Cougar Gaming makes a wide range of hardware for gamers and has earned our respect as one of the most affordable, budget friendly options out there. When they asked if we’d like to look at their new RGB mechanical keyboard, coming in at a low $79.99 MSRP, we jumped at the chance. How much keyboard can you get for eighty dollars? Let’s find out.
- MSRP: $79.99
- Key Switch: RGB Mechanical Switch, Red/Brown (Cougar Branded)
- Key Lifespan: 50M Clicks
- N-key Rollover: Yes
- Full Key Backlight: Yes (RGB, 16.8 million colors)
- Polling Rate: 1000Hz / 1ms
- Top Plate: Steel
- Cable: 1.8m, braided USB
- Dimensions: 7.09(L) x 17.51(W) x 1.57(H)inch
- Weight: 0.95kg(2.09 lbs)
As it turns out, quite a lot. And in a rather unexpected bonus, you also get a new way to stop a home intruder. The Ultimus is built like an absolute tank. Rather than use the thin aluminum top plate found on most premium keyboards, Cougar instead uses solid steel. If you can’t tell when you open the box, you can as soon as you pick it up. This thing is heavy. The spec sheet says it weighs just over two pounds, and in the hand it feels much heavier than any other keyboard I have in the office. Now, the top plate may be one of the least likely parts of a keyboard to actually break, but it certainly doesn’t flex, and if you consider weight a reflection of quality, than this is a definite plus.
Functionally, it also does a great job of deadening the clack of the keys. Many aluminum-top keyboards transfer sound right through the plate into the slate’s body, causing extra noise (and also spring reverb from the larger keys). The steel top suffers none of this. The exposed hex screws and cutaway design along the upper edge and lend it an industrial-styled design.
The Ultimus adopts the floating key design so common in RGB keyboards these days. It still looks good, but it’s an interesting choice because the exposed key housings are solid black. Without translucent housings, the light bleed is minimal and the design emphasis shifts to light isolation over creating a light bed under the key set. The gunmetal finish does a good job of diminishing light bleed and keeping the RGB to the key legends.
The model we were sent features the Cougar Gaming red switch. For all intents and purposes, these are identical to Cherry’s red switches. They feature the same 45g actuation force, the same 4mm linear travel and 2mm actuation point. It would have been nice to see genuine Cherries, like are included in their flagship Attack X3 RGB board, but as a cost saving measure, it’s understandable that they would keep things in-house. The question is whether that results in a loss of quality.
Cherry switches are lauded for their reliability and consistency between keys. That’s what I went looking for in the switches included in the Ultimus RGB. In testing the keyboard, I was happy to find uniformity in every noticeable way. If there was a difference in sensitivity or any other measure, I couldn’t feel it. I would love to know more about the switches here - for example, who did Cougar partner with to make them? - but the more important point is how they compare. Side by side with Cherry Red’s, I was hard pressed to feel a difference. With Gateron Reds, the Cougars feel tighter in their housings.
For you keycap enthusiasts, you’ll be happy to hear that they also feature traditional MX stems and a standard bottom row layout; none of this weird “gamer” spacing. The keycaps are doubleshot ABS, so legends won’t fade, but I’m concerned they’ll develop that shininess keyboards tend to get over time.
The keyboard also feature two modes for six-key rollover and N-key rollover. Though my personal gaming rarely demands I even push six keys at a time, both modes seemed true to their promises. Even mashing both hands on the keyboard, every key press registered fine in my testing. You can also look forward to the usual suite of secondary functions for multimedia along the function row.
The lighting on the Ultimus RGB is a dramatic improvement over the original but more limited than what you might expect from a “per-key RGB” mechanical keyboard . While the previous model was simply “multicolor” and defaulted to having every row a different hue, the Ultimus features 13 preset lighting modes (breathing, ripples, the works), all but the two rainbow effects color customizable in nine different hues. You can also adjust the speed, direction, and brightness on the board as well.This allows for a decent amount of customization, and more than most of what you’ll find at this price range, but is still a far cry from the $150 boards dominating the market.
Everything is controlled on the board using function buttons, but I can’t help but wonder if the lack of software is also part of the cost saving effort. Some users will consider the lack of a software a positive, but without that I would really have liked to see some way to customize the RGB mix right on the board, akin to what Cooler Master’s does with their keyboards. As it stands, I wasn’t able to make it match my current purple color scheme at all. At this price point, I don’t expect onboard memory or more advanced features like that, but it’s clear the Ultimus is capable of displaying the whole spectrum, so why not allow it?
The other feature you may find yourself missing is programmability. There is no macro functionality on the board at all. For $80, when considered with the lighting and mechanical switches and steel top, this isn’t an un-understandable omission, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.
Still, looking back at what you do get, it’s hard to argue that Cougar isn’t once again offering a great value here. At this price point, it’s competing with Cooler Master’s MS120 and the wider crop of mem-chanical gaming keyboards and is clearly a far superior choice. Even when compared against other mechanical keyboards in this price range, the Ultimus RGB is fighting to lead the pack. If you can live without macros and extra software, and don’t want to spend over $100 on an RGB keyboard, this is definitely one to look at.
- Steel (not aluminum) top
- Real mechanical keys
- Per-key backlighting
- Looks great
- Limited to preset colors
- No macros
- Could be a touch brighter
On the US market, Cougar ULTIMUS RGB is only available with RED and BLUE switches and exclusively at Newegg.com.
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.