Razer Switchblade impressions: It's a 7" gaming PC with an LCD keyboard

Razer may be best known for its well-regarded line of angular, extreme gaming peripherals for the core PC gaming set – think mice, keyboards, mouse pads and yes, motion controllers – but the San Diego-based company is looking to branch out into an area you may not have expected: efficient (and graphically anemic) netbook computers.

While it's an unusual move for the peripheral maker, it's not a departure from their core competency. Gaming laptops may have whittled down the bulk required for a high-end gaming experience but they're still far from portable. Inversely, netbooks are steadily becoming increasingly capable laptop replacements, but fall short when performing the most demanding tasks ... like video gaming.%Gallery-113462%

So Razer's been working behind-the-scenes for some years, having hired many of the people from portable computing pioneers OQO, waiting for the intersection of minimum specs necessary for an acceptable, low-end gaming experience. And now, at CES 2011, it's finally ready to share the fruit of its labors: the Switchblade, a "concept design" with no price, no launch window, and no guarantee we'll ever see it on store shelves. But that doesn't mean it's vaporware; Razer didn't spend time and money on a flashy (and functional!) prototype with no intent on productizing it. It's just not clear what the final product will look like.

But we do know what the Switchblade looks like. We had a chance to play with it at Razer's CES booth and came away very impressed with what we saw. In short the Switchblade is a netbook running Windows 7 on Intel hardware. Up top is a 1024x600 7" multitouch display; on the bottom is a pretty fancy keyboard featuring an LCD screen covered in a touchscreen layer and transparent keyboard keys. That keyboard offers two significant features: 1) the ability to create custom, game-specific controls and 2) the transfer of UI elements from the already small screen to the far more functional keyboard.

Razer Switchblade

While in Windows, a slick UI skin occupies the top screen and a traditional QWERTY keyboard layout takes up the bottom "screen" – boot up a game (we were shown Warcraft 3) and you get those game-specific keys. Sometimes those are parts of the game's UI, other times it could be a stylized keyboard, with a Warcraft-y alphabet.

The diminutive Switchblade doesn't offer much in the way of physical connectivity – along the right side, you'll find a small AC port, and a mini-HDMI output. On the left side you'll find a single USB 2.0 port (for hooking up a Razer mouse, no doubt). As far as invisible ports go, the Switchblade packs Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and though the unit we saw didn't have it, Razer is hoping to add 3G to the mix as well. The prospect of effortlessly bringing your WoW experience on the go, anywhere cellular data is available, is certainly thrilling to both WoW players and Razer execs.

And that's the pitch for the Switchblade. When asked (repeatedly) about the cost or release date, a Razer rep told us that they were targeting a netbook price range since, simply, that's the competition. They can't price it much higher and can't afford to price it much lower, so we imagine a target tag of rougly $300 to $500. As for when we'll see it on store shelves, he was much cagier. This unit is a prototype and even the name "Switchblade" is a codename (you can tell since it doesn't follow Razer's increasingly goofy "deadly predators" naming convention). Razer will undoubtedly have more to share at E3, but we're guessing a 2011 launch is out of the question. But until things are a little more official, we can all imagine a future where miniature gaming PCs abound ... and where MMO junkies leave their gaming caves.