Mention that you're looking for a gaming keyboard on just about any Internet forum, and the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate ($140) is sure to come up. The Internet's appreciation for the BlackWidow Ultimate turns out to be completely justified. The keyboard is a fantastic peripheral on every level, from design to software to performance. Although it's one of the more expensive gaming keyboards on the market, the BlackWidow Ultimate justifies its cost through smart design choices and granular customization options.
The BlackWidow Ultimate isn't small, but it uses its size in smart ways. The 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 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.
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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 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.
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 BlackWidow'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 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 — keyboards are, by definition, intended for out-of-the-box use with every program on a PC — it's still something that most 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.
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As is always the case with 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 keyboard only allows a six-key rollover, but by activating Gaming Mode, users can hit up to 10 simultaneous keys.
The BlackWidow Ultimate's reputation precedes it, but it turns out to be a reputation well-earned. In spite of a few quibbles about macro recording, the peripheral goes above and beyond most other gaming keyboards on the market. With features sure to appeal to the hardcore MMO junkie, the twitchy FPS fan and the pensive RTS general alike, the BlackWidow Ultimate is one of the best all-around gaming keyboards on the market.
Actuation: 55 g
Key Travel: 4.5 mm
In-Key Rollover: 6 (10 in Gaming Mode)
Size: 18.7 x 6.74 x 0.8 inches
Weight: 3.31 pounds