I’ve always loathed heavy laptops. As a teenager growing up in the 2000s, it was a constant struggle transporting my ultra-heavy Dell laptop, which I had to lug around in my backpack every day – not to mention the equally cumbersome power brick that came with it.
Which is why when the 2010s rolled around, my delight was immeasurable when the MacBook Air was released; I was a journalist working at a national newspaper and it was imperative to travel light and remain as mobile as possible. Of course, these days, news articles can be typed out with ease on your phone or tablet.
But I digress. I was an avid gamer (still am) and in the early days of my career, I had to be content with playing Dota 2 at a nearby Internet cafe until I saved enough money to build myself a modest, if not cheap, desktop computer. So now, I have my trusty old MacBook Air for work and a gaming rig for leisure.
Well, I’ll be honest: when Razer loaned me their spanking new Core X Chroma external GPU enclosure and Blade Stealth 13 (Late 2020) laptop for a review, I had to ask myself, “Who are these made for?” After several weeks of using them for work and play, I think I finally have an answer.
Smooth, Elegant Design
The first thing I noticed was how sleek and elegant the Blade Stealth looks. The build quality is great and, for a short while, I was a big fan of the black matte finish; when I unboxed it, I found a microfibre cloth, which I thought was meant for cleaning the screen but after 5 minutes, it finally struck me: the entire aluminium chassis is a fingerprint magnet.
Otherwise, it is very stylish for an ultrabook and you’ll look cool using it in school or at the workplace. The design of the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 looks decent but in comparison, I think the Blade Stealth knocks it out of the park. Plus, the classic three-headed snake logo is now in classy black instead of the acid-green hue found in older versions of the Blade Stealth, which I think adds a premium feel to the ultrabook.
For an ultrabook, and despite being only 0.6 inches (15.3mm) thick, the Blade Stealth is built like a tank and looks very sturdy compared to a MacBook Air. The best part is this thing weighs only 3.11lbs (1.41kg), and I had no issues holding it with one hand. If you’re packing both the ultrabook and power brick, you’ll be carrying no more than 3kg in your backpack.
Which brings me to my next point: it may be a slim machine but it does pack some considerable firepower. Under the hood, you’ll find an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti, which is a slight upgrade from the GTX 1650 found in previous models. Verily, you can’t expect it to outperform the RTX 2060 that can come in the Zephyrus G14, but it does a decent job running AAA games at medium to high settings.
We ran Shadow of the Tomb Raider at the highest settings and the Blade Stealth clocked 45fps on average, so if you’re looking for 60fps gameplay, you’ll have to be content with playing at lower settings. I also tried playing Call of Duty: WWII on high settings and it ran smoothly for the most part but oddly enough, it did stutter occasionally, especially when cutscenes were playing.
If you’re not satisfied with the GTX 1650 Ti, that’s where the Core X Chroma comes in, but more on that later.
Okay, so what about heat? Once you boot up a game, the fan noise can be heard but it’s not that noticeable. The heat can be felt at the bottom of the chassis and the keyboard can get slightly warm but that’s about it. It’s not searing hot to the point where you can’t even place it on your lap.
What else do we have? It’s powered by the new 11th generation quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. I have a small gripe here: considering how expensive it is, I would have preferred a 1TB SSD at the very least. Minus the pre-installed apps and OS, you’re left with about 400GB of storage, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find enough space to install several games. For context, if you want to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Warzone, the game weighs in at a whopping 231GB on PC.
The good news is you can upgrade the SSD up to 2TB.
To be frank, at first glance, the Blade Stealth doesn’t even look like the other gaming laptops out there. What gives it away, though, is the backlit keyboard that has access to 16.8 million colour options, thanks to Razer Chroma. The keys themselves are not mechanical but they are nice to game on – the tactile feedback is decent but the chiclet-like keys do not produce the kind of noise that would distract your colleagues or college mates. I tried customising the colour of each key but alas, it uses a single-zone lighting system – meaning you can only choose one colour for all the keys. It sucks, to be sure, but it is meant to increase the battery life Blade Stealth.
Speaking of battery life, the ultrabook is equipped with a 53.1Wh battery, which you can charge with the 100W USB-C power brick that comes with it. The Blade Stealth has one USB-C (Thunderbolt 4) port on each side, and it doesn’t matter which side you charge the device on. Razer claims the ultrabook can last up to nine hours, but realistically, you get seven to eight hours if you are strictly doing day-to-day productivity stuff. If you are gaming without a charger plugged in, you’ll probably get between 80 and 90 minutes depending on what game you’re playing. There are battery-saving options, of course, but it’s best to keep it plugged in at all times.
There are a few things I’d like to point out before we move on to the Core X Chroma. If you’re strictly a gamer, I recommend you opt for the 13.3-inch FHD Matte screen with 120Hz refresh rate instead of the 13.3-inch OLED touch display with 60Hz refresh rate, which is better for creators. There is also an HD 720p, Windows Hello compliant infrared camera, which means the Blade Stealth will instantaneously unlock itself after scanning your face, so you can go back to your game or task with almost zero delays.
The Blade Stealth also comes with upwards-facing stereo speakers with THX Spatial Audio on each side of the keyboard (not unlike the MacBook). When it comes to media and music, I still prefer the MacBook simply because it has better bass. But it comes to gaming, the Razer ultrabook impressed me in terms of true-to-life acoustics and audio positioning. Nonetheless, the 3.5mm audio jack is always at your disposal if you prefer using earphones.
So, here’s the bottom line: this thing is expensive. With a retail price of US$1,799.99, you could probably find another gaming laptop that is cheaper (albeit bigger and heavier) that packs a more powerful GPU and a larger screen. But if you are looking for a light, ultraportable laptop with a great form factor and don’t mind sacrificing some gaming performance, then consider picking up the Blade Stealth 13.
Supercharging Your Laptop
Now let’s talk about the MacBook for a minute. If you own one, chances are you don’t plan to game on it, unless you’re talking about Apple Arcade titles. But let’s assume you turn into a hardcore gamer overnight and are adamant on using the laptop – that’s where external GPUs (eGPUs) like the Razer Core X Chroma come into the picture.
With the use of a single cable, you can turn slim ultrabooks into a gaming machine, as long as it has a Thunderbolt 3 port. The only catch is that eGPUs like the Core X Chroma do not come with a graphics card, so you’ll have to fork out some extra cash for an AMD (the only option for macOS users) or Nvidia desktop graphics card. There are tons of options out there, so choosing one based on your needs and budget is itself a balancing act.
My one gripe with the cable is that it’s far too short, meaning you can’t place the Core X Chroma on the floor even if you wanted to. The eGPU does come with a 700W power supply, four USB 3.1 ports and one Gigabit Ethernet port, so you can plug in your mouse, headset, keyboard and LAN cable (which is better than gaming over Wi-Fi). Mind you, it limits the power usage of the GPU installed to 500W, and the extra wattage is meant to power your peripherals.
The extra USB ports are a welcome addition, especially since many Thunderbolt 3-read laptops have very few of them. Essentially, the Core X Chroma acts as a dock that allows you to sit on your desk without having to plug in all your equipment again and again.
As the name suggests, the eGPU comes with Razer Chroma lighting, and you’ll get the full RGB lightshow experience if you have other Razer products that support the system. Unfortunately, I tried using the Synapse software (which syncs up the lighting effects) on the MacBook but it isn’t available on macOS.
The installation of the graphic card is a tool-free experience.
Our review unit came with a mid-range graphics card, so we were only able to play AAA games at medium to low settings. I hooked the Razer X Chroma to a MacBook with macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 and noticed it did not boost gaming performance on the laptop’s display. It’s only after reading Razer’s documentation when I realised that you need to use an external monitor to enjoy any benefits from using the eGPU enclosure. I also tested it on the Razer Blade 13 and since it already has an RTX 1650 Ti installed, I needed to download Razer’s GPU switcher app to get Windows 10 to recognize the Core X Chroma as the primary GPU provider.
What’s great, however, is that the installation of the graphic card is a tool-free experience thanks to the simple drawer-style slide and lock mechanism. The graphics card is inserted into the PCIe slot and secured with a single thumbscrew.
The Razer Core X Chroma will retail from RM1,999 (US$399) and will be available at select retailers. Coupled with the price of the Stealth Blade 13, you’re looking at an eye-popping price tag if you plan on getting them both.
All in all, the Razer Core X Chroma and Stealth Blade 13 are for people who want to be able to go from a two-computer system (one gaming PC that stays in one place, and one extremely thin laptop for mobility) to just one computer. Razer is trying to let gamers have their cake and eat it too, combining a super portable laptop with an enclosure you can equip with any desktop-class GPU. You can use the Blade Stealth as a typical productivity laptop all day, then plug in the Core X Chroma when you want to play the most demanding games and create content at blazing speeds.