As I flipped open the massive 18-inch display of the new Razer Blade 18 gaming laptop, I was stunned by its big, bold display. I had never seen anything like it before. Or had I?
Yes, even though 18-inch gaming laptops are the hot, new PC gaming trend for 2023, this is not the first time we’ve gone down this road. I dug back in my mental archives and recalled specifically the 18-inch Alienware 18 from Dell, a gaming laptop I reviewed back in 2013.
Like a lot of the other experimental PC designs from that era (which also included big-screen tablet/desktop hybrids like the Dell XPS 18), the idea didn’t catch on at the time and quickly faded away.
Even though it’s been 10 years since my last 18-inch gaming laptop review, I’m glad the idea is getting a second go, as it’s a great alternative to the smaller 15-inch gaming laptops I’ve been using for the past several years. And it’s the complete opposite of my favorite gaming PC from last year, the small-screen Steam Deck from Valve.
- Big, bright, 18-inch display
- Offers new Nvidia 4080 and 4090 GPUs
- Upgradable RAM and storage
- Lots of ports and connections
- Doesn’t offer Razer’s Mini-LED screen option
- Lacks dedicated media control buttons
- Very, very expensive
While this new version of the Razer Blade, which previously topped out at a 17-inch display, isn’t the only 18-inch gaming laptop we’ll see this year, it’s the first one to hit our testing bench. Based on that testing, the display isn’t even the most notable thing about it. That nod goes to the Nvidia GeForce 4080 GPU, making this the first laptop we’re testing with the mobile version of Nvidia’s 4000-series graphics cards, previously only available in desktop form. That’s a pretty impressive set of firsts.
Also impressive, maybe not in such a good way, is the price. At $3,799 (£3,800, AU$7,099), this is the less expensive of two configurations Razer is currently offering. That includes a new 13th-gen Intel Core i9 CPU, the Nvidia 4080, a 1TB solid-state drive and 32GB of RAM. Funnily enough, you know what else had 32GB of RAM? That 18-inch Alienware from 10 years ago. (It even had a similar price, around $4,200 as reviewed back then.)
The more expensive Razer Blade 18 is mostly identical. For $4,499 (£4,500, AU$8,499), it includes a 2TB SSD and the even-better Nvidia 4090 GPU. Both have the same 18-inch, 2,560×1,600-pixel display, both weigh a bit over 7 pounds, and both include Razer’s famous per-key Chroma RGB lighting system. The other 18-inch gaming laptops coming at some point this year include the Asus ROG Strix 18, the Acer Predator Helios 18 and the Alienware m18, all of which will offer their own take on backlit keyboards.
Body and keyboard
The body is the usually excellent Razer standard, CNC carved from aluminum with a black anodized finish. It includes a selection of ports that’s pretty good, if not exactly desktop-level, as Razer describes it. It tips the scale at 7 pounds and measures 22mm thick, probably about as thin as you’re going to get in an 18-inch laptop.
The keyboard is more like the shallow ones found on Razer’s smaller 14- and 15-inch laptops, not the deep mechanical (or mechanical-style) keys that are popular with gaming desktops and some gaming laptops. This is probably one of the shallower keyboards I’ve tried on a larger gaming laptop in some time.
My bigger issue was that the very plain (except for the lighting effects) keyboard includes neither a number pad nor dedicated media control buttons. One of my favorite little touches is when a laptop has the volume up/down/mute buttons broken out and easy to hit on the fly — it’s a gaming must-have, if you ask me.
Instead, those functions are still mapped to the Function key row. By default, that means lowering the volume is a matter of hitting Fn+F2. Fortunately, you can swap that in the Razer Synapse app, making the media controls the default function of those keys. Still not as good as having dedicated media control buttons (or even assignable macro keys).
The audio is provided via six THX speakers (Razer owns the THX brand now), but I didn’t love the sound out of the box. It felt thin compared to some other gaming laptops I’ve used lately, and I had to play around with the available EQ settings to get a richer sound. You can adjust via both the Realtek audio console and the THX app. (FYI, if you want a punchier sound, try turning off Spatial Audio in the THX app.)
The screen is a real star of the show. But, it also pales (maybe literally) compared to the Mini-LED screen in the new 16-inch version of the Razer Blade, which also offers Nvidia 4000-series GPUs.
Instead, this is a perfectly fine LCD screen with an impressive 240Hz refresh rate and a 2,560×1,600-pixel resolution. Yes, that means this is a 16:10 laptop, which is quickly becoming the standard for laptops of all kinds. The bezel surrounding the screen is very slim for a big gaming laptop, but side by side, the Mini-LED in the 16-inch model is going to be more visually striking. Especially as it’s a dual-mode display that can jump between UHD-class (3,840×2,400 pixels at 120Hz) and FHD-class (1,920 x 1,200 at 240Hz) resolutions on the fly. The higher resolution/lower refresh rate is intended for content creators and creative pros, while the lower resolution/higher refresh rate is focused at competitive gamers.
The 18-inch screen here has the advantage of pure size, and it very nicely hits that sweet spot when you want to game on a bigger screen than your standard 15- or 16-inch gaming laptop, but don’t want to play on a big-screen TV or connect to a bulky monitor.
As configured, this is about as powerful as a gaming laptop gets right now (with the exception of its more expensive GeForce 4090 cousin), and certainly faster than most gaming desktops as well.
The Blade 18 also takes a hint from gaming desktops in making its RAM and storage upgradable with only modest effort. The larger body allows for better cooling, and the heat sinks, vapor chamber and fans can also be big and efficient, so the CPU and GPU can operate at higher temperatures, instead of being clocked down as in some smaller laptops.
In our first wave of gaming and performance benchmarks, the results were impressive. I felt the same way testing games like the new Dead Space remake, easily hitting at least 80-plus frames per second and up to 140fps at full QHD resolution and “ultra” detail settings. The scores below are indicative of my experience so far, but I’d like more time with the system to run more tests and form a more concrete opinion.
The new 18-inch era
We’ve had the Razer Blade 18 for less than a week, so consider this a preliminary review as we continue to run additional tests and try new things on it. I’d call myself cautiously optimistic about this new era of 18-inch gaming laptops, and certainly hope that, unlike a decade ago, they don’t die out right away.
As the first of these new 18-inch laptops for 2023, it’s difficult to judge the Razer Blade 18 without the competing models from Alienware, Asus and Acer to compare it against. But based on previous experience with all these brands, when comparing similar laptops head to head, Razer is usually at or near the top of my list.
|Razer Blade 18||Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.2GHz Intel Core i9-13950HX; 32GB DDR5 5,600MHz RAM; 12GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080; 1TB SSD|
|Lenovo Legion 7i (Gen 7, 16-inch)||Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.3GHz Intel Core i9-12900HX; 32GB DDR5 4,800MHz RAM; 16GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti; 2TB SSD|
|Alienware x15 R2||Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-12700H; 32GB DDR5 6,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti; 512GB SSD|
|Origin PC Evo17-S||Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.9GHz Intel Core i9-12900H; 32GB DDR5 4,800MHz; 16GB Nvidia Geforce RTX 3080Ti; 1TB SSD|
|Acer Predator Triton 500 SE||Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.9GHz Intel Core i9-12900H; 32GB DDR5 4,800MHz; 16GB Nvidia Geforce RTX 3080Ti; 1TB SSD|
|MacBook Pro (16-inch, M2 Pro, 2023)||MacOS Ventura 13.2; Apple M2 Pro (12 CPU cores, 19 GPU cores); 32GB LPDDR5 RAM; 1TB SSD|
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