Razer, once a company that mainly made accessories for gaming PCs, is getting more serious about its PC business. It started with a 17-inch gaming notebook called the Razer Blade, but soon expanded into a 14-inch version of the Blade and a strange but unique gaming tablet called the Razer Edge. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to sell a range of gaming desktops with Lenovo’s help, and it collected the remains of crowdfunding-success-turned-failure Ouya to support the Forge, its own Android TV-based microconsole. .
All those systems have one thing in common: a focus on gaming. Today at CES, the company introduced its first laptop that isn’t a gaming system in itself: the Razer Blade Stealth. The 0.52-inch-thick, 2.75-pound laptop includes individually backlit keys with RGB LEDs (you can color-code each key for aesthetics or to make it even clearer which key is which) and the overall black-and-green aesthetic from Razer, but otherwise it’s a standard Ultrabook not all that different from the ones Dell or HP will sell you.
The laptop is primarily made of black aluminum, and the 12.5-inch IPS touchscreen comes in 2560 x 1440 and 3840 x 2160 flavors (the 4K version also covers 100 percent of the Adobe RGB color gamut). All models feature dual-core Skylake Core i7-6500U CPUs and 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3 RAM (unfortunately not expandable to 16GB either at purchase or after). All models apparently use PCI Express SSDs rather than the slower SATA-based drives that many PC OEMs still ship, so even if you don’t game, there are some good reasons to check out the Blade Stealth.
Additionally, the laptop includes a Thunderbolt 3 port for both data and charging, and this port also supports full 10Gbps USB 3.1 speeds.
I had a chance to get my hands on the laptop for a while today, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like on paper: a solidly built laptop from a company that understands what goes into a good laptop. It’s not the thinnest and lightest money can buy, but it’s more than competitive, and the keyboard, trackpad and screen feel and look good (although I’d like to use it longer to make sure there’s were no strange problems).
Thunderbolt is key to the accessory that will turn the Razer Blade Stealth into a gaming laptop: the Razer Core is a Thunderbolt 3 dock that fits a full-size dual-slot PCI Express graphics card. In addition to powering the laptop through the Type-C cable when plugged in, this dock includes four USB 3.0 ports and an Ethernet port.
External graphics enclosures have always been something of a dream scenario for Thunderbolt, as it is an external interface that offers enough bandwidth to compete with internal interfaces. But it’s hampered by a number of factors, including the PC OEMs’ general indifference to Thunderbolt versions 1 and 2 – low adoption outside the Mac ecosystem means relatively few accessories, and most of the useful ones out there are external hard drives . Thunderbolt enclosures exist, but most are designed for external Wi-Fi cards or storage controllers that take up less space and consume significantly less power than a mid- to high-end graphics card.
The Core will fit “virtually every popular desktop graphics card from AMD and Nvidia”, which should include most common cards. The case houses a 500W power supply and Razer says cards that draw up to 375W of power will fit – this is plenty for dual-GPU monsters like Nvidia’s GeForce GTX Titan Z, cards that need that much power are rare. The company will validate specific GPUs, but anything within the power envelope that physically fits should work fine.
When connected to the Blade Stealth, the laptop should switch seamlessly from the integrated Intel GPU to the dedicated GPU. You can use any of the GPU’s ports to drive external displays, but Razer also says Thunderbolt 3 offers enough bandwidth (and enough flexibility) that the GPU can also be used to drive the laptop’s built-in display.
You just can’t control the built-in display and external displays at the same time. Updating: While this information was correct yesterday, Razer now tells us that the Core is capable of driving both the built-in and external displays simultaneously.
The company also says other PC OEMs with Thunderbolt 3 laptops should be able to implement support for the Core if they want to. It’s not clear what that would entail – Razer says it’s a combination of drivers plus BIOS settings – but it would be nice to have a graphics case that could work with laptops other than Razer’s. Thunderbolt 3 is surprisingly common in high-end systems as Skylake and USB Type-C proliferate.
The $999 version of the Razer Blade Stealth gives you the standard Core i7 and 8GB of RAM, 1440p display, and 128GB PCIe SSD. The fully decked out version with the 4K display and a 512 GB PCIe SSD costs $1,599. It will be available directly from Razer in January and in Microsoft Stores from February. Pricing for the Core case has not been disclosed, but it will be available in the first half of 2016.
The company also announced the Razer Stargazer, a $200 webcam equipped with Intel’s RealSense 3D technology. It can shoot 720p video at 60 frames per second or 1080p video at 30 frames per second, and Razer is targeting eSports commentators who want to separate their faces from their backgrounds without using a green screen. The Stargazer will be available in Q2 of 2016.
Frame image by Andrew Cunningham