Earlier this year, I took a look at Razer’s first foray into gaming systems, the Blade notebook. I came away pretty impressed overall, particularly with the level of design and engineering polish. Considering it was their first notebook product, they got a lot of things right, but there were a few missteps. It was a relative lightweight when it came to performance - with only a dual-core Core i7 and Nvidia GeForce GT 555M graphics, it couldn’t really be considered on the same performance plane as the ASUS RoG and Alienware notebooks, not to mention the powerhouse systems from Clevo. And there were some fundamental issues with the Switchblade UI panel. It was a cool idea, but it was really, really buggy, and though it had the “wow” factor, it didn’t have that much utility even when it wasn’t crashing all over itself. Also, at $2799, the Blade was priced out of the realm of reality. Even so, Blade sales were brisk (their first run sold out in 30 minutes, though no word on volume) and established Razer as a serious hardware manufacturer.

Razer has set about fixing the issues we had, and a year after the original Blade was announced, they’re releasing the second generation Blade. It’s better in every conceivable way - they’ve seriously upped the performance quotient, with a quad-core IVB quad, a GTX 660M, and a 500GB hard drive paired with a 64GB SSD cache. I’m a little bit disappointed by the switch from full SSD storage, but with the size of games these days I completely understand the need for more than 256GB of disk space, and with a cache of 64GB, there’s enough space for Intel’s Smart Response caching tech to store basically everything. The biggest change in addition to the performance is the price drop, to $2499. It’s still not cheap, but when you consider the major performance upgrades, the value proposition is definitely improved.

The industrial design has remained predominantly the same, and the gorgeous 17.3” 1080p display is still there, so the parts about the first Blade that we love are for the most part untouched. To fit all of this into the Blade’s 6.4 pound, 0.8” thick frame, Razer needed to redesign the cooling system, and in the press images we can see some definite changes to the lower venting near the rear of the system. Other changes include a third USB 3.0, redesigned mouse buttons, and a Switchblade UI that’s said to be significantly improved. Razer has been rather aggressive in pushing new content and updates to Switchblade, so it’s gotten better in the six months since I had the Blade.

We’re going hands on with it later today at PAX Prime, and I'll update then with hands-on-post.

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  • MrSpadge - Sunday, September 2, 2012 - link

    Don't all IDeapads have crappy glossy low resolution TN panels? The one listed at least says 1366 x 768, but no more information than that. Oh, and the HDD is 5.4k rpm.
  • flyingpants1 - Sunday, September 2, 2012 - link

    Right, the Lenovo Y580 with 32GB mSATA SSD and 1080p panel is only $1049 on Lenovo.com.
  • danjw - Monday, September 3, 2012 - link

    You said you would give an update when you got hands on, so where is it?
  • zzing123 - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - link

    This machine was just screaming for IVB and Kepler/Pitcairn, and this silicon makes the R2 the machine it should have been in R1 guise.

    As an R2 release for today, on its current specs, even if the Blade R2 was a 15" machine, then it'd still need 16GB RAM option to be a proper contender.

    For a 17" laptop, not only does it need 16GB RAM option, but also 2x 2.5" drives especially given the absence of an optical drive, and the mSATA cache SSD should be user replaceable / or BTO option (you can get 256GB mSATA SSDs nowadays). An optical drive doesn't matter at all. I've always ripped out optical drives since PIII days and put a 2nd drive in. If Razer wanted to be inventive, how about putting something like 8 mSATA drives instead of any 2.5" drives, and RAID them together?

    Even though it's still nascient on Windows, Thunderbolt support should seriously be considered in any ultra price bracket laptop like the Blade too. Both on 15 and 17". Gamers don't need TB, but the Blade R2 wouldn't really be used by gamers. 'Serious games' people and game developers might, and they need effectively a mobile workstation with stinkloads of RAM and storage with a high powered GPU, with an option for both 'Workstation' GPU (Quadro/FirePro) and 'desktop' GPUs (GeForce/Radeon). TB would help a lot in that usage scenario. Also GCN is a better bet with pro graphics than Kepler is for OpenGL/CL requirements of pro apps, so going with Nvidia is not as straight-cut as it should be. Perhaps they should've done the Apple thing of switching GPUs for each generation, but in conclusion, going with Nvidia/Kepler or AMD/GCN doesn't really matter.

    In terms of comparisons, the fact that rMBP has 768GB SSD, Thunderbolt and 16GB RAM with one notch less of GPU performance and an amazing screen for a cheaper price, does mean the rMBP is a 'better machine', regardless of how 'bad' BootCamp is under Windows. For the reasons stated above, as well, the HP EliteBooks (workstation guises) and Dell Precision Mobile workstations are also natural match ups to the Blade.

    What I don't believe matters much with the Blade R2 is the screen. 1080p is a more versatile screen than the retina display, despite the fact that the retina display is an awesome screen.

    IMO, on current specs, without sufficient storage or RAM, the R2 is a no. But it was neglect of these more fundamental specs of RAM and storage that fails the test for the Blade R2, not form factor, display or price.
  • geniekid - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - link

    Give me a 15" version with no Switchblade, a 650M, and an i5 processor for $800 less and I'll pre-order one right now. I don't know how realistic that is, but that's what it would take for me to buy one.

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