Hardware review: Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Stealth Edition gaming keyboard

Alright, here’s the very first (though brief) hardware review on TOOZE, and the new shiny baby that I’m looking at here is the new Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Stealth Edition Gaming Keyboard (now that is really a mouthful!) that was released on 30 August 2011.

Updated: See Update section at the bottom.

So… my trusty old Copperhead’s scrollwheel was dying and I was looking to order a new mouse when I saw this new baby on Razer Asia Pacific’s website. Seeing that there was not much info on this new product, I decided to order it after testing out its predecessor, the Blackwidow Ultimate at Comex over the last weekend.

Marketing fluff

Here’s the obligatory poster and marketing fluff.

Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Stealth EditionImage Source: Razerzone

“Where the first Razer BlackWidow can be likened to a barbarian ploughing through enemies with ease, the Stealth Edition of this mechanical keyboard is the ninja who sneaks up on opponents unexpectedly to take them down in a quick blur,” said Robert “RazerGuy” Krakoff, President, Razer USA. “Quieter feedback on the keys, lighter actuation force, extreme anti-ghosting on the Ultimate version, and a new matte black finish make the Stealth Edition of the Razer BlackWidow keyboards the best choice for the unassuming but extremely deadly gamer.”

Here are the specs and features of the keyboard.

Product Features:

  • Full mechanical keys with 45g actuation force
  • Extreme anti-ghosting
  • Individually backlit keys with 5 levels of lighting
  • 1000Hz Ultrapolling/1ms response time
  • Programmable keys with on-the-fly macro recording
  • Gaming mode option for deactivation of the Windows key
  • 10 customizable software profiles with on-the-fly switching
  • 5 additional macro keys
  • Multi-media control keys
  • Braided cable
  • Audio-Out/Mic-In jack
  • USB-passthrough
  • Approx size (mm): 475(l) x 171(w) x 30(h)
  • Weight: 1.5kg

Took only 2 days for it to be shipped out of Razer’s warehouse straight to my home.

Razer goodie bag

Shot of the box

The box packaging comes with the text in black to highlight the “Stealth” image, with a cutout for people to press on the keys in the case of a display unit on store shelves. The first impression is that this is really a hefty keyboard. It could probably allow you to win a fight in a LAN shop by simply bashing the unit against the other opponent’s head.

Package contents

The contents were packed neatly in typical Razer style and inside you will find (from left to right), a user guide, complimentary Razer stickers, and a certificate of authenticity.

Cable connectors

Braided cable

The keyboard cable consists of a heavy braided cable which contains 2 gold plated USB cables (one for the actual keyboard and the other which acts as a pass-through for the USB port by the side), and audio and mic pass-through cables for the mic-in and audio out ports.

Individually backlit keys with 5 levels of lighting

Upon plugging in, the unit’s keys came alive with the blue LEDs, which are actually individually backlit (for a total of 100+ LEDs).

Shiny lights

The above shot is with the keyboard on the dimmest level, which is actually pretty glaring in even in light, and more so in the dark.

5 additional macro keys

As you can see in the above shot, there is a vertical column of 5 keys to the left which are the programmable macro keys.

Multi-media control keys / Gaming mode option for deactivation of the Windows key

Keys

The right windows key is replaced by a Fn key, and this allows control of the special functions over the F-keys for volume, cycling of backlight, and the gaming mode, which disables the windows key to prevent accidental tabbing out of games at a crucial moment. Personally I’d prefer dedicated keys for my media control, instead of Razer’s approach of hitting the Fn Key and then hunting for the media keys on the other parts of the keyboard — much like how a normal Fn key works on a normal laptop. Then again, I guess this is a matter of preference and of getting used to the keyboard.

Audio-Out/Mic-In jack and USB pass-throughs

USB and Audio/Mic

The USB and Audio/Mic pass-throughs are located to the right side of the keyboard. It’s not immediately visible from the shot but the there is sort of a recess by the side so your cable connectors do not stick out as much. I question the inputs being on the right side, seeing that the additional cables may interfere with mousing (though lefties may differ). Then again, I believe this is a cost-saving measure as the circuit board is probably located above the numpad. However, it does help plugging a mouse here if yours has a short cable, or if you detach your mouse often.

Programmable keys with on-the-fly macro recording / 10 customizable software profiles with on-the-fly switching

Razer

The software that comes with the keyboard has an easy-to-use layout that allows you to map a single key to anything you want, and the keys could be saved to different profiles. Macros which can be anything from a single keypress to a long combination of keys and mouse clicks (including specific timed delays) can also be saved. So you could have one profile for Photoshop where each individual keyboard key is mapped to a different shortcut, and one for Microsoft Word where only the macro keys are bound to common functions like copy and paste.

The software also allows you to set it in such a way that those profiles automatically launch when the associated program is run, or when you tab into it. Macros can be set to repeat once; repeat while pressed; or repeated for n times.

If you are unsure of what commands to bind, there is also the option of “on-the-fly” macro recording. Simply press the Fn+right Alt key and the keyboard enters macro recording mode. From here, just execute the commands normally, then hit Fn+right Alt again and then another key to bind those commands to that key. This can be particularly useful where you realize the need to record certain complicated commands while working on a project, but don’t want to exit the program.

1000Hz Ultrapolling/1ms response time and Extreme anti-ghosting

1000Hz Ultrapolling here means that the USB port the keyboard is plugged into is scanned 1000 times per second for any key press so that you can instant response. Not something I can readily test, but it’s probably good to have. No complains here.

Extreme anti-ghosting is just a Razer-speak to mean that it has 6-Key Rollover (or 6KRO) over the entire keyboard which is the limit of USB. What this means is that you can have a combination of up to 6 keys on the keyboard pressed down without jamming up the keys, with a combination of modifier keys like Ctrl, Shift, Alt or Win. So this is effectively 6+4KRO.

To get full n-key roll over (NKRO) would require the connection to be via the legacy PS/2 connector, but we would lose some of USB’s benefits such as for drivers and such.

I find this is kind of enough since I don’t really find the need to strafe run (W+A), cast a spell (another key), hit my PTT to talk in Ventrilo, open up my map and jump, and more.

Do note that only the stealth edition (for now) offers 6KRO while the previous Blackwidow only has 6KRO around the gaming clusters of WSAD.

Here is a small link to test your keyboard’s roll-over. Hit a combination of keys all at once and it should report the number of keys detected.

http://rollover.geekhack.org/

So, how does the keyboard feel?

For starters, the difference between the Stealth edition and the previous non-Stealth edition is that the Stealth edition uses the Cherry MX Brown keys as opposed to the Cherry MX Blue keys in its predecessor.

For the un-initiated, the Blackwidow is a mechanical keyboard which uses the Cherry MX switches. Where normal keyboards have a rubber membrane below the keys, a mechanical keyboard has an actual switch below each individual key. There are various designs of mechanical keyboard switches and this particular keyboard uses the Brown keys from the Cherry Corporation of Germany.

Most mass market keyboards nowadays uses a dome-switch. They bring two circuit board traces together under a rubber “dome” or bubble. The inside of the top of the bubble is coated in some conductive substance. When a key is pressed, it collapses the dome, which shorts out the two circuit traces and completes the connection to enter the character. The figure below shows how this circuit would look like. You can actually see a dome when you remove a key on the keyboard, which looks like a circular rubber ring. The springiness of the rubber dome then forces the key back up to its default position after it is released.

Dome switch keyboard layers

Image Source: Wikipedia

While these rubber domes are cheap to produce, a disadvantage is that the keys often feel mushy as you need to depress them over a rubber dome. You would also need to fully “bottom-out” the full travel distance of the key (typically 3.5 – 4.0mm) for it to activate and register a keystroke. In addition, the rubber does wear down over time and that leads to the keys either being harder to press down or becoming sticky and not as bouncy as before.

Source: Overclock.net

The above image shows the Cherry MX Brown key used in this keyboard. The advantage of this is that it provides a combination of low actuation force (of 45g) and tactility. This means that you require less force to actually activate the key, which leads to lower fatigue and less stress on our fingers. The plastic piece which clicks as the key is depressed also allows you to feel a tactile “bump” when each key is actuated (which is roughly at the halfway point). This allows you to actually feel when a key is registered without requiring to “bottom-out” the key. While the keys have the same travel distance of 4mm, the actual actuation position is at the halfway mark.

In addition, the slight clicks when the key actuates does has the sound of a muted typewriiter. While the keyboard says its “Stealth”, there is still the sound of the mechanical keys actually springing back up and if you hit too hard, the sound of the key hitting the base plate of the keyboard. However, it is an improvement against the Cherry MX Blue key which is designed to provide an additional “click” each time a key is actuated. As such, the Brown keys used in this keyboard provide a nice compromise between tactility and sound.

Closing Comments

After typing for a couple of minutes on the Blackwidow, I can safely say that it is really a joy to type on, and the lighter keytouch does increase typing speed and minimizes errors as you are sure that a key has been registered.

Upgrading to a mechanical keyboard from a normal one is like upgrading from a normal sedan to a luxury sports car. While it might seem an overkill or frivolous, I personally feel that a good keyboard is really a great investment for both our personal typing pleasure and gaming goodness.

After all, the keyboard and mouse are the primary ways in which we interact with our computers. Why cripple your experience with a $10 keyboard after spending $1,000-$2,000 on our systems?

The Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Stealth Edition is currently available only exclusively on Razer’s website for US$139.99. Those who find it too expensive but would still like to have one can opt for the regular non-Ultimate version for US$79.99. What you miss out are only the LED lighting and the USB and audio/mic pass-thoughs. Also, as a reader Garrett pointed out, the regular one is similar to the predecessor Blackwidows in that it only has the anti-ghosting on the WASD gaming cluster. So if the full 6KRO is a consideration for you, the Ultimate Stealth Edition would be your only choice.

Shipping for Razer Asia-Pacific is US$6.95 per shipment (regardless of number of items).

For more information on mechanical keyboards and the various types of switches, head over to The Mechanical Keyboard Guide over at Overclock.net.

Update

Noticed that this post got much more views than I originally expected. Here are some of the common questions that I had received.

Firstly, there were some issues with the old Blackwidow where the space key would activate the alt keys beside it due to some improperly cut plastic. I’m not sure if this was fixed in the Stealth but I did not encounter this.

Second, the keycaps for the ultimate are coated in some sort of rubber like material similar to its mice. In fact the whole keyboard seems to be coated in the same material. It does feel nice to the touch, but I’m not sure how well it will stand up to humidity and sweat over a prolonged time. I know I had my old Razer mouse’s coating on the mouse buttons peel off and it was not pleasant. Only time will tell.

Third, was tinkering around with the profiles. In addition to the auto and manual profile switching via the software, you are also able to switch profiles on the fly just by pressing the Fn+number keys. E.g. presseng Fn+1 would switch to Profile 1 and Fn+2 would switch to Profile 2. The on screen display would pop up with the Profile’s name which you have saved.

Finally, I got an email that you get a free Razer Beanie for orders above US$50 now. Too bad I got mine earlier and am not eligible for it. Anyway, I managed to get a hold of some discount coupons for US$5 off for any return purchase. Since I won’t be buying anything anytime soon. I’ll share these codes with our readers.

North America: RZH1GHF1V3
Europe: RZEUH1GHF1V3
Asia-Pacific: RZAPH1GHF1V3
Australia: RZAUH1GHF1V3

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15 comments
  1. Anonymous said:

    I wish to ask.. is it necessary to plug in BOTH usb ports? or is one sufficient to power the keyboard if i don’t intend to use the usb pass-through feature? Also, how do u know which usb port is for the keyboard and which is for the pass-through? Is it labeled?

    • XY said:

      Hi, one port is sufficient. The other one simply acts as a pass through cable to enable the use of the side USB port. I’ll need to go back and take a look if they are labelled. But you could easily find out since only one of them activates the keyboard which lights up. Hope that helps!

      P.S. I will check on the USB plug and let you know again.

      • XY said:

        One of the ports is labeled Razer, the other one is labeled PORT. Hope this helps. Cheers!

  2. Anonymous said:

    Thank you for the $5 off code. 😀

  3. Garrett said:

    There is another difference in the ultimate/regular version. You mentioned that there is LED lighting and that it has audio/mic pass-through… It ALSO has anti-ghosting. This is the main reason I went with the ULTIMATE version instead of the original. You can press up to SIX keys at a time. Very important for what I use my keyboard for: Gaming (:

    • XY said:

      Hey Garrett, I didn’t notice that on the tech specs! Yup. Only the ultimate SE has full 6 key anti ghosting. The regular one only has it around the gaming matrix. Thanks for pointing that out!

  4. Daniel said:

    Thanks for the voucher! Used it and waiting for my BWUS to arrive, hopefully today (:

  5. Nathan said:

    Hey Friend,

    Going to get this keyboard but have a hard time between the ultimate and ultimte stealth. In terms of percentage, how much quieter is the stealth one than the normal ultimate? Thanks.

    • XY said:

      Hi Nathan,

      I’d say maybe around 50%. If you have the chance to test a regular blue switch black widow in the store, the feel would be pretty similar, except that the stealth would not have the click sound at the mid point of the key when it activates. You would still have the sound of the keys hitting the bottom of the keyboard if you bottom out your keys each time, though this would not be any different from a regular keyboard.

      • Toge said:

        here i go.
        i’m going to buy this blackwidow ultimate stealth, but how about blackwidow ultimate 2013
        i just wany to know when i press the keyboard botton, which one is comfortable and which one is louder when we type it?
        thanks

      • XY said:

        Hi Toge, the non stealth keys are slightly easier to press, think it’s 5g less of force needed. In terms of noise, they are blue keys so there is a distinctive click sound each time they ate hit, so I would say they are louder.

  6. BeLe said:

    Hi,

    I read your review and I also have the same concern regarding the keys being coated. So after almost a year with it, how are the coating on the keys? Are they wearing off or is it still intact? Do you clean them often? Just wanted to make sure I don’t experience it again (had two deathadders wore off) especially on a more expensive device.

    • XY said:

      Hi,

      I just saw this comment in my email. I only do a light dusting and wipe around the edges when I see some light smudges. Other than that, I keep my keyboard covered with a piece of cloth at night when not in use.

      Have to say that the key coatings have stayed the same since the day I bought it. On the other hand, I can feel that the the coating on the imperator that I bought with my keyboard has become a bit more rough.

      So I’d say that the keyboard coating is much more durable than the mouse.

      Regards

  7. Calvin said:

    Hi! I was wondering if it was possible to disable the need to press the FN key to access the Function keys. Thanks!

    • XY said:

      Hi Calvin, if by function keys u mean F1 F2 et. . They work as normal.. The Fn key is to access the volume up, volume down etc. Media functions.

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