jam-packed with power. Could it be the gaming laptop of the year?
- Sleek, compact design
- Fantastic 240Hz display
- Great for gaming on the go
- Extremely pricey
- Woeful battery life
In 2018, the Razer Blade 15 was the best all-around gaming laptop on the market. Portable yet powerful, it was the perfect platform for playing the latest Triple-A titles anytime, anywhere. That was then, though. In the year since its release, competing laptops have emerged from the likes of Dell, HP, Asus and Acer to name a few. Despite the previous Blade 15’s brilliance, it cannot match up to those recent rivals, all of which all pack formidable gaming capabilities and more advanced specs.
Good thing there’s a new one, then. The Razer Blade 15 (2019) is the “world’s smallest” gaming laptop of its size and runs on the very latest components from Intel and Nvidia. On top of that, its display has been upgraded with 240Hz refresh rates – a first for a Razer laptop. With better gaming results than ever and a design that’s just as compact as its predecessor’s, it looks like the Razer Blade 15 will repeat the success of last year’s models. Could it be the gaming laptop to beat in 2019?
Razer Blade 15 (2019) review: What you need to know
American hardware manufacturer Razer is one of the most popular gaming brands in the world, and a leading force in the rapidly expanding arena of esports. Its Razer Blade 15 line takes aim at the market of enthusiast gamers who want a near-PC gaming experience from their laptop; something that enables them to play competitively no matter where they go. It also appeals to consumers who just happen to like really cool laptops, which the Razer Blade 15 (2019) certainly is.
The unit I’m reviewing here has a 15.6in FHD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display with a refresh rate of 240Hz – a significant leap from the previous model’s maximum of 144Hz. Running the show is a freshly launched 9th-generation Intel Core i7-9750H with a maximum clock speed of 4.5GHz. There’s 16GB RAM onboard, though the two SODIMM slots can hold 32GB each, so you could bring that up to a whopping 64GB.
It’s also a graphics powerhouse thanks to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q: a slimmed down version of the standard mobile RTX 2080 I recently tested inside the Alienware Area-51m. The Blade 15 uses Nvidia’s Optimus technology, which switches between the iGPU and dGPU in order to prioritise either performance or power efficiency. This precludes the use of Nvidia G-Sync technology, although V-Sync software can still be used. For storage, there’s a lone 512GB PCIe SSD and it uses an 80.2Wh battery. With all that power I’d expect a brick the size of a small dog but, surprisingly, the 230W PSU is incredibly slender.
It sounds pretty much perfect, right? Almost. The Razer Blade 15 (2019) is prohibitively expensive, but with a loadout like I’ve just described that doesn’t come as a shock.
Razer Blade 15 (2019) review: Price and competition
This particular machine belongs to the Advanced Model range of the Razer Blade 15 (2019) and it’s not far off the top-spec configuration. Right now, it’s going for £2,880 on Razer’s website, and Amazon is charging the same. There are Base Model versions of the Blade 15 (2019) available from £1,480 though for that price you’ll only get a 60Hz FHD display, 8th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q. Meanwhile, the most expensive Razer Blade 15 – it’s the same as my unit but with a 4K 60Hz touch display – costs a wince-inducing £3,150.
Looking around at the competition, the key rival to my Blade 15 review model is the Asus ROG Strix Scar III. At £2,800 from Amazon, it’s a supremely powerful gaming laptop that has plenty in common with the Blade 15; besides a similar price tag, it also has a 15.6 in FHD panel with a 240Hz refresh rate. It scores extra points for its more muscular octa-core Intel Core i9-9880H processor, and according to NotebookCheck its GeForce RTX 2070 mobile GPU is on par to the RTX 2080 Max-Q. Which you prefer is also a matter of taste, though: where the Razer Blade 15 has a matte black all-metal chassis, the Scar III is made up mostly of plastic and glows from edge to edge with RGB.
Dropping down the price ladder, you could pick up a top-spec Alienware m15 (2018) for roughly £2,450 on Dell’s online store. That model, which I reviewed in late 2018, has an Intel Core i7-8750H (the last-gen version of the Blade 15’s i7-9750H) but with 32GB RAM it blasted through the benchmark tests. Then again, its GTX 1070 Max-Q wasn’t as equipped to handle demanding Triple-A games and in that regard lags behind the newer RTX laptops.
Do you want the fastest gaming performance possible? Well, if money is no object then you’ll consider the Alienware Area-51m. With a 5GHz Intel Core i9-9900K processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics and 32GB RAM, it’s inarguably the most powerful gaming laptop you can buy. And, for just £4,000 it’s all yours. A gaming beast it may be, but one thing the Area-51m can’t offer is freedom of movement – and that’s what the Razer Blade 15 does best.
Razer Blade 15 (2019) review: Design
This is, so says Razer, the smallest 15.6in laptop in the world. I have a funny feeling they said the same about last year’s model, although the 2019 edition is actually fractionally bigger. It measures 355 x 235 x 17.8mm (HWD) to the previous model’s 355 x 235 x 17.5mm and weighs a mere 2.21kg, which is about the same as before. For a machine with such a formidable specification, it really is remarkably compact. Of all the 15in gaming-oriented laptops I’ve reviewed, this is the only one I can fit into the laptop sleeve I purchased for my 15in MacBook Pro.
And just check out that sleek matte black chassis, which is made entirely of aluminium. It’s no advancement on last year’s Razer Blade 15 but I appreciate it all the same. Razer could work a smidge harder on the black anodized finish, however, – it picks up fingerprints like crazy – and while the base is as sturdy as can be, the lid feels less effectively reinforced. Pressing down on the back, on and around the tri-snake Razer logo, there’s a fair amount of give. It would be nice if future models felt more rigid because it detracts from the overall sense of quality, and that’s important when you’re paying nearly £3,000.
As with the last model, the Razer Blade 15’s bezels are thinner than on any other gaming laptop I’ve seen, which does make you feel closer to the on-screen action. Embedded inside the forehead bezel is a 1MP webcam that records in HD, while the bottom bezel bears the stylised name of the manufacturer. Either side of the keyboard are the upward facing stereo speakers. The power button lives inside the right speaker grille. Sound is fine but there’s nothing to write home about here, or indeed to write in this review. The speakers are okay, but for gaming, you will want a decent headset.
There’s an adequate selection of ports on the Blade 15, though (understandably) fewer than on larger, thicker rivals. On the left edge are two USB Type-A ports, one with PowerShare, and these are nestled between a 3.5mm combo jack and, towards the back, a proprietary power input. A third USB Type-A port is located on the right edge, which also houses a USB Type-C Port (Thunderbolt 3), plus an HDMI 2.0b output and a mini-DisplayPort. Last and decidedly least, there’s a Kensington Lock Slot. Strangely, the Base Model of the Razer Blade 15 has an extra port which this hasn’t got, in the form of a Gigabit Ethernet jack.
Given its slimline chassis and powerful specs, I knew the Razer Blade 15 was going to get a bit toasty when the CPU and GPU ramped up. Happily, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I anticipated. Even when running gruelling benchmark applications and playing demanding Triple-A games for hours at a time, the CPU’s individual cores never exceeded 72 degrees. Most stayed below that, well clear of throttling territory. The most heat-prone area of the chassis is on the underside of the base, right around the middle. Using an IR thermometer, I clocked a maximum temperature of 42 degrees Celsius, which is not bad at all, especially considering that’s while the CPU and GPU are maxed out.
The Razer Blade 15 stays chilled by using a complex cooling system comprised of two “custom” 44-blade fans, a vapour chamber, graphite-based thermal plates and 68 heat fins. When performing basic daily tasks it really does stay as “whisper-quiet” as Razer claims. But with increased demand comes increased noise as the fans fight to keep the internals cool – and they do. Razer’s Synapse software lets you fiddle with system controls and it’s from here that you can boost the CPU and GPU into performance modes. As for the fan setting, I’d recommend going for Auto (Default), which only ramps up the fans when required. That said, I manually set the fan speed to high while running our benchmarks in order to squeeze out that tiny extra bit of performance.
Razer Blade 15 (2019) review: Keyboard and touchpad
The chiclet-style keyboard on the Razer Blade 15 (2019) has a nice layout and overall feel but, although minor tweaks have been made since last year’s model, it’s not quite perfect. First of all, Razer has enlarged the Enter key, making it easier to press than it was on the 2018 edition. This has necessitated the relocation or shrinking of other keys, such as the left Shift button, which is now half-sized. And there’s still a secondary Fn key placed right alongside the arrow keys, which can and does result in repeated accidental presses; the bottom right key on a keyboard should always be the right arrow key. It’s a small annoyance that crops up all too often.
What’s more annoying – especially for customers who’ve already purchased a Razer Blade 15 (2019) in the UK – is the lack of symbol lighting on keys. The secondary functions are not backlit despite Razer stating that they have LED lighting, and at present, the Razer and Amazon product pages both still depict the Blade 15 as having backlit symbols. This is false advertising, plain and simple, and a bit stingy. It’s not exactly costly to implement. Apparently, the US models have the backlighting, as advertised. The UK version does still have per-key RGB lighting, a feature that is highly (in fact dizzyingly) customisable in Chrome Studio within Razer Synapse.
As on the last Razer Blade, the touchpad is absolutely huge and lovely to use. Other laptop manufacturers could learn a thing or two from Razer here. On certain Asus ROG gaming laptops, the touchpad is shunted over to the side, and on the Alienware Area-51m (a bulky 17in behemoth) the trackpad is laughably small. Sensitivity and accuracy on the Blade 15’s touchpad are top-notch, though you might want to make sure sensitivity is not set at high (as it was by default on my review model) because this prevents palm-rejection from working properly.
Razer Blade 15 (2019) review: Display
Now we come to yet another crowning glory: that display. This model’s FHD 15.6in IPS panel has a refresh rate of 240Hz and represents a step up in overall quality compared to its predecessor. It’s got 93.4% sRGB gamut coverage and produces an sRGB gamut volume of 106%, meaning that it has a solid crossover with the sRGB colour space used by all web content and nearly all PC apps. Colour accuracy is better than the last Razer Blade at an average Delta E of 1.78, though pro-level video and photo editors might still want something that goes even lower.
The display’s maximum measured luminance of 303cd/m2 is perfectly adequate, though the image could be brighter. For indoor use, it is perfectly usable and the matte finish reduces glare from overhead lighting. You just won’t want to take it outside, is all. A quick panel uniformity test revealed that the maximum brightness output on the right-hand side is slightly lower (up to 6.43%) than the centre of the screen. Contrast ratio measures at 1,128:1, a strong result that ensures images on the screen look vivid, with plenty of pop between light and dark. Again, it’s slightly better than last year’s Blade 15, which had a contrast ratio of 1,036:1, but not so significant as to make a difference.
Razer Blade 15 (2019) review: Performance and battery life
Luckily, the Blade 15’s performance is a vast improvement on its predecessor’s, making for a notably better experience in daily use. This boost is mostly down to its high-powered processor, the brand-new octa-core Intel Core i7-9750H. Working alongside 16GB RAM, the i7-9750H produces exceptional results that cruise past the speeds achieved by the 2018 Blade 15, which used an i7-8750H and equivalent RAM.
In the Expert Reviews in-house 4K benchmark, which stresses the CPU and GPU with editing and multitasking tests, the Razer Blade 15 (2019) scored a result of 174. As the chart above shows, the old Razer Blade scored 149 in the same test – at the time that was very speedy indeed. The Blade 15 (2019) isn’t quite up there with other gaming laptops like the Alienware m15 or Acer Predator Helios 500 but the former has double the RAM and the latter uses a high-powered Intel Core i9 CPU. Obviously, the Blade 15 can’t touch the score of 310 achieved by the Alienware Area-51m. Remember, though, that the 51m is double the weight, £1,200 pricier and relies on two – yes, two – PSUs.
Moving onto the graphics tests, an area in which the Razer Blade 15 (2019) excels. This is the first laptop I’ve tested that uses an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU, and it puts its 240Hz display to good use. In the GFXBench Car Chase test, the Blade 15 maintained an average on-screen frame rate of 203.6fps, a stunning result that’s second only to the Asus ROG Strix Scar III (the other 240Hz laptop I’ve tested). The Scar III does have a superior spec, with an i9-9880H CPU and 32GB RAM, though its RTX 2070 GPU isn’t quite equal to the 2080 Max-Q in the Blade 15.
Impressively, the Razer Blade 15 managed to pip the Scar III in the more demanding 1080p Metro: Last Light test, clocking an average of 146fps. That’s bang-on equal to the Acer Predator Helios 500; a much larger laptop with a far more powerful CPU. The only rival to better the Blade 15’s Metro result is (no surprises) the Alienware Area-51m, with an average of 213fps. Not that you’d see any on-screen benefit since that laptop has a 144Hz refresh rate.
New to the Expert Reviews suite, the 1080p Hitman 2 Mumbai benchmark (high settings) is one of the most gruelling graphics tests out there. Still, it came as a surprise that the Razer Blade 15 only managed an average frame rate of 8.48fps. By dropping all the graphics settings to medium and lowering from DirectX 12 to the DirectX 11 API, I was able to get the Hitman 2 Mumbai benchmark to average out at just over 60fps. And what about VR capabilities? According to Steam’s VR performance test, the Razer Blade 15 (2019) is as VR-ready as it’s possible for a laptop to be.
Like its graphics abilities, the Razer Blade 15’s storage performance is outstanding. In the AS SSD benchmark, its 512GB PCIe SSD hit read (or open) speeds of 2,339MB/sec in our sequential file transfer tests and write (or save) speeds of 1,800.72MB/sec. Those read speeds are above average and the write speeds – 800MB/sec faster than the last Blade 15 – are sensational. My only quibble here is the lack of space: 512GB is really not much room for a gaming library in a world where individual games can be as large as 100GB. The Base Model of the new Blade 15 offers a dual-storage option which comes with a 2TB HDD in addition to an SSD, but the Advanced Model is capped to the single storage slot.
Having achieved such great results in every single other area of performance, there had to be a catch. The weak link in the chain, it turns out, is battery life. In our standardised battery rundown benchmark, the Razer Blade 15’s 80.2Wh battery petered out after a mere 1hr 51mins of battery playback. That is an appalling result, there’s no getting around it. Even the Acer Predator Helios 500 and Alienware Area-51m, with their Galactus-esque power demands, managed to pass the 2hr mark. And look at last year’s Razer Blade 15, which went for 7hrs 7mins under the same conditions. I’d expected Nvidia’s Optimus technology to, well, optimise its power efficiency. Clearly, that has not happened here.
Razer Blade 15 (2019) review: Verdict
Although the new Razer Blade 15 is better than last year’s iteration in almost every capacity, I cannot confidently call it the best gaming laptop you can buy. Just because the Blade 15 was the most desirable gaming notebook in 2018, and the refreshed model has a 240Hz panel and superior performance, it doesn’t automatically make the Razer Blade 15 the best of 2019.
In terms of pure design and portability, yes, it is evidently the winner. It’s as sleek as ever, packing an immense amount of processing and gaming power for a laptop of its size. Yet, at £2,880, I’m not convinced it represents the greatest value for money. I’ve reviewed laptops with comparable gaming results that cost hundreds of pounds less, including the Alienware m15 and Acer Predator Helios 500. It’s also worth noting that the top-spec FHD Razer Blade 15 (2018) was just £2,330 at the time of review.
Would I regret buying a Razer Blade 15 (2019), though? Almost certainly not. Never mind the gorgeous exterior; it’s the performance that has won me over. Despite all that power packed into so thin and light a chassis, it always keeps its cool to produce a consistent, high-level gaming experience. That’s something the Asus ROG Strix Scar III can’t claim to have achieved. Yes, the Razer Blade 15 is expensive, and the battery life is woeful, but everything else is simply fantastic.