The device now known as the Razer Edge has come a long way since it was first unveiled as "Project Fiona" at last year's CES. Back then, the Windows 7 tablet was permanently attached to a set of bulbous analog and button controllers that made it more of an oversized PC gaming handheld than a proper computing device. Now, the Edge is a low- to mid-range Windows 8 gaming PC that just happens to be packed into a multitouch tablet form factor.
Let's start with the specs. The Razer Edge, currently planned for release sometime this quarter, will come in two configurations. The $999 base model features an Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia GT640M LE GPU, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 64GB SSD. The $1,299 Razer Edge Pro upgrades the internals to include an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 128GB SSD (which can be expanded to 256GB at purchase time).
The Edge tablet is about twice as thick as an iPad, but it's only 25 percent heavier than Apple's ubiquitous tablet. The net effect is a device that is remarkably light for its 10.1-inch screen size and internal specs, and one that seems easy to hold with one hand while controlling it with the other. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan told Ars that those specs were the result of a year of crowdsourcing to find out what level of power gamers wanted in a gaming PC at the $1,000 price point, and the company focused on keeping the device as thin and light as possible. That compact form factor does have one noticeable downside compared to most gaming laptops or PC towers, though: you can't open up the back to upgrade individual components as they start to become outdated.
One of the biggest selling points Razer stressed in our meeting was that the Edge wasn't trying to remake the gaming landscape on tablets by using a mobile OS like Android. This is a full Windows 8 tablet that can run any standard PC game and handle services like Steam just fine. It's also usable as a general purpose tablet, with zippy access to things like e-mail and Web browsing using the touch interface. In our hands-on tests, the tablet was more than capable of running games like Dishonoredand Dirt with mid-level details at very smooth frame rates on the 1366×768 display. The back of the tablet got noticeably hot as the fans worked to clear out processor heat while running high-end games, but the effect wasn't unbearable in our quick test. This is not a scaled-down gaming computer in a tablet. It's an actual gaming computer in a tablet.
Games like Civilization can be played entirely with the multitouch screen, but for most PC games you're going to need some external controls. The buttons and analog sticks that were attached to Project Fiona a year ago have been adapted into a $249 tablet sleeve, with a full array of analog sticks and face and shoulder buttons to the side of the screen (there's even an extra shoulder button that brings up the Steam menu directly from inside games).
The buttons and joysticks felt well-made and suitably responsive in my hands, and the holster sports some rather hefty force feedback and a nice design that redirects the speaker output to point directly at your face. The main downside, besides the price, is the immense weight of the thing, which transforms the easy-to-hold tablet into a device that is uncomfortable to hold up in front of you even with a firm two-hand grip. The whole setup seems tolerable when resting on your lap, but just barely. Plugging in a standard USB gamepad is probably a more workable solution.
The Edge is also fully compatible with standard mouse and keyboard controls, either through a built-in USB slot or connected via Bluetooth. Razer was showing off a prototype case that props the tablet up in front of a gaming keyboard, making the whole thing look a lot more like a laptop, but the company isn't planning on releasing such a product until the third quarter of 2013.
You can also hook the Edge up to a TV using an optional $99 dock that gives the tablet HDMI output as well as extra USB slots. Tan said he envisioned this for use in dorm rooms, where people could just plug the tablet in next to the TV for group gaming, then take it with them for use as a tablet or gaming PC. When projected onto a big-screen TV, the games I saw in the demo looked a bit worse than they did on the Edge's built-in display, with noticeable jagged edges on cars and characters. Tan said he wasn't sure whether the tablet was capable of higher resolutions when displaying to an external TV rather than the built-in display.
Based on my brief time with the Edge, I could see it as a more-than-decent solution for a gamer looking for a mid-range gaming laptop that's also usable as a general tablet. Customers who already have either of those two devices, though, could probably get more bang for their buck by just buying a dedicated gadget to serve their remaining needs (though having to lug around two devices for the dual purposes is a little less convenient). As the components needed to power a decent PC gaming rig get smaller, we'd love to see this idea continue to be refined to the point where a low-cost, portable gaming PC isn't presumed to have a keyboard attached.