Aug 25 //
Alex Bout In case you don't know how a mechanical keyboard is different from a typical keyboard, I'll give you the key differences in a nutshell.
There are three main types of keyboards: membrane, scissor switch, and mechanical. Membrane keyboards are the most commonly used, with each key positioned over a rubber dome, one for each key. However, every single one of these domes aren't always uniform thickness, which changes the endurance and springiness of each key. Because of that, the feel of each key will not be uniform across the entire board. These are the cheapest keyboards, and you can expect them to last for about ten million keystrokes.
The second type of key, which is commonly used in laptop keyboards, is the scissor switch key. These are a little pricier than membrane keyboards, but are a slightly more springy to facilitate faster typing. In addition to having that extra pop, these keyboards also have faster response times, are quieter, and have double the life expectancy of a membrane keyboard, rated at about twenty million keystrokes.
As good as scissor switch keyboards may sound, mechanical keyboards really hit it out of the ballpark. Each of the keys on these boards have their own mechanical switch that quickly snap back into position after being actuated, which allows for even faster typing than a scissor switch keyboard. In addition to this, the mechanical switches make a very distinct clicking when pressed, and have a very solid feel to them because of their weight. However, because each key is its own individual part, it really jacks up the price. On the other hand, the price is more or less negligible when you consider the massive 50 million keystroke life expectancy; over double a scissor switch, and five times greater than a membrane keyboard. Do the math and you'll see you save a ton of money by investing in one of these instead of buying multiple of the other types.
Today, we're going to focus on one mechanical keyboard in particular: the Razer BlackWidow Mechanical gaming keyboard. While this review is about the regular edition of the keyboard, the Ultimate edition is more or less the same, just with a back light for the keys, and a USB and audio jack on the keyboard (also note that the Ultimate edition takes up two USB jacks instead of the one that the regular edition requires).
I have pictures from the unboxing that I will post in the gallery, but I think it's kind of silly and a waste of time to talk about it, so I'll just skip straight to what I think about the keyboard itself.
Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Gaming Keyboard specs
Keyboard type: Gaming
Connection type: USB 2.0
Operating Systems supported: Windows XP, Vista, 7 (Though there is a mac version)
Full mechanical keys with 50g actuation force
Response time: 1ms
Programmable keys with on the fly macro recording
Ten separate macro profiles with on the fly switching
Five dedicated macro keys
Multimedia controls (requires use of the function key)
What I noticed immediately is the really bright gloss they used to coat the keyboard. It looks nice, but it's a real finger print magnet. Honestly, I would have much preferred it if they left the gloss out. I'm getting tired of wiping my keyboard off to keep it looking nice.
The first thing I had to try out, of course, were the keys. Because it's a mechanical keyboard, the keys actually register mid way through the actuation, which can be both a good and a bad thing. Good because it allows for faster typing, but bad if you are switching between several keys (WASD movement) because that means you have to go a little farther up than you would with a scissor switch key, or both keys will end up being pressed. It was also very loud! Compared to the scissor switch keyboard I had been using before, it was almost imposingly loud, and almost unbearable. However, after a few days of use, I came to get used to the noise, and it's nice to hear that you pressed the key instead of maybe not being so sure.
As a side note, the font they used for the keys is laser engraved, giving it a nice permanent feeling to it. You won't have any issues with the letters wearing off after a while. However, they used a non-conventional font, which is a little more difficult to read at a glance compared to most keyboards. Honestly, I would have preferred if they had just used the regular font, even though the font they used looks sleek and cool.
Another thing I noticed early on was that it was heavy! Much heavier than any keyboard I had owned before, weighing around five pounds. When you pick it up, you can feel that the keyboard is durable and made of some quality stuff. A combination of the weight and rubber track on the bottom makes sure it won't slide around on your desk.
The macro program that the keyboard utilizes is pretty easy to use once you get used to where things are, and the on-the-fly macros are extremely handy. It should be noted that the keyboard itself does not have any on-board memory, so any macros you make will not be carried with the keyboard. It's a little annoying, but I don't move around much, so this isn't a huge deal to me.
Another thing that kind of bugs me a little is the altered key placement, the first being the placement of the F keys. There's a seemingly huge gap between the esc key and the f1 key, which really throws me off, because I use all of the F keys pretty frequently, and I often miss both the esc and f1 keys with this keyboard. I think this is more of a "me getting used to this keyboard" situation instead of it being a flaw, though the schizophrenic side me of me says that while there's nothing wrong with breaking the mold, there are some things you just have to conform to.
As well as the esc and f1 key issue, I often find myself pressing the m5 key instead of ctrl, because I glance down to look for the corner key, and hit the wrong key by accident. Again, I believe this is something I just need to get used to rather than a flaw.
There is an issue that I've heard of many people having with this keyboard, but I have yet to experience it myself. Several customers have reported that the space bar will sometimes somehow shift and end up touching the alt key, which makes the space bar (and the alt key I assume) extremely hard to press. I don't really know if this is a common manufacturing defect, or if these people are just throwing their keyboards against a wall; all I know is that for the majority of keyboards sold, this is not a problem. If it is a problem, however, the keyboard does come with a one-year warranty that should clear that right up.
In addition to this, I think the shift key is a little more difficult to press than the rest of the keys. It's pretty subtle for me, but it makes capitalizing a bit of a pain sometimes. I believe this has to do with the angle I press the shift key, and it is only slightly noticeable, just thought it should at least be mentioned.
All in all, this is a great keyboard. The design is sleek and smooth, the key presses are sharp and accurate, the macros are fairly fast and simple to use, and it's priced relatively cheaply at $79.99. Also keep in mind that if you would like the back lighting and USB/Audio jack plug ins, you can pay $30 more for the Ultimate edition, but I don't think it's worth the money. Turn on the lights and plug your stuff into the front of your tower; save your hard earned money for something more worthwhile.
Despite the drawbacks I talked about in this article, I still think the pros outweigh the cons, and the keyboard is worth every penny. I really enjoy the keys, macros, and the ungodly 50 million keystroke life. If you're looking into getting a keyboard that will last you a long time, I highly recommend you add the Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Gaming Keyboard to your gaming arsenal.
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Aug 16 //
Alex Bout Before we begin, one thing that is commonly misunderstood by a lot of people is the difference between an LCD screen and a LED screen. In a nutshell, the big difference is how they're lit (thank you, Captain Obvious). LCD has one white light in the back that shines through different filters, creating the colors you see on the screen. LED. on the other hand, has different colored lights with no filters. This allows the LED screen to actually dim parts of the screen and create a pure black instead of that really dark gray we're all used to (LCD screens can't do that). In addition to the increased color accuracy, LED screens also offer increased viewing angles and thinner screens, and they use 40% less power than LCD screens. However, the downside is that they cost about 50% more than a similar LCD screen. Click here to read more about this.
In addition to the LED/LCD misconception, there is also a specification that a lot of manufacturers use to really mislead their customers: contrast ratio. There's no set standard of measure for contrast ratio, which makes it exceedingly difficult to tell how good a ratio is. My best suggestion is to look at the monitors side by side in person if you can. If not, just look at reviews of each product and decide for yourself.
Anyway, if you take a look in the table below, you'll see both DC and ASCR along with DiC. First off, DC stands for Dynamic Contrast -- it's somewhat of a standard that companies use, but that's not always the case. ASCR stands for ASUS Smart Contrast Ratio, and is pretty much something ASUS made up to more or less hide the real dynamic contrast their screens have. However, they've gotten decent reviews, so I would peg them to be about average. It's something really hard to tell, and it's a little sketchy that they don't release these numbers -- it suggests they have something to hide. One thing I found pretty odd on the LG monitor was that their DC didn't mean dynamic contrast like the rest did, but digital contrast instead which means that we have yet another bogus term to worry about, which is why I labeled it DiC instead of DC. Finally, the number in parenthesis is the static contrast ratio, which seems to be more or less standard from what I've seen at 1000:1. What worries me is that this statistic couldn't be found on some of the monitors, which is what makes me the most suspicious that they might be hiding something. I guess the bottom line is, ignore this statistic, and judge what you can from the rest of the specs given.
For all of you who don't really know the different video inputs, I figured it would be nice to have some quick information on it. VGA and D-Sub are both analog signals, which are becoming rarer and rarer in a digital age, and are generally thrown onto a monitor just for those people who still cling to the Stone Age. DVI and HDMI are the real powerhouses that are taking the stage at the moment. They both have the same video quality, but the difference is that HDMI has sound included. So if your monitor has speakers built in, you don't have to worry about plugging in a separate auxiliary audio cable to plug in. These inputs are digital and can carry much more information to the monitor, in addition to not making it convert the digital signal that your computer sends out into an analog signal like a VGA or D-sub cable must do.
Now, let's move on to the rankings!
1. Asus VK246H ($196) I picked the VK246H as my first choice for a couple of different reasons. Not only does it sport a nice, large 24" screen, but it's also pretty inexpensive at only $196, considering what it comes with. In addition to the phenomenal pricing, it is 1080p, sports two built-in 2W speakers, and a built-in webcam. Don't like the idea that it has a webcam attached? Buy the camera-less variant for about the same price. Oh, did I also mention that it has a 2ms response time? This will reduce any ghosting you might experience, which is a big deal for gamers. However, because these values aren't absolute, you should probably expect to see a slightly higher response time.
There are some things that could be better about this monitor, however. For one, it's an LCD screen, so you'll lose some of the contrast that comes with LED. That also means that you're only really going to get mediocre color accuracy with this monitor. Fortunately, the average eye probably won't be able to tell the difference.
2. Asus VH238H LED ($175)
I picked this one after the VK246H mainly because of the reduction in size and brightness, though I don't think the difference would be very noticeable. This monitor is LED instead of LCD, so it was a pretty close call in my eyes. For all of you who don't want a built-in webcam, I'd go with this option; I could see someone going either way, especially considering the overwhelmingly better color contrast. I'll admit that I had a hard time deciding and only picked the other monitor because of the size and webcam.
3. Viewsonic VA2431wm ($170)
The Viewsonic VA2431wm is actually better than the ASUS VH238H that I mentioned above in some respects such as size and brightness, except that it loses a little in terms of response time and that it lacks the HDMI port. In addition to this, it is only a LCD screen, where as the ASUS is an LED. However for five dollars less, it might be worth your money to take the hit for those nice perks.
4. Asus VH222H-P ($139)
With a smaller screen and a 5ms response time, the VH222H-P is my third choice only because of its relatively attractive price. The response time pretty much rules it out for any serious gamers. However, for all of the more casual gaming, home, and office users, this monitor will do fine. Honestly, I don't know a lot of people who can really tell a huge difference in 3ms.
5. LG E2350V-SN ($194)
EDIT: I apologize so much! I don't know how I goofed up on the previous link here, and the image above. I would replace the image above, but I don't have the source code from the table that I have above with me (it's an image right now), because I'm on vacation right now. Either way, the specs are as follows...23" LED backlight screen, 1920x1080 resolution, 250 cd/m2 brightness, DC 5,000,000:1 contrast, response time of 5ms, D-Sub, DVI, and HDMI video inputs, and no built-in speakers.
While it is a good monitor, the price really put me off because I feel you could get better deal on another monitor. However, it does have a good screen size, resolution, contrast, and decent brightness as long as looking quite sharp.
Again, I apologize for the goof-up with the table and such.
All of the top three choices are excellent monitors and I highly recommend all three. You will have to decide for yourself which is the best for you personally. I'd probably buy the Asus VH222H-P for a home or office computer because of the slower response time and the low price. I would only recommend LG W2486L if you really want a nice LED screen. Still, it was ranked above the Acer S201HL because of the Acer's low resolution and small screen size.
P.S. Special thanks to those that contributed to my research in my community blog. What other kinds of PC hardware coverage would you like to see on Destructoid? Let us know!
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Jul 30 //
Alex Bout Our handy-dandy game retailer, GameStop, has made some speculations about the level of hardware you're going to need to really own this game. While they aren't the official specs, I'd say they're pretty spot-on.
Minimum PC requirements for Battlefield 3:
Hard Drive Space: 15 GB for disc version or 10 GB for digital version
Operating System: Windows Vista or Windows 7
Processor: Core 2 Duo @ 2.0GHz
RAM: 2 GB
Video Card: DirectX 10 or 11 compatible Nvidia or AMD ATI card
Recommended PC requirements for Battlefield 3:
Hard Drive Space: 15 GB for disc version or 10 GB for digital version
Operating System: Windows 7 64-bit
Processor: Quad-core Intel or AMD CPU
RAM: 4 GB
Video Card: DirectX 11 Nvidia or AMD ATI card, GeForce GTX 460, Radeon HD 6850
Because nobody's got unlimited money (excluding you retail buyers), I'm going to put together a computer rig that will be able to run Battlefield 3 well on moderate settings. So without further ado, take a look!
Click here to view this computer build
Intel Core i5-2500K 3.33Ghz Quad-Core Processor ($219.99) -- or Intel i3-530 ($109.99)
The Intel Core i5-2500K, nicely priced at $219.99, is a good choice for this game because of its clock speed and its quad-core capabilities.
However, I don't think it's completely necessary to have a quad-core processor, because most games are graphics card dependent instead of processor dependent. I stand behind this so much, in fact, that I think an Intel Core i3 would do the deed of running Battlefield 3 on moderate settings if you're looking for a decent price cut (about $110 cheaper than the i5). The processor manages the different things your computer does at once (this is a tag-team with your RAM). So since you're only going to be running one main program or game at a time, you have no need for an overly powerful CPU.
Cooler Master DP6-9EDSA-0L-GP CPU Cooler ($9.99) -- or use the stock fan for free ($0.00)
Moving down the list, the CPU cooler is just one that I picked out because anything's better than the crappy one that comes with the processor. However, if you want to save another ten dollars, you can probably just knock it off completely. The stock fan does a decent job, but it just keeps things a little too toasty for my tastes.
ASRock H61M-VS Intel H61 Micro ATX Motherboard ($59.99)
The motherboard has the Intel H61 chipset, which is a pretty powerful chip for the money. You can load a maximum of 16 gigabytes of RAM into this board (which we'll talk about in a second) and four SATA 3GB/s slots, which allow you to connect your hard drives and CD drives and such. Best part about this board: it's only $65. It's got all you need for the PC you're building.
Corsair XMS3 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($29.99) -- or only 2GB of RAM ($17.99)
I picked Corsair memory because it's real quality for only 30 bucks. I suggest getting four gigabytes of RAM just so you can comfortably run other programs in the background while you play (e.g., Ventrilo, Teamspeak, Skype, Steam), but if you really need the price drop, you can probably skate by with only two gigabytes of RAM for just $18. If you'd like to keep the four gigabytes but still want the price cut, PNY might be a better choice.
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB Hard drive ($59.99) -- or 320GB ($39.99)
You can't go wrong with this hard drive, especially for $60. With excellent quality and even better customer service, they're the best choice, in my book. However, you may not require the full terabyte of storage, so you can just cut it down to 320GB, but you'll only be putting maximum of $20 back into your pocket.
Asus Radeon HD 6670 1GB Video Card ($94.98) -- or Radeon HD 6570 ($74.98)
Honestly, if you're going to skimp on anything in this computer build, I wouldn't recommend cutting from the video card department. Go with the Radeon HD 6670 ($94.98) or higher. Because Battlefield 3 is such a graphics-intensive game, your video card is effectively the most important part of the computer for gamers because it renders all of the pretty things you see on the screen. If you must cut back, however, I suggest swinging with the Radeon HD 6570 to get the job done for $20 less.
Antec 500W ATX12V Power Supply ($54.09) -- 500W or more recommended
The rest of the stuff is pretty much up to you. I just chose the parts because they were nice, cheap options that you're going to need. I wouldn't go below a 500W power supply, because I was lowballing it in the first place. To be safe, I suggest getting a 600W or 650W power supply instead.
Arctic Silver ($6.41) -- or use the gray paste on the stock fan
As with all computers, you'll also need a thermal compound such as Arctic Silver ($6), which is used to transfer heat from your processor to its heat sink. Unless you're planning on using the miscellaneous gray goop that's already on the stock fan, I highly recommend Arctic Silver for your thermal compound. As I stated in the beginning, you should be able to run Battlefield 3 on moderate settings, and maybe a little higher if you overclock the processor. If you're looking to upgrade this computer, start with the video card; it will provide the most immediate boost to gameplay performance. (This also applies to overclocking: GPU overclocking will often improve performance by 15-30% when done correctly).
Save $560: Original computer comes to $698, economy computer comes to $539.48
So let's do the math: On top of saving $400 from buying from a computer retailer, you can save about $160 more if you want to take a hit in performance, which comes to a grand total of $560 in savings. You might as well slap a 50% discount sticker on retail computers and throw in some free computer training as well. Adding it all together without the price cuts brings us to a slim total of $698, while the cost-reduction build comes to a mind-blowing total of only $539.48. If you've never built a computer before or need some reminders on how to do it and which parts to pick, check out this tutorial or any of the many other guides online.
Battlefield 3 is scheduled to hit stores on October 25, 2011. Will your computer be ready?
edited: 8/1/11 1:45AM EST
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