Sunday, September 08, 2013

Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Elite Review

I have been on a quest for a good keyboard. Many years ago, I have the impression that Apple made the best keyboard and so I went and bought the Apple Pro Keyboard, the one with the white transparent plastic at the bottom. That turned out to be a disaster! It was one of the worst keyboard that I have ever used. I didn't read any reviews. I just went with blind faith. Never again!

I thought that the ThinkPad keyboard was the best because after using many models of ThinkPads for the past 17 years, I have grown accustomed to the keyboard and was used to it that I thought this must be the answer to my keyboard quest. I bought a USB ThinkPad keyboard for my home desktop (ala gaming needs). It served me quite well for a couple of years. I am actually pretty happy with it especially the fact that it also has a TrackPoint built in. Very convenient when you are surfing and didn't want to take the hands off the keyboard. But there is still something missing. It's like you were hungry and you ate a really good meal and while you were fed, you were not completely satisfied.

That missing feeling caused me to rummage my storeroom and took out my 23 year old Acer keyboard from my very first PC. This keyboard used a PS/2 port. It was old, it was heavy but it was damn good to type. I have been using it since (that is, for the past two years). But it didn't have Windows key and in this modern era of Win 7 and Win 8 OS, Windows key is really essential.


It was during this time that I realized the reason I love the Acer keyboard is because it is a mechanical keyboard. Mechanical keyboard used a different technology than those soft keyboard that is very popular today. Those "chiclet" keyboard used some sort of rubber mechanism and therefore the manufacturers can make really slim and quiet keyboard. But mechanical keyboards are those that were made years ago - the grandfather's of keyboard and they are a typist dream come true - simply because of the feeling of the keyboard when you are typing! The keys bounced back and provided a tactile feedback. And they are loud. The have a 'click-clacky' noise.

If you are old enough to have used a dumb terminal connected to IBM mainframes, you know how heavy those keyboards are. And you would have know how loud noise they made. But they made typing feels like being in heaven. It was a very nice feeling. These are mechanical keyboards.

Each of the keys are controlled by switches. There are many different type of switches. The Acer used Alps switches. Do you know that the stereo company Alpine started their business as a keyboard switch manufacturer, thus the name Alps switches? There are also the more popular Cherry MX switches and these comes in many flavours - Cherry MX Blue, Brown and Red. The colours implied different feeling of the keys and the loudness they made, Blue being the loudest.

As such, I have been eyeing the Das branded mechanical keyboard as they are the most premium and popular. But there is one thing I didn't like about Das - it has a glossy casing meaning the keyboard is prone to collect dust and prone to fingerprint. I hated that and therefore was not motivated to really 'import' it.

Then one day, my friend Dogbone asked me if I am interested in Razer mechanical keyboard. Razer is a company that made gaming peripherals, they are especially famous for mouse. I have heard of Razer mechanical keyboard but when I was reading reviews of Das and the comparison that was made, Das is always more popular and had better reviews.
But my friend is selling a brand new Razer mechanical for 40% less. And he's asked me to consider. So I did some research and to my pleasure, the 2013 model of Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Elite checks many marks that I was looking. It retailed for RM439; not including Shipping and Handling. There are many reviews of BlackWidow Ultimate but I have yet came across one that indicates the model that I am holding. When I took a look at the box, yeah, it says "New and Improved" - so probably those reviews didn't have this latest one.

What was it that attracted me that was also mentioned by other reviews:
1. It is made of Cherry MX Blue, like the Das keyboard
2. It has individually lit key and then on top of that there is also a backlit on the keyboard. The Das has only individual lit keys not a backlit.
3. Love the 5 macro keys for gaming; love the fact that I can activate Game mode so that accidentally press Windows key does not take me out of gaming and back to desktop - a boon to many competitive players.
4. Media keys - I love having the convenient of changing volume from the keyboard but I hate that some manufacturers complicate the keyboard by having additional buttons. Razer used the function keys (F1 - F8) like the Mac. And Fn-Pause will put the computer to sleep! Excellent!


So, what was the "new and improved"?
1. many reviews didn't mentioned that it was matte! The case is matte! Not glossy! Huge, huge plus points against the Das.
2. N-key rollover! Many reviews put the lack of N-key rollover as a Cons of the Razer BlackWidow but the version I have has 10-key rollover. Gamers will appreciate the fact that you can press 10 keys at the same time and the computer and game will respond to it.
3. Cherry MX Blue - I know it is not "new and improved" but this is a huge plus points in my books too and I have to emphasize it!
4. Surprisingly, the form factor of the keyboard is not huge. I was expecting a big ass keyboard. It's almost the same size as a normal keyboard, slightly smaller than my Acer mechanical. It is heavy but it's not big. Doesn't take a lot of space.

Any negatives? Yes. The font on the keys are too radical and do take some getting used to.
And the light on the right of the keyboard, the one that lit up when Numlock, Capslock was pressed. They are not as bright as the individual keys maybe because of the matte casing that has no 'see through'. Small matter, really.

And for 40% off retail and without having to add shipping charges - WOW! NO brainer.

So, what am I going to do with the 3 old keyboards? I hope I will like the Razer enough not to go back into the storeroom too dig them up!

Edit: Some useful links
1. FAQ
2. Why Cherry Blue MX


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