Razer Blade 14 (2021) Review | IGN

The Razer Blade 14 isn’t your average Razer gaming laptop. For the first time, the company has partnered with AMD to deliver its first notebook powered by a Ryzen CPU. Coming in at $2799 as configured for this review, and as low as $1799, the Blade 14 is thin and light, but there are a few trade-offs you should know about before buying one for yourself. 

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Razer Blade 14 (2021) – Design and Features

The Razer Blade 14 is a machine built around portable power. At 12.6 inches long, 8.7 inches wide, and 0.66 inches thick, it’s one of the easiest laptops in Razer’s line-up to slide in a bag and take with you on the go. It’s also quite light at only 3.9 pounds, so it won’t leave you with sore shoulders from carrying it in a backpack all day. Despite its small size, it packs some impressive specs that should delight whether you’re into mobile gaming and content creation or just plain productivity with the potential for more. 

Here’s how the Blade 14 comes equipped:

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX (8-Core/16-Thread, 3.3GHz Base, 4.6GHz Max Boost)
  • GPU: Nvidia RTX 3080 (RTX 3070, RTX 3060 options available)
  • Screen Size: 14-inch
  • Screen Resolution: 2560×1440 (QHD), 165Hz IPS (1080p, 144Hz option available)
  • Storage: 1TB NVMe SSD
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4-3200 MHz
  • Connectivity: WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
  • Input and Output: 2x USB Gen 3.2 Type-C (with Power Delivery and DisplayPort 1.4), 2 x USB Gen 3.2 Type-A, HDMI 2.1, Charging Port (supports 20V PD 3.0 chargers), 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • Battery: 61.6 WHr
  • Webcam: 1MP, 720p with Windows Hello IR HD support
  • Audio: Stereo Speakers with THX Spatial Audio, 7.1 Codec Support over HDMI
  • Dimensions: 0.66” x 8.66” x 12.59”
  • Weight: 3.92 lbs

It’s been a number of years since we’ve seen a 14-inch Blade laptop and this year’s model returns with a bang. It’s Razer’s first laptop to feature an AMD Ryzen CPU and it pulled no punches with the collaboration. The Blade 14 features a Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU, complete with 8-cores and 16-threads, perfect to expand beyond gaming into streaming and working with creative apps like Adobe Premiere Pro. The 5900HX is built on AMD’s Zen 3 architecture, which offers improved power efficiency for better battery life and less heat. For a compact laptop like the Blade 14, both of those are key considerations that impact both performance and longevity. It’s also important to note that this CPU includes TPM 2.0 and should have no problem updating to Windows 11 later this year.

Razer pairs its high-powered CPU with equally impressive hardware throughout the machine and offers your choice of Nvidia 30-series graphics options. The Blade 14 can be customized with either an RTX 3060 for $1799, RTX 3070 for $2199, or RTX 3080 for $2799, which our sample came equipped with. The RTX 3080 option is quite expensive but it’s the same card driving some of the highest-performance laptops on the market today, so it’s an expected premium to step up to that level of performance. That said, pairing AMD graphics and processing can yield extremely competitive results for less money, so I would love to see Razer offer Radeon GPU configuration for an “all AMD” option.

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Given the size of the laptop, the quality of the screen can make or break the experience. Thankfully, Razer knows a thing or two about delivering excellent displays and has delivered an outstanding viewing experience. Both the RTX 3070 and 3080 versions ship with 1440p high-refresh rate IPS screens clocked to 165Hz. The RTX 3060 version would struggle with 1440p gaming, so it ships with a 1080p IPS display running at 144Hz. Each QHD model is rated to cover 100% of the DCI-P3 color space and the FHD version 100% of sRGB, making it a good fit for content creation. 

The jump to 1440p has been long overdue for gaming laptops and is immediately noticeable in games. The added pixel density allows games to look more crisp and detailed, even on the Blade’s slightly smaller screen. It’s not without its drawbacks, however. 1440p requires more graphical horsepower than FHD resulting in a moderate FPS drop in games. Out of the box, icons on the desktop felt too small forcing me to increase scaling in Windows which doesn’t always translate well to individual apps. Thankfully, if you find yourself craving better performance, it’s still possible to run games at 1080p and have them look great thanks to the slightly smaller screen. 

The functionality of a laptop doesn’t end with visuals and processing. For storage, the Blade 14 comes with a fast 1TB NVMe SSD to speed up transfers and reduce load times. There is only one slot, but the SSD is user upgradeable for up to 2TB drives. Each model also comes with 16GB of DDR4-3200MHz. The memory is soldered into the mainboard, which means it’s not user upgradeable and could potentially limit users that work heavily in creative apps like After Effects. It also supports WiFi 6E for ultra-fast wireless networking and Bluetooth 5.2 to support the latest devices while using less battery.

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Core to the performance of any laptop is its ability to dissipate heat. With its smaller size, that could be a larger problem for the Blade 14. To that end, Razer has equipped it with a “next-gen” vapor chamber cooling system. Rather than rely on basic fans and heat pipes, Razer’s solution places a thin metal chamber on top of the heat-generating components. As temperatures rise, a solution of deionized water turns to vapor and whisks heat into dedicated heat exchangers. The fans have also been upgraded to include 88 separate blades to blow more air with less noise. Vapor chambers have been used in tech for years but it’s interesting to see how Razer has applied the tech here.

Unfortunately, while the results aren’t terrible, they don’t live up to the hype. In my testing, CPU temperatures still peaked at 95C in Balanced Mode and tipped all the way to 100C when set to Boost in Synapse. While gaming, temps usually hovered in the low 90s. The GPU fared better, peaking at 74C. These temperatures are fairly standard for gaming laptops if slightly lower when gaming. The fans do become fairly loud under load but for normal browsing and productivity are virtually silent. Razer has also made strides in keeping the chassis from getting uncomfortably hot, even above the keyboard which is a common hot-spot in gaming laptops. 

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With this model, we see the return of Razer staples, like the all-metal chassis, THX-enhanced speakers, and the programmable RGB keyboard. Coming hot off the Razer Blade Advanced Edition, the Blade 14 feels like a compact version of that heavy-hitting laptop. The anodized aluminum chassis feels just as solid and rigid in the hand. There’s no flex opening and closing the lid, and there’s a robustness to the frame that feels premium. It’s just as much of a fingerprint magnet as ever, so be prepared to wipe it down often.

The keyboard is as much of a high point as ever. Razer’s scissor switches offer generous travel and tactility which makes typing easy with fewer typos. The keys are also backlit with per key illumination that can be programmed inside the Synapse software. Below the keyboard is a large glass touchpad that’s responsive without being touchy. It doesn’t replace a dedicated mouse for gaming but is perfect for browsing and getting work done.

For productivity, the Blade 14 is a strong contender. The portability and typing experience make it a great choice for taking projects on the go and hacking out emails at Starbucks, but it’s also a great fit for video conferencing and connecting important peripherals. The included webcam is standard fare for gaming laptops, so don’t expect excellent low light performance but is reasonably detailed for its 720p resolution. It also features IR support for Windows Hello biometric login to increase security. There are also two USB 3.2 Type-C and Type-A ports split equally between the left and right side, as well as an audio combo jack to connect a headset and HDMI 2.1 output for connecting external displays. That said, one of the concessions to this compact form factor is a smaller battery, which I’ll discuss further in the battery life section. 

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Before we move on, I wanted to highlight Razer’s new GaN charger it shipped over for me to try. This pint-sized power supply is less than half the size of the laptop’s default power brick and is able to deliver 130W of power. That’s enough to power the laptop and charge at the same time but isn’t enough to unlock the manual performance modes within Synapse. It features two USB Type-A ports and two USB Type-C, the latter of which is used to power the Blade 14, which also means you don’t need to use a thick, kinky cable to connect. If you like to travel with a charger, it’s much easier to get around with, but comes at a hefty $179.99 MSRP. 

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The speakers on this model are only so-so. Below 70%, they’re passable for watching YouTube videos but have a hollowness to them that I didn’t find with the Blade 15 Advanced Edition. Mid- and high-frequency detail is especially lacking, which is unfortunately where most of the important audio cues in video games also reside. I wouldn’t use them for more than casual gaming or music listening.

Razer Blade 14 (2021) – Software

Like most Razer products, the Blade 14 makes extensive use of its Synapse customization software. The software allows for customization of the keyboard and system lighting and offers some simplified performance settings for the larger laptop. These are broken into the Customize, Lighting, and Performance tabs. 

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The customization tab allows you to control some basic options and completely program the keyboard. You can enable Gaming Mode to disable the Windows key and shortcuts like alt+tab and choose whether the function row defaults to secondary functions, like volume and screen brightness, or F1-F12 by default. Clicking a key on the graphic of the laptop’s keyboard opens up a side-panel for remapping keys or assigning macros. If you’ve ever used a Razer gaming keyboard, you’ll feel right at home with the ability to create shortcuts, control the mouse, create profiles to use with individual games, or program entire second layers of keys accessible when holding another key through Razer Hypershift. 

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The Lighting tab is where you’ll control the lighting for the keyboard and the brightness of the illuminated logo on the laptop’s lid. This is a Razer product, so the options for RGB customization are plentiful with 11 different preset effects or the ability to create your own theme with the Advanced Effects tab. You can also choose how the lighting performs to save battery when not in use.

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The Performance tab is arguably the most important of the bunch but is also the most limited. Here, you’ll be able to choose your default performance mode when plugged in or running on battery, set a static fan level, and swap between 60Hz or 165Hz refresh rates to save on battery. Performance modes are limited to Balanced and Custom. Inside the custom settings menu, the CPU and GPU can be set to low, medium, or high performance, and Boost for the CPU only.

The suite is fully functional but lacks the added perks and insights offered by the competition. Synapse offers no performance metrics or overclocking options. There isn’t even a dedicated Battery Saver option, which feels like an odd omission on the Blade 14 especially. For users who crave a simplified experience for performance customization, Synapse will deliver but it may leave more advanced users wanting.

Razer Blade 14 (2021) – Performance

Gaming laptops can look great on paper, but what really matters most is how they perform in games and applications. Thermals and power delivery make a profound difference, so it’s rarely as simple as identifying the “best” CPU and GPU combination when assessing potential performance. To highlight how the Blade 14 truly stacks up, I’ve positioned it against several competing laptops with competitive hardware.

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The Blade 14 performed well across our suite of tests but didn’t manage to offer the best performance in any single test. For synthetics, it beat out its older sibling, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition, and the MSI GS66 in both 3DMark Time Spy and Fire Strike but fell short in the laptop-specific Night Raid test. The real winners in these synthetics were the Alienware M17 R4 and the ASUS ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition which offered class-leading performance.

For gaming, it also performed well and went toe-to-toe with the MSI GS66, beating it in the Unigine Heaven benchmark. Against the Blade 15, it did fall short slightly with the biggest gap occurring in Borderlands 3. What’s especially interesting here is how well the ROG Strix Advantage Edition did in comparison. By leveraging the combination of a Radeon GPU with a Ryzen processor, it was able to outperform the Blade 14 in every test, including synthetics, with the exception of Metro Exodus even without DLSS enabled.

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To test the SSD, I ran the laptop through a series of tests using the CrystalDiskMark benchmark. This synthetic test runs a series of read and write tests ranging from the easiest on the drive, where it can anticipate upcoming data, and the hardest, where it cannot. At peak, it offered 3.6 GB/s read speed and 3 GB/s write speeds. These speeds are more than sufficient to minimize in-game load times and will provide a solid speed boost to file transfers. 

The experience of gaming on the Blade 14 was sublime. The screen really is a thing of beauty and made games appear crisp and vibrant. The smaller screen size is noticeable but wasn’t an impediment with only one inch difference compared to a standard 15 inch gaming laptop. If all you’re doing is gaming, it may be better to look toward a larger screen for the best possible experience, but Razer has struck an excellent middle-ground with gaming and portability. 

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When it comes to content creation, the Ryzen 9 5900HX is a beast. I was able to stream and game at the same time without difficulty. Later, working in Adobe Premiere Pro, the combination of CPU and GPU had no trouble keeping up and kept render times to a minimum. Working in busy apps like this was more difficult due to the screen size, however, and I had to adjust my panel sizes to easily see the elements I was working with. 

Taken as a whole package, the Blade 15 is a solid laptop that offers a good gaming and productivity experience. It’s not leading the charts in any single way but I still found the experience to be very pleasant due to the smaller size and how easy it was to carry with me. Still, there’s growth opportunity here that I hope Razer capitalizes on in the future. 

Razer Blade 14 (2021) – Battery Life

The Blade 14 comes with a 61.6 watt hour battery, which feels quite small given the cost and mobile aspirations of a laptop this size. Razer claims a battery life of up to 12 hours but you’ll need to sacrifice a lot to get there. In my testing, I reduced screen and keyboard brightness to 50%, opting for a static backlight to reduce excess drain. I also set the screen refresh rate to 60Hz and put the laptop into power saving mode. Using PCMark 10’s Modern Office test, I was able to stay unplugged for 5 hours and 27 minutes. 

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