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#1 12/22/10 8:03 PM

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http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/intro.jpg
One of the most important modern tools (in terms of input / output), the computer keyboard, is oft-overlooked when consumers purchase new, or upgrade their existing computer hardware and peripherals. This is rather unfortunate, because when most individuals spend the majority of their day using said tool, for either work, education, or even entertainment, they relegate themselves to a sub-par typing experience; one rife with mushy, imprecise key actuations. Fortunately, there is a viable and superior alternative; one that finds its roots in yesteryear's IBM Model M buckling spring keyboard (an item that is still coveted amongst "switch-thusiasts"). That alternative technology, the mechanical, non-dome switch keyboard has seen a miraculous resurgence in usage during the past few years; in hacking, programming, and even gaming circles. And, at the forefront of that movement is Das Keyboard, a company that began in 2005 as a blank keyboard manufacturer, who in 2008 wanted to create the ultimate keyboard, with n-key rollover and incredibly high-quality Cherry switches. Yet, with almost every mainstream keyboard on the market using dome switches and most individuals having zero experience with a mechanical keyboard (let alone knowing what "n-key rollover" means), is the monetary investment worth the potential return? Read on to find out if Das Keyboard's Model S Professional is not only a touch-typist's dream keyboard, but also has enough appeal and usability to break through to the mainstream consumer.

Specifications:

• Glossy black upper enclosure with matching black USB cable - Darth Vader approved
• Two-port USB hub 1.1 and 2.0 compatible
• Blue LEDs
• Extra long two-meter (6.6-foot) USB cable
• Dimensions: 18in x 6.5in x 1in (thickest portion, feet not extended, 1.5in w/ extended feet)
• Weight: 1.36 kg (3 lbs)
• Compatible with PS/2 and USB KVM switches.

Features:

• Cherry MX blue mechanical key switches with gold contacts (clicky tactile)
• Laser-etched key cap inscriptions to prevent fading
• Full n-key rollover with a PS2 adapter, and 6 keys with USB
• Enhanced 104-key layout
• Two Windows keys
• Limited one year warranty, 30 day full refund
Das Keyboard's Product Page
Price: $129.00 @ Das Keyboard

The Packaging:

http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/boxfronts.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/boxbacks.jpg
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Straightforward, clean, and descriptive would be the best way to describe Das Keyboard's slick and minimalist packaging. The front of the white box (which, by the way, was quite fun to photograph), features a mesmerizing product shot of the top of the keyboard in all of its glory - the perfectly reflective acrylic finish and haunting blue LED indicators make for a striking first impression of the product. The red band that accentuates the top left of the keyboard, contrasts the keyboard's chin and quickly draws attention to the product name without diminishing the product itself. On the back of the box is another impressive photograph (my complements to the product photography studio and the graphic designer), a quick blurb emphasizing the "German-engineered, gold-plated, and slightly clicky mechanical key switches," information regarding the onboard USB 2.0 hub, cable length, and finally a quote from Daniel Guermeur, the product's creator. I'm glad that Daniel is "excited to share" his "uncompromising keyboard" with us. But, it would have been nice to see more technical information outlined on the back. While this product usually isn't stocked on mainstream retail shelves, technical specifications are always important.

Inside the Packaging:

http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/insideboxs.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/includeds.jpg
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Thankfully, Das Keyboard decided to make the entire unit one solid, thick cardboard box. They didn't put a slipcover over a thin internal box like most companies do with their packaging - which means the Das Keyboard will arrive safe and sound due to structural integrity. Once you've popped open the tab on the front of the cardboard box, you will find the Das Keyboard itself impressively contained within a securely fitted cardboard cavity, stuck inside of a foam bag, and affixed with a cellophane static sheet. The Das Keyboard is amazingly protected, which is great considering the delicate acrylic front plate.

Once you're ready to remove the Das Keyboard unit, you will find that the dual USB cable (with PS2 adapter) is neatly tied and placed within the rear compartment of the cutout. Das Keyboard has also included a small black microfiber cloth for polishing the unit and a small manual that covers the basic technical and support information. The cloth is an excellent addition, and I'm glad to see such a simple and forward manual. Also positive is Das Keyboard's lack of software - plug-in-play for a peripheral is always preferred.

The Das Keyboard Itself:

http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/unitfronts.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/unitbacks.jpg
(Click images to increase size)


Following the Das Keyboard tradition, the Model S Professional is impressively slick, modern, and entirely minimalist. The unit is impressively solid at the advertised three pound weight; it definitely won't move around or slip on any desk surface. And, to ensure steady typing, the back of the unit has four thick protective pads. Also on the back are two sturdy plastic risers, which allow for increased keyboard height. The matte black, carefully laser etched keys look great in contrast to the reflective black acrylic border. Most importantly, however, unlike with the printed keys on most keyboards, these keys look like their lettering definitely will not fade. It is wise to note, however, that the acrylic will absolutely smudge, attract plenty of oil from fingers, and if you're not careful could crack or scratch (due to the brittle nature of the material in question). Even with the included micro fiber cloth, you'll want to keep this keyboard protected from other users and be extremely cautious of accidents. I, personally, would have preferred thick, matte black plastic reminiscent of other, older mechanical keyboards; but, to each his or her own. Also, I will note something in regards to the build quality. Being that it isn't a ten pound, all metal IBM keyboard, it does have a few slight flexing issues at the plastic seams. I blame this entirely on the cheaper plastic that is used on the backside of the chassis; it would be nice to see this replaced with a much sturdier material. Fortunately, the typing space is incredibly sturdy and rigid; in that regard, I'm merely nitpicking.

Also, I would like to mention something regarding ergonomics. This keyboard is definitely not ergonomic out of the gate. It comes with no wrist rest, and the plastic edge merely ends abruptly. Fortunately, the unit is the perfect size (both width and height) to be used with any one of the inexpensive "ergobead" wrist rest products on the market. I do not advise using a gel filled or solid leather wrist rest, as they are often counter intuitive. I personally own a bead wrist rest, and it makes the typing experience on a mechanical keyboard absolutely incredible (that's how I can type out all of these fantastic, but superfluous adjectives).

http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/frontrights.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/siderights.jpg
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I'm usually not a big fan of extraneous USB hubs being added in an unwarranted fashion to any and all devices. But I will, however, complement Das Keyboard on at least adding the feature correctly. As you saw previously, there are two USB cables. One USB cable is exclusively used for the USB hub, which means that the two units function independently of each other. I don't advise plugging anything beefier than the occasional USB flash drive in the side, but being located on the right (near the “mousing” space for most users) even that might be incredibly awkward and cumbersome. Yet, there is one definitely impressive feature of the USB hub. It is actual full speed, powered USB 2.0, which means unlike almost all other keyboard based USB hubs, the aforementioned flash drives will run at absolute full speed, making it actually viable. It is also important to note that you must use the PS2 adapter (for the keyboard's male USB plug) to utilize the incredible "full n-key rollover" feature. Otherwise, you will be limited to 6-key rollover through USB. Thankfully though, Das Keyboard listened to users and that dual USB cable is impressively long, making it suitable for all configurations (unlike a lot of less expensive, new mechanical keyboards).

http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/unitswitchs.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/dasprokb/unitlefts.jpg
(Click images to increase size)


Removing the key caps that cover each of the switches is a relatively easy and straight-forward process. Using little leverage, I removed the escape key cap by plying the base of the key cap with a small flat head screw driver covered with electrical tape (the tape prevents any sort of physical damage to the components). Das Keyboard elected to use the Cherry MX Blue switch; designated as being a "click tactile" that boasts over 50 million actuations versus a dome switch keyboard's 10-20 million. If you are interested in more technical specifications regarding the actual switch, you can find them at Cherry's website.

Unlike yesteryear's mechanical keyboards, that use large buckling springs, there isn't quite enough resistance to prevent the keys from bottoming out (reaching the absolute furthest depth of key travel). Fortunately, different from other mechanical switch designs, it is possible to rest weight on each key cap without accidentally typing. But, there is a definite increase in mechanical precision and accuracy that requires some adjustment. I would also like to explain the aforementioned "click tactile" designation. This means that the Cherry MX Blue switches both provide full mechanical feedback while also emitting an audible sound (different from the "quiet" Cherry MX Browns). They certainly won't be as loud as a buckling spring, but if you are in a small office or dorm, you might want to consider the silent model, as the Blues will definitely agitate cohabitants.

Testing:

Unfortunately, there are no real benchmarks that can be run in this scenario, and being that I am a huge fan of mechanical keyboards, you will have to take my word for the slight bias that it may have. In that same vein, however, I have extensive experience with both older buckling spring keyboards and newer mechanical switch keyboards, making my word definitely worthwhile for someone interested in this particular product.

The Cherry MX Blue switches, while definitely louder than the ALPS clones and Cherry MX Brown switches that are on the market, aren't nearly as loud as older keyboards, so if you've got a large enough environment, noise absolutely will not be a problem. I quickly recorded a video displaying the typing action and sound in a small dorm room for reference:


Compared to my ABS M1 (this particular keyboard uses ALPS clones), the Das Keyboard bottoms out faster, but when actually typing, the key presses feel infinitely more responsive and accurate. I'd also like to note that my ABS M1 has fixed rollover and when using PS2 on the Das Keyboard while playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2, everything felt impressively quick and fluid. Sometimes when using other keyboards multiple, fast key presses would fail to register, resulting in either misspellings or me wrecking my kill / death ratio - this is definitely not a problem with the Das Keyboard. And, even compared to other keyboards I own, I found during long typing stints (say, while working on this review), I felt much less mechanical fatigue which provided some sort of "pseudo-ergonomic" advantage. But, honestly though, I dare you to open up a notepad document and test to see how many simultaneous key presses will register; the Das Keyboard makes typing almost unbelievably smooth and puts most "gaming" specific keyboards to shame.

Verdict:

I'm a firm believer in the beneficial experience that is provided via mechanical keyboards. And, while most individuals have displayed skepticism when I have mentioned my ABS M1, the Das Keyboard Model S Professional, or my obsession with the IBM Model M13, once I've had said individual actually try a mechanical keyboard for a few minutes, they too begin to realize how advantageous owning a mechanical keyboard really is. The price is steep, but considering the quality and performance that you are getting, it becomes a relatively inexpensive investment. Mechanical keyboards have made my writing, programming, and gaming experience vastly better. And, when a lot of consumers can justify paying a hundred dollars for an ultra mushy keyboard that has a minuscule LCD provide minor statistics like computer uptime and kill / death ratios (said products shall remain nameless), paying slightly more to gain unlimited key rollover (something that not all keyboards, even mechanical have) and an incredible, tactile typing experience is absolutely worthwhile. I only recommend that skeptics first try purchasing an older (see Goodwill / eBay) or lower-end mechanical keyboard (ALPS clone switches) before they make the jump, because once they do, they'll definitely want better mechanical switches. But, one thing is for certain, if you are looking at a mechanical keyboard, the Das Keyboard Model S Professional is one heck of a product that will satisfy seasoned touch typists and mainstream consumers alike.

Positives:
Full n-key rollover while using PS2
Unbelievably comfortable to type on
The USB cable is the perfect length
Impressive tactile feel
Laser etched key caps
Full USB 2.0 hub

Neutral Ground:
Still somewhat pricey compared to even other Cherry MX Blue keyboards
Noisier than a lot of other mechanical options, but that comes with the territory

Negatives:
Acrylic scratches easily
Would have liked to see better plastic on the rear of the unit

Thanks go to Das Keyboard for the opportunity to take a look at the Model S Professional!

 
 
 

12/22/10 8:03 PM

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