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Razer's new Blade Pro laptop houses a mechanical keyboard

The 17-inch Razer Blade Pro is back, and it's more powerful than ever.
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AOL / Andrew Tarantola

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Razer has definitely made a name for itself in the world of gaming notebooks, but for the past few years, the Blade family of laptops has had a black sheep: The Razer Blade Pro. This 17-inch machine was the company's original thin gaming notebook, but it lingered in obsolescence after Razer introduced the more popular 14-inch variant and, later, the Razer Blade Stealth. For years, the smaller machines were given modest CPU, RAM and graphics updates while the ironically named "Pro" lagged behind with a 4th generation Intel processor. Those days are over. Today, Razer announced that the 17-inch Razer Blade Pro is back -- and it's finally going to live up to its moniker.

Razer is calling the new Blade Pro the most powerful system its ever built, and indeed, this thing is a beast. An Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU, 32GB of RAM and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 graphics pulse under the aluminium chassis. That, by the way, is as thin as ever, measuring 0.88-inches at its thickest point. The laptop also has a dizzying collection of ports, including a Thunderbolt 3 connector, three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output, a 3.5mm headphone jack, an Ethernet jack and an SDXC card reader. All that, plus the new Blade's 17.3-inch 4K display, are more than enough to qualify it as Razer's "Pro" laptop -- but that said, there is one thing missing from the flagship gaming machine: Razer's iconic Switchblade interface.

The Switchblade interface used to be integral to the Razer laptop brand. It was a set of ten customizable keyboard buttons that each housed their own tiny screen. Paired with a trackpad that also featured its own display, it allowed users to create a custom set of keys to fit any application. It was neat, but Razer told us it was eliminated to make way for "more performance focused components." That doesn't mean the Razer Blade Pro's keyboard isn't special, though -- the 17-inch Blade Pro will be the Razer laptop to feature its new "ultra-low-profile mechanical switches," which are supposed to emulate the actuation of a full-size mechanical keyboard.

So, what's a thin, 17-inch gaming laptop with the latest graphics technology, a ton of RAM, a 4K display and the world's thinnest mechanical keyboard cost? At least $3,699, possibly more if you want more than 512GB of SSD storage. Razer doesn't have an official launch date yet, but expects to start shipping orders sometime next month.

The first difference you'll notice between this year's Blade pro laptop and its predecessor, as Sean noted above, is that the old Switchblade keyboard and trackpad -- which incorporated tiny user-mappable LED screens in them -- have been replaced with Razer's new short-throw chicklet keys and a standard trackpad, albeit both with Chroma lighting. The keys themselves are very similar to those featured on the iPad keyboard from earlier this year. In fact, they have the same activation force of just 65 grams. That's a bit heavier than the 50g throw weight we saw on the BlackWidow earlier in 2016 but on par with the Blade and Blade Stealth. Since they require such little force to be moved, you won't have to pound on your keyboard as hard, which means you'll be able to type faster, with less effort and less wear and tear on the keys. And given the Blade Pro's $3,700 price tag, you're going to want this rig to last for as long as possible.

Typing on the new keyboard takes just a bit of adjustment. The action is far more sharp and responsive than what I'm used to on my MacBook Air and that demanded that I type a bit more precisely than what I'm generally used to. The keys, being mechanical, are also noticeably louder than my MBA board but not nearly as bad as the Blackwidow. The trackpad's performance has also been improved from the last version. Sliding around on the pad is effortless, almost velvety. Plus both of the trackpad buttons were well-defined and responsive. The corner of the trackpad depresses slightly when you click on one of the buttons, delivering helpful tactile feedback so you aren't constantly looking down to ensure you're tapping the right spot. My biggest complaint is that the pad is located to the right of the keyboard, rather than below it, which feels odd initially. I found myself continually whacking my thumbs against the bottom body plate and wondering why the mouse refused to move.

The Blade Pro is deceptively thin and weighs under 8 pounds. Still, it manages to display saturated, vibrant color for its 4K content -- and without the need for an external GPU box like the Stealth. Plus, its processor is powerful enough to support the current field of VR headsets (aside from PSVR, of course). So whether you want it to for gaming or work or both, consumers and content developers alike will find a lot to love in the Blade Pro.

Gallery: Hands-on with the Razer Blade Pro | 10 Photos

Andrew Tarantola contributed to this report

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Sean has a nasty habit of disassembling nearby gadgets. Although he usually gets everything reassembled in adequate working order, you probably shouldn't lend him your phone. He's a lifelong gamer, a comic-book nerd and an Eagle Boy Scout. A fortune cookie promised him he would one day work at Engadget. What else is there to know?
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