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To a certain extent Razer has made its own life difficult with the BlackWidow Ultimate. This $125 mechanical keyboard offers an impressively responsive typing experience, but we don't find its backlighting or spare USB jack and audio ports enough to justify the cost next to the otherwise identical standard BlackWidow that costs just $80. Without the $80 model, we would have few reservations recommending the BlackWidow Ultimate to gamers in the market for a luxury keyboard. As it stands, we can only suggest the Ultimate version if you find backlighting and a few extra inputs to be worth an additional $40.
Though the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate joins the standard BlackWidow and only two mechanical keyboards from SteelSeries in the gaming market, there's been an overall boom in mechanical keyboards in the past few years. You can find some recent reviews here.
The Das costs about $130, and the Rosewill comes in around $100. For the SteelSeries keyboards, the 7G will run you about $150, and the 6GV2 costs $100. Thus, the BlackWidow standard edition looks like the best deal going for a keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches.
Whether Cherry MX Blue switches are the best depends on your preference. They produce a satisfying clacking sound when you type, but they are also loud. If you share a dorm room or otherwise live in close quarters, you may want to consider a keyboard like the Das Model S Professional Silent keyboard, which uses the quieter Cherry MX Brown switches.
You can also find different switches in the $250 Topre Realforce 103UB or the $120 Matias Tactile Pro 3.0. Each switch offers particular characteristics in terms of key activation point, travel distance, resistance, and other factors, all of which combine to create the overall feel of a mechanical keyboard. We find that the Cherry MX Blues delivers exactly the amount of resistance, springiness, and solid feel we're looking for in a keyboard for typing or gaming.
Though we like the switches in the BlackWidow and BlackWidow Ultimate, our one complaint about the keys has to do with their layout, specifically that of the Function keys. Rather than spacing them above the number keys evenly, Razer has squished them toward the center of the keyboard. The result is that the Function keys sit closer together than necessary, which can make it hard to single them out quickly.
The BlackWidow Ultimate's other features are fairly typical of higher-end gaming keyboards. The backlighting is welcome, as is the ability to cycle through five different brightness settings. The backlighting also sets the Ultimate apart from the standard BlackWidow, which has none. We appreciate the benefits of backlighting, but we still wish Razer had pushed harder to make the Ultimate edition stand out. An option to select different backlight colors would have helped, and the technology would presumably be easy to port over from Razer's own Naga Epic gaming mouse. That feature or some other extra seems more appropriate to a keyboard in this price range.
The Ultimate also features a single USB 2.0 jack and a pair of audio jacks along its right edge. The USB port is handy for connecting a mouse, a USB key, or a mobile device, and the audio jacks might make life easier if you have an analog stereo headset, but neither provides a critical advantage.
Another opportunity for improving the BlackWidow Ultimate's value comes with the dedicated macro buttons. Both BlackWidow models offer a strip of five dedicated buttons for mapping macro commands. Razer has added an on-the-fly macro-recording button, as well as the capability to activate various profiles and assign custom key commands through the included driver software.
The drivers are easy to use, but many gamers are obsessive about their macros, and the more dedicated buttons available for assigning commands the better. We'd rather have five than none, but Razer could have effectively doubled the number of available keys by dedicating a key to switching between macro sets. You can use the driver software to assign an existing key to that task, but you of course would need to sacrifice a key you could use for something else. Adding a purpose-built macro-switching key to the Ultimate edition would have been more convenient, and a seemingly easy way to differentiate this keyboard from others.