Razer looks to redefine the mechanical gaming keyboard
6th Mar 2014 | 16:00
With the humble switch
In the heat of a Battlefield 4 war zone, every second counts. One lagging keystroke can mean the difference between victory and defeat. A hair behind your opponent, and it's lights out.
Gamers are on a constant hunt for tech that can help them play faster and for longer. Starting today, Razer may have just a solution, albeit one that lives beneath the keys gamers' fingers come to know so well.
"One of the things that has always been at the top of our heads is that mechanical switches are primarily designed for typing first," Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan told TechRadar. "They're great for gaming, but something that was always revolving in our heads was to make a mechanical keyboard even better."
To do so, Tan said Razer decided to design its own mechanical keyboard switch from the ground up, one designed specifically for gaming.
"We are going into the micro-switch level as opposed to an all-new product," Tan explained. "You spend a lot of time sleeping, so you have to get a great mattress. Likewise, you have to have a great mechanical keyboard because there is so much time spent typing."
Already considering itself on top of the mechanical keyboard heap, the company set out to re-engineer the trigger points that relay a user's finger press to the game playing on their screens.
It's a step above the company's old process of pre-sorting switches before they were built into BlackWidows, a method undertaken to ensure uniformity to the switches' feel.
The new switches come in two types: a Green version that's the clickier of the pair and a stealthier Orange version. Users can experience the new switches in the company's BlackWidow keyboards starting today.
Beneath the board
Razer's mechanical switches are set to optimized actuation and reset points, resulting in a one-two punch of speed and responsiveness.
"For the typist, what's most important is the key presses feel very sure, that they get the proper definition that the key has registered," Tan explained. "As opposed to a gamer, certainty is important but so is speed. The same key may be pressed two or three times in a couple of seconds. For the gamer, we've spent a lot more time trying to find the balance between having a definitive key stroke versus the speed of where key strokes can be hit quickly."
Razer's new switches require a force of 50g to actuate (45g for the Orange switch), and Tan said his team zeroed in on 1.9mm as the "perfect actuation point for gaming," a distance that means users "can game faster."
Traditional mechanical switches are set around 2.2mm, he said.
Razer's design can reset itself at less than half the distances of standard mech switches. From a usage perspective, this means a key will register an input command faster than traditional designs.
"We're talking about really small, minute differences, but it makes a huge difference for a gamer," Tan said.
As for tolerance, Razer's switches sit at ±0.4mm compared to the ±0.6mm found in typical boards.
Tan said users can expect a lifespan of up to 60 million keystrokes thanks to the new switches, up from the 50 million strokes that make up a traditional mech board's life.
New Razer switches availability
While Razer plans to sell its own BlackWidow keyboards equipped with the new switches straight to consumers, Tan said the company is opening the spec to other manufacturers.
"We really want to open this up to as many brands as are out there," he said, likening the switch approach to Project Christine. "We want the hardware to be an open spec, but to have a spec that's been wholly engineered and tested. It's a philosophical consideration."
Razer hasn't been "actively canvasing" for partners, and there's no word yet on who might adapt the company's switch tech.
Pricing for the new switch-equipped BlackWidow boards is in line with last year's model; the BlackWidow Ultimate runs $139.99 (£124.99/AU$229.95), the standard BlackWidow $99 (£89.99/AU$179.95) and the BlackWidow Tournament Edition $79.99 (£69.99/AU$149.95).
The boards are available now in the RazerStore and will go on sale worldwide sometime this month or in April.
While we're testing a BlackWidow sporting the switches on our own, eSport professionals have been putting the new triggers through the paces since late last year.
"An incredible amount of testing has gone into a humble switch," Tan said. "This is the first time any switch has been designed for gaming as opposed to traditional typing."