Luxury 4K laptops

Luxury 4K laptops – Time for an upgrade? Don’t skimp; you need next-gen computing with a next-gen screen

Words: Alex Cox

Photography: Neil Godwin

What’s on test

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Razer Blade Pro 4K

A gamer’s dream 4K machine, filled with the highest-end components and taken to the absolute extreme of mobile performance.

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HP Spectre 13 4K

Distinctly thin, incredibly light, and surprisingly powerful, HP’s latest revision of its Spectre laptop goes 4K with style.

 

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MSI GS73VR 7RF Stealth Pro 4K

4K gaming and performance muscle in a slightly more affordable – but no less luxurious – package.

Time to start seeing things differently. The rise of 4K screen tech has been impossible to miss, but it’s too good to leave in the corner of the lounge. Transplanted into the smaller screen size of laptop panels, 4K means a whole new visual experience. But it’s taken its time turning up. 4K laptops aren’t yet the norm, so if you’re looking for resolution today, look towards the high end.

This isn’t a case of 4K screens being scarce. Indeed, factory upgrades mean 4K panels of all shapes and sizes are now abundant. The sluggish takeup of 4K in laptops is more of a power issue: driving a 4K screen properly needs strong processing power. You might expect to run games at full resolution, and end up sorely disappointed when your shiny new laptop can’t keep up with the pace – and 4K means a very real hit to battery life. And, realistically, 4K’s visual upgrades can be hard to discern, and add a slight price premium. When it comes to laptops for the masses,

Full HD will often do.

For the tech cognoscenti, though, the drawbacks don’t outweigh the benefits.

The visual clarity of a 4K screen in computer use can’t be beat. Text is smoother, images are sharper, and there’s more logical (if not physical) room for multiple windows and applications. Photo editing and video editing at full resolution is an absolute joy, and if you’re shooting in 4K it makes no sense to downscale the fruits of your labour. Plus, the fact that 4K is the premium option means it’s attached to premium hardware… design

Three machines with three different builds – there’s something for everyone

Before we tackle the big boys, let’s single out the little gem: the incredibly slight Spectre is a design and engineering marvel. Retaining the super-slimline form of earlier iterations, it’s about the same size as an A4 magazine, both in thickness and in edge-to- edge dimensions. It’s flat and clean, making a statement not with bright bling, but by being calm, cool, focused and really small.

The Spectre’s screen hinges up over a bump at the rear, revealing a keyboard that, despite the base being only slightly thicker than the screen itself, has a decent amount of travel and a comfortable feel. There are certainly compromises here – notably the fact that you’ll need a dongle to expand beyond the Spectre’s three on-board USB-C ports – but we’re inclined to forgive them.

The Razer Blade Pro is very different. It’s massive, incorporating a 17-inch panel, and forgoes slender electronics in favour of big, aggressive components and the cooling they require – truly the other side of the premium

The incredibly slight Spectre is a design and engineering marvel coin. Not that it’s immensely thick, though. Everything’s packed into a 22mm aluminium shell that weighs in at a shoulder-wrenching 3.54kg. The extra width afforded by that screen means the Blade Pro’s trackpad has been moved, unusually, to the right edge of the keyboard to make it gamer-friendly (for right-handers, at least), and everything’s infused with Razer’s Chroma RGB lighting. The keyboard has its own distinct flair, using low-profile mechanical switches for a tactile, noisy click that feels very desktop.

MSI’s GS73VR isn’t unreasonable in its specifications, but it’s no performance slouch despite sporting a slimmer profile than the Blade Pro. Made of cool brushed aluminium alloy, it’s a lot lighter than its 17-inch rival, coming in at 2.4kg, although its design is arguably less appealing, and aluminium’s lightness has a trade-off in terms of strength. The deep-travel SteelSeries-made keyboard, feels great, although we could do without the every-letter-looks-identical gamer font.

The Chroma-lit keyboard of the Blade Pro looks Impressive and feels like no other, thanks to its custom mechanism

RazeRBlade pRo 4K specs

CPU Overclocked Intel Core i7-7820HK (2.9GHz / 3.9GHz / 4.3GHz) GRAPHICS Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X) RAM 32GB dual-channel DDR4 (2667MHz) SCREEN 17.3”, 4K (3840×2160) multi-touch IZGO STORAGE 512GB SSD RAID 0 (2x 256GB PCIe M.2) PORTS SDXC card reader, Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 3x USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, combo audio CONNECTIVITY Killer Wireless-AC 1535 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.1), Killer E2500 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000) CAMERA 2MP webcam WEIGHT 3.49kg DIMENSIONS 42.4×28.1×2.25cm

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TEST 01: WINNER – HP SPECTRE 13 4K

Just about the most luxurious laptop package you’re likely to find, awkward ports and all. We’re not sure how so much was packed into such little space

The Spectre 13 4K s display has minimal bezels, and it s incredibly thin, even for a compact laptop like this

hp specTRe 13 4K specs

CPU Intel Core i7-8550U (1.8GHz) GRAPHICS Intel UHD Graphics 620 RAM 8GB SDRAM (2133MHz) SCREEN 13.3-inch, 4K (3840×2160) micro-edge multi-touch IPS STORAGE 256GB PCIe SSD PORTS 2x Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 1, combo audio CONNECTIVITY Intel 802.11b/g/n/ac (2×2) Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2 CAMERA HP Wide Vision HD Camera with dual-array digital microphone WEIGHT 1.11kg DIMENSIONS 305x224x104mm

MSI s technicolour styling won t be for everyone, but it s certainly thematic – and the keyboard feels great to use

MsI Gs73VR 7RF sTealTh pRo 4K specs

CPU Intel Core i7-7700HQ (2.8GHz) GRAPHICS Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB GDDR5) RAM 16GB DDR4 (2400MHz) SCREEN 17.3-inch, 4K (3840×2160) IPS level panel STORAGE 256GB PCIe SSD, 2TB HDD (7200rpm) PORTS HDMI 2.0, 3x USB 3.0, USB 3.1, USB 3.1 Type-C, Thunderbolt 3, Mini DisplayPort, combo audio CONNECTIVITY Killer Wireless-AC 1535 (802.11a/b/g/n/ ac + Bluetooth 4.1), Killer E2500 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000) CAMERA 1080p webcam WEIGHT 2.43kg DIMENSIONS 41.18×28.49×1.96cm

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future shrinking

will we one day see proper graphics cards that fit within the space of the spectre? it looks like the tech is on its way…

The insane power of the Razer Blade Pro means it’s a bulky beast, but gaming machines are currently in the midst of a size revolution. Nvidia’s Max-Q tech (a name co-opted from NASA, where it refers to the point at which the aerodynamic stress on a rocket in the atmosphere hits its peak) shrinks the company’s Pascal graphics technology down to three times thinner than before and, when used in properly engineered systems, it can even run quieter and cooler.

You can get Max-Q laptops right now – the £2,799 Asus ROG Zephyrus being the most prominent – but expect the increase in GPU-hungry 4K screens and an eventual price drop to take the technology more mainstream before too long.

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performance and screen

The hardware makes the machine – so how well do they do the job?

As you might expect given their 4K specs, it’s fair to say that none of these machines disappoints in the visual department. The Spectre, with its smaller screen, naturally has the greater pixel density, although 4K crushed down to ultraportable laptop size means you’re going to need to press your face pretty close to any of these panels to discern the existence of a pixel. HP’s screen also impresses with its response times – if anything, they’re slightly better than Razer’s efforts. MSI’s panel – the only one here that’s not touch-sensitive – is a little disappointing in terms of colour consistency at different viewing angles, although it’s still bright and rich, with a highly appealing colour range.

The Blade Pro, calibrated and configured for gaming, has extremely wide viewing angles, awesome blacks, and a range that appeals while never becoming overblown.

Although the Spectre is not made for gaming – and that’s not something you should really attempt with it, given its

The Blade Pro has wide viewing angles and awesome blacks integrated graphics and moderate RAM – it’s a firecracker of a performer, packing the latest low-voltage Core i7 CPU. MSI’s effort is a tremendous performer in its own right, capable of grinding out VR with its GTX 1060 graphics solution, and carrying enough extraneous RAM, storage and gaming gimmickry to carry you forward for a good couple of years.

In the end, though, there could only be one winner of this test. The Blade Pro 4K is an astonishing machine, which goes some way to explaining its astonishing price. It’s the term ‘dream machine’ made silicon flesh, a no-holds-barred exploration of what’s possible in portable hardware. Everything has been turned up to 11, from the best-inclass GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card and the use of 32GB dual-channel memory to the THX-certified screen and sound combo.

in terms of numbers Razer’s panel isn’t quite as dense, but it’s been THX- certified and specially calibrated for the best colour output

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test 02: winner – RAZER blade pro 4K

A massive, beautiful 4K screen backed by massive, beautiful performance components in an excessive, exciting, and plain awesome package

RazeRBlade pRo 4K

RazeRBlade pRo 4K

The Spectre’s slimline screen is incredibly dense at 331 PPi – that’s more pixels per inch than the iphone 8 – and satisfyingly bright

The GS73VR’s matte panel is great for gaming without reflections, and throws out some bold, bright, luminous colours

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the long road towards 8k

because 4k is old and tired, and we want better screens already. we know

8K LAPTOP DISPLAYS EXIST

why aren’t they in laptops?

At laptop screen sizes, 4K is already crazy dense – but we can go deeper. Getting to 8K won’t be easy, though, because it’s an exponential increase, not the mere doubling of resolution that the names suggest. Current laptop hardware already has to work hard to push the 8.2 million pixels of 4K’s 3840×2160 resolution; the oomph to deal with the 33 million pixels of an 8K display like Dell’s UP3218K (£4,114) is some way away.

That said, 8K laptop screens do exist – the LCD manufacturer Japan Display demonstrated a 17-inch 120Hz panel a couple of years ago – so it’s really just a case of waiting to find a laptop maker crazy enough to install one. Razer, are you listening?

day-to – day

You’ve got to be able to use your laptop, but practicality is subjective…

we’ve enjoyed having all three of these machines for an extended period, and loved them all for their own reasons. But here’s the bad news: nothing here has particularly fantastic battery life. Under our desktop tests, we found the Spectre the most disappointing. Presumably its compact case doesn’t leave a lot of room for battery cells, leaving it to top out around 2 hours 15 minutes despite running a more subtle component combination and smaller screen. The Razer Blade Pro, probably by virtue of a battery that makes up much of its weight, somehow manages 30 minutes longer on a much higher spec – far more than we’d expect from a desktop replacement. MSI’s paltry hour and a half is much closer to the mark.

It’s also worth pointing out the noise issue. The Blade Pro is meant primarily as a desktop replacement, so it’s a little embarrassing to use away from the desk, due to its cacophonous cooling solution. There’s good reason for this – desktop-class components tend to get rather hot when taxed – but it’s louder than we’d like. The GS73VR, similarly, fires out a fair blast of air when even slightly

Both 17-inch models are unwieldy… but they never stumble troubled, spitting it out of a front-mounted vent. Both 17-inch models are unwieldy; neither feels at home on a lap. But they never stumble, and each offers far more in terms of options, and a much more expansive screen, than the dinky Spectre.

The question, really, is what your day-today routine looks like. If you’re moving around and meeting, or even just crashing on the sofa, the Spectre does more than enough. It’s hyper-portable, it’s slick and quick, and it really makes an impression. If you’re more tethered to a desk and getting your game on, the Blade Pro is a serious machine at a serious price – one that we’d rarely even consider moving. It may rip out a step more VR or 4K gaming performance than the GS73VR, but that extra kilo (and the fact that you could buy both the MSI and HP machines for the same price as the Razer) makes a difference.

The Razer Blade Pro is most at home on the desktop. Carry It around too much and you’ll rip the straps off your bag

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test 03: winner

MSI GS73VR

No, the battery life isn’t up to much. But it’s not far from the Spectre, lighter than the Blade, and the power and screen size means MSI’s monster is ready for anything

You can certainly carry the Spectre 13 4K anywhere – it’s so small and light that you might even forget it’s in your bag

At over a kilogram lighter than the Blade, the GS73VR is a much more portable machine than its rival, and slightly less noisy coming soon: better batteries find out why you could be juicing your next laptop with the stuff you put on your chips. no, we don’t mean curry sauce…

Given the world’s increasing reliance on high-power, high-capacity batteries, there’s a whole host of tech in the works that could change the way your laptop charges in the future. Aluminium-graphite cells, for example, only hold about half the capacity of a lithium-ion unit, but can charge to full power in a minute or so. Scientists are also working on sodium-ion batteries, which could replace our reliance on lithium mining with simple salt.

There’s a lot of refinement to be done: one of the biggest issues blocking new better technologies from going mainstream is durability, with most alternative batteries lasting only a couple of thousand charge cycles. But never doubt that there are big changes on the horizon.

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VERDICT: the overall winner is…

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Razer Blade Pro 4K

WE’RE impressed There’s so much power in here it’s absurd.

If you want a performer, this is a machine that’ll see you through the next three years – a true desktop replacement. It’s all packed into a handsome, comfortable case, with an absolutely beautiful screen and a next-level keyboard.

WE’D IMPROVE The price of having all this power at your disposal is steep. The Blade Pro is one for true PC connoisseurs willing to invest in having the absolute best kit around – in a couple of tech generations, this sort of combo will cost a lot less. the final WORD It’s certainly indulgent and a tad impractical – but there’s no better laptop around today, 4K or not.

5/5

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HP SPECTRE 13 4K

IMPRESSED An incredibly thin, light and beautiful laptop, with a dense, high-end 4K panel. IMPROVE Battery life isn’t what we’d expect from this kind of machine, and the dongle requirement is a little awkward.

final word

between this and the Blade to win the test – if you’re after a small machine, this is fantastic.

5/5

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MSI GS73VR 7RF STEALTH PRO 4K

IMPRESSED A brilliant gaming laptop with enough power for 4K gameplay at a decent frame rate. IMPROVE Does anyone, gamer or not, really want sharp-edged cyber styling? The RGB keyboard is nice – everything surrounding it, not so much.

FINAL WORD This is a very good laptop – but overshadowed by a pair of exceptional ones.

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5 ways to get more from your 4k laptop

  • GAME IN FULL HD

Yes, this wastes the primary function of a 4K monitor, we admit. But you’ll get far higher frame rates if you keep your gaming on 1080p; you’ll still benefit from the increased refresh rate; and, unless you have particularly keen eyes, you won’t notice the difference.

  • USE THE INTERNAL GRAPHICS

Although higher-end laptops include bolted-on discrete mobile graphics cards, these often drain the battery much faster than the machine’s on-board graphics solution. If you’re just knocking around the desktop, switch that hungry GPU off – you shouldn’t notice the performance hit unless you need to push polygons in 3D.

  • SCALE THE DISPLAY

At 100% scale, Windows 10 appears microscopically small on a 4K display. Upping the scaling to 250% or so makes desktop elements larger while keeping them smooth, but doesn’t reduce the resolution, so you’re still good to work on those photos. Scaling doesn’t work properly with every app – although Windows is getting more savvy as time goes on.

  • KEEP IT CLEAN

The fine pixel density of a 4K display shows up any tiny smear – and the touchscreens of the Blade Pro and the Spectre love hanging on to greasy fingerprints. Keep a soft cloth handy, and wipe your screen regularly with alcohol wipes.

  • DROP THE BRIGHTNESS

Each of these machines has an enormously bright display – brighter, by all rights, than it needs to be. Dropping the brightness to 50% or so will extend the life of your screen, save your eyes, and make your overworked battery last just that little bit longer.

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