We’ve reviewed many updates of Razer’s Blade Stealth laptop in the last few years. Some models brought major design revisions; others focused on internal upgrades. The 2020 Blade Stealth 13 ($1,799.99) is somewhere in the middle, bringing new features, components, and a few design tweaks. Its upgraded Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics chip makes it the only true 13-inch gaming laptop available, and a new 120Hz display is even more appealing for gamers. These improvements on an already solid design make it easy to recommend, even if it’s less of a total overhaul than the Editors’ Choice-winning 2019 version was. The presence of the aggressively priced 14-inch Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, based on AMD Ryzen silicon, undercuts its value somewhat, but there is no direct comparison for this premium gaming ultraportable.
Let’s start with the design. Everything I liked about the 2019 Blade Stealth 13 is back, chiefly the high-quality all-aluminum chassis. Razer retains the squarer shape that the Blade 13 Stealth (which I’ll refer to as the “Stealth” from here on out) switched to in previous models, cutting its rounded corners for a sharper, more modern look. The lid logo is etched black on black rather than the classic lime-green Razer logo that, while on-brand, looks less stylish.
The Stealth (and its 15-inch Razer Blade counterpart) are among the best-looking and -feeling notebooks around, while remaining plenty portable. The Stealth measures 0.6 by 12 by 8.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.1 pounds, impressively thin and just right for slipping into a bag for class or a commute. This matches up well with the Dell XPS 13 (0.58 by 11.6 by 7.8 inches and 2.8 pounds) and the 13-Inch Apple MacBook Pro (0.61 by 12 by 8.4 inches and 3.1 pounds), especially when you consider that the Stealth is gaming-ready.
One visible change is the new keyboard layout, meant to address some consistent complaints about past designs. The arrow keys were all full-size, which on a laptop this small meant the right-side Shift key had to be half the usual length. Now, the up and down arrow keys are half height, so that the Shift key can be full length. I can attest from using the past Stealth models that I would habitually hit the up arrow expecting it to be where Shift was, so this change to a more standard layout is much more natural. The arrow keys are used far less frequently than Shift, so it’s the right trade-off for comfortable typing. This is not a huge change, but it was one of those small things that bugs real-world users consistently in everyday use.
Unique at 13 Inches: A High-Refresh Display, and a Dedicated GPU
Now, on to the changes you won’t see immediately. That starts with the display, still a full HD screen, but now with a 120Hz peak refresh rate. Razer says this is the highest refresh rate available on a 13-inch laptop, which makes sense since almost no 13-inch alternatives are meant for gaming. With the GPU this laptop has, it won’t often hit the 120Hz ceiling (more on that later), but being able to go above 60 frames per second (fps) is a boon in itself for many multiplayer games. The screen quality is strong, with a sharp, vibrant picture, and the thin display bezels complete the modern look. There is also a 4K screen option in a more expensive model, but I wouldn’t recommend paying for the price jump, as 4K isn’t a great fit for a 13-inch screen, nor for gaming.
Last but not least, the components. Last year’s Stealth already jumped up to Intel’s 10th Generation Core processors (the identical Core i7-1065G7 CPU is used in this year’s version), but the 2020 edition ups the ante on the graphics front from an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 to a GeForce GTX 1650 Ti. That’s a modest power boost, as you’ll see in the performance section below.
That means, in total, our $1,799.99 starting model gets you a Core i7-1065G7 processor, a Max-Q GTX 1650 Ti, 16GB of RAM (at 3,733MHz, clocked faster than before), a 512GB SSD, and a full HD 120Hz display. The aforementioned more expensive model includes all of the same parts aside from the display, which is the upgraded 4K touch screen, for $1,999.99. I like the simplicity here of one SKU with a different screen option rather than tying different or better components to the 4K resolution only. Some gamers may find a 512GB boot drive restrictive, but it’s a fair inclusion on a 13-inch laptop in particular.
The touchpads on Blade laptops are consistently among the best on any Windows laptop, and perhaps the only ones I would put up against the excellent touchpads on Apple’s MacBooks. That’s true again here, with a solid construction that feels as premium as the metal chassis and extremely smooth panning.
The keyboard is less of a standout, but it’s still good. Some may want slightly more travel, but it’s not too shallow considering the laptop’s thinness, and the customizable colored backlighting is a nice touch. The keys are no longer individually backlit as they were on some older models, a change Razer made a few editions ago for battery savings. You change the color of the whole layout at once.
The port selection is identical to what was on last year’s model. The left side is home to one USB Type-C port and one USB Type-A port, as well as a combo audio jack. The USB-C port on the left supports video out (with a compatible dongle) using DisplayPort-over-USB and can also be used to charge the system.
The right side almost exactly mirrors the left, home to USB-C and USB-A ports, but no audio jack. However, the right-side USB-C connection offers Thunderbolt 3 support. (This port, too, can charge the laptop.) I appreciate any small laptop including both USB-A and USB-C.
Like the previous version, the Stealth features Wi-Fi 6, and the webcam supports Windows Hello for easy logins.
Performance Testing: Ready for Gaming
For performance testing, I put together a list of similar laptops to compare to the Stealth. These are mostly 13-inch laptops, with one exception, and comprise a mix of gaming and non-gaming machines since the Stealth straddles the line.
For starters, we have last year’s Blade Stealth 13 ($1,799 as tested) to see how it stacks up to the new GPU. Next, there are the 13-Inch Apple MacBook Pro ($1,799 as tested) and Dell XPS 13 ($1,749.99 as tested) as two of our favorite general-use 13-inch ultraportables. Finally, the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is the true gaming laptop here, but still more compact than its 15-inch counterparts, and its great value sets the bar.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
The Stealth’s CPU performs moderately well here, hardly a powerhouse but proficient enough at daily tasks. All of these scores are more than adequate, so no matter where exactly it falls in the rankings here, it’s not worth worrying whether or not the Stealth will cut it for workaday multitasking. Additionally, its snappy storage ensures fast boot and load times, which helps general use and gaming.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here.
As with PCMark 10, the 2020 Stealth isn’t the fastest machine, but it was never going to be a multimedia phenom. Instead, it’s mostly competent in a pinch, but I wouldn’t want to rely on it for day-in, day-out media tasks. Based on the Handbrake time, you could be waiting around for encoding and edits, though ultimately not that much longer than the other machines. The Ryzen-based Zephyrus is in a class of its own, though, when the software is heavily threaded, thanks to its greater number of addressable cores and threads and the use of a true mobile-class, rather than ultramobile-class, CPU. (The rest of the systems here are based on Intel U-series silicon; see our first look at these Ryzen chips.)
None of these is suited to be a dedicated media-editing machine for professionals; that’s not the role of a portability-first laptop, and in the grand scheme the Stealth isn’t any better or worse at those jobs than something you may think of as being more professional-minded, like the Dell XPS 13.
On to 3DMark, which measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on each laptop’s graphical prowess.
These results are mostly positive viewing for the new Stealth, which looks good among ultraportables; the XPS 13’s integrated graphics are definitely a level behind. The in-game frame rates are below, but these scores show general 3D aptitude that most laptops this size don’t have.
On a less impressive note, the Max-Q version of the GTX 1650 Ti just is not much improved over the GTX 1650 in the previous Stealth. (3DMark repeatedly crashed on the 2019 Stealth, so it is absent from the chart. The MacBook is also absent, as it can’t run these Windows-based tests.) As you can see, the gain is almost nonexistent, and the pattern continues on in the next tests…
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world gameplay at various settings. We run them at 1080p resolution at the games’ medium and best image-quality settings (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5 under DirectX 11, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider under DirectX 12).
At the high presets, the new Stealth model averaged an additional 3fps and 2fps on these two games, which is not nothing, but hard to tout as much of an upgrade. Still, a bit more power is more power, basically a “free” improvement from the last edition atop the other new features.
Separate from that head-to-head comparison to its past self, these are good frame rates for a 13-inch laptop, and still unique in the space. You will not get maximum-settings 60fps gaming here, but that would be a lot to expect from this laptop. Tuning down some settings will get you there, though, an acceptable compromise.
As far as making use of the 120Hz display, games that are less graphics-intensive than these AAA titles get far closer to that limit. In my anecdotal testing of Rainbow Six: Siege, the Stealth averaged 87fps and 102fps on maximum and medium settings, respectively. That doesn’t hit the 120Hz ceiling, but it is still a good deal higher than 60fps, and even simpler games will likely go higher. A smoother experience is something easy to observe and appreciate in multiplayer games, so the display adds value.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel short we use in our Handbrake test—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
The battery life on the 2020 Stealth is good, even if it’s not topping the charts. You have to accept some concessions for the GPU and the high-refresh screen, and even with that, 10 hours of battery life is good enough for most of your day, and a slight improvement on the 2019 model. If battery life is your main priority, which would be understandable for this category, the XPS 13 leads this particular lot handily.
A Capable Gamer, and an Excellent Ultraportable
The 2020 Blade Stealth 13 is an improvement on the past model, in design if not on performance. The former is refined and includes some new features like a high refresh display and a friendlier keyboard, while the overall muscle is about the same, or just slightly better than the past model’s.
Since we were already big fans of the 2019 edition, an improved model is easy to recommend. Because it’s largely based on the same design, it doesn’t earn an Editors’ Choice for innovation this time around, but it’s one of the best smaller-screen ultraportables on the market, and the only one that doubles as a capable enough gaming laptop. If you can manage a slightly larger laptop and want a purer gaming system, though, the more powerful Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is the better value.
Razer Blade Stealth 13 (2020) Specs
|Laptop Class||Gaming, Ultraportable|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-1065G7|
|Processor Speed||1.3 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||16 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||512 GB|
|Screen Size||13.3 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1920 by 1080|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||120 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti|
|Graphics Memory||4 GB|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.6 by 12 by 8.3 inches|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||10:18|