You can pick up a dedicated gaming notebook and put up with a sci-fi aesthetic with jet fighter exhausts, or you can pick up a stodgy business-oriented machine that looks like something out of a cubicle farm. Those are your only choices, right?
Today, you have other options, tweeners that straddle the gamer aesthetic and performance fence. They won’t stand out too much in either a boardroom or a LAN party. Here, we compare two such machines, the Dell XPS 15 and Razer Blade 15, that provide a mix of (relatively) conservative looks and some moderately good gaming chops. But which is better?
Razer took the previous Blade 14 design and modernized it, expanding the display by framing it in smaller side bezels. This avowed gaming notebook is surprisingly thin at 0.66 inches and it’s contained within a relatively svelte, all-aluminum chassis that weighs a reasonable 4.5 pounds. We call that “reasonable” because that chassis tucks in some seriously powerful components. The Blade also enjoys an excellent keyboard that offers sufficient key travel, beautiful RGB lighting, and even spacing with only a handful of irksome layout issues. The attractive and sleek aesthetic manages to avoid projecting its owner as either an overt gamer or a conservative businessperson.
Dell’s 2018 XPS 15 looks a great deal like the same version a couple of years ago. In fact, it’s pretty near to identical, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s made of machined aluminum and carbon fiber that combine for a sturdy and particularly comfortable notebook to carry around and use. It’s not the thinnest notebook around, coming in at 0.70 inches at its thickest point, and it’s not exactly light at 4.5 pounds when equipped with its massive 97 watt-hour battery (more on that later). But it’s maybe the smallest 15.6-inch notebook around thanks to super-thin bezels that unfortunately relegate the webcam to an unflattering location below the display. The keyboard is top-notch, with decent travel enhanced by a snappy mechanism that invites fast and accurate typing, and the touchpad — Microsoft Precision, of course — is expansive and oh-so-comfortable to swipe.
The Razer Blade is prettier, and the Dell XPS is smaller, but both are solidly built and neither will embarrass you no matter the environment.
The Razer Blade is built around Intel’s latest 8th-generation 45-watt CPU, the Intel Core i7-8750H that packs in six cores and twelve threads. It’s a supremely speedy mobile CPU that burns through whatever task it’s assigned whether physics-oriented gaming or video editing and encoding. Storage is also fast thanks to a PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and the CPU is kept well-fed by fast RAM. Finally, given its fundamental nature as a gaming notebook, the Razer Blade offers powerful GPU options including the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q and GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q.
The Dell XPS 15 also equips Intel’s 8th-generation 45 watt parts, including the same Core i7-8570H. It, too, enjoys a speedy PCIe SSD and high-speed RAM. And, all of that computing power is mated with an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti Max Q that’s good enough for light gaming. But one difference from the Razer Blade is the Dell’s more conservative tuning and cooling system, which tries to keep things quiet and cool to the touch rather than enabling full-out — and hot — gaming performance.
Interestingly, the XPS 15 holds its own against the Blade when it comes to CPU-intensive tasks. For example, in our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265, the Dell was faster than the Razer, finishing the job in 150 seconds compared to 203 seconds. But when it comes to gaming, the Razer Blade, of course, takes a massive lead thanks to significantly faster GPUs. If you want to get your work done and then game a little on the side, the XPS 15 is your best choice. If you’re a gamer, though, who squeezes in some work between competitive sessions, then your choice is equally clear.
But don’t forget the displays. Dell offers two options, Full HD and 4K panels aimed at being bright and colorful. The high-res display, in particular, is excellent for professional videographers and photographers with its near-100 percent AdobeRGB gamut support, accurate colors, and superior contrast and brightness. The Razer Blade, on the other hand, focuses on gamers with display options that range up to a 144Hz refresh rate. Color support, contrast, and brightness are closer to average, and so once again the same caveat about gaming versus professional workflows applies.
If your a gamer first and businessperson second, then the Razer Blade is your better choice. But the Dell XPS 15 provides more well-rounded performance and beautiful displays that are more likely to please more of the people, more of the time.
The Razer Blade and Dell XPS 15 are equally dense and very close to equally thin, while the latter is smaller overall thanks to its insanely small bezels. Neither are particularly easy on the back when you toss them into your backpack, but that’s the price you pay for carrying around so much power.
But Dell packed in a massive 97 watt-hours worth of battery capacity into that hefty frame, justifying the weight more than the Razer’s 80 watt-hours’ worth. And in our battery tests, the XPS 15 outlasted the Blade even more than that disparity would indicate — not quite twice as long when playing video or running a web benchmark, but close enough that it puts the Dell in a different category. If you need to work for longer away from a charger, then the XPS 15 is a better choice.
Neither of these meaty machines is exceedingly portable, but considering how powerful they are, they’re more portable than you might expect. Even so, the XPS 15 lets you keep the charger behind and is thus the more mobile option.
If you’re looking at notebooks in this class, then you’re likely not quite so sensitive to price. Even so, the Dell XPS is the better value. You can pick one up for $1,000 at the low end — with a Core i5 and 56 watt-hour battery — and spend up to $2,900 with a Core i9 CPU and 2TB SSD. The Razer Blade, on the other hand, starts out at $1,900 and also maxes out at $2,900 if you go whole-hog on the GPU selection.
The Razer Blade obviously has significantly better gaming performance, but we like the Dell XPS 15 for more people. It’s fast, efficient, and elegant, and it lets you take a break from your work and get in some gaming — and in our opinion, that’s a mix with a significantly broader appeal.
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