Even though it seems like the mechanical keyboard market has been blowing up. It might surprise some of you when you think about the fact that the mechanical keyboard switch market hasn’t changed a bit. The closest thing to change was a few companies putting to use a few rarer keyswitches from Cherry, the manufacture of nearly all of today’s mechanical keyswitches. If you don’t have a lot of knowledge about mechanical keyboards, Razer’s introduction of their latest Blackwidow keyboard may not of caught your attention. But they did something no one else on the market is doing. They introduced a keyboard with their own mechanical keyswitch design. At first glance the switch looks a lot like a standard Cherry switch, but today I’m going to take a closer look to see what it’s all about and how it compares to what everyone else is running.

Product Name: Razer Blackwidow Ultimate 2014

Review Sample Provided by: Razer

Written by: Wes

Pictures by: Wes

 

Specifications

Keyswitch

Razer “green”

Macro Keys

5

N-Key Rollover

10 Key

Backlighting

Yes, green

Approximate size

475mm/18.72” (Width) x 171mm/6.74” (Height) x 20mm/0.79” (Depth)

Approximate weight

1500g/3.31lbs

System Requirements

PC with USB port

Windows® 8/ Windows® 7 / Windows Vista® / Windows® XP (32-bit) / Mac OS X (v10.6 to 10.9)

Internet connection (for driver installation)

At least 200MB of hard disk space

Razer Synapse 2.0 registration (requiring a valid e-mail), software download, license acceptance, and internet connection needed to activate full features of product and for software updates. After activation, full features are available in optional offline mode.

 

 


Packaging

Having taken a look at one of the Blackwidows previously, the packaging didn’t really stand out as too different to me. Razer stuck with their standard flat black packaging theme. On the cover of the box you have a nearly life sized photo of the Blackwidow Ultimate with the exception of a small cutout that gives you access to the direction pads, giving you the opportunity to get a feel for the mechanical switches in the store. The previous model had the same design with the exception of the cover image having blue backlighting and the inclusion of information on the new keyswitches.

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Around on the back of the box you will find even more information on the new keyswitches. Here they actually talk about the differences between this switch and a Cherry Blue. On the rest of the back of the box you have a photo of the Blackwidow with a couple of its main features highlighted. Along the bottom Razer has included a short feature/specification listing that is repeated over and over in 9 different languages.

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Inside you have a cardboard tray with the keyboard in it and a clear plastic cover that keeps the keyboard protected while still having an opening for the direction keys that you can try out through the window in the box.

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Pictures and Features

My first experience with a Razer Blackwidow was back with its original model. Between then and now they did make a few changes for the 2013 model as well as this year’s model. Some of the things that are new to me with this keyboard may have been features of the 2013 Blackwidow as well. With that said there are three main changes that Razer has made that stood out to me right away. First, the glossy finish of the original is long gone, the flat finish they have now is a major improvement. Greasy fingerprints will still be an issue, but no more than any other keyboard and way less than the glossy finish on the original.

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The second completely obvious change was the change from blue backlighting to green. To those following the Razer product line this isn’t a big shock, the rest of their products have it, not to mention the fact that their logo is green as well. The green looks good, but it locks you into the color. I would love to see a few options available or just white backlighting that goes with everything.

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The third major change was the move from Cherry Blue switches to a green switch with the Razer branding on it. This change will be less obvious to people using the keyboard or looking at it without taking a few keycaps off. But even so, it was the only change that made waves with keyboard enthusiasts. I will talk about their performance later in the performance section. But I did include a photo of them below. The design is very similar to a Cherry MX keyswitch, so much so that I would bet that the PCB of the Blackwidow didn’t change nor did the keycaps because this switch has the same cross keycap attachment as a Cherry MX. The Razer logo is on each keyswitch but if you look close you can see a small logo under it. This is for Kailh, the real manufacture of the switches. Kailh doesn’t exactly have the best reputation in the keyboard enthusiast community, but the evidence posted is always the same single image of a broken switch. I would prefer to judge for myself. Anyhow, we will look at that more in the performance section.

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Considering the backlighting, it’s wasn’t a big surprised when I took a peak at the back of the keycaps to find that they are transparent white keys with a black paint over top. To add to this point, I’m also not a fan of the font they use for the entire keyboard. It does fit the Razer “theme” but it does take a little adjusting to get used to it. When I took off some of the keycaps for photos it took me a second to tell the difference between the W and E keys because the W doesn’t have any angle to it (M looks the same as well). It was the same with the number 0 and the letter O, Q is also almost exactly the same as well.  

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The Blackwidow does have the same five programmable macro keys over along the left side. As someone who doesn’t use macro keys to often, I am happy that they didn’t go overboard with too many on the Blackwidow.

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Up along the top, the F keys all have a second set of functions. F1 to F7 are volume and media controls while F9 to F12 control backlighting, turning “gaming” mode on and off, and a button for on the fly macro recording. Each second ability requires you to use the function key along with it. I don’t mind it for most of the options, but I would love to see a volume control built into the keyboard.

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Looking from the side, you can see that the key profile has more of a curve to it than most mechanical keyboards on the market as well.

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The Blackwidow’s cord starts off as a bundle and breaks up into its four individual cords about a foot from the end. Typically bundled cords are hard to work with, but this one was very flexible and not to thick.

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With everything powered up, I could finally see the Razer logo down along the wrist rest with its green glow. This is the only Razer branding on the keyboard, although to be fair the bright green lighting and font both scream Razer as well.

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I mentioned the gaming mode before. Up above the number pad you will find all of your notification lights, when they are turned on. Here you can see the gaming mode light as well as the small number lock night. When the lights aren’t on this area looks like any other part of the keyboard with its flat black finish.

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Software

Just like most manufactures, Razer has continued to evolve their software over the years. With their company getting larger and larger that software evolvement has accelerated. They have expanded with their own voice communication software for example, they also went through and revamped their peripheral software. With the new software came a few “quirks” that some people have complained about considerably online and I have mentioned in previous reviews as well. For the Blackwidow we have the same Synapse 2.0 software as before so when I installed it I was quickly greeted with the two issues that have been a sticking point.

After installing the software you will have to download another update, after that you will have to reboot your PC in order to be able to use it. As someone who doesn’t reboot my pc very often this was a little frustrating and obviously an inconvenience. Don’t plan on installing the software real quick with your game paused or anything like that. The other issue is once you have everything up to date you have to register and sign in with an account in order to be able to use the program. The reason for this is because your settings are stored on the cloud. It would be nice if they offered the option to just skip the sign-in and loose the cloud function for people who are bothered by it.

software 1

Moving beyond those issues and onto the actual software, the first page you land on has a large photo of the Blackwidow on it. Down on the bottom of the software there is a second photo, when running more than one rwazer device you will see each here, allowing you to tweak and tune each in one program. Back on the large image each key on the keyboard can be clicked bringing up the key assignment menu. Here we can rebind each key to a whole list of ability’s from mouse functions, macro’s, launching programs or shortcuts, as well as multimedia functions. Unlike some of the competition, you aren’t limited to just the keyboards 5 macro keys. Here we can program any key at all to do whatever you need it too. For example, you could reprogram the entire number pad with all of your additional macros.

software 2

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On the lighting tab, you have only a few options. You can set the entire keyboard to pulsate or if you would prefer a solid lighting, you can set the brightness. At the bottom, you also have the option to turn all of the keyboards backlighting off whenever your monitors turn off. This is perfect if you have your PC in a bedroom or any other room that light pollution could be distracting.

software 3

I mentioned the gaming mode function on the keyboard itself earlier, on our third tab we can actually configure what this button does. Here you can turn gaming mode on and off. Additionally you can select what keys you would like for that mode to turn off. Most only turn off the windows key but Razer slipped in the option to turn off Alt-F4 to keep you from force closing your game and also the Alt-Tab option. It’s great they allow you to pick and choose as I wouldn’t mind the Alt-F4 and Windows key options but I Alt-Tab constantly when gaming.

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The last page of the Synapse 2.0 software is dedicated completely too recording macros. Here you can setup your macros and add or remove delays as needed to get it to work perfectly for you.

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Performance

I guess the first thing we need to check out about the new Blackwidow is its new keyswitch. I spoke about it in the photo section but to recap the new switch is green rather than blue, and it isn’t made by Cherry like most other keyboards. Where does that leave us? Well first let’s take a look at the switch itself and what Razer claims makes it different. From there I will talk about my experience with it.

Razer claims that these new switches are the first to be designed specifically for gaming. This might sound like a bold claim, especially when they were talking up the other switches just last year, but it is entirely possible that this is true. Standard Cherry MX switches are the go to switches for almost all mechanical keyboards. Cherry patented their MX keyswitches in the early 80’s, long before people had even considered gaming on a PC. I mentioned before that this “new” switch looks exactly like a Chery MX, so what sets it apart. The overall design is exactly the same inside and out, Razer’s design has a slightly higher actuation point than a Cherry MX Blue. The idea behind this is the distance between when the key clicks and when the key resets itself so you can reclick again is shorter. This means you can press the key in succession faster, although honestly I still bottom out my keys a lot when gaming so the difference would be lost on me.

Whether Razer went with this new design as an improvement, I’m not completely sure. Considering the shortages of Cherry switches, they might have been motivated to find a supplier that wouldn’t have those issues. It’s also possible that the decision was financial and these new switches cost a little less. But even if that is true, I can see how the changed actuation point could benefit people with skills well above mine. The green switch that I am testing has an actuation force of 50g, this spot on for the Cherry Blue. For more information on Cherry keyswitches check out my article on picking your keyswitch.

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switch

Now that we know the differences on paper, how did the new switch perform for me? Honestly, in day-to-day use I wouldn’t be able to spot the difference between this and a Cherry Blue. It was only when I put them next to each other I could see the difference in actuation points and the difference is still slight. When toying around with the switches I did notice a little extra wobble when pushed all the way down over my Cherry switches. I put together a quick video below to document what I am referring too. But when typing or gaming that same wobble was never noticeable.

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Beyond the new switches, I actually have really enjoyed my time with the Blackwidow. The overall layout is what I would expect from a mechanical keyboard. I didn’t have any weird relocations of keys for example. The keyboard itself was a little thicker than most of my other Mechanical keyboards but the angled wrist rest area helps hide the additional thickness. A lot of people have mentioned the thicker bezel as well but honestly the difference between the Blackwidow and the custom Maxkeyboard that I use day to day was 1/8 of an inch on each side.

One thing that did take a little adjustment for me was getting used to how bright the LEDs that Razer went with can be. All mechanical keyboards with backlighting typically have a bright backlight but when the Blackwidow is turned all the way up it puts the others to shame. It’s a good thing they include the ability to adjust the backlighting to whatever setting you prefer because I have a lot of people might go blind if they keep their Blackwidow turned all the way up all of the time. If you would prefer no backlighting at all, that is an option as well, it will also eliminate the glowing Razer logo to give you a clean look as well.

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For the five macro keys over on the left side of the keyboard you can record macro’s on-the-fly quickly using the macro record function. The only issue is that you have to have the software installed and running for this to work. I would love to see some onboard memory and the ability to record them without any software, but that is only because I switch from PC to PC often and having to install and sign in to the software is just one more thing I would need to do.

The other macro keys worked perfect for me when I remembered to use them. Having to use a function key makes it a little more difficult. This is especially true for the volume controls. I would love to see Razer include a knob and a mute button like some of their competition does. Having the ability to be able to make small adjustments to my volume while gaming comes in handy.

Speaking of audio, the Blackwidow has headphone and microphone pass-through ports over on the right side of the keyboard. I typically use a wireless headset but I tried them and didn’t have any weird buzzing sounds that you sometimes get from audio pass-through ports. Along with those ports, they also included one USB port for you to hook up your mouse. Being on the right side it is in a perfect spot for righties who don’t want a cord all across their desk, like me.

 


Overall and Final Verdict

I liked the original Blackwidow once I learned to overlook the fingerprints on the glossy finish. With their revisions, Razer has been able to improve on the original design. Of course, not every change the made was my cup of tea. I preferred the blue backlighting to the green that Razer now uses on all of their products. The green still looks good, but it would be nice to have another option or something a little more neutral. One thing is for sure though, you cannot call the backlighting dim. When the setting turned all the way up it literally hurt my eyes after a while.  

Razer’s software was a pleasure to use once I got past the issues with it requiring a reboot when installing and it requiring you to register an account. Having the ability to change any keys function really options up the options for people who need more than the five macro keys provided. Speaking of those keys, I think the 5 provided is a great balance. You still get macro keys without making the keyboard wider than it needs to be. A wide keyboard might not be an issue for everyone, but if you have a smaller desk or if you take it to a LAN where you only have 3 feet of space you might be wishing you had considered the width. I took the Blackwidow to a LAN this weekend and its size worked out perfectly for me.

I still think there is a little room left for improvement as well though. The Blackwidow could use a real volume control over function keys. I’m also not a fan of the font Razer uses on the keys. There is also the wiggling I experienced with the new keyswitches when they are bottomed out. The new switches were otherwise great while typing and gaming so I can’t really hold it against them too much seeing as those are the two main things a gaming keyboard needs to do. If you don’t take advantage of the software key bindings or the bright back lighting you might be better off looking for a more enthusiast focused board. Overall I think the Blackwidow is still a good option for a gamer looking for great programmability or the ability to light up the face of the moon with a keyboard.

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Author Bio
garfi3ld
Author: garfi3ldWebsite: https://lanoc.org
Editor-in-chief
You might call him obsessed or just a hardcore geek. Wes's obsession with gaming hardware and gadgets isn't anything new, he could be found taking things apart even as a child. When not poking around in PC's he can be found playing League of Legends, Awesomenauts, or Civilization 5 or watching a wide variety of TV shows and Movies. A car guy at heart, the same things that draw him into tweaking cars apply when building good looking fast computers. If you are interested in writing for Wes here at LanOC you can reach out to him directly using our contact form.

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garfi3ld's Avatar
garfi3ld replied the topic: #34567 31 Mar 2014 12:12
I hope everyone had a great weekend. I spent a little time gaming with friends (although I still didn't get to hang out with everyone I wanted too). To start the week off right I have a review of the new Razer Blackwidow with their new key switches. Check out what I thought of them inside.
Dreyvas's Avatar
Dreyvas replied the topic: #34570 01 Apr 2014 02:51
This looks a LOT like the G710+, but without dedicated media keys and sturdy cabling. That said, I'd love to give the keys a test run. Good review.
whistleblower's Avatar
whistleblower replied the topic: #34679 28 Apr 2014 00:59
I'm rocking a Black Widow ultimate 2012 so for me the 2014 has a lot of improvements and its worth buying


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