I have for the most part avoided the mechanical keyboard craze. At the time when I was selecting the peripherals to go with my rig mechanical keyboards were hard to come by and really expensive. These factors and a quick realisation that even though I had built a rig it didn’t mean I would magically have more time to play games drove me towards getting a less expensive non-mechanical keyboard. Now that I have tried the Razer Black Widow Ultimate 2014 I am beginning to see the light, mechanical gaming keyboards offer a significantly different experience to membrane keyboards. However is this advantage enough to overcome the substantial price difference between a mechanical and membrane keyboard?
Wrapped in matte finished soft touch plastic the 2014 Blackwidow is a sleek keyboard that does not waste space with flashy displays or an abundance of programmable keys. The design remains the same as last year with the keyboard connecting with a braided 6ft cable and green backlighting the default. The Blackwidow also features USB 2.0 and Audio pass through meaning you can run your headset and mouse from the keyboard which is always handy.
So what then is the difference between the 2013 and 2014 models? The answer comes by way of the new razer designed mechanical switches, which replace the industry favoured Cherry MX switches. These new razer developed switches mirror the functionality of Cherry switches but have been designed for gaming with shorter actuations and improved durability claims. The change means that where originally buyers had a choice of Cherry MX Blue, Black, Brown or Red Razer fans only have two options in the form of Razer Green (loud clicks and feedback) or Orange (quieter clicks).
From my perspective this change has very little impact as I this is the first mechanical keyboard I have used, however when comparing this keyboard to other mechanical keyboards the difference between the Razer and the Cherry MX switches was evident. For most people the change will have little consequence, if anything Razer has made it simpler for consumers by offering switches that emulate the features of the most popular Cherry MX switches, made them quicker and improved their lifespan. One final note on the design which is something common to all mechanical keyboards, they weigh significantly more than a membrane keyboard, the BlackWidow 2014 weighs in at 1.5kg, which when sitting on your desk is no issue but does make heavier to move around all the time.
The first thing you will notice about the Blackwidow is the responsiveness; this is a gaming keyboard designed to allow you to do more things in less time. The audible click is strangely satisfying as you duck and weave around the battlefield and I found less need to constantly spam keys to get the desired effect. The move to Razer’s own switches has allowed the company to develop gaming switches rather than adapting typing switches, this has resulted in the movement of the keys feeling shallower and quicker. This is in line with the sleek aesthetics and focus on performance.
Should You Buy It?
The 2014 Blackwidow Ultimate offers Razer’s best technology however at a huge premium and at the expense of some the features of its competitors. The keyboard still only features USB 2.0 in this the age of USB 3.0 something that you might expect when you are buying a top of the line gaming keyboard. Some might argue that with very few devices needing USB 3.0 this would have been a waste but this is gaming hardware excess is in its character.
Secondly at $229.95 AUD this keyboard is quite an investment. The price is in many ways justified by the long claimed lifespan of the Razer switches but unlike the Cherry MXs these new keys have not been in the market long enough for us to see whether they live up to the hype. The price whilst comparable to other mechanical keyboards is a significant bar to entry for the budget conscious. Even if shopping around might net you a better deal the price especially in light of the new switches puts the focus on Razer’s history, which by all accounts is favourable but can it supplant the legendary status and wide industry recognition of the Cherry MX switch? This is a question for time to answer, the Blackwidow 2014 is a great keyboard but it seems like the first tentative step on the path to revolution rather a huge leap towards redefining the mechanical keyboard arena.
It is commendable that Razer is moving switch development in-house but without changing the design or updating the new model to USB3.0 you have to question whether Razer is banking on its past successes to sell new gear rather than offering something truly new to catch the attention of gamers. It seems like this one is for the Razer fans, if you trust the direction the company is going and were happy with the 2013 but need something slightly quicker this might be the board for you.
+ Quick Switches
+ Sturdy design
+ Braided Cables
- Untested switches
- USB 2.0 Passthrough only
- Very expensive
The Blackwidow 2014 maintains the design of the 2013 model but with Razer’s new in-house developed switches, which depart from the industry favourite Cherry MX switches, the price is still quite high meaning you are banking on your faith in Razer as a high quality manufacturer rather than millions of hours of user generated feedback about the quality and durability of the switches. The premium feel is lessened in some respects by the lack of USB3.0 and any new innovation in relation to functionality.