Archive

Author Archives: XY

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

Advertisements

Dear TOOZE,

I’ve been using the computer for a while, but when I recently wanted to get myself a new one, I was stumped by all the technical jargon, especially RAM. Can you share a little about the parts that go into a computer, and how they work together? Thanks!

———-

DT: Looks like this mail is for you.

XY: Isn’t this stuff easily found on Wikis via Google?

DT: I thought so too, so I went to google RAM. Turns out that the articles available are too technical; it’s embarrassing but I still didn’t understand after reading those articles. It’s nice if we could draw a parallel to something simpler like workspaces.

XY: What do you mean when you say technical?

DT: There’s a lot of words spent on the technology of RAM, but little on what it actually does. More importantly, I (and I believe our readers) want to know how RAM and the other parts fit in together into the larger picture of a computer.

XY: Where do you want to start?

DT: Why don’t we start with RAM?

XY: Think of RAM as your working desk. And your programs (or applications — apps) as your piles of working paper, while you (the user) are the Central Processing Unit (CPU) which does the work.

If you have a small desk, you will find it hard to work on many things at once; things tend to get cluttered and messy. A bigger desk will allow you to work on more stuff without having to put things away. With a larger desk, one is also able to work on larger projects and documents.

DT: Ok… how does a hard disk (HDD) fit in then?

XY: Using the same work space analogy, the hard disk will be like your file cabinet. When you do work on your computer, you are essentially making a copy of your documents (stored in the cabinet — HDD) and placing them on your desk (the RAM).

If your RAM is too little, virtual memory which makes use of your hard disk space comes into play. It’s akin to you having to keep parts of your documents in the cabinet and swapping them to and fro your desk and cabinet as you do not have enough space on the desk.

DT: Let me try adding references to my hard disk (HDD) while we are at it. Am I right to say that when I fire up an app, I get data from the HDD and dump it on the RAM? Does the information on the HDD change?

In other words, can I theoretically open a program and disconnect the HDD? It’s like having my papers on the desk and then removing the cabinet is it not?

XY: Yea, but if you lose power you lose your unsaved data, because unlike the physical idea of papers on a desk, RAM actually clears out its memory when it is unpowered.

DT: By unpowered you mean at every instance of shutdown or reboot?

XY: Yea. Think of it as a cleaner removing everything off your desk every night.

DT: Let’s see if I understand so far. When I open a document, I make a copy of the files in the HDD and place it in the RAM for working. Until I save, every change I make is in the RAM; when I hit save, the data on the RAM then gets copied back to the HDD for storage. And the data on my RAM remains until it gets swapped out due to lack of space, or when I power down.

How does the RAM know which data to swap with the HDD in virtual memory?

XY: Simple. The operating system does it all in the background by moving unused areas in your RAM back (such as a minimized window which has not been open for some time) onto the HDD, freeing it up for new apps. The problem only comes when there is too little RAM and stuff keeps moving in and out. You will notice the HDD “thrashing” around and that’s when we would experience the “my computer is so slow” syndrome.

DT: Now that I’m clearer about RAM and HDD, let me ask about solid state drives (SSDs). SSDs are flash based HDD with no mechanical moving parts — something like a giant flash drive, and they are supposedly to be über fast. Since I can theoretically swap data between my RAM and HDD (in the work space analogy, between the desk and the cabinet) superbly fast, can I actually get by with less RAM if I am using a SSD?

XY: You are right to say that a SSD is a flash based storage resulting in higher read speeds. What it means for users is that we can retrieve our stuff faster.

However, even with a SSD and the fast switching between your cabinet and table, RAM is still important. This is because having a bigger desk (more RAM) allows you to keep not just your current work on the desk, but also all your other frequent tools like stationery and supporting stuff (other apps and utilities, not just your documents) easily accessible on hand without having to look in the drawer each time. Besides, RAM is pretty cheap nowadays compared to the cost of a SSD.

Also, games favor more RAM. Sure you can write a report on a crammed desk, but it will be much harder to play a game of Risk without clearing out some space. I’m sure you don’t like to keep the dice and troops in a drawer only to have to look for them each turn right?

DT: Well that pretty much settles the part about RAM and HDD, with a little about CPU. How about you finish off with the last hardware: the motherboard?

XY: The motherboard is the circuit board which houses all your other components. Think of it as your office floor (literally) where your desk, cabinet, worker (you — the CPU) reside.

I guess that’s enough for today. Till then, keep the letters coming in!

Hacking

Image source: stock.xchng

With the recent media showcase on the hacking antics of the very 2 prominent groups Lulzsec and Anonymous, some of us here may wonder, “How safe am I actually?” “Is my password secure?”.

The main thing to password strength is a combination of length and entropy, which is a fancy way of measuring randomness in a password.

Despite this, even if you have the world’s most awesome hard to remember super password like “$%#SMVrt43TGt09%^^#@342608$@#%SDFY” which requires you to roll your face over your keyboard in the same pattern each time, I believe many of us fall into the very easy trap of using ONE single password for many of the websites we log on to. Just think about it, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Yahoo!, random internet forums, your bank account, your blog, Photobucket, etc etc…

This following webcomic should pretty much sum up the dangers of such a practice.

Credit: xkcd.com

And if that is not enough to scare you, a recent article over at Tom’s and PC Pro tells us of the possibilities of using our GPUs to crack a password.  A CPU such as the core i5-2500k  (recommended in our previous build a PC post) can churn out about 28 million passwords per second for a brute force attack, where a hacker just tries every possible combination of text and numbers. A gamer with a recent GTX or Radeon card with either Nvidia’s CUDA or AMD’s Stream GPGPU cores can utilize those cores on the GPU which are optimized for parallel computing to break passwords at a blazing speed. The TL;DR version is a decent graphics card, or worse, in SLI/Crossfire can churn out passwords at a rate of over a billion passwords per second. The Whitepixel project running 4x HD5970s is already pushing 33.1 billion passwords per second!

So how do I protect myself then? Stay tuned for our follow up post!

———-

Check out our followup posts: Part 2, Part 3.

If you find yourself wanting to surf a few websites and feel that it may have some content that may not come across as appropriate in a public setting for e.g. NSFW, or surfing WoW forums, blogs in class or at work, here is an addon that I recommend using Decreased Productivity:

Decreased Productivity (DP) adds two buttons to your status bar for toggling Work-safe mode on or off at the per-tab or browser level. Work-safe mode* applies a style sheet to the page that turns the page into black text on a white background, removes background images, makes images almost invisible but more visible on mouse over, and hides all flash, java or other embedded applets.

So what it does is that the website that you are visiting can be toggled on and off with a simple click to strip all formatting and backgrounds, leaving you with black text on white.

I have that addon on my work computer, (some websites really have garish designs that I’d rather strip clear of all formatting for easier reading). To enable it to work in Firefox 4, follow this following tip by zitronic:

If you want to use it with Firefox 4 just type about:config on the address bar, right click on any item and add a boolean value called extensions.checkCompatibility.4.0 setting it to false.

For those of us stuck in a work setting with no user privileges to install your own plugins and browser, the good news is that the plugin works with portable firefox.

For those of you wondering what portable apps are, they are basically standalone programs that run from a folder which you can copy into your thumbdrive and use without installation, thus allowing you to use them on computers which you have no admin rights.

So, headover to Portableapps.com and get Firefox together with DP for some awesome work safe surfing.

Protip: Check out this comment on how to enable flash in portable Firefox.

This is how you do it if you are like me and would like to convenience of 3G yet do not want to pay the difference of S$180 for a 3G iPad model. That’s not all the costs though; there’s still the ‘hidden’ costs of using the 3G*.

Disclaimer: This is relevant only if your provider does not charge for tethering.

The iPhone 4 has personal hotspot which allows you to connect via Wi-Fi. The older phones (meaning 3GS and older) are unable to do that, but they can still tether using Bluetooth. Since I am using a 3GS, this tutorial will be focusing on the bluetooth method, but they are esentially the same.

Step 1: Turn on internet tethering (or personal hotspot) in network options

Step 2: Go to Bluetooth and select your iPad

Step 3: Once connected, you should see the blue bar with the words Internet Tethering pop up

Troubleshooting: If you see this, this means your internet tethering option was not turned on, refer to Step 1, make sure you do that first!

———-

* There’s 3 ways you can get 3G on your iPad. First, you can apply for a new data plan. This is the most expensive, and is not recommended unless you cannot go with the other 2 options. Second, you can apply for Multi SIM. Basically this is a separate SIM card which shares the same number/line and hence data from your main SIM. As per what I knew, Multi SIM with Singtel costs S$10 per month, but it’s not contracted, and S$7 for Starhub. The third option is what DT is doing now, which is to apply for a new number but tie the number to your original data plan. For Singtel, this is cheaper as it only costs S$5 a month, but it is contracted for 24 months.

Sorry for the lack of updates! My Internet connection went down on Monday and it took me 2 days and many phone calls to get it fixed.

Just as a background, I am currently using SingTel’s Mio fibre broadband bundled with digital voice and TV. As such, all my services are being bundled with the modem. I it’s really my luck that the fibre optical network terminal decided to hang up on me on a public holiday eve, and with it went my TV access in the room, the home telephone line, and most importantly Internet connection.

While bundling sounds great and all, I believe the number one thing when it comes to tech (and probably everything else in life) is not to put all your eyes into a single basket. This exposure to a single service provider has showed me that a glitch at one end would result in many undesirable effects.

And… Digital voice is not such a good idea after all. You lose your fixed phone connection in times of blackouts and network disruptions. I.e. No calling for help in times of emergency. Maybe the cost savings aren’t worth it after all. But then how many of us would argue that who uses fixed lines anymore since almost everyone has 1 or more mobile phones nowadays?