Mechanical Keyboard Razer Blackwidow Chroma on the Mac

veröffentlicht am : Mo, 27. 07. 2015 geändert am: Mo, 27. 07. 2015

Kategorie: Apple --> Computer

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Mechanical Keyboard – the Razer Blackwidow Chroma

I type a lot… at work, at home, on weekends and during the week. So I am a fan of good and high quality keyboards. I was experimenting a lot during the last decades (yes, that long ;-)) with several different keyboard types. Some of them were quite cool, but not really useful (like the „Fingerworks Touchstream LP“) or just quite ergonomic (like the Kinesis Freestyle or several of Microsofts Keyboards or the very old but good Siemens Ergonomic Keyboard). All of those were good in it’s way, but the best keyboards I ever had, were the mechanical ones. The good old IBM Keyboard Model M (at least I think it was called that way) – Clicky with Cherry switches and heavy like made of lead – but very cool to type on and everlasting.

After that, I was using a lot of „normal“ keyboards, they are quite simple, easy to use. But not as long lasting as the mechanical keyboards.

I was using the Apple-Keyboard (USB, including a number pad) for quite some time now, but I was missing some things there – and it started feeling a bit „fuzzy“ – worn out is probably the best term here. The keyboard is quite good, especially for its thickness (or should I say thinness). But it does not have the feel of the good old mechanical keyboards, we all loved…

So, I was thinking about buying a good mechanical keyboard for some time now. But if I spend money on that topic, I wanted it to be matching my needs quite good. What I was looking for, is actually not so hard to imagine:

  • as I’m a developer, I write a lot of code and text. So the keyboard should give a good typing experience
  • as I also like to play a game once in a while, I wanted to have some features like Anti-Ghosting, N-Key rollover etc.
  • as I also play and work a lot in the dark, I wanted the keyboard to be lit – preferably in a color of my choice.
  • as I do all that on a mac, the keyboard needs to at least be kind of mac OSX compatible
  • although I’m mostly not looking at the keyboard at all when typing (which makes the backlight a bit obsolete, but when playing a game in the dark, you sometimes need to find the right key to press by looking at the keyboard), I wanted it to be German layout. I was using an US-Layout keyboard for quite some time, that was working alright most of the time. But there were too many occasions, where I had to think about where the key is located, that I just wanted to press. This was annoying me a lot! A keyboard without any key labels printed on would be easier to use (like the DAS Keyboard ultimate).
  • in most cases, a fully programmable keyboard is a good choice, there you can redefine your keys to your liking. Especially if you have a windows layout on your keyboard, you’d might want to switch some keys.

Actually – there is no such keyboard having all those features! You can have a combination of two of those features, if at all. So, for some time, I was just stuck with my old Apple keyboard that came with my iMac…

Mechanical Keyboards

Why a mechanical Keyboard? And what is the difference?

First, the difference is the feeling when typing. If you ever tried a mechanical keyboard, you do not want to go back. If you work a lot on a computer, try a mechanical keyboard, just once. You will feel the difference immediately. But at first this might not only feel different, but odd. You need to get used to it. And actually you will have to learn typing on it to improve your typing a lot.

Technically speaking the difference is, that mechanical keyboards do have a dedicated switch for every key. Whereas the normal keyboards do have some kind of rubber bumper beneath every key (called rubber dome), you have to press down to close a circuit. This causes you to not feel when the key is sending its event (when it was activated), but to feel, when the key hits the bottom. Usually somewhere above that the key really fires. You don’t get proper feedback about, when a key was really pressed or not. This is something mechanical keyboards are way better in – well, at least those with the tactile switches (like Cherry MX-Blue or MX-Brown, see below).

There are different switch types, you might need to think about. Almost all keyboards are either using Cherry produced keys or at least compare their own keys with the ones from Cherry. There are more or less 3 major versions (there are a lot more, but as I see it, those are the most common ones):

  • Cherry MX-Blue: clicky switches, good feel when typed. Also a good audible feedback (you hear and feel the „click“)
  • Cherry MX-Brown: not that loud, and the click is weaker.
  • Cherry MX-Black: no click to be felt, but hard to press (special Version would be the MX-Red, which is the same as the MX-Black, but with a lower activation force)

There are mechanical keyboards en masse that work fine on a mac (DAS Keyboard ultimate for example – no printing on the keys makes it a perfect thing for typists). Most of them are considered to be „Gaming“ Keyboards why not check here. I’m not sure why, but I actually like to think those keyboards are perfect tools for professional workers on computers, too. I’m a fan of the clicky noise actually. You feel and hear the feedback from the key: „I was pressed now„. This actually makes it easier to detect typos during typing actually. Because you know, when you accidentally typed some key, or not.

The noise?

Well, this is something everybody needs to decide for him-/herself. In my experience, the „click“ on the MX-Blue switches is actually not that loud. What causes the noise is the keycap hitting the frame. This is way louder on all mechanical keyboards I tested than the actual click. Yes, the idea is, that you learn to type without hitting the bottom and creating this noise. But this is unfortunately not only very hard, but somewhat impossible. Well, when you are concentrating on it, it really works some time. But when you are writing in a rush, this definitely will make you „bottom out“ the keys which causes a lot of noise.

If you use a mechanical keyboard, you should try to get „Dampeners“ for Cherry MX-Switches. They are not really expensive (125 pieces about 10€) and usually easy to install. But it dampens the noise of „bottom out“ a lot! The people around you probably will like it way better.

Why a mechanical keyboard

There are several reasons for mechanical keyboards. Most of them are highly dependent on your own taste and way you type and work. But there are some advantages, that „normal“ rubber dome keyboards cannot provide:

  1. the Feel. Of course, highly subjective. But everybody who is typing a lot, actually likes the feel of the mechanical switches (at least, everybody I talked to about this topic). In my experience it also increases your typing speed and reduces typos – at least in my case it does (and some other people, I talked to confirmed my assumption)
  2. the durability. Where a normal rubberdome keyboard can take about 1-5 Million hits per key, the mechanical switches usually last between 20 and 60 million types (depending on manufacturer). This does not mean, that after 5 million types of the letter „A“ on a normal rubber dome keyboard will stop working. It just means, that it will feel „worn out“ – and will feel different than the key next to it, which maybe were hit a couple of thousand times less. And there will be some keys, hit more often than others (if you play games, probably WASD will be hit way more often then others)
  3. (Not only) gamer options like N-Key Rollover and Anti-Ghosting. Although this is happening mostly when playing games, it can also happen when you’re a fast typer using your 10 fingers to type. N-Key-Rollover means, that it is possible to hit N keys simultaneously (where N is a number from 1 to 105 – some keyboards state they support real NKRO, which just means, there is no limit – which limits it to 105 – maximum number of keys on the board) and the computer will recognize every single keystroke. Sometimes there is a limit to that, so usually you wont get N-Key-Rollover higher than about 10. But actually, I only have 10 fingers, this should be enough 😉 Ghosting is the effect, that when you hit several keys simultaneously, either an additional key is being „pressed“ or one of the keys you press just won’t work. This is related especially to the way the normal keyboards are built.
  4. customizability. For most of the mechanical keyboards, it is possible to get custom or just different keycaps. As most of them use the Cherry MX switches (or something compatible), you can just pull of a keycap and replace it by some other keycap of your choice. Different color, different printing, different material, different… whatever. This is actually very important for Mac users, as very often only windows layout keyboards are available. But with a couple of custom keycaps (or a whole set) you can easily change that

You need to decide for yourself, is that something you need or want to have. Especially as all this comes with a pricetag. There is also personal taste. Some people just don’t like the „clicky“ sound. Some people just love it. Some don’t need or like backlight, some love it.

If you consider buying a mechanical keyboard, just get your hands on one to play with it a bit. Maybe you can get one from a friend for some time. Be sure, you want to invest that money and that you have the right switchtype.

The right one?

As already mentioned, there is not a lot of options I could chose from…

If I only wanted a mechanical keyboard for the mac, this would be a solvable problem. There are plenty options to choose from. But as soon as Backlight comes into play, things get a lot harder. I did an extensive internet research and found many good options when it comes to mechanical keyboards only. If you have a list of features as I had, this is a bit harder. You actually find some keyboards, that are backlit, have good switches, and so on – but need software wich is not mac compatible. Darn… like the corsair keyboards – those actually looked also quite good.

One very interesting fact: all of those keyboards are labeled „gamer keyboards“. And are only available in windows layout. This is very astonishing, as the typing experience is – especially with the MX-Blue switches – very good! And I don’t really think these features are only valid for gamers. I actually like to have some makro keys on my keyboard.

This really sux… Mac Users are gamers! And there is obviously a lot of them, most game developers seem to know that as most of the games now are available for Mac and windows, very often at the same time. But hardware and „gadget“ manufacturers actually tend to ignore that fact.

Guys listen to this: There is money to make!!!!

So, when you do the internet search that I did, there actually are not many options left as stated several times above.

To be honest, the only options which kind of does match all the criteria mentioned above is the „Razer Blackwidow Chroma“ (the Ultimate would be ok, too. But the backlight color is only green and it was not so much cheaper than the chroma) and some keyboards that were only lit in blue or red and did not need any driver (like the Code2 Keyboard). But when I compare the prices of those with the blackwidow, I took the blackwidow – it was actually cheaper then some others (even without backlighting) or at least at the same price level.

I am aware that the Blackwidow actually has a windows layout printed on the keys. That is a drawback, but it has all other features.

  • I’m typing with the Blackwidow just now, and it feels great. The Razer-Green switches seem to be comparable to the Cherry MX Blue ones (loud clicky). It feels really cool, the typing experience is great.
  • Anti-Ghosting and N-Key rollover is of course a feature of the BlackWidow
  • The keyboard has backlight – you can choose from 16,8 mio colors – actually for each key individually (or change it, when typing it or change it, depending on the running application… very very cool feature! I have different profiles for Safari, XCode, IntelliJ etc. Profiles contain different Macros and keybindings. Very cool feature!)
  • Here it comes: although not really stated on the Website of Razer (http://www.razerzone.com/), it works with OSX! There is a driver software available for current MacOSX which gives Mac Users the opportunity to use all of the cool features of the Blackwidow chroma. I actually just don’t understand, why this is not stated explicitly on the website?!?!? actually, there is a statement somewhere there that you „cannot use the windows version with the mac driver“. Well – there is no „Windows“ or „Mac“ Version there… really strange.
  • The chroma is available in German Layout, all keys are there. But unfortunately only windows style. This is sub optimal, but ok. I can live with it, as long as all other keys work right.

The driver software called „Synapse 2.0“ is nice, but the registration has to be done online. You need to register there in order to have your keyboard working properly…. This is… not really good. For those of you, who are capable of doing: install a firewall rule after registration, then everything still works locally but no data is being transferred.

But the registration-process actually sucks… big time! I was waiting about 48 hours to get my registration email including the activation link. Without activation, I could not use the keyboard. Arg… This is really annoying.

But the software works like charm. You can specify a color for every key, and you can reprogram every key! This is very important for Mac users, as you need to switch ALT and Window keys. And – this cannot be done in the keyboard settings of the mac – you need to change the key for the „menu“ key to ALT – otherwise you’re screwed 😉

Light show of the keyboard

Well, I was actually thinking about just having the backlight in one color – all keys the same. Of course, this is not the use of an RGB-backlit keyboard. But as mentioned above already, I think the profiles are very useful. Each profile stores different lighting effect (for each key individually) and different Macro settings. Even the keyboard may change between profiles. Switching between profiles can either be done by hitting FN+Number (depending on what is configured in Synapse 2.0), or depending on the current active Application! This is really awesome! Different lighting effects and different macro settings per Application – this is really useful, not only for gamers! Especially not for Gamers, I’d assume. But this depends, on personal use… I definitely love it.

The other lighting effects are somewhat… juvenile, if you know what I mean. It does not make really sense to show the siluette of Mario (of Mario Bros) on your keyboard, while typing. This is just for showing of at LAN Parties or alike. Especially effects like the „Ripple“-Effect where a wave of a certain colur rippels over your keyboard, is especially un-useful. If you type more then two keystrokes a second, you will just end up with a fully lit keyboard.

But I have to admit, these lightshows are fun to look at. And even fun to program them and play with them… maybe not enough reason to buy the keyboard, but definitely a gimmick.

Verdict

When you get the keyboard, you’ll first notice, that there is quite some weight. And that is a good thing. The keyboard lies rock solid on my desk, does not move an inch when typing. Love that.

The typing is really similar to typing with MX-Blue switches. The sound is also very alike. I could not tell the difference just by hearing it. The keyboard feels quite good, feels high-class. I hear that people tend to say that Razer keyboards would have a cheep feeling, or would use cheep components. And although they don’t use the original cherry switches, it really feels alike.

I only use the keyboard about a week now, but I really like it. The typing is a lot easier and faster here than on the usual rubberdome keyboards. I love the typing experience. And the backlighting is quite cool! Just looks awesome! I configured my keyboard to have different key colors depending on which application I am just using. This is very helpful. Actually even more helpful than the backlighting alone. I’m really happy that I got an RGB-Backlit keyboard. This features is something I’d really miss on other keyboards.

Example: I am developing very often, sometimes in the dark. When I sit there, the keyboard is in front of me, not really „under“ me. So, when I need to find the right F-Key for doing the job (debugging for example), I find it very helpful to have those keys lit in different colors: Green ⇒ Run, Orange ⇒ Debug, Blue ⇒ Step over, Yellow ⇒ Step into

Although those features are „Gamers“ features, I really like them not only for gaming. Or better: especially not for gaming.

I heard, there will be an API or SDK for programming the keyboard directly. Of course again this is aimed at game developers. But maybe it is possible to write some useful things for us developers there as well (like: in your IDE, when actually debugging, change the color of some keys, change macros etc)

Of course, there are some things that are not that good, I have to mention as well. For example the indicator lights for „Gaming Mode“, Caps Lock, Macro recording and such. These are above the number pad and are so faintly lit, that you almost cannot see them, especially when the rest of the keyboard is lit bright. This really looks like they never used that switches at all.

Although the backlight itself is very cool and looks awesome, it is really strange that the keys are somewhat selectively lit – for example the very important FN-Key does not shine through. You won’t be able to read it, when it’s dark and you depend on the backlight feature. Same with the multimedia functions on the F-Keys. Does not shine through, not visible in the dark. Or even the Shift-Symols on Number line, like !“§ etc. not shown. Strangely, the additional Braces []{} are shown… this is inconsequent and not really understandable.

There are some reviews in the internet, that the keyboard would produce errors after a short amount of time. I will hope, mine won’t show these kind of errors. If so, I will post an update here. I really like the feeling of the Blackwidow and really like typing on it. It is way more fun, than I thought it would be.

So, if you are looking for a new keyboard, even Gamer keyboards might be worth a try.

Update after one month

I still like typing on the Razor Blackwidow Chroma – a lot! But there are some issues, I’d like to share:

  • it is a shame, that Synapse forces you to be online. Sometimes I have to disable the firewall rule in order to have Synapse „call home“. Otherwise it would not start up
  • When the Mac is awaking from hibernation (or sometimes even from Screensaver), the blackwidow would not come up „completely“. Meaning, some keys just don‘t work at all. They are not reakting on your reactive lighning animations and – of course – the corresponding key is not working at all. When this happens, you need to disconnect the Chroma from your Mac completely and reconnect it – usually the Keys work fine after that
  • I did not manage to geht the <|>-Key (lower row, left, besides the y) to work at all! It would not fire an event to the system! I managed to get it to work somehow with Karabiner and setting a macro at this key

All in all this lowers the good first impression a bit….

UPDATE:

I use the chroma now for about 2 months and typing on it is a pleasure, gaming with it also… I love the opportunity to change the backlight with every game. Really cool…

Today there was an update for the Synapse software. And I was hoping to get my issues with the <>-Key resolved. Well, was hoping for too much. Actually, I was hoping things would work as they used to! But here also – hoping for too much.

The update is really somewhat annoying. The Razer-Updater freezes for a couple of minutes. I was tempted to force quit it, but it came back. This could be done better @Razer!

Problem gets worse: After the update, the synapse detected my keyboard as a US-Version, there is the key <> missing at all. And this caused problems. I restarted the app and voila – had to relogin and all my settings were gone! Comletely blank configuration, all macros, all backlight configuration, everything just gone!

Here is my tip: Export your settings from time to time, than you wont lose your macros – but the lightning seetings are gone!

I am in contact with some guy from the razer support. I told him, that the key actually works in synapse, that I can assign macros to it. But that is something, he does not want to understand. So the first 3-4 mails I told him, that this is probably not a hardware related issue.

Nevertheless, there was no help from the razer support yet, although there were about 10 mails send in both directions.

After the latest update, now the right ALTGR and Application keys are not working anymore. I wanted to reassign them in the synapse software, but if i map them to left command / left alt, they are fireing both alt and command when pressed. This renders the keyboard almost useless! Hope I can get a fix soon….

erstellt Stephan Bösebeck (stephan)