I’ve been using PCs forever. I prefer to work with desktops unless the situation demands otherwise. I have used laptops on and off since they became ubiquitous in the mid-90s, but I’ve never been a big fan of them for several reasons. The compromises required to fit modern computing power into such a portable form factor have always led to products that are expensive and often become tethered to a desk or wall, negating their benefits. I accepted the opportunity to review Razer’s newest ultrabook expecting to find more of the same. After spending a couple of weeks with the Razer Blade Stealth, I believe that laptop computers are finally nearing their full potential.
Unboxing The Stealth
The Blade Stealth comes in a simple, understated cardboard box that was much less gaudy than I expected from my previous experience with Razer products. Included are the laptop and a nice braided power cable with a USB type-C connector and a very slim power brick. The Stealth is a 13.3” laptop with an IGZO-based display. This display technology offers comparable image quality to IPS and VA while reducing power consumption. The Stealth has a reduced-size chiclet keyboard that features RGB backlighting that can be customized by Razer’s Synapse software.
The model I received included the Intel Core i7-8550U processor. This is a Kaby Lake family part that first debuted last fall and has a base clock of 1.8Ghz and can turbo up to 4.0Ghz. This wide range of available clockspeeds allows for enhanced battery life for normal use without sacrificing the raw power needed for tasks like video encoding or rendering. 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 500GB SSD make up the rest of the critical core components of the Stealth. The graphics are handled by the Intel HD 620 IGP that is included with the i7-8550U.
The display features a 3200x1800 panel that gives a good first impression. Out of the box, the Windows DPI scaling is set to 300% for readability, but all objects on the screen remain razor sharp. I found the screen to be a bit oversaturated compared to other displays, but this could be a positive depending on your personal tastes. It makes colors pop and gives game environments a very lush appearance. Rounding out the feature set is the Killer-branded wireless solution, a USB type-C plug (Thunderbolt-ready), HDMI port, and 3.5mm audio jack.
Going Hands On
The first impression I got from the Razer Blade Stealth is that is a solid piece of equipment. It is small, but has heft. I powered on the device and was pleasantly surprised by how fast I was up and running in Windows 10. As best as I can tell, the Stealth comes with a clean installation of Windows and no bloatware, save for Razer’s own Synapse software for configuring the keyboard RGBs. As an owner of multiple Razer mice, I am not a fan of Synapse at all, but I cannot fault its inclusion in this package.
My first impressions of the laptop are that it is incredibly snappy and responsive. The Core i7-8550U may not be as powerful as its enthusiast desktop siblings, but I don’t see how anyone could reasonably argue that it is not up to the task of powering the Stealth through any workload. My past experiences with Intel’s low-power mobile CPUs were less than stellar, but this chip gives you the desktop experience with no apparent compromise. I copied over some h264 videos and let Handbrake loose on some encodes. The speed of the encodes got closer to the level of my desktop i7-7700K than I’d like to admit.
While most of my early interactions with the laptop where while it sat on my desk, I decided to make use of the portability and brought it to my stereo setup to help with recording needle drops from my turntable. The Stealth’s small footprint was just what the doctor ordered and made the process relatively painless compared to the lengthy cable runs I had previously been using to accomplish this same goal. The USB type-C port was also a huge plus for me. Transfers from my mobile phone’s storage were lightning fast and I was able to grab a charge from the laptop at speeds comparable to using an electrical outlet.
Time to Play?
The last big test was to play some games on this thing. Razer informed me that this particular model was not intended for hardcore gaming, but the box it came in proudly proclaimed “By Gamers. For Gamers.” and Razer’s product page for the Stealth advertises a range of games that are playable on the Stealth, including Metal Gear Solid V, Project Cars, Tekken 7, Borderlands 2, Rocket League, and more. I felt that it was fair to see what the Stealth could offer if you needed a break from work or felt like joining some friends for a round of Rocket League while you were cooped up in some hotel room.
I installed Steam and downloaded Rocket League and Borderlands 2 (a pair of games that I owned and were specifically mentioned on the Razer website). In my opinion, both of these games need 60fps to be enjoyed, but I can see an argument for playing Borderlands at 30fps. The Stealth was able to give a steady 30fps in Gearbox’s loot shooter when all the settings were lowered, but it was less than ideal. In Rocket League, I feel that the experience is compromised below 60fps, as it makes controlling your rocket car difficult and the twitch adjustments required for success are hard to make. I could not get Rocket League to hit 60fps at any resolution or combination of settings using the integrated Intel 620 GPU.
I should also note that while the Stealth comes with a 3200x1800 screen, I was unable to select any resolution above 1600x900 in games. I’m not sure if it is a driver limitation set by Intel or a choice by Razer to keep the games from running any worse than they already do. I understand why it is the way it is, but it's a shame to have such a high resolution screen and not make full use of it.
That being said, Razer recommends that you purchase its Core v2 module if you have intentions for making your Razer Blade Stealth a legitimate gaming machine. The Core v2 is an external GPU enclosure that has multiple connections and a 500w power supply. It allows you to install a wide range of off the shelf GPUs and connects to the Stealth via the USB type-C Thunderbolt connection. Assuming you installed a beefy GPU like the GTX 1080, gaming on the stealth would be a breeze, even at the 3200x1800 resolution. This expandability comes with a big price tag though, as the Core v2 will set you back $499, plus the cost of the GPU. Going with this type of setup negates many of the portability benefits of buying a laptop, but pairing a dedicated GPU to the Intel Core i7-8550U gives you a gaming experience that offers zero compromises.
Using the Razer Blade Stealth was a bit of a revelation for me. I was not expecting the snappy performance I got from the i7-8550U. It did not matter if I was plugged into the wall or running on the battery, using the Stealth felt like using a high-powered desktop PC. The sharp display made things easy on my eyes. I took advantage of Steam’s in-home streaming service to play some of my more demanding titles (The Hunter: Call of the Wild, Resident Evil 7, and NIOH) out on my back porch. It was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to play stuff like that away from the desk and the image quality was excellent. I wouldn’t recommend it for twitchy games, but the ease of setup and end-user experience was top-notch.
I have to type lots of stuff for work and attempted to do some of that on the Stealth’s RGB keyboard. The condensed size, along with the almost flush-mounted keycaps led to lots of frustration. The problem is easily solvable with a USB keyboard and other users who weren’t born with 35-lb meat claws may fare much better than I did. I tried the 3.5mm audio jack with a few sets of my headphones and found the music listening experience to be adequate and most importantly, noise-free. The jack does not provide sufficient juice for hard to drive headphones, but it was not designed to, so it's no big deal.
The Razer Blade Stealth has its issues, but the one thing about it that I must focus on is battery life. I have never used a laptop that could provide real, usable power for as long as I got on this Stealth. I don’t know what kind of black magic Razer conjured up (or if it was simply a combination of well-chosen parts), but I was shocked every time I checked the battery icon in the taskbar. There was always power to spare, even when I had previously drained other laptops doing the same types of tasks. The USB type-C charger also got me back up to a full charge in no time.
The battery life on this laptop is so good, that I almost feel comfortable in calling it a game changer. I’ve never been able to count on a powerful laptop to offer more than three or four hours of uptime for heavy use and the Razer Blade Stealth still had enough power for me to screw around on Youtube for an hour after I spent the better part of an afternoon encoding videos and testing out games on Steam. This almost makes me feel like laptops are reaching the point where the power/portability compromise no longer has to be made.
I am still a desktop guy, but I have no reservations recommending the Razer Blade Stealth to anyone who needs desktop-class power with a strong battery in a very portable package. If you need gaming performance, Razer has a lineup of laptops that can server that purpose, or you can opt for the pricey Core v2 GPU enclosure. The Stealth is not cheap (the model I tested retails for $1699), but no computing products that offer a top of the line experience ever are. This is a laptop for those serious about getting work done. The lack of bloatware shows that Razer is also committed to this as well.
This review is based on a laptop provided by the manufacturer. The Razer Blade Stealth starts at $1399. The model reveiwed is $1699 as configured. You can pick up one today from Amazon.