- Build quality
If you ask any PC enthusiast to recommend a keyboard, chances are that while the specific recommended model will vary, the vast majority will recommend some sort of mechanical keyboard. Despite near-universal praise, however, mechanical keyboards have remained something of a niche product–largely because of their cost. A Das Keyboard, one of the most famous and most widely-recommended mechanical keyboards, costs upwards of $130, but lacks the macro recording, backlighting, embedded LCDs, and other features you’ll find on comparably-priced (or even much cheaper) keyboards such as Logitech’s G-series or Micrsoft’s SideWinder line. It’s rare that you find a mechanical keyboard for less than $100 or so, which is why CM Storm’s new Quick Fire Rapid–aimed at a lower price point than other boards–looks so promising.
If you’ve never used a mechanical keyboard before, you owe it to yourself to try one. The specific variety of switch doesn’t particularly matter: red or blue or black or brown, any type will blow the more common rubber-dome straight out of the water. The Quick Fire Rapid uses Cherry MX Blue switches (although a Red version is also in the pipeline), just like its main competitor in price and audience, Razer’s $69.99 Blackwidow. Without getting into too much switch-design detail, Blue switches give you a very tactile and audible “click” about halfway down, offering highly satisfying reassurance that the key has indeed been actuated.
The first thing you’ll notice when pulling the keyboard out of the box is the fact that CM Storm opted not to include a numpad. While hardcore Excel users and some MMO players might lament this exclusion, it saves some space and weight and allows for a much smaller footprint, reducing distance between your hands when in the traditional WASD+mouse position.
Like all mechanical keyboards, the Quick Fire Rapid is heavy for its size–2.1 pounds (940g), in fact. Although it’s relatively small, the weight and thickness mean that it is in no way a mobile keyboard. The entire chassis has the same soft-touch rubberized finish that graces the bodies of CM Storm’s Sentinel Advance/Sentinel Z3RO-G. This matte finish makes the keyboard feel a little more solid under your fingers while avoiding fingerprints. Aside from a couple tasteful CM Storm logos next to the ESC button and above the arrow keys, the Quick Fire Rapid is rather plain-looking. It lacks the glossy finish and angular, space-thruster aesthetic of Razer’s offerings–but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It looks restrained and relatively professional, like a cut-down version of the aforementioned Das.
Included with the keyboard are a keycap puller, six replacement keycaps, and the keyboard’s removable braided mini-USB cable with a USB-to-PS/2 adapter.
The keycaps are incredibly easy to remove using the dedicated pulling tool. Four of the extra ones are red arrow keys that replace the WASD buttons; the other two have Cooler Master logos and replace the standard Windows keys, which by default bear CM Storm’s own emblem.
The mini-USB cable plugs into the underside of the board and can be routed through any one of three channels. The grooves are just wide and deep enough to hold the cable securely, keeping the cord out of the way of your other components.
The only non-standard button included on the Quick Fire Rapid is a FN key which gives us some media controls when pressed along with F5 through F12 and a Window-key-disabling “game mode” when pressed with F9. Turning on “game mode” also turns on an LED that illuminates a small translucent strip on the F9 key; similar lights are found on the caps lock and scroll lock buttons as well. The LEDs are fairly bright and highly visible, so you’ll always know if you’ve accidentally hit caps lock, but not so bright as to be distracting while gaming in a darkened room. This is a great little feature offered by CM Storm and a departure from the traditional three lights above the numpad you see on most full-size keyboards. The tradeoff, however, is the lack of full-keyboard backlighting. If you’re a touch-typist, that won’t be missed, but for others it can be annoying looking for keys that you can’t see.
In terms of performance, the Quick Fire Rapid varies in response depending on whether you have it plugged into a USB port or the more old-fashioned PS/2 connector via the included adapter. In USB mode, it offers a very respectable polling rate of 1000Hz (1ms response time) and “anti-ghosting,” which allows multiple keypresses to register simultaneously. PS/2, however, operates on an entirely interrupt-driven basis, meaning polling rate is irrelevant–keys are recognized the exact moment you hit them. In addition, plugging the keyboard into a PS/2 port allows for full n-key rollover (NKRO). Most motherboards today still have the “legacy” PS/2 connector; if you have it, use it. If not, though, rest assured, as the Quick Fire Rapid still works brilliantly over USB.
The mechanical switches used in the Quick Fire Rapid are instantly recognizable as Cherry MX Blues, with their supremely tactile response and satisfying (some call it annoying) click upon each keypress. While they are extremely comfortable and clicky, they have drawn criticism for placing the release point above the actuation point. This placement makes double-tapping letters tricky sometimes, as rapid presses might not let the switch release fully. Generally, however, this is only a problem for individuals who have grown accustomed to other mechanical switches, namely the linear, non-tactile Cherry MX Black. Personally, I encountered no problems in any game I played; however, I lent the keyboard to a Diamond-League StarCraft II-playing friend of mine, who returned it stating that he still preferred Black switches.
Typing long hours on this keyboard is a joy (last week’s 4000-word PC Build Guide was typed entirely with the Quick Fire Rapid), the deliciously clicky switches causing no fatigue or cramping after extended periods of use. Blue switches are generally regarded as the most typist-friendly of all of Cherry’s offerings. As you’ll probably be using this keyboard for typing as often as gaming–Facebook, blogging, Google searches, thesis papers–the Blue switches strike an excellent balance between outright performance and comfort. There is one caveat to the quality, however: the Quick Fire Rapid, like all Blue-switched boards, is rather loud. In personal use, the noise is merely noticeable, but be warned that roommates, significant others, and pets may be put off by the sound.
Interestingly, Cooler Master sells different models of the Quick Fire Rapid–with Blue, Black, and Brown switches–depending on region. The model reviewed here and for sale in the North American Region with the Cherry MX Blues is the SGK-4000-GKCL1; the Black is the SGK-4000-GKCC1 and the Brown is the SGK-4000-GKCM1. Therefore, last two paragraphs might not apply to you at all: check your model number to make sure. The upcoming version with Red switches–essentially Black switches tuned for less required actuation force–will be available universally. Buyers will want to do some personal research into what switch variety suits their needs, though, and make their purchases accordingly.
The Quick Fire Rapid is CM Storm’s first keyboard, and it shows that they don’t mess around with second-rate equipment. The keyboard shines in virtually every aspect, gaming and typing alike. There are few omissions–the only one I would personally like is a backlight–the whole keyboard is built very sturdily. Minor additions, such as the LEDs and the easily-used media keys, don’t seem like afterthoughts tacked on to the finished product. On the whole, the Quick Fire Rapid presents an excellent, relatively inexpensive ($80) way of entering the world of mechanical keyboards. If you don’t need a numpad, it’s an absolutely solid choice.