- Responsive keys minimize mis-presses
- Substantial construction and feel
- Less noisy keystrokes
- Lacks resounding blue-switch feel
- MMO gamers may want more macro keys
- Matte finish smudges easily
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate – Mechanical Keyboard Review 2017
PC gaming accessories, like most tech products, are on a fairly regular cycle from one year to the next, with new models coming out every few months so that there’s always something new. The newest from Razer is the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate (2014), the latest iteration of the company’s flagship gaming keyboard. At first glance, there’s little that has changed about it—even the price is the same—but one or two essential details have gotten an overhaul, giving gamers plenty of new reasons to consider an upgrade.
The Razer BlackWidow Ultimate isn’t small, but it uses its size in smart ways. The Mechanical keyboard measures 18.7 x 6.74 inches, compared with 21.5 x 9.6 inches for the Corsair Vengeance K95 or 17.3 x 5.4 inches of the Feenix Autore. Users will need to carve out some desk space, but not an excessive amount.
The Mechanical keyboard’s layout is also beyond reproach. With a 3.5 mm key travel, the keys felt close together without being cramped. Five macro keys on the side had just enough space between them so that we rarely hit them by accident.
One thing we found disappointing was the lack of media controls. By using a function key along with the F1-F12 keys, we could control music and videos, but this is inconvenient compared with devices such as the Logitech G710+, which has a few extra keys and a volume wheel.
Otherwise, the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate feels solid and has an elongated bottom rather than a detachable wrist rest. We found it very comfortable and appreciated that it didn’t take up too much additional room.
The keys on the BlackWidow Ultimate aren’t going to rewrite the book on gaming keyboards, but they get the job done. With large block letters, adjustable green illumination and slight indentations, the keys look great. We were somewhat concerned that the keys’ smooth texture would prove slippery, but we did not encounter any problems.
The Mechanical Keyboard aficionados know that many gaming keyboards make use of Cherry MX switches: Reds are lightweight and quiet, Blues are resistant and noisy and Browns are somewhere in the middle. Although Razer uses proprietary mechanical switches rather than Cherry, the BlackWidow Ultimate’s keys felt excellent and quite similar to those of a Cherry MX Blue. The keys clicked and clacked with satisfying volume, but also sprang back up as rapidly as those on a traditional membrane keyboard.
The BlackWidow Ultimate’s keys are also ideal for typing. In the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we scored 101 words per minute with a zero-percent error rate on both the BlackWidow Ultimate and our standard Dell office keyboard. Considering we work with the Dell for hours every day and had only just opened the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate’s box, this speaks very well of Razer’s keyboard.
When it comes to peripheral software, Razer sports one of the best programs in the business: Razer Synapse 2.0. With this software, users can remap any key, record and assign macros, customize a specialized Gaming Mode and control the Mechanical keyboard’s lighting. Not only is Razer Synapse 2.0 fairly foolproof, but it’s comprehensive as well, particularly if you use both a Razer keyboard and mouse.
One thing that sets the BlackWidow Ultimate apart from its nearest competitors is the ability to create multiple profiles and link them with individual games. While there is a question of how useful this feature is —Mechanical keyboards are, by definition, intended for out-of-the-box use with every program on a PC — it’s still something that most Mechanical keyboards don’t offer. Even the Logitech G710+, a very similar peripheral with top-notch software, only offers three non-linkable profiles.
Recording macros on the BlackWidow Ultimate is not terribly difficult, although it’s a bit of a process. Users have to hit a function button and F9 (which are not close to one another), input the macro, stop the recording and then choose a button for it. This process is confusing and easy to mess up — we even accidentally replaced the 1 button with a macro and had to go into the Synapse software to fix it. Once you get the rhythm down, it’s not so bad, but we still prefer the dedicated macro record buttons on Corsair and Logitech models.
Since the BlackWidow Ultimate is a gaming keyboard, we thought it only appropriate to run the device through the standard Tom’s Guide battery of games: “Titanfall,” “StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm,” “Watch Dogs” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic.” In this way, we were able to test first-person shooter (FPS), real-time strategy (RTS), action/adventure and massively multiplayer online (MMO) titles.
We put the BlackWidow Ultimate through its paces, particularly in “Titanfall” and “The Old Republic,” where furiously tapping keys is a way of life. The keyboard performed well in every situation, whether we were hunting down futuristic mecha pilots or engaging in epic lightsaber duels.
As is always the case with Mechanical keyboards that have dedicated macro keys, we found their value to be a mixed bag. We didn’t often use macros, save for “The Old Republic” and occasionally in “Heart of the Swarm.” Macros are generally not terribly useful outside of high-level MMO play; the amount of use you get out of the six extra buttons is dependent on your gaming habits. It’s entirely possible to game for hours and hours each week and never touch them.
By default, the Mechanical keyboard only allows a six-key rollover, but by activating Gaming Mode, users can hit up to 10 simultaneous keys.
Razer Mechanical Switches
There is one major change in the BlackWidow Ultimate’s design; Razer has changed up its choice of mechanical switches. While most gaming keyboards use Cherry MX mechanical switches—the Editors’ Choice Roccat Ryos MK Pro, for example, is available with Cherry MX Blue, Brown, Black or Red switches—the new BlackWidow Ultimate does not. Instead of using key switches from Cherry, Razer has ditched the popular supplier in favor of making its own, simply called Razer Mechanical Switches.
Available in two types—Green, which mimics the clicky feedback of Cherry MX Blue switches, and Orange, which offers the quieter typing of Cherry MX Browns—the switches are essentially the standard Cherry designs, with minor refinements on Razer’s part. While this move may have been motivated as much by supply chain worries as it was by the company’s obsessive attention to detail, Razer has made a couple of important tweaks to the switches.
First, the switches are made for gaming rather than typing with shorter actuation (the distance the key travels before triggering a keystroke) and reset (the distance the key travels on the way back up before it can register a second keystroke). It’s a difference of literally 0.001-inch, but it will mean faster keystrokes and shorter reaction times, and that could be the difference between loss and victory in a game.
Second, Razer has built the key switches for improved durability. The average Cherry MX switch is rated for 50 million keystrokes, but Razer has upped this to 60 million on the new switches. Granted, both sound like impossibly high numbers, but given that single keys may be pressed thousands of times in any one gaming session, it will add months or even years to the usable life of the Mechanical keyboard.
In practice, the key switches didn’t feel that different. The Razer Green mechanical switch is designed to offer the same sort of clicking audio and tactile feedback offered by Cherry MX Blue switches, and the same sort of bouncy feel, thanks to the springs underneath each key cap. That said, I did notice a very slight improvement in reaction time and keystroke speed when switching between the BlackWidow Ultimate and the Cherry MX Blue-equipped Roccat Ryos MK Pro.
I tested the Mechanical keyboard in both gaming and day-to-day use over the course of a week. While other gaming keyboards are designed for typing first and gaming second, Razer claims that the BlackWidow Ultimate is the first to swap those priorities. While it’s still perfectly functional for typing, the new key switches are made not to increase your WPM, but to allow more actions per minute as you fire off attacks, cast enchantments, or throw a few in-game punches.
As mentioned above, the new key switches did, in fact, offer slightly faster play. I tested this in both Batman Arkham Origins and Team Fortress 2. While it didn’t magically improve my skills or raise my kill ratio, it did ever-so-slightly register individual keystrokes faster. Whether or not this is something that will have an impact on your play is another question entirely. There are so many other factors that could potentially slow your play (laggy connection, dropped frames and tearing due to a slow GPU or monitor, etc.) that a lot of gamers won’t see any difference. If, however, you’re a competitive gamer who is looking for yet another way to get a slight leg up, this Mechanical keyboard may deliver the advantage you’re looking for.
And that is the big question for anyone considering the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2014: Will the new switches positively impact game play? The answer will vary from one gamer to the next, but overall, most people won’t see much difference between it and any other high-end gaming keyboard. While the feature set and design are good, there’s nothing that really sets this new model apart, aside from the keycaps. It’s still an excellent gaming keyboard, but the Editors’ Choice Roccat Ryos MK Pro is better, with a solid design, wider array of customizations, and lighting options that can enhance game play, for just $30 more.