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Hardware Review: Razer Tarantula

Hardware Guru Jeremy Star takes a look at the Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard for our finger-tapping education!

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To break up the enormous glut of mice and mice-related reviews I have been doing, I thought it would be nice to get another "gaming" keyboard and put it through its paces. This month, Razer was nice enough to send over the Tarantula keyboard so we could see how well it works with MMORPGs.

Queue the paranoia and get out your tinfoil hats, it's time to review another Razer product.

The Hardware - Spider-keyboard, spider-keyboard, doing the things that...er....

The Razer Tarantula is a USB keyboard. It features Anti-Ghosting technology, allowing for up to 10 keystrokes at a time without signal failure; Onboard profile memory, so that you can use the keyboard on any PC and still have access to your setup; 1000Mhz Ultrapolling, for a maximum 1ms delay between keystroke and reaction; and On-The-Fly-Profile switching.

The Tarantula also has two low power USB ports for plugging in additional peripherals, gold plated USB connectors for fast transfer speeds and making rap stars jealous, and headphone and microphone jacks so you don't have to reach behind your PC for sound card connections anymore. You will also find 10 programmable keys as well as the ability to switch keys with special gaming keys that have little gaming pictures on them, and the Battledock for add on accessories.

The Technology - Where's the Web Fluid go?

The onboard 32KB Razer Synapse memory is responsible for allowing you to set up profiles and store them on the keyboard itself, letting you bring your keyboard to a friend's house and set it up without worrying about reloading all of your saved configurations.

Like most of their mice, the Tarantula uses 1000Mhz Ultrapolling to ensure that the data from the keyboard reaches your PC in 1ms. Normal keyboards can take up to 8ms.

Also, like their mice, the Razer tarantula can be set up with multiple profiles, so roommates don't have to argue over the keyboard, or so that you can set it up different ways for different games.

Lastly, at the top of the Tarantula is the Battledock. Basically it's an expansion port where Razer add-ons for the Tarantula keyboard are supposed to plug in.

Appearance - Blue and Red or Black?

The Tarantula is set up pretty much like a standard keyboard as far as the normal keys are concerned. You have the QWERTY set up on the left, the standard Insert-Page Down in the middle right (except the Insert key isn't there), and the numpad keys to the far right. The function keys, escape key, and the various lock keys are pretty standard, with the exception of the Insert key being next to Scroll Lock rather than in the normal spot, and there is a Profile key above the Home and End keys. To the right and left of the normal keys, there are five programmable keys, for a total of 10 on the entire keyboard. To the far right are the media control keys, and to the far left are some zoom, sleep, and Internet keys.

All of the keys are black with white lettering, with the exception of the programmable keys and the profile keys, which are black with blue backlighting. Those are the only keys that are backlit. Also, the keys are much flatter than a normal desktop keyboard, bringing to mind the sort of flat layout that laptop keyboards possess. The rest of the keyboard is a shiny, black plastic, except for the wrist rest, which is more of a black satin with a pulsing, blue Razer symbol in the middle.

The whole thing looks very sharp for exactly five minutes after you take it out of the package, at which point all the dust in the surrounding environment will immediately attach itself to the keyboard and make it look dirty no matter how often you clean it. Also, fingerprints show up incredibly well on the shiny plastic, and are equally impossible to stave off.

Performance - Spins a web, something...something...

The Razer Tarantula works fairly well with MMORPGs. I gave it a spin with World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and the Tabula Rasa beta. The keys not only look like laptop keys, but they feel like them as well - a much shorter depress and much less resistance than a normal keyboard. Some people may not like this, but I am comfortable with laptop keyboards and normal keyboards, so it didn't bother me. There is no noticeable lag between keystroke and action, although I haven't seen such lag with any of the other keyboards I have used either. The built in wrist rest does an adequate job of preventing wrist strain, although a gel rest probably would have been better than the hard plastic.

The ability to create macros and bind them to the programmable keys is pretty nice. I had no trouble learning how to create several macros for WoW and binding them to keys. In no time I was plonking down four totems with a single keystroke. In LotRO, I was able to chain together several abilities and execute with one swift click. Using the profile button, I was able to select different sets of macros for each game without reprogramming. The programmable keys are also easy to see in the dark due to the backlighting.

The media keys work fine for Windows Media Player as well as other video and audio applications. They feel more like buttons on a CD or DVD player than keyboard buttons, but they are still easy to use.

Conclusion - Arachnid dominance, or squishy goo-on-shoe?

Let me start by saying that I have a problem with "gaming" keyboards that don't really cater much to gamers. I've seen a lot of "gaming" keyboards that think adding a few macro buttons and some pretty lights makes them the king of the input world for gamers. How does the tarantula stack up?

What I think of it:

The regular retail price of the Razer Tarantula is $99 US. That's a pretty hefty price tag for a keyboard, so one would think one would be getting a super sexy gaming keyboard with all sorts of nifty extras. One would be sadly mistaken.

For what amounts to 100 bucks, you get 11 keys with backlighting. Do you want to see the rest of the keys in the dark? Well then, Razer would like you to fork over another $20 US for the BattleLight accessory, which you can plug in to the BattleDock to illuminate your keyboard. There are two major issues with this: 1 - For $100 US, all of the keys should already be backlit, or the Battlelight should come with the keyboard and 2 - You can't even buy the BattleLight if you want to. It's simply not available yet, months after the keyboard was released.

The Tarantula falls squarely in the category of "gaming" keyboards that really aren't. No keys have been arranged to make gaming easier a la the Zboard Merc. There is no special display to throw up information on so that you can save monitor real estate for the game. They basically tacked on some macro keys and called it a day. Yes, the short keythrow is different and some people may really like that, but not for the price. Yes, you can take out any key and replace it with another key, or with one of the special "gaming" keys with little gaming pictures that can be backlit. It just doesn't justify the price.

Also, as I mentioned before, it looks dirty almost all the time. It just acts like a dirt and oil magnet. You can spend almost as much time cleaning this as you can playing games on it.

Who I think can benefit the most:

If you absolutely have to have a desktop covered with nothing but Razer products, this is for you. If you need to brag to others about how much you spent on your keyboard, or if you need the added desktop bling, this is for you.

Pretty much everyone else can get more keyboard for less from another company.

Final Thoughts:

Don't get me wrong, I don't think Razer is a bad company - I've loved pretty much everything they have given me to review - I just think they made poor design choices with this keyboard.

If they cut the price quite a bit, add full backlighting and more macro keys, they may have a solid keyboard, but as it stands now, it's just an average keyboard that is commanding an above average price.

Overall, the Razer Tarantula gets 5 aching arachnids out of 10.

Pros

Cons

  • Short key depress
  • Nice macro abilities
  • Looks sharp
  • Too much buck, not enough bang
  • Not many gaming features
  • Isn't fully backlit
  • Accessories aren't available

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