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Keyboard Brain Acquired

Since I thoroughly regret spending over $500 on games during the various Holiday sales in the end of 2012, I've decided to turn my pocket change to something that endures a bit longer: computer hardware.   (At least until it becomes obsolete.)   First up: a keyboard upgrade, not just any old flimsy peripheral, but something enduring that will likely last me for several systems into the future.


Logitech Wireless Wave Combo MK550 review source: slayernine.

I currently have a Logitech K350 wireless keyboard and its accompanying M705 mouse that were largely bought when I found them on sale in Costco.  I generally like the Logitech brand, but this was an impulse purchase.  This Wireless Wave set works fairly well, but I have grown weary of what happens when the batteries get low on the wireless keyboard: bouts of interrupted keyboard input!   Enough of this "wireless" madness, real men use cords!

Furthermore, if I'm going to eventually turn to being more productive, I could really use a quality typing keyboard.  None of this cheap plastic stuff that bounces off rubber domes.  Oh no, we're talking mechanical keyboards; clicky clacky clacky, baby!

Thus, I turned to what I usually do when buying hardware seriously: I performed some research, and learned quite a bit more about mechanical keyboards than I bargained for!
Cherry MX switch comparison source: GamersEdgeUK

Knowing Your Mechanical Keyboards

This link is essential for learning more about mechanical keyboards.  Of the many kinds of mechanical keyboard switches mentioned there, three switches in particular (made by the same company, Cherry Corporation) would be most pertinent to my needs and the most available:
  • The Cherry MX Blue - This mechanical keyboard switch has two forms of user feedback.  The first is a noise: an initial click when the activation point is reached, and a second (louder) click if the user "bottoms out" the key by mashing it all the way to the bottom.  The second is a tactile sense of resistance reached when the user has activated the key.  The goal of this feedback is to train the users not to simply hammer the keys as hard as possible, but rather tap them lightly, to the minimum needed to activate the key, in order to achieve faster typing speeds and perhaps even greater accuracy.

    Due to the Blue having both kinds of feedback (noise and tactile), it's the prime keyboard for typists, but all this feedback can get in the way of those looking for quick reactions and not wanting to be distracted by their keyboard, such as gamers.   On the other hand, I imagine even a gamer could get used to it in relatively short order.  At 60 cN (centi-Newtons) the Blue requires the greatest finger force to actuate of the three mentioned here.
  • The Cherry MX Brown - This mechanical keyboard switch does not have the extra clicking noises of the Blue, just the "bottoming out" noise that is unavoidable for most keyboards.  It keeps the tactile sense of resistance, however, meaning you should be able to "feel" it when you've activated the key without having to bottom the key out.  At 55 cN, activation requires a medium of force between the three mentioned here, and the Brown is often regarded as a compromise for gamers and typists.
  • The Cherry MX Red - This mechanical keyboard switch has neither of the two forms of user feedback that the MX Blue or MX Brown does.  At 45 cN, it takes the lowest resistance of the three.  In fact, of all the Cherry MX types, the Red is the one most likely have an accidental activation of a key by resting your fingers on it.
Now, according to the average Shawn of gadgetreview keyboard review, it would seem Cherry MX Red is the choice of the master race of typists whose ace hands need not worry about accidentally activating a keyboard that takes a mere 45 cN to activate its keys, nor require any kind of feedback to know when they've reached the actuation point.

I'm not sure I agree.  I think a little feedback is necessary for even skilled typists to keep their skills sharp and remind themselves of the proper actuation point of the particular keyboard they may be using at the given time.  Many others would seem to feel that whether you want to use a Red, Brown, Blue, or whatever else, is going to be a matter of personal preference.

In the end, I opted for the MX Brown.  My brother keeps an irregular sleeping schedule and I should probably avoid the louder noises to be expected from the MX Blue, but I still want a little feedback.  Further, I've experienced the frustration of accidentally activating keys in the past by resting my fingers on them, and I'd like a bit less than that.  However, I'd still like less resistance than the MX Clear, which is essentially a Brown that requires 65 cN of force to activate instead of 55 cN.  (The Clear is also very difficult to find in the consumer keyboard market.)

Some users have claimed they can purchase rubber O-Rings and use them to muffle the bottom "clack" that comes from bottoming out a mechanical key.  That's an option to consider if my brother complains about my transition to a mechanical keyboard.

Switch Decided, Choosing A Specific Implementation

Having made a choice limited my selection of actual keyboards a bit.  There's a great many MX Red keyboards that are geared towards gamers, and MX Blue that are geared towards typists, but MX Brown is one of the least common types.  Even the MX Black (basically an older fashioned kind of key that is very similar to the Red but activates with 60 cN of force) is more common than the Brown is, thanks primarily to the Steelseries 6GV/2, which has been around for awhile and received many accolades.

Thus limited to an MX Brown (and a reasonable budget - I wanted to keep it near or below $100) it basically came down to these choices:
  • CM Storm Quickfire TK - The CM (Cooler Master) Storm brand is interesting in that most of their mechanical keyboards are available in 4 Cherry MX switch types (Black, Blue, Red, and Brown).  There is one exception, that being the Quickfire Rapid, which only has Red switches, no backlighting, nor a numpad.

    The CM Storm Quickfire TK is as short as the Rapid, yet retains the numpad at the cost of the part in between (with the four cursors and the home/end block).  It's fully backlit, supports full n-key rollover (meaning you can mash as many keys as you want at once and they'll all be registered), and still likely found at the sub-$100 range.
  • CM Storm Quickfire Pro - A full-sized keyboard which is only partially backlit on most of the left side.  No frills (such as USB ports or media controls) but it strikes a very competitive price point for a full-sized mechanical keyboard available in 4 switch types, and is the last of the CM Storm brand that can handle full n-key rollover.
  • CM Storm Trigger - A more expensive version of the CM Quickfire Pro, oddly lacking in the full n-key rollover, you can only activate 6 keys at a time.  However, it possesses a separately-powered 2-port USB hub, full back lighting, and 5 macro activation buttons on the left.  I've read that the macro software can be quite unintuitive, and interrupts held down keys when macros are activated, but is otherwise pretty solid.
  • Logitech G710+ - The most expensive of the keyboards I was willing to consider, it was $125 wholly because it was marked down a bit on Amazon.  The MX Cherry switch only comes in Brown, which suits me just fine, and the keyboard has white backlighting (whereas all CM Storm backlighting is in red), six macro buttons, a single USB passthru port, 20-key rollover, and a number of extra media control dials.  Definitely the most fully-featured of the bunch I was looking at.
The honorable mentions could go on for several paragraphs.  For example, the Razer Blackwidow Ultimate, Corsair Vengeance K60 or K90, Gigabyte Aivia Osmium, and Max Keyboard Durandal G1NL are all excellent contenders.  However, most of them were disqualified due to not having the MX Brown switch available on Amazon or being outside of my allotted mechanical keyboard budget.

CM Storm Trigger review source: custompcreview.

In the end, though I almost bought the Logitech G710+ after over-thinking it (because it is a bit less garish looking to my American eyes, blame Swiss engineering) I eventually stuck to my decision to get the CM Storm Trigger because of a few key (hah!) concerns:
  • I do want a full size keyboard, because I just know that sooner or later I'm going to encounter an application that assumes I have either a numpad or the cursors and home/endblock section.
  • I decided I wanted to have a fully backlit keyboard.  Not because I care about backlighting, but because I've found that keys that merely have ink on them tend to rub off in time.  It's not that I often need to look at my keyboard to see what I'm typing, but it's pretty garish when key symbols wear off, and the whole goal here was to get a keyboard that endures.
  • I do not mind not having full rollover.  6-key rollover is just fine for all practical applications with reasonably designed software, no matter how fast of a typist you are.
  • I really don't like extra media controls.  I never use them deliberately, so they only get in the way and are occasionally mashed by accident.
  • I don't trust an unpowered keyboard USB port to be able to push anything more than an unusually-low-power-footprint USB memory stick (especially when backlighting power overhead is a factor).  I rarely ever use USB devices from a keyboard USB port but, when I do, I want them to work!
  • While I generally like Logitech, they made a fatal mistake with my current hardware: the mouse won't stop waking my computer from sleep mode.  I disabled the "wake from sleep mode" option in Control Panel hardware from the mouse, but it just keeps re-enabling itself.  Mice have a tendency to activate from very little vibration in the room, and I'd like my sleep mode to work without having to tiptoe.  I hope transitioning away from Logitech software will fix the issue.
Did I make the right choice by going with the CM Storm Trigger?  Perhaps.  Reviews have been very positive, this one even claiming it superior to the very formidable, nearly-identically featured, Razer Blackwidow.

But whether I chose the right keyboard for me comes down to a fundamental truth: which keyboard is right for a person varies from person to person.

I chose the CM Storm Trigger because it had the features I wanted, and just that.  With any luck, I'll avoid spilling any drinks on it (as mechanical keyboards are quite vulnerable to that) and this keyboard will last me for years.

The Next Step To An Ideal Productive Environment

So I'll have a good keyboard to type up extensive tracts of code for Game Maker (or whatever I'm working in) but who can work with all this racket?!

Ever since I upgraded to this AMD FX-8120 CPU, I've had to deal with the stock heat sink getting rather loud.  However, it's difficult to isolate the specific source of the noise (in fact, even the downstairs laundry room fan has fooled me into thinking it was coming from the computer).  I've learned that running two 3.5" drives in RAID mode can generate quite a bit of vibration, but ever since I tightened the bolts on them I believe this has become less problematic.  I suspect that my power supply unit fan capable of getting rather noisy at times - it may actually buzz like an old neighborhood power transformer, which is weird!  I've got another PSU I could hook up but, considering the last motherboard it was connected to had burnt out, I'm leery to use it just in case the PSU was at fault.

Thus, the next bit of hardware I'm considering is something that cuts down on the noise my computer makes safely while opening me up for potential future upgrades.
Cooler Master MAF XB Review Source: HardwareCanucks

The solution I'm considering is getting a Cooler Master HAF XB, which is an interesting marriage between original aesthetics (which gets my creative side excited) and practicality (which I always appreciate).  An essential part of what makes me think this would be a good upgrade is that this case includes sound dampening rubber pads on the hard drives and the power supply.

About the only trouble I have with the Cooler Master HAF XB is that it only supports two 3 1/2" HDD, and I was thinking of having a RAID 1+0 at some point... but I suppose 2 1/2" HDD are in vogue anyway (as, the last time I went to the local Best Buy, most of the drives for sale were in the 2 1/2" size).

Simultaneously, I want to replace this noisy old CPU power supply with a Seasonic X-Series 650 W Power Supply, which reviews extremely well, and sets me up for later upgrading to more HDD and potentially a second video card running in SLI.  I've determined via a handy online calculator that my fully-upgraded fantasy system (4 HDD, 1 SSD, 2 good VPU in SLI, several fans, a quality sound system, perhaps a PCIe card or two) may take as much as 550W, and so 650W will have me sitting pretty.

Between the new case and PSU upgrade alone, I imagine the sound made by my computer will be reduced significantly.  However, if the noise issue persists, I can look into upgrading my stock CPU fan secure in the knowledge that this case is unusually designed in such a way that should be able to easily accommodate the largest AM3+ heat sinks commercially available.  That's a concern for the distant future: overall, the case and PSU upgrade will cost me $250, not including tax and shipping, and it'll be quite some time until I save up that much.  If only I could return all the games I didn't play and get a refund!  Oh well. 

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