Review of the Razer Blade 14″ 1060, Razer Support and VR experience

In Computing, Reviews by Ross Fisher10 Comments

After being frustrated with Apple’s MacBook Pro announcement, I decided to try out a Razer Blade FHD 1060. The thought of a laptop in the same form factor with much beefier hardware was appealing to me. End user replaceable SSD was icing on the cake, I could buy the 256GB model and save money by putting in a faster Samsung 960 1TB NVME drive myself. So without much real thinking about it, I placed my order.

Razerzone online ordering experience and customer service

Meanwhile, I found that the Alienware 15 R3 was fresh out. Loaded with a GTX 1070, 120hz G-Sync panel, 2x NVME, end user replaceable RAM, 99Wh battery and a SATA bay to boot – all at the same price point. I face palmed and attempted to cancel my order.

The order was placed on Oct 31st. The cancellation request was put in about 30 minutes later. I didn’t receive a response until Nov 3rd in which I was told that the Razer Blade was preparing to ship and they couldn’t cancel my order.

All the while this was happening, an authorization hold was placed on my account the second I ordered and the order status page to this day still shows “Order Unsubmitted”:

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-48-48-pm

Razer doesn’t offer any sort of store phone support, but I did find their partner’s support line at http://www.digitalriver.com . They were able to provide shipping updates, but couldn’t cancel the order over the phone. I finally received the machine and played with it for a few days. I put in a refund request in two days ago, we’ll see how it turns out.

Hardware and build quality

Overall I’m impressed with the build of this machine. The actual motherboard itself is a generic green color and some of the wiring/component layout and such isn’t as nice as a MacBook by far, but thermals are good under gaming load. I did notice a few fins on one of the heatsinks were slightly bent, but nothing preventing operation. I would of liked to see a Samsung 950 Pro instead of the value series PM951 but they only come in 256GB/512GB.

Here are thermals using HWMonitor after an hour of Civ 6 gameplay in a room about 72F:

2016-11-08-00_12_55-cpuid-hwmonitor

Left = Current | Middle = Lowest | Right = Average

I however was sad to hear that Razer gimped the 1060 by about 15% (source) which can be felt in demanding titles such as Battlefield 1. I’m a bit upset that this wasn’t communicated anywhere on Razer’s site as it would of affected my purchase decision. In the end I believe that this was required to make the 1060 fit into the Razer’s thermal profile, throttling chips aren’t good for longevity.

Another point is that Razer is very unfriendly to end users in terms of repairs and maintenance. The Razer forms is full of people scared to open their unit in fear of invalidating their warranty (illegal) and replacement batteries aren’t purchasable in exception to a shady Chinese site or two.

VR Experience

I have an Oculus Rift and the experience is hit and miss. On a fresh install of Windows 10 with all updates and the latest Nvidia/Intel drivers – I experienced frequent issues with the Rift simply not turning on when the face detection sensor was triggered. Unplugging the headset, quitting Oculus software and relaunching/reconnecting got it working again. I retested on my single GPU 1080 desktop and it worked perfectly – then reinstalled Windows on the Razer and still experienced the same issue. I also tried on the Razer stock OS install and alas, no dice.

I think that Nvidia Optimus is to blame or it could simply be a current driver/Oculus software issue, but it was frustrating none the less. SteamVR absolutely refused to work with error 109, even after disabling the integrated Intel GPU

Overall the Blade isn’t ready for VR, or at least my unit has some defect – but I feel it’s more of a software issue somewhere in the stack.

Wifi stack

I don’t like Killer’s software and furthermore it’s a waste of resources as I’m on a Gigabit fiber line. I installed the standard drivers from Killer’s website.

I have a Unifi home network with four 802.11ac APs, each set to disassociate clients on 5GHZ when at -70RSSI. This is for roaming as I can take my devices around the house and seamlessly switch between APs so I’m not stuck on a distant weak AP when I move and sit in another room. For whatever reason, the Killer Wifi card in this unit doesn’t like this and kept reassociating to the distant AP, leading to poor Wifi performance. Another factor as the card has built in amplifiers, the RSSI doesn’t drop as much compared to other units when moving about – preventing the APs from kicking off the Blade at -70 RSSI as the signal strength is artificially higher. Simply put, the Killer Wifi amplifies the TX – causing high RSSI but as expected can’t do anything to amplify the RX as it’s dependent upon the AP’s transmitter.

I’m not a network engineer (but I claim to know a few things) and you may find issues with above – regardless the end user experience on my network with the Blade is subpar. Installing a spare Intel Wifi card resolved all of my issues.

Other random tidbits

The mouse/UI freezes up under CPU load for anywhere from a microsecond to a half second or so sporadically (may just be Windows 10/Optimus). Audio crackles when playing audio and adjusting volume at the same time (Youtube + Audio adjustment = Crackle). Thankfully the UEFI isn’t locked down to Windows so you could do a Hackintosh or Linux (might differ if purchased from the Microsoft Store).

Conclusion

Even if the hardware and software was absolutely perfect, I’d still return the unit due to the horrible experience I had with Razer’s customer support and their online retailer, DigitalRiver. Eventually I will need a new battery, I may drop the machine and need a new LCD panel and so on, but feel absolutely on my own as not only are parts not available, but I seriously wouldn’t want to deal with having to mail it in for repair. As of now, it really does feel like a throwaway machine instead of a unit which you’d own and repair as time marched on.

Overall though, it is a aesthetically pleasing unit but feel as if the experience is hampered by the under clocked 1060, poor Rift support, cracking audio, mouse stuttering and so on. Apart from the VR issue, they really aren’t world shattering issues – I just expected more coming from self built PCs and MacBooks. My advise is that if you have the money to burn and it’ll be a second machine for you (such as waiting a few days each time you contact support or weeks for a repair is fine and dandy), go for it. Otherwise look elsewhere.

Comments

  1. There is a Razer Blade support phone number based out of California, and they are good.

    1. Author

      Awesome! May I ask for the number? I called the listed Razer support line and they don’t deal with order support.

        1. Author

          Unfortunately this is the same customer support line that doesn’t offer online ordering assistance. Again I requested the order be cancelled the same day I placed the order, they responded days later saying they couldn’t as it was shipping and I’ve yet to hear back after requesting an RMA for return on Nov 9th.

          I appreciate your attempt to assist with this however.

  2. Hey Ross,

    I need a laptop due to the amount of travel I’ve been doing of late and I’m considering the following three computers: Razer Blade, MacBook Pro 15″ (new one with touch bar), and the Alienware 15 R3. I really don’t like the idea of a gaming computer; I’ve always thought of them as being the Beats by Dr. Dre of the computing world (i.e. blingy overpriced crap). But, alas, I need the computing power for gaming/content creation. Which would you go for? They’re all a waste of money IMO, but which is the best waste of money?

    Some of my considerations:
    1.Gaming
    2. User experience
    3. Battery life
    4. Productivity/content creation
    5. Optimization
    6. Looks (eh)

    Thanks very much!
    -Ari

    1. Author

      Howdy Ari!

      Tough call for sure! Between Mac and all other devices it comes down to platform choice. I’ve been a Mac user for a few years now and still don’t feel as if I can replicate my productivity experience on Windows as I can with OSX. I’ve come somewhat far with using apps like Evernote, Todoist, Mailbird, Google Docs and Chrome but at the end of the day it feels more bolted on then core services provided by the OS.

      I’ll instead attempt to focus on the hardware and some Apps instead as it’s much less subjective as the OS choice is.

      With the Macbook Pro 15″ with the upgraded Radeon Pro 460, you are getting GTX 965M like performance (NotebookCheck) which can be good for some light to moderate gaming at low to medium settings at 1080p. If you are willing to sacrafice some frames and game at 30-40FPS, it seems high settings at 1080p is possible. For this config (upgraded CPU, Radeon Pro 460 and 1TB SSD), you’ll be paying a massive $3,499. Some report that Final Cut Pro is much faster at the same settings then Adobe Premiere though so it would seem the less powerful GPU might not matter as much if using FCP on the system.

      The Razer Blade is a nice looking machine for sure. Even after my scathing review, it has grown on me a bit and it’s really got me to thinking about how much performance is actually crammed into this 14″ machine. It really does symbolize the most performance per space at it’s size and the 4-5 hour battery life really isn’t all that bad when you consider it has a Nvidia 1060 onboard. Razer support and online ordering super sucks though (definitely order on B&H or Amazon) but this is somewhat nullified if you consider yourself techy enough to not necessarily need the technical support. You really can’t find replacement parts online though, the battery can be found on one site without going through Razer but it seems a bit questionable.

      Finally you have the Alienware 15 R3 with the 1070 and 99Wh battery option. This unit has socketed RAM for up to 32GB, 2x NVME slots (with RAID support unofficially) and a SATA 2.5″ HDD slot onboard. If going for this model, I strongly recommend the 1070 + 99Wh battery option. Not only should it have more performance thanks to the 1070, but battery life should be equal or a bit better than the Blade 1060. The killer punch seems to be that Dell publishes maintenance and repair manuals online which is a boom to DIYers and gets away from the Razer Apple-like repair mindset. Parts should be much easier to find as well.

      Personally I’d go with the Alienware 15 R3 with the 1070 and 99Wh battery if looking at each with a function>form mindset. While the Samsung 960 Pro 2TB drive is coming out soon (at a staggering $1,299), I can certainly get away with mobile video editing on something more affordable such as a 512GB Samsung 950 Pro and a 2-4TB spinning rust drive in the Alienware’s 2.5″ SATA bay. The 1070 is 20-35% faster than the 1060 and Alienware’s certainly more chunky case design should mean lower temps and longer overall less thermal stress on the components under load – over time. If you are however invested into Apple’s ecosystem and would suffer a productivity crunch by switching OSes and using different tools, you’d need to ask yourself if the lower price and greater performance is worth losing some short term productivity.

  3. Wow! Thank you so much for the comprehensive reply. It’s a super hard choice between those three but I’ll definitely keep all that in mind. Thanks bro.
    -Ari

  4. Hello! I’m considering Computer Science as my major, I want to start my language learning experience right away, but I don’t know what computer to chose. I was wondering what would you chose for a portable laptop with good specs? I’ve been researching online, but reviews and prices leave me undecided! I was wondering if your advice could help. Thank you in advance!

    Things I like in a laptop:
    -Portability
    -Strong/ impressive specs (with a dedicated GPU)
    -professional

    1. hello, I am a computer science major and I love my razer blade. However, you can code on just about anything.

      1. Author

        I hope you enjoy your Blade! Nothing wrong with the machine itself now that the throttling fix came out for the GPU.

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