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Whirlwind FX Atom keyboard review: 60% gaming keyboard that plays well with others

It's a great little keyboard, but its software really ties your desk together.

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Josh Goldman/CNET

Whirlwind FX's Atom 60%-size mechanical gaming keyboard isn't too different from other similarly sized options. The compact build is a space saver, great if you need extra mousing room while you game. It'll also slide easily into a backpack for travel (it has a removable braided USB-C cable to help with that, too). The company offers a choice of three mechanical switches and they're all brilliantly lit with RGB LEDs. Those lights and the company's software, though, are key to a more immersive gaming experience. 

Like the company's full-size keyboard, the Atom is slim and sturdy. The outside is matte black plastic so you don't have to worry about wiping fingerprints off all the time. The backplate is white anodized aluminum, which really helps bump up the glow from the per-key RGB LED lighting. Rubber pads on the bottom help keep the Atom in place while you're gaming and there are flip-down feet in the back for a second typing angle option. 

WhirlwindFX Atom keyboard

Secondary key functions are printed on the fronts of the double-shot ABS plastic keycaps. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

Since the Atom is smaller, it has a secondary function layer accessible by pressing the Fn key plus other keys. The function keys, for instance, are bound to the number keys and you'll find media and volume controls on the Tab key row. Those functions are all printed on the fronts of the keycaps. 

Whirlwind FX uses Gateron switches on its keyboards, and you have your choice of Red (linear), Brown (tactile) or Blue (clicky) (they're not hot-swappable, though). I tested the Gateron Brown switches which are a good middle ground if you want the Atom for typing and gaming. They require a little more force than the Reds, though not so much that they're tiring, and have a subtle tactile bump. There's the tiniest bit of wobble to them that I only really pick up on when I'm typing quickly. The same goes for spring ping, especially on the spacebar. 

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The keyboard's USB-C port is flush with the body so you can use another cable if you want something nicer than the included one. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

Overall, it's a likable little keyboard. While there's nothing extraordinary about it compared to models from Corsair and HyperX, its feel, build quality and general features hit the mark for its $100 price. That said, I haven't even talked about Whirlwind FX's SignalRGB software that expands your gaming experience. 

About that software...

The Atom's lights, or more specifically the software that controls them, is where this little keyboard stands out. The thing is, you don't even need the keyboard to use the software. 

The SignalRGB app lets you set the keyboard's lighting to have different effects during regular use and when media is playing including various games. The app has a library of game integrations to choose from. I tested the Battlefield V integration, for example, and it does things like turn the keyboard lights red when HP is low or green when you're healed. The Fortnite integration will change the keyboard to pink and red when you take damage or purple when you add experience. There are a lot of games available and, if you really like to tinker, you can create your own integrations using the company's open-platform lighting software.

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The Battlefield V lighting integration lets you know when you're about to die and when you're healed.

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

While the keyboard light changes are nice to have, the SignalRGB software lets you take things a step further by expanding the effects to your other RGB gaming peripherals. It supports more than 150 devices from Razer, Corsair, HyperX, Logitech, SteelSeries and others. You can also request others that aren't supported yet. 

I connected HyperX's PulseFire Haste mouse and Corsair's MM700 RGB mousepad along with the Atom keyboard. Being able to mix gear and have them all working together with the game integrations was amazing. It can be difficult to pick up on just the keyboard lighting changes when you're in the heat of battle, but it's really easy to see when all of your gear lights up red when you're about to die. 

I did have to shut down the applications for the other accessories while using SignalRGB. Also, if you're big into remapping keys and setting up macros, that functionality isn't available for the Atom or other company's products. There are both free and paid Pro versions of the app with the latter unlocking some advanced features and extras. You can get a month of Pro free if you enter promo code CNET but it's not necessary to try out many of its features.