New Razer Blade Stealth Ultrabook Review: 12.5 inch 4K UHD IGZO Laptop
When it was first released to the market in early 2016, the original Razer Blade Stealth notebook soon rewarded as the Best of CES in both the Best PC and People’s Choice categories, and from there went on to garner 20 additional awards worldwide. Now, only about 8 months after releasing this prize-winning Razer Blade 4K UHD IGZO laptop with 12.5 inch display, Razer has now unveiled what they call the “New Razer Blade 4K UHD IGZO laptop with 12.5 inch display”. And if the nearly identical name wasn’t on its own enough to make confusing the two notebooks with each other way too easy, the fact that they’re externally identical in appearance adds a finishing touch.
However, make no mistake about it, the New Razer Blade Stealth is definitely its own distinct machine with its own roster of powerful new specs to make buying this version instead of the previous one a smart choice. This isn’t to say that the older Razer is any sort of slouch, because it obviously enough isn’t by any means, but the newest 2016 model definitely offers some improvements over the previous superb piece of compact laptop machinery.
Just like its predecessor, the new Kaby Lake Razer Blade is a superb and robust 4K performer for almost any type of work you care to throw at it. This of course covers the basics of displaying ultra HD graphics in Windows 10 but it also effortlessly encompasses smooth graphics handling when the little notebook is being used to edit 4K video, watch movies and video clips in streaming 4K resolution from the web (more on this shortly) and under special circumstances for 4K gaming itself.
For starters, the new Kaby Lake 7th Gen Intel Core i7-7500U processor from Intel that has been built into the new Razer lets it handle the strain of 8.29 million interactive pixels with a notably greater smoothness than its predecessor. As a result, while video editing or 4K UHD video sources are being played back on the display, the cooling system inside the laptop not only activates considerably less often but also runs just a smidge cooler than it did in the early 2016 edition of the Razer.
In addition to the above, the Core i7 Kaby Lake chipset comes with one other major 4K-friendly specs bonus that almost any user should love. This is the in-chipset inclusion of both VP9 and H.265 4K video compression decoding codecs. As a result, users can not only watch native 4K video from YouTube or a source like Netflix on the Kaby Lake Razer but they can also do so with a noticeably lower level of strain on the chipset and its cooling system.
Finally, in the ultimate test of 4K rendering performance, the Kaby Lake Razer Blade is optimized for being one of the best 4K UHD gaming laptops around thanks to one major bonus technology which the older version of the laptop also had. This is the external Razer Core GPU box which is available as an accessory. Users who have a particularly powerful 4K gaming card like the NVIDIA GTX 1080 or perhaps something robust but a bit weaker like the GTX 980Ti or one of AMD’s Radeon GPUs can hook any of these or other graphics cards into the Core box and run the Razer Blade’s rendering of 4K games or Full HD PC games at speeds and frame rates which go way beyond what would be possible with only the Razer’s internal hardware running the graphics.
Of course, with the attachment of the Razer Core box for 4K gaming, the laptop’s own hardware really stops doing most of the serious graphics work, so technically you could say that the Razer itself still isn’t quite capable of 4K gaming but the fact that the manufacturer facilitated this kind of external GPU connectivity in a ready-made piece of hardware definitely wins this notebook points I the still sharply limited world of 4K UHD laptop gaming.
The first thing worth mentioning about the Kaby Lake Razer Blade is that, just like its externally identical predecessor, it’s very well built. This little laptop is robust, tough and elegantly simple with an aluminum chassis that’s also quite light on the go. In basic terms, it’s an ultrabook that you can comfortably move around or toss into a backpack without worrying too much about something breaking over a silly little bump or nick. In addition to its cool design, the new Blade is also simply nice to look at. It’s not showy or fancy but it does have an elegantly simple matte black body design which we certainly like.
Furthermore, in this body you get all of the same connectivity ports and other external specs for sound, display and lighting which the original Blade came with. As we’d said, the new Kaby Lake Blade is all about internal improvements with external specs basically remaining the same.
Moving along to the internal specs of the Kaby Lake Blade we find the real meat of what makes this second version of the laptop such a cool device. It may seem ridiculous to go for an upgraded version of the older model so soon after its release and for man users it might not at all be a necessary step but for those of you who really need some extra laptop power for your 4K video handling needs, the Kaby Lake Blade genuinely delivers improvements to its older cousin. For starters, there is the 15% enhancement to this new model's battery power, which delivers a solid 7 to 8 hours of single-charge cord-free performance even with moderate use. This is notably better than the 5 to 6 hours possible with the early 2016 Blade model.
Then there is the new processing power expansion given to the Kaby Lake model. The basic New Razer Blade still comes with an 8GB dual-channel memory but this can now be expanded to a much more robust 16GB memory version. Those extra 8GB definitely do make a difference in a 4K laptop and when using them, all of the graphics and other stuff you might be doing in the notebook flow along more smoothly. The effect of the 16GB RAM is particularly notable if you’re one of those people (like me) who loves to have multiple apps, documents and dozens of Chrome browser apps all running the same time for quick access. Part of the Kaby Lake Blade’s performance also lies in the considerably enhanced Core i7-7500U processor from Intel and in any case the combination of this and the 16GB RAM expansion makes for particularly snappy video editing and graphic design workflows, especially with this laptop's 4K UHD display and all those 8.29 million pixels.
As a consequence of the superb Kaby Lake processor in the New Razer Blade Stealth, you also get the benefit of superior power efficiency, mildly superior heat efficiency and slightly better noise performance. As we’d already mentioned, the new batter power enhances cord-free use time but this is also partly thanks to the more efficient 7th generation design of Intel’s new chipset. As a further result of this efficiency, the chipset causes the whole device to run about 1 to 2 degrees cooler than its predecessor and make about 2 decibels less noise than the 38dB generated by the older machine. Even more importantly, the cooling fans in the new notebook need to turn on much less often as far as we could tell and despite this they still cool the little notebook a bit better than the fans of the early 2016 model did.
We also need to mention the regular gaming chops of the Kaby Lake Razer Blade Stealth. As we’d mentioned above, in our “Performance at 4K” section, this new machine offers the enormously simplified option of connecting a true 4K-capable GPU like the Titan X Pascal or numerous other possible card models into the external, optional Razer Core GPU connectivity box. With this feature enabled the new Blade can handle 4K gaming at reasonably high frame rates like a full desktop PC champ and even heavier native 4K games run fairly smoothly.
However, for those of you who don’t have the external Razer Core box or even more significantly, don’t happen to own a powerful ultra HD gaming GPU to stick into the Core box, the native chipset inside the laptop itself is great for a fairly decent performance level at 1080p settings or even at 1440p settings to a more limited degree. 4K gaming with the Kaby Lake chipset alone will however not work too well, just like it hasn’t so far in any other 4K laptop we’ve yet seen. At least so far, GPU technology with enough kick to handle 4K UHD simply can’t be made to fit into something like a notebook.
Finally, the new Razer Blade now also offers up in-chip decoding of VP9 and H.265 4K video compression codecs right inside the Kaby Lake chipset itself, meaning that video online from 4K UHD providers like YouTube and even Netflix can be viewed in native resolution and with reduced strain on the laptop itself or its cooling system. In addition to this, the little laptop’s connectivity specs are nothing to sneer at, with a Thunderbolt 3 port for second-generation USB 3.1 connectivity in case you ever need it and with this an HDMI 2.0a port for fully 4K and HDR compliant UHD video connectivity from external sources like media players if you like.
Basically, the Kaby Lake Razer Blade Stealth is all about future proofing and as a laptop it gives more reach down the years than do many rival models which still contain more conventional internal processing and connectivity while also lacking the eminently future-friendly design of an external GPU box.
The Kaby Lake Razer’s expanded battery power allows for 7 to 8 hours of use on a single charge, which is considerably better than the performance of the early 2016 model. This is partly due to the expanded battery and partly due to the greater power efficiency of the new Intel chipset. Also, did we mention that the Kaby Lake Razer Blade Stealth is priced remarkably nicely, with all its enhancements on the previous version, this new model still sells for the exact same price as before.
3.8 - 12 Reviews
Quite frankly there is really little to complain about in the new Blade and we’d dare say even remarkably advanced compact laptop. As far as our experience with the little device goes, only a few minor details are worth noting.
First of all, there is the 12.5 inch display of the new Blade Stealth. This is perhaps the aspect of this laptop which is most likely to turn off some users. Packing 3840 x 2160 pixels into only 12.5 inches of display space means one seriously huge pixel density and native UHD graphics which look perfectly smooth to the naked eye but those same 12.5 inches might not be nearly enough for people who want their 4K resolution to really spread itself over enough screen space for easy graphics editing or video viewing in native resolution. In other words, such users would definitely be better off going for an ultra HD desktop monitor or even a 4K TV and saving their money for a non-4K laptop for on the go work. The display difference would in any case be very small as far as the human eye is concerned.
Next, the body surface of the new Blade Stealth is as prone to finger prints as was the body of the older model. Something about that matte aluminum design really lets the oils from our fingers stand out along its service and if you’re a bit obsessive about having your electronics look clean, you’ll find this annoying, though it can be easily fixed by buying a skin for the laptop.
Finally, the Samsung PCIe SSD hard drive of the Kaby Lake Razer Blade Stealth is exactly the same as it was in the older model. This is fine and 1TB of SSD memory is a wonderful thing but we didn’t quite think the write speeds of the unit lived up to what we expected. They’re not bad but for an SSD drive they feel a bit slow.
• Type: compact Ultrabook
• Screen size: 12.5 inches
• Aspect ratio: 16:9
• Resolution: 3840 x 2160
• Included OS: Windows 10 64-bit
• Battery life: variable, depending on processor and GPU usage, nominally 5 hours
• Processor: Intel 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U processor
• RAM: 16GB Dual-Channel System Memory (LPDDR3-1866MHz)
• Weight: 2.84 lbs. / 1.29 kg
• Storage 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB PCIe SSD options
• GPU: Intel® HD Graphics 620 (external Razer Core GPU expansion box can handle numerous other much more powerful GPUs)
• Connectivity: Wireless-AC (802.11a/b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth® 4.1), Ethernet, 1 x Microphone-in/Headphone-out jack
1 x USB 3.1 TYPE C port (Thunderbolt 3)
2 x USB 3.0 port(s)
1 x HDMI 2.0a port
Despite its tiny size, the display of the new Kaby Lake Razer Blade Stealth is a major feature in the small notebook’s favor. Yes, 12.5 inches is a very small space on which to really appreciate 4K UHD graphics and many users will find it altogether too little for the price this laptop is selling at but in terms of actual performance with size discounted from the equation, the screen on the New Blade Stealth is superb.
Razer has actually come out with two versions of the laptop with displays which are otherwise identical except in their display resolution. One is a QHD model with pixel count of 2560 x 1440 pixels and a pixel density of 234 PPI and the other model which we’re reviewing here is the 4K UHD version with 3840 x2160 pixels and a PPI of 352. The 4K UHD model also offers a much better color performance with full 100% Adobe RGB color space coverage promised and as far as we could test, fully delivered on. The display also offers touch screen functionality and comes with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Both the 4K UHD and QHD/1440p models offer an IGZO display panel (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) which enables a blend of features with the best of both IPS and VA thrown together. Thus the Blade delivers superbly broad viewing angles while still conserving high contrast ratios and decently deep black performance. Its colors also stand out quite nicely on the screen with the high AdobeRGB color coverage definitely creating some robust color saturation.
The audio system of the new Kaby Lake Blade is certainly nothing to go crazy over and don’t expect deep rich sound power from any laptop speakers as a general rule but considering the size and lightness of this little notebook, keyboard-bracketng speakers do actually deliver some very decent stand-alone performance. The audio quality of the sound system is notably on the slightly tinny side but there is some decent bass to be found here and the sound performance is enough to nicely flow throughout typically sized living room or den. Setting the volume to about 85 to 90% at maximum is what will deliver the best level of sound clarity while still throwing out robust volume. Basically, the little Blade Stealth comes with speakers powerful enough to match a mid-range external compact laptop/PC audio system and that’s more than we’d expect from almost any laptop.
Nonetheless, we do definitely recommend that you connect the New Razer Blade Stealth either to some high quality headphones or a pair of decent external speakers if you want truly solid sound performance.
Just like its cousin from earlier in 2016, the New Blade Stealth is a lovely, slim and wonderfully light piece of hardware. It offers a slightly smaller 0.52 inch thickness than a MacBook Air at 0.68 inches and definitely feels lighter lighter with a total weight of just 2.84 lbs vs. the 3 lbs of the Air. Its matte black body is elegant but at the same time conservative enough to be comfortable either in a gamer’s den or a buttoned down legal office though lighting systems under the keyboard buttons create a heck of an illumination display, with the New Razer Blade offering the “world’s first individually lit RGB Keyboard” according to Razer. Basically this means that the keys on the laptop offer 16.8 million different colors as you press them and even register simultaneous keyboard presses precisely while being used. The lighting feature of the keyboard is a cool little extra to play around with and it’s definitely useful if you’re working in a completely dark room but otherwise, we don’t really see the point of all those RGB colors for any really practical purpose.
Moving along, the connectivity ports of the Kaby Lake Blade Stealth are all located where you’d expect them along the side of the laptop, with the Thunderbolt 3, AC charging, USB 30 ports and audio combo port along the left side of the device and another USB 3.0 and one HDMI 2.0a port along the right side of the laptop. There is no microSD card reader to be found and the laptop doesn't offer other physical connectivity options.
Finally, the bezel of the Kaby Lake Razer Stealth is a bit on the thick side in our view. Given the laptop’s already small 12.5 inch display space, Razer could have cut down on bezel and replaced it with a bit more screen real estate. The bezel looks way too big on this small notebook.
3.8 - 12 Reviews
To keep this section brief since we covered all of the major hardware features of the new Kaby Lake Razer Blade above, the new laptop offers some of the same basic internal features as its predecessor from early 2016 while packing in a completely new and much more powerful and power efficient Kaby Lake Intel Core i7 i7-7500U 2.7GHz processor which also offers Turbo Boost technology for kicking up its speed to 3.5GHz if needed during spot processing. We definitely have to praise this single most powerful new feature of the new Blade. With HEVC H.256 and VP9 4K video compression codec support and robust gaming, processing and general running power, the new Core i7 chipset is a major improvement over its predecessor in the early 2016 Blade Stealth.
Moving along, the new laptop comes with the option of a 128GB PCIe SSD, a 256GB SSD version, a 512GB version and the 1TB version we’re covering here. As you can imagine, upgrading to the larger storage memories means paying more for the laptop and the cheapest QHD 128GB SSD Razer Blade costs only $999 while the priciest 4K UHD 1TB model goes for just under $2,000. Along with these storage options, there are also two RAM options. The first, which comes with the basic $999 version of the laptop, sits at 8GB of dual-channel memory while the 16GB version is sold with all of the other storage size versions of this laptop.
The Razer Core external box also really deserves another brief mention here. It’s sold separately from this little laptop but connecting the box to either the 4K UHD version of the Blade Stealth or its QHD model and then installing the high-performance GPU of your choice into the Core box will absolutely and dramatically boost this laptop's 1080p, 1440p and 4K UHD 2160p gaming chops. The native Intel HD Graphics 620 GPU of the laptop itself is good enough for basic 4K video handling and normal HD gaming but little else and especially not native 4K PC gameplay at higher frame rates.
Finally, the new Razer Blade Stealth offers the highly unique (in the laptop and PC world) connectivity features of a Thunderbolt 3 port with USB 3.1 capacity at a whopping 40Gbps. This means that the laptop can easily be connected to any other Thunderbolt equipped piece of hardware or a much larger Apple 4K or 5K display for 4K graphics at a smooth 60fps. Then there is the HDMI 2.0a port, which allows the Kaby Lake Razer Blade to handle 4K video from external media players at 60fps and also even supports HDR metadata, even if the laptop display itself is not HDR-equipped.
The new Razer Blade Stealth comes with the Windows 10 64-bit OS built into it. This is a decidedly good thing on such a tiny 4K display since Windows 10 is designed to be the most 4K-friendly Microsoft OS yet built, with properly sized scaling of all its native and associated display icons and graphics.
The 4K UHD Kaby Lake Razer Blade Stealth laptop sells in two factory versions. The cheapest is the 512GB 4K model with a 16GB RAM, selling for $1599 and the model we’re reviewing here is the 1TB version which also comes with a 16GB RAM and retails for $1999.
3.8 - 12 Reviews
• Stunning Kaby Lake Core i7 chipset performance
• Touch and very light-weight design
• 4K handling is mostly smooth and superb
• Connectivity with HDMI 2.0a and Thunderbolt 3
• Great battery life
• Beautiful display functionality
• Expensive for such a small notebook
• 12.5 inch display not for everyone
• Chassis prone to fingerprint smudges
• SSD storage is a bit slow on write speeds