E-Sports: it’s a wave taking over the PC gaming industry. Whether you’re an aspiring pro or a weekend warrior who’s never watched a stream in his life, you’ve heard of the filled arenas and millions of dollars in prize money. To play with the best, you need to be equipped with the best. Today, we’re looking at a new keyboard from BenQ Zowie, tailor made for e-Sports players and aspiring pros. Does it live up to its own e-Sports aspirations? This is our review of the BenQ Zowie Celeritas II.
- MSRP: $129.99
- Interface: USB + PS2
- Key Switch: Flaretech Optical (linear)
- Key Travel: 1.9mm
- Actuation Force: 33g initial, 55g +/- peak
- Polling Rate: 1000Hz (default)
- N-Key Rollover: Yes
- Real Time Response: 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x over PS/2
- Illumination: Red LED Backlit
- Size (cm): 44.2 x 17 x 3.8
- Weight (kg): 1.89
The first thing to know about the Celeritas II is that it’s a purpose-driven peripheral. It’s made for ultra-fast inputs and reliability every step of the way. To that end, this isn’t a board to be looking to for frills. There’s no RGB or garrish “hardcore gamer” aesthetic. It’s simple and unobtrusive in its design and is built for in-game performance, full stop.
As RGB takes over the industry, it’s actually rather refreshing to see a high-quality option that keeps it simple with red-only backlighting and white accents on the Caps and Num Lock keys. As an unabashed RGB enthusiast, I do miss the ability to change to different hues but if there’s one thing we hear often at MMORPG, it’s that a lot of our readers just don’t care about RGB. They want something that won’t distract them from their game. This keyboard fits that bill to a tee.
Zowie’s boards are designed to be plug-and-play, offering full functionality without the need for any software. As a result (and also because of the aforementioned distraction factor), you won’t find any flashy lighting effects. Instead, the function row is complete with secondary media and backlight brightness controls that work out of the box. F9-F12 also the Real Time Response rate of the keyboard, multiplying the rate at which it repeated characters 1x, 2x, 4x, or 8x times. In RTS titles, this can have a definite impact on your APM and is nice to see here. You can also swap your control and windows keys if it suits your playstyle.
The Optical Switch Advantage
The Celeritas II is the follow-up to Zowie’s original Celeritas over three years ago. While that keyboard was highly regarded in the professional scene (fitting, since it’s Latin translation means “speed”), Zowie went back to the drawing board. Though many mechanical gaming keyboards are rated for many millions of presses, or actuations, under incredible use they can develop key chatter, or “double click” issues where one actuation becomes two or even three in rapid succession. Even though the keyboard may still be usable the majority of the time, it effectively becomes unusable in a competitive situation. With the Celeritas II, Zowie claims to have solved that issue.
Under the hood, the keyboard uses Flaretech-branded optical switches. Rather than rely on mechanical contacts to trigger their actuations, optical switches instead use a beam of infrared light that is blocked and revealed with each key press. Since there are no metal-on-metal contacts, you have a switch that is free from the wear and tear of traditional mechanical switches, eliminating double clicks, and removes the problem of electrical interference known as “debounce.” Free of interference, the switches in the Celeritas II are more responsive than a mechanical switch could ever dream of being and longer lived, too.
For most of us, it isn’t the kind of advantage you’d notice but pro gamers just might. Competitive CS:GO players, and really any competitive FPS situation, operate on millisecond advantages. Optical switches like the ones in the Celeritas II provide that edge.
It’s All About the Key Press - I’ve Never Used Anything Like It
Optical switches aren’t anything new, but how Zowie has designed them to be used is. Inside each switch, they’ve placed a custom spring that completely changes how the keyboard feels to use. Cherry MX switches, and most all the clones I know of, have a resistance curve that looks a bit like a mountain range, completely with peaks, valleys, and plateaus. The Celeritas II is designed to give a consistent resistance curve, turning that bumping line into a smooth arc. The result is a key that feels distinctly smoother and eliminates the sudden speed ups and slow downs when passing pressure points on normal key switches.
Zowie spent a great deal of time testing different springs to come to their final product. Having grown so used to the “Cherry curve,” the Flaretechs felt very odd the first time I used them. They’re so close to what you’re used to, yet so different at the same time, that they have a bit of a learning curve. It only took about an hour for my typos to fade and for the keyboard to feel natural, but it’s there.
In games, however, that curve feels so custom suited to gaming that it makes you wonder, “why aren’t other companies doing this?!” The answer is likely that it’s simpler and cheaper to stick with the standard springs Cherry switches have shipped with for years before competitive PC gaming was even a thing. If it’s anything, Zowie is a company that pays attention to fine details. They’re not a company that wants to fit into where every other company is at. They define themselves on small touches just like this - and it’s exactly this kind of touch that makes their products stand out.
On the surface, the Celeritas II looks like a standard backlit keyboard but under the hood, it’s designed to shine. The optical switches and smooth resistance curve make for switches that are not only faster but more consistent and easy to anticipate. For gaming, they may be the best linear switches I’ve ever used. As analog tech makes its way to the market, I’d love to see the Celeritas line make the jump to full analog functionality. These keys beg for it. In the meantime, if you’re the kind of gamer who values performance over RGB flash or who dreams of making it in the pro circuit some day, the Celeritas II is a solid option.
- Flaretech optical switches
- Simple, red backlight (we need more non-RGB options!)
- Real Time Response is great for high APM games
- Matte finish shows fingerprints easily
- Single-shot ABS keycaps
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review. No editorial direction was received nor was the article presented to the manufacturer before publication.