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”:
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.