When playing games, for example Starcraft II, the difference between victory and defeat can be a matter of a few seconds or a critically timed mistake. In an effort to provide you with a keyboard and mouse that provides you with the speed and accuracy that you need, Razer has created the Marauder and the Spectre.
We are going to start with the Marauder, the new Starcraft II themed keyboard from Razer. At first glance, the Marauder is a straightforward QWERTY keyboard, but in reality it has a plethora of features that improve your gaming experience. The Marauder feels extremely durable and has a nice heft. I enjoy LAN parties and still eschew laptops, so being able to transport the Marauder without fear of destroying it is a much appreciated feature. Razer also kept the size down by integrating the arrow keys, the del/end/PgDn, and numpad. The keys that overlap default to the non-numpad key, while the numpad keys are accessed by activating numlock. This bothered me at first, but it makes the keyboard a bit shorter, only 400mm/15.7'', which is nice for travel and small desks. It has a 7 foot braided USB cord with two USB connectors, apparently the keyboard needs the extra power for its lights.
One of Marauder other features is something that Razer calls "Ultrapolling," which deals with key latency. In some keyboard there is a small, but noticeable, lag between your key press and the computer's response. Razer knows that even small delays can hurt your game performance, so the Marauder is designed to poll for inputs at 1000 Hz. This means that within a single millisecond, whatever key you pressed will be sent to the computer. Speaking of the keys, the Marauder has a nice feel to it with smooth but strong tactile feedback. The keys are well spaced and there is a slight curvature across the rows of keys so that your hands naturally sit on the home row of keys. The keys themselves are back lit in the color of your choice which is great for gaming in dark situations. In addition to the keys, you can also alter the color of the side strips and the under lights. There are a number of preset colors to choose from, but if those don't float your boat you can choose a custom one. Most of the default colors come through accurately, but some colors are a little desaturated. Overall, for mostly superficial lights, they are of surprisingly pretty and true to the color that you chose on screen.
The same program that lets you change the lights, also controls the other customizable features of the Marauder. As with most game keyboards, the Marauder has key assignment and macros. You can assign any value or macro to any key in a straightforward manner. You simply click on the key that you want to alter and press the key on your keyboard that you want it to represent. Macro creation can be done in a similar way by clicking record and pressing the keys that you want the macro to perform. Macros can also be created manually. This is a much more specific way to create macros because it allows you to specify key down, key up, and time delays. There are also a number of premade key combinations such as copy (ctrl + c) and lock computer,(windows key + L).
A nice addition to this customization mix is profiles. All of the customization features, key assignment, lights, macros, can be linked to a profile. Your current profile can be changed in the program, which is accessible from the system tray, or can be setup to change automatically when certain programs start. For example, I have a special setup that it switches to when Starcraft II is running.
The entire line of Razer Starcraft II peripherals also has some interesting integration with Starcraft II. The lighting system becomes more than just a simple back lighting/ambient lighting system. When in a game of Starcraft II, the Marauder, Spectre, and Banshee will smoothly transition between colors to indicate how many apm, actions per minute, you are currently performing. In addition to letting you see when your apm has dropped, the lights can be set to blink in various patterns and colors to indicate various alerts. For example, whenever my base is attacked, the Marauder flashes purple twice. Though you only see these color shifts with your peripheral vision, I found the alerts to be quite obvious.
If you are only using your keyboard for non-gaming purposes, I'm not sure that the Marauder would be for you. If on the other hand, you are a Starcraft II playing machine, or just enjoy playing PC games, then the Marauder is something you should consider.
The Marauder is not alone though so lets take a look at its partner, the Spectre.
The Razer Spectre is a gaming mouse that handles quite well. It is an extremely light mouse, so light that it actually took me a little bit of time to become accustomed to it. Now that I have become accustomed, I really appreciate that the mouse is so light. It allows very quick, accurate movements which helps to minimize misclicks during intense games. The Spectre also has "Zero-acoustic Ultraslick™ Teflon feet" which glide nicely over my desk, with or without a mouse pad. It has the standard 5 buttons, the left, right, 2 sides, and the mouse wheel. The left button can have its tension adjusted via a slider under the mouse. There are 3 tension levels, low medium and high. High makes the button more resistant to an accidental clicks, while low allows you to press it quickly and repeatedly without finger strain. The Spectre, like the Marauder, has a 7 foot braided USB cable.
The laser sensor that the Spectre uses is surprisingly advanced. It is capable of sensitivities up to 5600 DPI and can sense speeds up to 200 inches per second and accelerations of up to 50g. Personally I found 5600 too be much too sensitive, so it is lucky that the program that allowed all of the customization of the Marauder also lets you adjust the Spectre. The range of the Spectre's sensitivity is 100-5600. The Spectre also has support for adjustable acceleration. I found 1500 DPI with acceleration disabled to be the best for me, but it really depends on your OS's mouse settings. In Windows, I strongly suggest going to Control Panel->Mouse and unchecking "Enhance pointer precision". The Spectre supports independent X and Y sensitivities and preset sensitivity stages. For some reason the Spectre's polling rate can be adjusted. If you don't want your mouse to respond as quickly as possible, you can lower it all the way down to 125 Hz (that gives you up to a 8ms delay). Even though you could leave your mouse in 1000Hz mode, 125 Hz is actually sufficient for most situations and is the frequency that most standard mice run their polling.
The Spectre has a lot of customization options. All of the buttons, and scrolling of the mouse wheel, can be set to pretty much any mouse click, keyboard key, or macro. This also includes some functions unique to the Spectre. One of the functions is on-the-fly sensitivity, which allows you to adjust the sensitivity with the mouse wheel. Since it is a little difficult and slow to be accurate with your mouse wheel, there is also a staging system. You can set between one and five preset sensitivities. You then assign stage up and stage down to the buttons or mouse wheel. Then in a game you can instantly change between two adjacent stages, and quickly set your mouse to the correct sensitivity. I imagine this feature being particularly useful in FPS to adjust for different weapon needs.
Just like the Marauder, the Spectre has a full range of macro and ambient light customizations. I find the light a lot less useful, though still pretty, on the mouse since it doesn't have any keys that need to be back lit. As mentioned in the Marauder section, the Spectre will change colors as your APM in Starcraft II increases and will flash during alerts.
At first glance, the Spectre does not look particularly impressive or ergonomic. Luckily, for me as well as Razer, the Spectre performs really well and feels quite comfortable in my hand. I would definitely recommend the Spectre for game use or even just everyday use.
The final member of the Starcraft II hardware is the Banshee Headset. Read on to learn more.
Written by Patrick Nosker
The Banshee features the same interactive and variable color system as the Marauder keyboard and Spectre mouse. This color makes a lot of sense for keyboard and mice because you can actually see them, but on a headset it's less useful. There are lights that project towards the ground which allow you to notice them in a dark room.
Unfortunately, they do not gently change color gradually like the Marauder and Spectre. The color change is a rapid change directly to the different color. Since you can't see it when the headset is on, it doesn't really matter.
Perhaps the best part of the Banshee is the lack of a USB-cable mounted pod for controlling the system. Instead, the headset has controls on the earpieces. This makes the system clean looking and easier to access in the dark.
The build quality is among the best I have seen with thick plastic and very solid connections all around. The cable is sheathed, like the keyboard and mouse. The microphone can disconnect but has a very strong connector jack and features a flexible tip for precise adjustment. It has a memory ability so it stays exactly where you place it.
The sound quality of the headset is reasonable. It's not great, and not what I expected from something costing over a hundred dollars. It does the job adequately for gaming, but I wouldn't listen to music for long periods of time on it.
Fortunately, the microphone quality is good and the headset is very comfortable, even for extended use. This is impressive especially since I have a large head.
Either way, the Banshee headset does a great job at Starcraft II. No, it doesn't have 7.1 virtual surround capability or 5.1 integrated multi-speaker surround. It does have a great look, cool features, and decent sound. Most of all, it's comfortable for extended wear and does not make your ears hot, which is something that can be difficult to find.