Razer Switchblade: The Future of PC Gaming?

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Fresh from its debut at CES 2011, the Razer Switchblade is turning heads and making people rethink what “PC gaming” means. This Intel Atom-powered handheld mini notebook promises to deliver PC games running on Windows 7 and still run those games at 30 frames per second or more!

Razer is a company that has long been known to PC gamers as a manufacturer of some of the best PC gaming accessories. However, at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show the center of the Razer booth wasn’t dedicated to headsets, keyboards, or mice. No, the real attention was focused on the Razer Switchblade prototype.

The Razer Switchblade is essentially a new take on a handheld gaming device: Take a Windows 7 notebook, shrink it as much as possible, give it a cool control interface, and make sure it can play a vast library of existing and future PC games. Although representatives from Razer were quick to point out that the Switchblade is months (or more) away from actual availability, we haven’t been this excited about PC gaming on a mobile platform since the Alienware M11x.

Unlike traditional gaming notebooks such as the Alienware M11x, the Razer Switchblade features a much smaller 7-inch capacitative multi-touch screen and a unique keyboard design that is just plain cool. Rather than limiting the tiny handheld PC with a traditional QWERTY keyboard, Razer is using a dynamic, programmable keyboard.

The keyboard itself is actually a second LED-backlit touchscreen display which has been overlaid with transparent tactile keys. This means that each key can be transformed into whatever is needed for Windows 7, a specific application, or a specific game. For example, when you first turn on the Switchblade and look at the keyboard you’ll see a traditional QWERTY keyboard. However, as soon as you launch a movie, the text on the keys changes to a media player interface similar to a DVD or Blu-ray player. If you launch Left 4 Dead 2 or World of Warcraft, then the keys change into a custom interface with shortcuts for specific gameplay controls.

This is hands down one of the most innovative ideas we’ve seen for a keyboard.

After you look past this amazing keyboard, the details about the Razer Switchblade get a little fuzzy. This “concept prototype” is powered by an unreleased and unnamed Intel Atom processor and runs the Windows 7 operating system along with a custom Razer UI to control the keyboard changes and make it easier to use the main 7-inch display. Similarly, there is no word on what Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is powering the games that run on the Switchblade.

Representatives from Razer kept mentioning the Switchblade would play games and video at “30 frames per second” but wouldn’t go into any more details about resolution, in-game detail settings, or even whether the frame rates mentioned were minimum, average, or maximum frame rates. Although Razer hasn’t settled on the final technical specs for the Switchblade, it will likely ship with a 128 GB SSD, Wi-Fi, 3G, a USB 3.0 port and a mini-HDMI port for watching video or playing games on a larger screen. Razer also claims the Switchblade will give PC gamers about 4-6 hours of gameplay and “significantly more” battery life if you’re just browsing the web or using it as a Windows PC.

The big question here is: Can the Razer Switchblade deliver on the hype? Although we’re talking about a future version of the Intel Atom processor and an unknown GPU, we’ve yet to see an Atom-powered device deliver the level of in-game performance that PC gamers expect accross a wide range of game titles. Razer only had a few in-game screen shots and short demo video clips to showcase the performance of the Switchblade. It isn’t clear whether this handheld Windows 7 PC can handle more than a few specific games or even how well it performs with those games. Of course, another major factor that will dictate whether PC gamers embrace the Switchblade is the price. Most Atom-powered netbooks start around $250, but it’s doubtful that Razer will deliver a device like this at netbook prices.

Our hopes are high, but we’ll have to reserve our judgement until we can get our hands on a production-level review sample of the Razer Switchblade.

Be sure to visit the NotebookReview.com homepage for updates on this innovative product as they become available.

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