Razer Mechanical Keyboard Switches - the story so far...
In early 2015, Razer released the Razer BlackWidow Chroma; a gaming keyboard extending the BlackWidow line of mechanical gaming keyboards and, as a primary feature, incorporated for the first time their full RGB backlighting system called ‘Chroma’ which would go on to feature in many re-launches of infamous Razer products.
However, as an important change in this product in terms of performance, Razer also introduced a pair of new switches in replacement to the Cherry MX switches which it had been using on previous editions of the BlackWidow family. This product was the first to utilise the new Razer green ‘clicky’ switches and the Razer orange ‘stealth’ switches (which were in fact modified versions of Kaihua Electronics, also known as Kailh, switches).
Featuring an optimised tactical feel and shorter actuation distance of 1.9mm (i.e. the amount of ‘travel’ distance the key needs to cover before it is registered with the system), the switches were particularly well suited to the role of the keyboard and were dubbed ‘the first mechanical switches specifically designed for gaming’.
However, for many years, gamers considered Kailh switches to be the ‘poor man’s Cherry MX alternative’ and generally tarred Razer switches with the same brush. This statement is a discredit to the extent of the effort Razer undertook with their quality assurance on these new switches which saw them being manufactured on an entirely different production line which a much tighter levels of quality control.
In fact, Razer had taken measures such as ensuring there was a Razer QA presence on-site at the manufacturing facility whose sole purpose was to oversee and manually check production equipment was maintained / re-calibrated several times a day for consistent results. As demonstrated in a test which Tom’s Hardware ran, the evidence clearly showed that the Razer switches clearly won against its Cherry MX and Kailh switches counterparts in terms of manufacturing tolerances, especially in the actuation v.s. reset point accuracy area.
Not content to be branded as ‘2nd best’, in 2016, Razer moved to a dedicated production line for the Blackwidow X onwards and, in doing so, were able to make improvements to the overall quality of the switches by overseeing the end-to-end process at all stages of manufacture.
The new Razer switches first featured on the Blackwidow X and were rated for a durability of 80 million keystrokes which exceeds both the original Razer green switch (60 million keystrokes) and the Cherry MX switches (50 million keystrokes).
Razer have also posted a video of the newer manufacturing process showing the improvements in tolerance and quality control:
However, later in to 2016, Razer performed what we would classify as nearly complete U-Turn in terms of strategy. Due to popular demand, Razer re-introduced the option to choose Cherry MX blue switches for the BlackWidow Ultimate, BlackWidow X Ultimate and BlackWidow X Tournament Editions of the family at a slightly cheaper cost than the Razer switch variants. The flagship Chroma products remained exclusively using the Razer switches however.
We do not know the specifics behind this change of heart but it felt like a backwards step for the company that had invested so much in its own switches and clearing its name that they truly were unique and superior to the competition in the market. We could speculate that a supply problem or manufacturing cost could not yet deal with the demand within lower-end products or perhaps Razer lacked confidence when it came to proven tournament-grade reliability and performance of their own in-house switches?
All this is pure conjecture as we are unlikely to know the true reasoning behind this ‘change of heart’ so-to-speak, however, even with Razer’s in-house switch options, everything wasn’t coming up smelling of roses.
We always got the feeling after talking to our contact in Razer that there had been a frustrating disconnect between engineering and product marketing in terms of having correct switch options available for all variants of the BlackWidow as well as available in different international keyboard layouts.
Want a Razer Blackwidow X with Orange switches in a UK keyboard layout? Forget it…
Over the life-cycle of the family, there have been many discrepancies in terms of the availability of certain configuration options, especially with non-US customers feeling like ‘2nd class citizens’ which has tarnished an otherwise outstanding product.
However, this brings us nicely on to why we calling this the Blackwidow’s ‘renaissance period’ in its development cycle.
With the turn of the new year, at CES 2017, Razer announced the Razer BlackWidow Chroma v2. This product was set to be an enhancement in several areas over the original product (some obvious but many subtle) which we will cover in more detail on the next page, however, one part of the announcement was something we didn’t expect.
Considering Razer’s comment in a bit-tech article which stated:
“Razer says it does not believe in linear switches, but when we asked why it wasn’t also offering tactile Cherry MX Brown switches as an option, we were told that the Razer Silent switch meets this need, and that it’s specifically the Blue switch that those wanting a BlackWidow mainly for typing have been demanding. “
…it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Razer announced the introduction of a new Razer Yellow Switch which is a silent, linear, non-tactile edition to the switch family (similar to a Cherry MX Speed Silver switch) which is exclusively available on the Razer BlackWidow Chroma v2.
For the first time in the product’s history, it really feels like Razer have “all their ducks lined up in a row” as one of our project manager friends likes to say as part of his ‘management BS’ terminology repertoire.
We explore this in more detail on the next page…
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