Razer Blade 14 (2021) – Review

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The Razer Blade 14 has been getting a good number of updates since its initial launch, but the new 2021 version propels the tiny laptop back into the spotlight with some new innards. Backed by new RTX GPUs and an AMD processor, the new Blade 14 is a worthy road warrior for gaming in pretty much any space.

Design

The new Blade 14 is relatively unchanged in physical appearance – gone are the two ‘darts’ on the top cover, which now only contains the Razer logo. It’s got the same aluminium body, which frankly can be a bit of a challenge to keep clean at times. It’s also a fraction thinner this time around, measuring 16.8 x 220 x 319.7mm and weighing around 1.76kg. Portability is still quite good for a gaming laptop, and the Blade 14 won’t feel uncomfortable to carry around in a bag or backpack even for longer durations.

Connectivity-wise you’ve got two USB-C 3.2 gen 2 ports for driving external displays as well as two USB 3.2 gen 2 Type A ports, which are handy for plugging in extra peripherals such as a gaming mouse. There’s also a full-sized HDMI 2.1 port and a 3.5mm combo audio jack, along with Razer’s proprietary power port. The Blade 14 also now supports Wi-Fi 6E, as well as Bluetooth 5.2 for extra connectivity options. Charging is done via the Blade 14’s proprietary adapter, but in a new inclusion for the Blade 14, you can also use a compatible 20V USB-C laptop charger to charge via the laptop’s USB-C ports.

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It’s odd that the Blade 14 still lacks an Ethernet port, and there wasn’t a USB dongle in our review box either. We didn’t run into too many problems during our online gaming sessions over WiFi, but if you’re adamant on getting the best gaming performance, you’ll want to go grab an Ethernet dongle just in case.

Display and Keyboard

Opening up the Blade 14 you’re greeted by the matte display, which now has a much thinner bezel surrounding it. Razer offers two IPS options here – a FHD 144Hz 100% SRGB panel or a QHD 165Hz 100% DCI-P3 panel (which we got). The panel also supports AMD FreeSync for smoother fps during gaming. The overall clarity on the display is pretty good, and images and videos look great. For everyday tasks, the on-board AMD Radeon graphics will kick in to handle most tasks, while the Nvidia GPU bears the heavier lifting during gaming. There’s also a 1MP 720p camera situated at the top bezel, which is generally quite poor in quality. Images are very grainy, and in low light it’s mostly unusable without some sort of additional lighting. It’s a shame that Razer didn’t include a higher quality camera so that gamers could also use this laptop for broadcasting on Twitch.

The keyboard of course sports Razer’s Chroma lighting, and you can individually colour keys to whatever you like (the colour of the Razer logo on the lid can’t be changed). To keep things less distracting it’s probably best to keep it to one colour, but there’s a wealth of effects and colors to choose from using the built-in software. The keyboard can even sync to in-game abilities to tell you when cooldowns are over, which is a nice touch. The keys feel a bit softer than we’d like for a gaming keyboard – the focus here clearly was for keeping things slim, so some gamers may find the keys a bit less promising for gaming sessions. For everyday use, the keyboard worked great, thought the one complaint is that for people with longer fingers, the bottom edge of the laptop is going to start cutting into your wrists quite often as you type.

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Below that is the trackpad, which Razer has adjusted to remove the bottom left and right click buttons. You can now tap or press firmly down on the trackpad to make a selection, and the overall responsiveness of it is much better than previous models. Scrolling, dragging, and using Windows gestures all worked flawlessly, though of course for serious gaming sessions you’ll want to plug in an external mouse.

Performance

The review unit we tested came with an AMD Ryzen9 5900HX Processor running at 3.3GHz, along with 16GB dual-channel DDR4-3200MHz RAM, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and an RTX 3080 8GB GPU. The only thing that can be upgraded in that list is the storage, as all of the Blade 14 models share the same processor and RAM. The SSD is lightning fast, with Windows booting up in seconds and apps launching at breakneck speed as well. Average file transfer speeds were about 2.8GB/s for large, single files, and 2.0GB/s for a folder containing various file sizes.

As with most gaming laptops, you’ll want to stay plugged into a power outlet in order to truly harness the power of the Blade 14. On battery power only, the Blade 14 was locked at a paltry 30fps in Overwatch, presumably because the RTX GPU wasn’t kicking in.

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Once plugged in however, Overwatch would hit up to 192fps (ultra settings), and general gameplay was very smooth and stutter-free. Other games ran similarly such as Rocket League and Destiny 2, so even if you’re running things at high level of quality, you can easily keep a steady 60fps at minimum. Shadow of the Tomb Raider ran at a buttery 87fps at max quality and DLSS on, as a testament of what this hardware can do. This is a gaming laptop after all, so Razer pulls no stops in the performance department here. There were a few hiccups when playing Cyberpunk 2077 however, but we’re putting this down to the quality of the game rather than the Blade 14’s hardware. Still, the game looks flawless, with lighting effects showcasing the grim atmosphere of the game.

Regular benchmarks also did quite well with the following scores: TimeSpy 10,407, Fire Strike Extreme 12,868, Port Royal 6,595, Nvidia DLSS 73.16fps, PCMark 10 6934, and PCMark 8 Creative 6581. All tests were done at QHD resolution, with an average of 3 passes for each test.

The thing that stands out the most with the Blade 14 is its limited upgrade path. The RAM is capped at 16GB and you’ve only got one M.2 slot, which seems like a missed opportunity here. If you don’t foresee needing more RAM than what the Blade 14 has, you’ll be happy – other PC enthusiasts may not be as forgiving.

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Sound and battery life

The Blade 14 features THX Spatial Audio on its speakers that flank the sides of the keyboard, and generally if you’re listening to music or playing games without headphones, you can enjoy some pretty decent audio levels. The bass is a bit muffled, but general volume is there. Still, most gamers will be using headphones for their gaming sessions.

One area that’s a constant focus with gaming laptops is their noise levels due to fans having to kick in quite often to keep everything cool. The Blade 14 generally stays quiet during normal use when unplugged, but when you plug it into a power source and fire up a game, the fans kick in in the first couple of minutes. At first it’s not too loud, but after a mere five minutes of gaming, the fans spin at full speed. They stayed that way until we quit our game and things came back to normal, so for prolonged gaming sessions things are going to get loud and warm. Temperatures measured at around the 72C mark during our hour of gaming, which can be quite toasty. The top row of keys on the keyboard as well as the palm rest were noticeably warm, and the metal part just below the screen was too hot to even touch.

Razer quotes battery life at about 12 hours for normal use, but we were able to get about 9 hours of everyday use before we needed to charge back up (75% brightness, RGB left on). If you reduce the screen brightness and turn off the RGB lighting, you’ll probably squeeze even more battery life out of it.

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Priced at $2,799 for this model, the Blade 14 is not a cheap bit of hardware. That’s been the case with most of Razer’s laptops to begin with – if you’ve got the money to spend and don’t want to invest in a full-blown desktop, this is the place you go to. However its compact size and beefy internals match the high price tag, and you can always opt for the equally satisfying RTX 3070 and 3060 models as well, which are priced at $2,199 and $1,799 respectively. Despite its high running temperatures, the Blade 14 is an interesting choice for anyone who wants to foot the bill for a gaming laptop that will easily serve them as a powerhouse machine for the next few years – until Razer crams yet another world-class GPU into a tiny laptop body.

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