For home and gaming use, I wanted something a bit different. I was after a mechanical keyboard which was lower cost, had a standard 104 layout and had key legends. What I wound out settling on was the Razer Blackwidow Ultimate.
|Meet the Razer Blackwidow Ultimate (pic courtesy Razer)
It’s ~$40 more than the Expert version, but the Ultimate version has the USB hub, audio passthrough and the backlit keys. Other than that, the Ultimate has the same key layout and keyswitches as the Expert.
The Blackwidow does not have N-key rollover. But it does have rollover that’s optimized around the ESDF/WASD cluster. This means that the keyboard is set up so you can hit pretty much any combination of WASD/ESDF and two other non-modifier keys and have them all work. That covers off the majority of gaming scenarios where you may want to, for example, move forward while strafing left crouched, while reloading and talking on Teamspeak at once. With my layout, that requires hitting something like ESCA and Alt at the same time. That sort of combination will work fine.
But ZXC will fail. It’s only optimized around the WASD/ESDF cluster, and is 2-key rollover elsewhere. That all said, what I want rollover for is to handle ESDF movement scenarios with stuff like talking on Vent while reloading and things like that, so the optimization is perfect for me. But for some flight sim folks who may need to use really weird key combinations, it may not work as desired.
Keycaps and Backlight
The keycaps have an odd font, but it’s quite serviceable. Additionally, the caps are made of some kind of high-friction plastic, so they feel slightly rubbery to the touch and give decent grip.
The backlight can be very bright, but is adjustable in several graduations. I use it on the lowest setting, since that’s plenty bright in the dark. All keys are individually backlit, resulting in an even lighting across the board. The colour is your typical LED blue that everyone seems to love these days.
The layout is a standard 104/105 layout, with one variation - it’s got a “M” macro button at the bottom right where the second Windows button would be. That key is used as a modifier to operate the media buttons, record macros and the like. It also has five extra buttons on the left side which can be mapped to macros. I don’t really use the macro feature, but it does make the keyboard slightly wider than a standard keyboard.
The Blackwidow uses Cherry MX Blue keyswitches, which are wonderfully tactile and responsive. However, be warned - they are LOUD. They have a very noticeable “click” when depressed, and they sound like someone banging away at an old-school typewriter if you’re in a quiet room. I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to use one in a room where someone’s trying to sleep.
That said, in my opinion the MX Blues feel better than the Browns of the Das Keyboard. But I don’t think I could get away with clattering away on a Blackwidow at work.
There has been some commentary about people having problems with repeat keys because the MX Blue’s tactile release point is slightly out of position with its activation point, but I can’t say I’ve noticed any problems. As someone who learned to type on a mechanical typewriter, I can be a bit of a keyboard banger anyway.
The Blackwidow Expert is amazing value for money. For the extra amount you pay for the Ultimate, it’s worth it if you value the USB hub and backlight. With the Expert, you’re getting the same mechanics, switches, and layout, all for around the $100 mark, which is excellent value for a mechanical keyboard. But, this keyboard is loud. Not quite as bad an IBM Model M, but loud nonetheless. Keep that in mind.
- Looks good
- Has key legends
- Expert version is excellent value for money
- Standard keyboard layout (barring macro key in bottom right)
- Programmable through five special macro keys
- Has media buttons
- Has ability to disable Windows key for gaming
- Rollover optimized around WASD and ESDF clusters
- Good build quality, quite heavy
- Keyswitches have great tactile feel and friction
- Macro programming requires Razer driver kit to be installed
- Doesn’t have true N-key rollover
- Can’t use with PS/2, must be used with USB
- Requires two USB ports
All in all, I’ve been happy with the Blackwidow Ultimate as a home keyboard, and I’ve recommended it to others who have asked me. One of my colleagues got the Expert version for use at work, but he cops a fair bit of ribbing about the clackity-clack.