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The best Razer mechanical keyboards for every budget

The best Razer mechanical keyboards for every budget

Razer, as a brand, leaves me with mixed thoughts. It is indisputably dominating the gaming and e-sports scene. Searches for its products are through the roof. Nonetheless, I wonder whether its products live up to the hype. Razer’s marketing and PR budget must be utterly ridiculous. Its lineup is pushed through every major online retail channel, sponsored e-sports teams, and general advertisement campaigns across the web. While I can’t fault Razer for maximizing its profits, it seems like the brand might be compensating for something.

I suppose I should clarify my critical opinion. I think that Razer’s aesthetic improved significantly in the past few years (I still don’t love it), but I’m not fond of its custom switches or material choices. The switches are manufactured in China by third parties, which may include Greetech and Kailh. Razer Greens feel okay, but the rest of their clones don’t measure up in terms of smoothness or press-feel. That has been my experience with most Cherry duplicates, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I’m also not fond of Razer’s tendency to route audio and mic jacks next to USB lines. If a PC has a noisy USB port, that could result in some nasty sounds through the line. The long cables also impact audio quality, as internal cable resistance alters headphones’ frequency response. Most gaming headsets aren’t uber high quality, so general users won’t notice, but people with nice headphones have a high chance of hearing some things that aren’t quite right. It’s a gamble that I wouldn’t be willing to take, frankly.

Razer also makes a few poor material choices in some of their expensive models. Previously, Razer’s lineup featured plastic upper cases. Recent variants, such as the Chroma X, were released with painted non-stainless steel upper plates. That’s an improvement, but steel can have rust issues if its paint is scratched or improperly applied. Your hands exude salt and water when you sweat, so if you rest your palm on a chipped portion (or in a million other scenarios) ugliness could ensue. Corsair and other brands that use brushed/anodized aluminum have an advantage in material quality. Stainless steel could overcome that, but only at great expense.

In short, I recommend exploring the market before settling on a Razer keyboard. If one of their models offers aesthetic or functional features (most of their models feature USB passthrough ports) that you can’t find elsewhere, go ahead and get one. This is my opinion, after all, and opinions vary widely.

With that out of the way, let’s look at Razer’s product line. We’ll move from cheap to expensive (based on Razer’s web store pricing and a few checks on Amazon). Shop around on different sites to ensure that you’re getting the best deal.

Razer Blackwidow X Tournament Edition

 

Pros Cons
Portable tenkeyless footprint Some users may miss backlighting
Steel upper case Steel isn’t the best case material
Standard bottom row Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

This bare bones model is only available via Razer’s web store. It dumps backlighting and Razer’s in house switches, opting for Cherry MX Blues instead. It keeps the metal construction of its more expensive relatives, so if you don’t mind the lack of backlighting and don’t care for Razer switches this may be a good option. If you need backlighting and want to keep the metal upper case, you’ll need to jump straight to the X Tournament Chroma. This model competes with the Corsair K65, which can be found in our Corsair roundup.

It hasn’t really been reviewed, so we’ll just roll with the fact that it’s similar to the X Tournament Edition Chroma. You can read a generic review at PCmag or an enthusiast’s wall of text at geekhack.

Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition

Pros Cons
Portable tenkeyless footprint Some users may miss backlighting
Removable cable Nonstandard bottom row
Plastic case is fairly durable Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

The Blackwidow Tournament Edition sports Razer switches and a plastic upper shell. It doesn’t look as hefty as the X keyboard line, but it’s still substantial enough to pass muster. A removable cable is the only real redeeming feature here. The nonstandard bottom row means that replacement keycaps will be tough to find. The old Razer keyboard font isn’t to everyone’s taste, so I’m sure many people will be disappointed by that shortcoming.

CPCR has a great review up — read it before buying this keyboard.

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Razer Ornata Expert

Pros Cons
It’s relatively inexpensive Cost:benefit ratio is poor
Backlighting can be useful Switches are “meh”
Less key travel than true mechs Keycaps aren’t MX mount

The Razer Ornata is technically a mechanical keyboard, as it uses metal leaves to create tactility. That said, it is a membrane and rubber dome based keyboard. Its keycaps aren’t MX mount. The net result is a keyswitch that feels “meh” when compared with other mechanical boards. Its switches have a bit less travel than most mechanical variants, but that is offset by the fact that one must bottom out to register a key press. It should also be slightly quieter than most mechanical switches.

Frankly, I wouldn’t recommend this keyboard unless you’re desperate to buy a Razer branded full size and save every penny that you can. Other standard-layout backlit mechanical keyboards with Cherry clone switches are available for significantly less than the Razer Ornata Expert.

Kotaku has a passable review up (since you apparently insist on knowing more about this monstrosity).

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Razer Blackwidow Expert 2014

Pros Cons
Macro keys, if you need them Some users may miss backlighting
Plastic case is relatively durable Switches are “meh”
USB passthrough The keycaps have issues

The 2014 version of the Blackwidow Expert uses Razer switches, if you like them, and macro keys that were deleted from the modern Blackwidow. I’m skeptical about macro keys in general, but they’re present if you need them. The keycaps are the biggest issue I see on this board. They aren’t doubleshot (painted and etched, I think), the bottom row is nonstandard, and the font screams gamer. If you don’t mind those caveats, this is a relatively cheap Razer full size that could meet your needs.

The 2014 Expert is the 2014 Ultimate less backlighting, so it’s easiest to read a review about the latter.

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Razer Blackwidow Ultimate 2014

Pros Cons
Macro keys, if you need them It’s an aging model line
It has backlighting Switches are “meh”
USB passthrough The keycaps have issues

This is essentially the Blackwidow Expert ’14 with backlighting. It has macro keys, which you may or may not need. Macro keys aren’t present on modern Blackwidows, so that could be useful for you. The keycaps on this keyboard are subpar. They aren’t doubleshot, the bottom row is nonstandard, and the gamer font is strong. If those issues (maybe they aren’t issues for you) don’t scare you away, this provides (at least at its current price) a slightly less expensive way to get a full size Razer ‘board.

Anandtech wrote a solid review, which includes a teardown.

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Razer Ornata Chroma

Pros Cons
Sort-of inexpensive RGB Cost:benefit ratio is poor
Backlighting can be useful Switches are “meh”
Less key travel than true mechs Keycaps aren’t MX mount

Slap some additional lighting into the Ornata Expert and this is the result. It’s an RGB keyboard that costs a hair less than good mechanical versions, and that marks its only redeeming feature. Razer charges a premium for the lighting, as Corsair doesn’t have a competing per-key RGB backlit semi-mechanical keyboard.

You can pick up keyboards with Cherry clone switches and RGB backlighting for less, though the lighting configuration options might not be as in-depth. If you can stomach worse lighting configuration options, the clone switches will deliver a better typing and gaming experience. Razer mecha-membrane switches, which are only mechanical by technicality, require bottom out to activate. That’s not ideal.

Before you decide to buy this, read a review at Tom’s Hardware. It might save you some pain.

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Razer Blackwidow X Ultimate

Pros Cons
Improved aesthetic Nonstandard bottom row
Steel upper case Steel isn’t the best case material
Switch choices Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

This is the newest Blackwidow Ultimate. In my opinion, the Ultimate’s appearance is greatly improved in comparison to its predecessors’. You can select Razer Green switches or MX Blues, which is a nice touch. The latter are only available via Razer’s web store, though. My only concern about the new X line involves rust. A few early buyers reported issues with improperly applied paint, which seems to have been ironed out. Nonetheless, scratches could lead to rust in a number of different scenarios.

This is a monochromatic Blackwidow X Chroma, so we’ll jump straight to a review of the higher end model.

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Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Classic

Pros Cons
Blue backlighting is different Nonstandard bottom row
Macro keys, if you need them High price, old product
USB passthrough Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

It’s pretty cool to see a Razer product with something other than neon green backlighting. This is the web store exclusive 2014 version of Razer’s Blackwidow with different monochromatic backlighting and (at the time of this article’s release) a free branded bag, which has green accents. This is a good choice if you don’t mind the gamer font, the aging product, or the premium that you pay to get something with blue backlighting.

I think this keyboard’s price is problematic. Razer should mark keyboards with its in-house switches down deeply, as its margins are much higher on such models. This one in particular, as it involved zero R&D cost. The Classic is priced above $100 — far too much for a refresh, even with the bag thrown in as a band-aid.

It’s exactly the same as a 2014 Ultimate, less the different backlighting, so the same review will do the trick.

Razer Blackwidow Ultimate 2016

Pros Cons
Switch choices Nonstandard bottom row
Improved aesthetic Value isn’t there
Plastic case is fairly durable Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

Ditching the macro keys improved the Blackwidow line’s looks significantly, and a few other tweaks (excepting a font change) finalized the deal. The issue with this particular model: it sits at an awkward price point, though it often drops below MSRP. The Blackwidow X Ultimate, featuring a metal upper case, is available in MX Blue switches in the Razer web store.  I’m not sure what Razer was thinking with a greater than $100 price point, but it seems like the market is adjusting.

Vortez has a review up that, as usual, is filled with useful details.

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Razer Blackwidow X Tournament Edition Chroma

Pros Cons
Standard bottom row No switch choices
Steel case upper Potential rust
RGB lighting Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

This is the least expensive way to get non-membrane based RGB lighting from Razer. I sincerely appreciate the standard bottom row, as replacement keycaps will be easy to find. Translucent legends that aren’t gamer-ish can be tough to source, but it’s still way easier than dealing with odd sizes. In fact, buying a cheap keyboard for replacement caps isn’t out of the question. If you don’t mind the stock caps, which have a much improved font, there isn’t even a need.

The newest Razer keyboards have different lighting effects, which is cool. I’m saddened by the lack of switch options, but that’s inconsequential. I think this keyboard offers significantly better value than Corsair’s RGB tenkeyless ‘boards if you don’t mind clicking away on Razer Greens. Finally, Razer definitely needs to rethink its naming conventions. This particular keyboard, less its brand, uses 38 characters in its title. Phew!

You can find a generic review at PCmag or an enthusiast’s wall of text at geekhack.

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Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition Chroma

Pros Cons
Standard bottom row No switch brand choices
Plastic case is fairly durable Nonstandard bottom row
RGB lighting Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

The Tournament Edition Chroma is another Razer keyboard with a price that doesn’t make sense to me. With that out of the way, it loses the standard bottom row offered by the X Tournament. The keycaps still use a gamer font, which may not appeal to everyone. It also drops the choice between Cherry MX and Razer switches, which is unfortunate. Regardless, it won’t suffer when compared to its competitors in raw lighting ability.

Vortez posted another detailed review, which is valuable even with some iffy writing.

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Razer Blackwidow X Chroma

Pros Cons
USB pass through Nonstandard bottom row
Steel case upper Potential rust
RGB lighting Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

In an unfortunate move, Razer seems to have ditched switch choices in the their high end X lineup. A nonstandard bottom row will make aftermarket keycaps sets difficult to source, though the improved font makes that less troublesome. Rust, as usual, is a concern with painted steel plates. If you want full size RGB backlighting from Razer, this is the cheapest good mechanical option. The Ornata is there, but its dome and membrane + leaf switches won’t compare with proper Cherry-style variants.

Once again, Vortez boasts the most detailed and grammatically incorrect text review on the web.

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Razer Blackwidow Chroma v1

Pros Cons
Variety of Razer switches Nonstandard bottom row
Macro keys are present Expensive for no good reason
RGB lighting Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

I cannot recommend this keyboard over the v2. If you like the gamer font, perhaps, it may be worth your time and money. Otherwise, pick up the iterative update. You’ll get a wrist rest, a greater switch selection, better lighting transitions, and updated fonts. The v2 costs slightly more in retail and web store settings, so if you are absolutely strapped for cash and feel a primal need for the Razer Chroma, I suppose this is your best option.

Check out our review to learn more.

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Razer Blackwidow Chroma v2

Pros Cons
Variety of Razer switches Nonstandard bottom row
Macro keys are present Wrist rests aren’t for typists
RGB lighting Keycaps aren’t doubleshot

New lighting effects, a lower price, a wrist rest, and a massively improved font help this refresh stand apart from its predecessor (the v1). While they may share some design similarities, the visual impact is completely different. The v1 screams gamer. The v2 takes a different tack. “I can game and be classy too, you know.”

I don’t like the aesthetic personally, but I can respect the sharp lines and black finish. Other features have questionable utility, such as the macro keys, but if you’re shelling out for a premium model they don’t hurt anything. The wrist rest is nice for long gaming sessions, but typists shouldn’t use it regularly. Setting one’s wrists down while typing on a standard keyboard is an ergonomic nightmare.

Kitguru provides the best review here, though it errs on the side of being short.

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Razer’s best keyboard?

Just like in the Corsair article I wrote last week, there isn’t really a single best keyboard in Razer’s lineup. Every gamer has different needs, particularly when it comes down to things like macro keys and backlighting, individual preference reigns supreme. I do think two models stand out, though. Razer’s tenkeyless Blackwidow X Tournament and Blackwidow X Tournament Chroma offer features that I haven’t seen from other “big” brands in the peripheral business. Namely, they have standard bottom rows and reasonable prices.

The X Tournament Chroma is particularly noteworthy, as its pricing and RGB lighting place it in line to compete with Corsair’s K65 RGB models. The latter can be tough to find, and when they are in stock they tend to be significantly more expensive. In addition, the nonstandard bottom row places Corsair’s K65 at a disadvantage in the enthusiast market. People who have a number of keycap sets laying about will be able to pop them onto a Razer board without breaking a sweat. Corsair models, on the other hand, feature a nonstandard bottom row. That isn’t an issue for everyday users and gamers that compose the majority of the market. Nonetheless, opening the segment to big spending enthusiasts certainly won’t hurt Razer’s bottom line.

Neither Razer keyboard offers linear switches, which is a bit of a downer. One simply has a choice between brands. MX Blues populate the lower end Tournament and Razer Greens fill out the Chroma. I can’t blame Razer for pushing their switches in high end models, but a choice (even if it was only among Razer switches) would have provided additional utility for gamers. Not everyone likes to game with clicky switches due to hysteresis and tactility interfering with rapid keypresses. Razer attempts to mitigate that with their green switches, but their fixes aren’t entirely effective.

Buy on Amazon   Read user reviews

 

Feel free to ask questions/provide input via social media or this site’s comment system. Have fun shopping!

Image credits: Feedbaac | Bestofmicro | Razer | Featured: Gamecrate

 

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About The Author
Alec DeVries
The siren song of mechanical keyboards drew me in some time ago. Now I'm an active user on Deskthority and a writer here at GoMK.
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