Posted by Chris Scott Barr on Feb 24, 2011

Review – Thermaltake Challenger Pro Keyboard

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Thermaltake has been branching out from their previous offerings related to PC cases, cooling and power supplies. We’ve already shown you a couple of their gaming peripherals in the Tt eSPORTS line. Today we have a second gaming keyboard, dubbed the Challenger Pro.

The Challenger line of keyboards currently comes in three flavors: regular, pro and Ultimate. We have the middle of the road, which only loses 2 macro keys, audio jacks and the ability to change the color of the backlight. Otherwise the Pro appears to be nearly identical to the Ultimate.

Some of the notable features include an adjustable red backlight, 10 customizable keys, a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a hand fan. That’s right, there is a removable fan that will blow air onto one of your hands. We’ll touch more on that later. Thermaltake also includes the necessary software for customizing your keys, along with a bit of on-board memory to store your profiles.

You’re also going to find spare W,A,S and D keys (colored red, instead of black like the other keys) which is a nice touch. First, the red color makes them stand out a bit. Second, there may very well come a day where you’ll want to replace those four keys simply because you’ve worn them down. My favorite little touch is that you can replace both Windows keys with non-functioning dummy keys. After all, nothing ruins a game of Team Deathmatch like accidentally hitting the Windows key.

The first thing I’ll jump into is the hand fan. While an interesting idea, it really doesn’t do much for me. The amount of airflow is limited, so I don’t always even notice that it’s there. Cooling down a sweaty hand between matches is nice, but I think that if Thermaltake decides to keep this feature around, they might consider not only giving it a little more airflow, and a way to adjust the fan’s positioning. As it is now, you can pick between a spot at the far left or far right of the keyboard, and it only swivels to the left and right. Of course, if you’re using a keyboard tray, there’s a good chance that you’ll not be able to use the fan at all, unless the tray is extended fully (and then you’ll have to be careful not to accidentally push it in and break the thing). When not using it, the fan stores inside of the keyboard at the back.

The software that is provided is pretty straightforward as far as most gaming keyboards go. You’ll be able to customize your 10 keys with any macro you like. I like that they do give you the ability to specify the delay between each action, down to 1/10th of a second. For those that set up complex macros, you will certainly appreciate this. You can also assign those keys to default Windows actions such as Cut, Copy, Paste, Save and others. My favorite is the Launch feature. This allows you to assign a piece of software to one of the macro keys. Then, with a touch of the button, you’ll open whatever program is associated with it.

There is a timer in the keyboard software, which acts more like stopwatch than a timer. It will only tell you how long you’ve been playing. I’d like to see a timer that acts as an alarm, that way you can be notified after a certain period or at a specific time. You’ll also be able to control the backlight and up to 4 profiles here. Don’t worry though, there are dedicated keys that will cycle through each profile, as well as control the brightness of the backlight.

I spend a lot of time writing, so I’ve had a good bit of time to test this keyboard as a standard typing tool. After all, for someone like me who uses the same machine to work and game, I don’t want to be swapping out peripherals twice (or more) a day. The keys are placed rather low, and close together, which can take a little bit of getting used to. That being said, after a few days with the Challenger, I was typing just as well as my trusty mechanical keyboard. Granted, I’ll always prefer a mechanical keyboard to one that isn’t, but I have no problems with my day-to-day typing on this one.

When it comes to gaming, I’d say that I like the low profile and closeness of the keys. After all, the less you have to move your fingers, the better. There is a small period of adjustment, like most peripherals, but after a few hours of gaming it up, you’ll be right on track. Surprisingly, the two features on this keyboard that I took advantage of most are the backlight and red W,A,S, D keys. As I said above, the fan didn’t do too much for me, and I did have to take it off because I’m using a keyboard drawer. The macro keys are placed at the left and right edges of the keyboard, and I just didn’t find more than a couple of them easy enough to hit to do much good. At no point did I find a good use for the ones lining the right side, as my mice always have enough buttons to keep that hand busy.

Overall, the Challenger Pro fell about in the middle of other gaming keyboards I’ve tested. It has some interesting ideas like the hand fan that need some tweaking before I think they will be good enough to really consider a reason to buy it. However, for a $70 gaming keyboard with backlit keys, I’d still say it’s worth the money. From other backlit keyboards in the same price range, you could do a lot worse.

Written by Chris Scott Barr

Born and raised in Indiana, Chris grew up on a healthy diet of video games and Magic: The Gathering. He worked a number of jobs in the IT field before deciding to pursue his passion by founding GamerFront in 2007. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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