A few years ago, you used to hear a lot about laptops that aimed to be ‘desktop replacement’ systems. These were usually weighty machines, equipped with desktop-class processors, 15- or 17-inch displays and full-size keyboards. The downside? They packed a battery life you could measure in minutes rather than hours.
The other thing that let these desktop replacement laptops down was their graphics. While they certainly delivered in terms of screen roominess, CPU performance and usability, there was no room for the sort of high-end AMD or NVIDIA GPU that would give them the graphical gusto to match. You couldn’t just bolt on a PCI-e graphics card.
Although now it seems you can. At CES 2016, we caught sight of the Razer Blade Stealth. On its own, this laptop is a slick-looking portable that can be configured with a 12.5-inch QHD or UHD (4K) display. Under the hood, it runs a high-end Intel Core i7-6500U dual-core processor, an Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU and 8GB of memory.
It’s a strong specification. But while the integrated graphics chipset can cope with visually rich games like Fallout 4, you might need to disable anti-aliasing, ease off the dynamic lighting and scale down the resolution to maintain a decent frame rate.
But attach the Razer Blade Stealth to the forthcoming Razer Core graphics enclosure and you can slave in a full-length, double-wide PCIe graphics card via a 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 connection. The result? An instant graphical upgrade that gives Razer’s laptop all the raw, poly-flinging superpowers of a full-fat desktop PC.
In other words, it’s like a Tesla Model S towing a caravan filled with rockets.
It’s far from being a gimmick.
The Razer Core points towards “a future where full-power graphics cards can be as easy to plug in and deploy on a laptop as they already are on a desktop PC,” said The Verge. While PC Gamer wrote that “the dream is tantalizingly close — a single graphics card enclosure that could work with a wide range of laptops and turn any portable into a real gaming champion.”
We’ve already seen how laptops are changing. Hybrid 2 in 1 designs seem to be the next evolutionary step forward and graphics enclosures like the Razer Core will only add to the all-round appeal. If the Razer Core works as promised, it poses the following question: why buy a desktop PC for gaming and an Ultrabook for work, when one modular system can do both? — Dean Evans (@evansdp)