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Getting Creative Work Done With The Razer Blade 15 & GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q

Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model

Date: May 20, 2019
Author(s): Rob Williams

There’s a lot more that can be done with a gaming GPU than just the obvious. Today’s GPUs are highly tuned for creator workloads, such as 3D design, rendering, and of course, encoding. We’re taking a look at the latest Razer Blade 15, equipped with NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q, to see how it handles real workloads.



Introduction & A Tour Of Razer Blade 15

When Razer released its first Blade notebook in 2011, it struck great intrigue in the industry thanks to the fact that the company wasn’t looking to push budget options, but instead premium SKUs that tend to be compared better to Apple than most other PC makers. Razer wanted to release notebooks that were thin, light, well-built, and offer good performance.

There’s always going to be compromise with notebooks; it’s just the nature of the beast. Notebooks have limited room for airflow, so scoring a truly “thin” laptop that offers true desktop performance is non-existent. But, we’ve come a long way, with NVIDIA’s Max-Q design focused entirely on delivering as much GPU performance as possible to users who want a modestly sized notebook.

Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model - Call of Duty Black Ops IIII

The Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model might not be considered “modestly sized” to some, but at 0.7″ thick when closed, its thickness is great given the performance under-the-hood. This latest model includes NVIDIA’s just-released RTX series mobile GPUs, including the RTX 2080 Max-Q that’s in our tested sample.

We received this notebook sample from NVIDIA, not Razer, as the company wanted us to run the notebook through a gamut of popular professional visualization scenarios. Over the course of a few weeks, this laptop endured about 60 hours worth of benchmarking, with our internal workstation GPU test suite being run on it eight different ways (more info later). Suffice to say, we’ve got a lot of testing time in.

Razer Blade 15 Gaming Notebook (As Tested)
ProcessorIntel Core i7-8750H 6-core/12-thread @ 2.2GHz
4.10GHz Turbo; 9MB L3 Cache; HyperThreading
MotherboardRazer Blade / Intel Cannon Point HM370
MemorySamsung M471A1K43CB1-CTD
16GB (8GBx2, 19-19-19 @ DDR4-2666)
GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics 630
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q
DisplayUnknown Vendor (15.6″, 1080p, 144Hz)
StorageLiteon CA3-8D512 512GB NVMe
OpticalN/A
AudioRealtek HD Audio
WirelessIntel Wireless-AC 9560 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 5.0
Connectivity1x USB Type C (Thunderbolt 3)
3x USB 3.1 Type A
1x Mini-DisplayPort
1x HDMI
1 Audio Port
Et cetera13.98″ x 9.25″ x 0.7″
4.63 lbs
80Wh Battery (~Six hours)
Price~$2,999.99 USD (As Tested)

The edition we’re taking a look at here is the “Advanced Model” of the Razer Blade 15, which has the default screen option of 1080p / 144Hz. For that to be the base is pretty humorous, as it is really good in an age where the vast majority of people are still stuck to 60Hz on the desktop. The next step up is a 240Hz panel, while the top option is a 4K 60Hz HDR panel supporting 100% of the DCI-P3 color profile.

Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model - Overview

Interestingly, in order to get the newest 9th-gen Core i7-9750H processor in this notebook, you need to opt for one of the top two screen options. That means our sample has a last-gen Intel chip, which loses 400MHz base and Turbo. The 9th-gen chips didn’t exactly bring much innovation, so it’s not a big downside to have a last-gen chip in there, but if I were personally shelling out $3,000 for a notebook, I’d expect it to have the latest and greatest on offer. After all, this is a gaming notebook first and foremost, and 144Hz gamers still need a CPU with high clock speeds.

Nonetheless, due to time, we’ve only tested workstation applications on this notebook, and given we won’t have the laptop for much longer, we’re not sure we’ll be able to get on it in time (travel time and work queues have been rather challenging lately). Nonetheless, we are still taking care of the basics with gaming, such as UL 3DMark, so we can gauge roughly how this laptop might compare to the discrete GeForce RTX desktop chips.

Before moving onto a deeper look, we do want to highlight that it’s interesting that NVIDIA sent us a GeForce-equipped notebook for creative work, as there are many Quadro-based notebooks out there on the market. Over the past few years, as the creator revolution has happened, the company has definitely realized the clear demand on the gaming side. You lose things like guaranteed OpenGL 10-bit color with GeForce, and also don’t get optimizations built into the Quadro driver.

We’d break it down like this: If you are working with software solutions which basically insist-upon professional GPUs, you’re going to want to go that route. If you’re working with completely neutral applications, go GeForce. Use Blender? That’s GeForce territory. SolidWorks? That’s Quadro. We cover a range of such solutions in our other performance content.

Bundled Software

The higher-end you go with either your smartphone or notebook, the less chance there’s going to be annoying bloatware preinstalled. As a clearly premium notebook, we’re glad to see there’s no real sign of bloatware on this notebook, unless you take things to the extreme and think Razer’s own software shouldn’t ship on it. Microsoft itself is the guiltiest party of bloatware (just look at the Start Menu), and unfortunately, Razer doesn’t have any say over that.

Anyone who owns a Razer peripheral are likely very familiar with the company’s Synapse software. It’s a one-stop shop for all of the special features the notebook ships with, including Chroma RGB. There’s even integration for Philips HUE bulbs. And on a semi-related note, the Vivaldi web browser recently added support for Razer Chroma (and coincidentally also supports Philips HUE).

To us, the absolute best part of Synapse on the Blade 15 are the performance modes. Many vendors would hide away any tools that allowed users to “overclock” their system, but Razer offers a simple solution that gets the job done with preset profiles. Really surprising to us is that there’s also an option to manually control the fan speed, although it won’t be entirely necessary to use in most cases.

By default, Synapse applies a Balanced profile. The Gaming profile will boost the GPU performance, and to a fairly significant degree as we’ll see on the next page. The Creator profile conversely boosts the CPU performance. Unfortunately, there is no option to combine the two boosts together.

Gaming & Pro Graphics Performance

When we first sat down with the Razer Blade 15, we didn’t expect to put as much time into benchmarking as we did. But, this is an interesting notebook, and it’s the first gaming notebook we’ve received for testing in quite some time, and not to mention the first one we’ve tested for workstation use.

Razer also adds some variability to testing thanks to its inclusion of additional performance modes. Most notebook vendors would scoff at the idea of letting people boost their CPU or GPU clocks, or allow full manual control of the fan, but not Razer.

The default profile is “Balanced”, which is in effect the mode chosen even if you haven’t signed into the Synapse software. The Gaming profile boosts GPU, while the Creator mode boosts CPU. While both of these will ramp the fans up high under heavy load, we also manually cranked the fan to 100% with the Gaming mode to see how performance could improve further.

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q CPU-Z and GPU-Z

Let’s start with a look at some of the most important performance there is for creators: viewport. Unless you are under a really tight deadline, longer render times might not matter too much, but when it comes to the performance of the viewport you actually work inside to create your project, you’re going to notice when you’re missing out on smooth frames.

V-Ray IPR In Autodesk 3ds Max 2019
RTX 2080 Max-Q Viewport Performance
BalancedCreatorGaming100% Fan
3ds Max175166175175
CATIA124120126128
Creo162155164166
Maya207202212215
Siemens NX20202020
SolidWorks73737474
Blender 2.8 LookDev65 FPS62 FPS67 FPS67 FPS
NotesHigher is better. All reflect “scores”, except Blender.
100% fan test uses Gaming profile.

It’s clear from the get-go that the Creator mode isn’t ideal if you’re doing graphics work, but that’s exactly what we should expect. Creator mode would be useful for encoding scenarios, but only if the GPU isn’t used that heavily, which is often the case.

What these results also prove is that there isn’t a significant difference between the Balanced and Gaming modes, even if the fan is cranked to 100%. This is a great thing, because 1- It means you are not going to miss out on real performance due to heat, and 2- Running any fan at 100% over the long-run probably isn’t ideal for its lifespan.

But here’s where things get a little interesting for the Gaming profile:

Unigine Superposition
RTX 2080 Max-Q Gaming Performance
BalancedCreatorGaming100% Fan
Fire Strike 1080p16,84416,37117,34418,027
Time Spy Extreme 4K3,2233,1963,3183,385
Superposition 1080p4,8464,4014,8694,996
Superposition 4K6,4005,7736,4136,588
VRMark Blue Room53 FPS48 FPS53 FPS54 FPS
NotesHigher is better.
100% fan test uses Gaming profile.
Fire Strike and Time Spy results are Overall scores.

Viewport performance didn’t give us great proof that the Gaming profile will make a notable difference, but actual gaming is different. Here, a 3% performance boost could be seen in gaming when running the appropriate profile, but this is a case where we can see heat can get in the way. Using 100% fan speeds increased that 3% improvement to 7%.

In the grand scheme, the performance improvements are obvious on paper, but they’re going to be less so in the real-world. Still, a 7% difference between stock and the Gaming + 100% Fan profile is an impressive one.

What about for rendering?

Redshift in Autodesk 3ds Max 2019
RTX 2080 Max-Q Render Performance
BalancedCreatorGaming100% Fan
LuxMark – Hotel5,1434,9825,1845,189
LuxMark – LuxBall21,87621,67521,86121,956
OctaneBench – RTX Off157149155156
OctaneBench – RTX On458453459462
NotesHigher is better.
100% fan test uses Gaming profile.
RTX 2080 Max-Q Render Performance
BalancedCreatorGaming100% Fan
Arnold GPU – E-Type254 s255 s255 s254 s
Blender – BMW93 s93 s92 s92 s
Blender – Classroom133 s134 s133 s132 s
Blender – Eevee82 s89 s82 s80 s
ProRender – GT-R164 s172 s162 s161 s
ProRender – Villa95 s102 s94 s94 s
Redshift – Radio145 s149 s145 s143 s
NotesLower is better.
100% fan test uses Gaming profile.

When we talked to NVIDIA about running all of our benchmarks with 100% fan speed, we were told not to expect any differences in rendering, but probably in gaming. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what we’re finding here. There is absolutely no reason to worry about any of the profiles for rendering work. You just don’t want to be using the Creator mode, since it could actually reduce the performance you’re wanting.

This is actually the kind of result we want to see, because it’d make us uneasy to see a huge gain with 100% fan speed, and in the next breath tell people to not use it for prolonged periods of time. Razer does give the option, so it’s clearly supported, but, fans are not exactly the most durable products on earth. And… if it makes no difference in rendering and viewport performance, the extra wear is pointless for ProViz.

It’s well-established at this point that the stock configuration is great as-is for professional work, despite the fact that the laptop can get quite warm under stress (we measured 45°C above the keyboard; hot, but not hot enough to burn). There are other considerations to bear in mind, though, such as how performance could be impacted when using an external monitor. Let’s divulge:

RTX 2080 Max-Q Viewport Performance
Notebook MonitorExternal (Duplicated)External (Only)External (100% Fan)
3ds Max175159187190
CATIA124114133135
Creo162150184190
Maya207189260273
Siemens NX20192121
SolidWorks73709293
NotesHigher is better.

This table takes the cake for offering us the most interesting results on this page. When plugging in an external monitor, graphics performance improves across-the-board, to a fairly significant degree in some cases. We’re talking a bump from 207 to 260 points in Maya by simply using only an external monitor.

After talking to NVIDIA about these findings, we were told this is expected behavior, and a byproduct of how Windows manages Optimus. This is unfortunate if you never plan to do work on an external monitor, but there is an upside. This mechanic seems to mostly impact viewport tests. Our gaming tests didn’t show the same kind of gain, and instead showed a slight decline in some cases.

This leads us to another point. This notebook includes two GPUs, and on rarer occasions, Intel’s integrated graphics will treated as the primary. Interestingly, some applications don’t seem to care that two GPUs exist, like LuxMark, but others do, such as MAGIX Vegas Pro (benched later). Long story short, if your workstation application seems slow, make sure it is using the correct GPU.

As for the screen duplication causing such degradation, it’s because it causes additional PCIe transfers that bog things down – something that doesn’t happen when extending the display instead (using external as primary, notebook as secondary).

It’s not entirely fair to compare a notebook GPU to a discrete one for desktop, but it’s important to have an understanding of how performance differs between them. If you are a dedicated mobile warrior, then improved desktop performance isn’t going to mean a thing. But if you are trying to decide between a notebook or a desktop, this could help.

RTX 2080 Max-Q Comparative Performance
GeForce RTX 2080 Max-QGeForce RTX 2060 DesktopQuadro RTX 4000 DesktopRadeon Pro WX 8200 Desktop
Fire Strike 1080p20,18918,43219,98919,041
Time Spy Extreme 4K3,5103,3923,5652,972
VRMark Blue Room53515239
Blender LookDev67 FPS53 FPS63 FPS42 FPS
3ds Max175184198152
Maya212252281248
Octane – RTX Off155156172N/A
Octane – RTX On459457559N/A
Sandra – Cryptography46 GB/s53 GB/s55 GB/s91 GB/s
Sandra – Financial3.71 TFLOPS3.36 TFLOPS3.33 TFLOPS2.91 TFLOPS
Sandra – Scientific1.22 TFLOPS1 TFLOPS1.12 TFLOPS1.15 TFLOPS
NotesHigher is better.
Fire Strike and Time Spy results are Graphics scores.
RTX 2080 Max-Q Comparative Performance
GeForce RTX 2080 Max-QGeForce RTX 2060 DesktopQuadro RTX 4000 DesktopRadeon Pro WX 8200 Desktop
ProRender – GT-R164 s172 s162 s161 s
Redshift – Radio145 s161 s145 sN/A
Vegas Pro – LUT313 s287 s287 s279 s
Vegas Pro – Median121 s125 s118 s118 s
NotesLower is better.

Overall, it feels like the RTX 2080 Max-Q is most comparable to the desktop’s GeForce RTX 2060, with both trading strengths throughout. Ultimately, the Max-Q comes ahead in that battle, and while we’re not seeing performance on the level of a desktop RTX 2080, the 2060 has been one of our most-recommended “creator” GPUs lately, so it’s good to see that level of performance here.

While the tested Max-Q GPU shares similar specs with its desktop counterpart, clock speeds are largely what hold it back – they’re significantly higher on desktop. The RTX 2080 Max-Q peaks at 1,215MHz, whereas the desktop version peaks at 1,710MHz. The performance delivered by the Max-Q is impressive for its power envelope; it’s spec’d as an 80W TDP chip, while the desktop variant is 215W.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been using this latest edition Razer Blade 15 “Advance Model” for a few weeks now, and as I’ve done so, I’ve realized that I’ve gone too long without using a high-end notebook. This is actually the first Blade I’ve ever been able to use over a long period, so it was great to have enough time to really “break” it in.

As mentioned in the intro, an almost ridiculous amount of testing was performed on this notebook, with our entire workstation GPU test suite run eight times over, which still excludes additional manual benchmarking for sanity check’s sake. Most of the information is a little redundant, and was only captured to satisfy our own curiosities, but the fact all of that testing completed without a single issue speaks volumes to how much this notebook behaves as a desktop PC.

And that’s the thing about a notebook like this. It doesn’t just skirt the edge of reliable performance; it exceeds it, and won’t “feel like” a laptop in performance. Renders and encodes might take longer to process on this notebook than a desktop PC, but in general use, and for the actual design work? You’re not going to feel like you’re missing out on anything here.

Razer Blade 15 Advance Model In Use

The only thing I could say this laptop is truly lacking is a latest and greatest 6-core Intel CPU. Instead, it’s last-gen, even though the 240Hz and 4K models of this laptop do have the Intel 9th-gen Core iteration of the chip. That said, for graphics work, this is all going to get most jobs done easily, since so much graphics work hits the GPU (as you’d expect) a lot more than the CPU. Heterogeneous rendering would of course change this, but this laptop can even handle that grueling workload just fine.

On the first night I used this notebook, I felt as though some parts of it got a little too warm, such as directly above the keyboard, which hit 45°C in our tests. You won’t accidentally brush against it and subsequently hit the ceiling because of how crazy hot it is, but you wouldn’t hold your hand there, either. That said, in normal use, I never found my hand actually getting that close to the hot pocket of heat, so I didn’t think about it too much. But… summer proper is right around the corner, so I might feel differently then.

Thankfully, this notebook lets you adjust fan speeds, which is hugely appreciated, especially with scenarios like summertime. But that all said, even though the laptop got hot, it’s clearly been spec’d to a never go below its promised performance threshold, because across all testing, I never felt a hint of slowdown that made me feel like I was on a notebook. It again felt just like a desktop… just smaller.

That all said, one thing I haven’t commented on up to this point is the notebook’s fan noise, which is quite apparent during its use. As a headphone user, I didn’t think too much about the noise overall, but there’s no denying that it’s obvious quite often. You can manually reduce the fan speed, but at the expense of higher temperatures. For creative workloads, the noise might not matter too much, especially if you are also a headphone user. For gaming, I played Borderlands on a LAN, without headphones, and the noise still wasn’t loud enough to be annoying, but again it was noticeable (not that my desktop isn’t). I am not sure how other current-gen Max-Q notebooks compare.

Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model - Overview

For gaming, I found the keyboard to be just fine, but I found it to be difficult to get used to for typing, though I feel like more time would eventually change that. The keycaps themselves are somewhat blocky, and don’t feel as comfortable as those on the Lenovo Yoga I use, which have a bit of a contour rather than flat tops. Given how long the Blades have been available, though, this could be something I’d get used to eventually.

On that note, it’s important to bring up the fact that there are notebooks of all shapes and sizes that would be ideal for creator work, but which one you choose will revolve around a couple of key requirements. This Max-Q notebook has a superb design, as far as I am concerned, but personally, I’d opt for a non Max-Q notebook in order to eke as much gaming performance out of it as possible. If I were strictly a creator and didn’t game, that wouldn’t matter to me at all, because in my experience, this laptop delivers more than enough performance to complement even heavier design workloads.

At a recent press event, I was talking to someone who had an RTX 2070 non Max-Q notebook with him, and we began talking about how performance can sway wildly from one notebook to another, even those with the same GPU inside. That’s especially true with Max-Q, since thinness is the goal, and each vendor is going to go about its design a different way.

Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model Software - Fresh Desktop

If you’re someone who doesn’t mind a bit more bulk, you can score a higher performing laptop for the same money. This Razer Blade 15 weighs in at 6lbs, so it’s quite light for its performance. If you want a true workstation notebook, you’re going to be increasing the weight to 8~10lbs. The Alienware Area-51M can be had in a $3,000 configuration with 8-core 9700K and RTX 2070 desktop chips. But, it also weighs 8.5lbs, and will in no way fit as nicely into a regular notebook bag as this Blade 15. Again, it all really boils down to what your personal needs and desires are.

I genuinely mean it when I say that this notebook has been a pleasure to work with. It never let me down after intense benchmarking and work sessions, not even a single time. I never told NVIDIA this, but I ran 24 hours worth of tests in a row on the laptop just because I had the time to kill, and it survived the brutal attack. I ran some tests after that ridiculous run, and the performance still lined up with what I had seen in the beginning (an optimized OS also helps with that).

Ultimately, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model as equipped is not inexpensive, but it packs the fastest Max-Q GPU going, and has plenty of CPU horsepower for ProViz workloads, even though I would have loved to have seen the latest-gen 6-core equipped in it.

May 23 Addendum: We somehow managed to pen the entire article and forgot to talk about fan noise, so that’s been added.

Pros

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Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model (144Hz) - Techgage Editor's Choice
Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model (144Hz)

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