Gaming keyboards seem to be enjoying a revival as of late. Five years ago, Logitech felt like the only game in town, joined only by a few niche brands. Now some of those brands, like Razer, have become household names among gamers. Perhaps enticed by that success, more and more keyboards are debuting from companies that you’ve probably heard of, but don’t associate with gaming keyboards. This includes names like Gigabyte, Corsair, and Cooler Master.
Maybe worried that the Cooler Master name doesn’t relate to peripherals clearly, the company has been releasing keyboards and mice under the CMStorm brand. Some of the new products, such as the mid-range Storm Spawn and Storm Sentinel mice, have been well received by consumers so far.
The company is still just sticking its toes into the water with keyboards, however. One of its early offerings is the CMStorm QuickFire Rapid, a mechanical gaming keyboard that promises the tactile pleasure of a mechanical switch at a low price (the MSRP is $79.99 in the United States, and similarly inexpensive in other markets).
There certainly could be a market for this. While Corsair, Steelseries and Razer offer excellent competitors, most are priced over $100. Only the basic RazerBlackWidow limbos into the same bracket as the QuickFire. Does the budget pricing require too many sacrifices? Let’s find out.
Where’s the numpad?
If you take even a glance at the QuickFire, you’re sure to be struck by something odd. Wait a second! This keyboard is missing its numpad!
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. You’ll find no numpad here, which of course serves the purpose of making the keyboard smaller than most others, and also likely helps the product reach its low MSRP.
There’s a method behind this madness. With the numpad out of the way, there’s more room for your mouse hand, which means that your arm doesn’t have to be moved over to the side of your desk to use your mouse. By ensuring your mouse hand don’t have to move far, a more comfortable and more effective gaming position is achieved.
At least that’s the theory. Does it work in practice?
In my experience, yes. I used this keyboard for a number of long gaming sessions in Star Wars: The Old Republic. During these, I found that my mouse arm was more comfortable and that I could game longer without feeling tension in my shoulder. The positioning was also much more convenient, freeing up space on my busy desk for other important objects. Like a half-finished bowl of cereal.
Do these advantages justify the loss of the numpad? That is going to depend on the user, but for most gamers I think the answer is yes. Although the numpad can theoretically be used to bind additional game functions in certain titles, I’ve never actually used it for that. It is, for the most part, dead weight.
Unfortunately, this keyboard doesn’t make up for the missing keys with unique macro buttons or interesting functionality. What you have here is about a foot and a half of keyboard. Everything is exactly where you would expect it to be. That’s a good thing, of course — becoming familiar with this keyboard is simple — but the lack of macro or special function keys will disappoint some gamers.
This is a mechanical keyboard, which means it uses individual, mechanical switches for each key, rather than a mushy silicone membrane. There are various versions of the QuickFire with different mechanical switch types sold in different markets, but the one we received featured the Cherry MX Blue.
The MX Blue is a tactile, clicky switch. When pressed it provides feedback to your fingers due by the way the key seems to snap down. It also provides feedback to your ears through a “click” noise which occurs at the point where a key press is registered.
This makes the MX Blue a good switch for typing. Every key press is registered by both touch and by sound. Better still, it sounds impressive. If you’re working on a keyboard with the MX Blue, people are sure to know it. You’ll sound as if you’re typing at a 1,000 words per minute even when you’re just posting a comment on Facebook.
As a gaming switch, however, the MX Blue has downsides. The noise of the switch doesn’t add anything to your experience, and the tactile snap of switch engagement feels unusual when quickly tapping the same key over and over. The Cherry MX Black switches found in my Steelseries 7G keyboard would be preferable.
This not to say that a QuickFire with the MX Blue switches is flatly unpleasant to use as a gaming keyboard, however. Personally, I found it enjoyable. While the MX Black and Red switches would be better for gaming (and are indeed available on other versions of the QuickFire) they are inferior for everyday typing. Those wanting a nice gaming keyboard and a solid typist’s keyboards will find the MX Blue to be a good compromise.
Not too attached
Most keyboards come with cables that are attached, permanently — but not this one. Instead, it can be detached from the keyboard for easier portability and storage. Connection to your computer is via USB by default, but an adapter for conversion to PS/2 is included in the box.
Also removable are the key caps. Usually this simply assists in keyboard cleaning, but Cooler Master has gone to the extra trouble of including four unique red key caps with arrows on them. These can replace the default caps on the WASD keys, providing an extra gaming touch. A key cap removal tool is included to make sure this can be done without damaging the keyboard.
The only other feature worth noting is the Windows key lock, which is activated by pressing the Function key (found on the lower right) and F9. Disabling the Windows key is considered important by many gamers, since an accidental bump can cause a game window to be minimized or interrupted. That’s particularly true for gamers with dual monitors, who often run games in windowed mode rather than full screen.
Yes, this means there’s no back lighting, a feature that is increasingly common on keyboards of all types. While it certainly would be nice if this was included, the similarly priced RazerBlackWidow also does not include this feature. If you want a mechanical keyboard and backlighting, you’ll have to spend in the triple digits.
There seems to be two camps in gaming keyboards right now. One of these camps believes in macro keys, built-in macro recording, LCD screens and other fancy features. The other doesn’t care for that, and feels that it’s more important to have a solid keyboard with excellent key feel.
Personally, I fall into the second camp. I spent $150 of my own money on a SteelSeries 7G a year ago, a keyboard that despite its price does not offer backlighting, built-in memory, or any macro keys. I find that macro keys get in my way more than they help, back-lighting annoys me, and I don’t switch between profiles. Ever.
As such, I like the QuickFire. I like that the lack of a numpad allows for a more ergonomic mouse position. I like the key feel, which is good when gaming and great everywhere else (and you can buy a different version of the QuickFire if you’d like that statement reversed). I also like the simple but robust build quality. There’s no learning curve. You can plug it in and game with it immediately.
Others may feel differently. This is a keyboard that makes serious compromises. Fortunately, they’re compromises that are easy to understand before you buy. If you want macro keys, look elsewhere. If you want mechanical switches in a tight, well-built keyboard, the CMStorm QuickFire Rapid is an excellent choice.
- Excellent key feel for typing
- Different models offer different key switches
- Good build quality
- Lack of numpad allows for better mouse position
- No macro keys