9/29/23: This article has been updated to reflect a mistake in aligning the pieces. See highlighted update below.
It’s not everyday a major keyboard brand steps into the hobbyist space, but that’s exactly what Ducky has done with the new Outlaw65 custom mechanical keyboard kit. Code-named ProjectD, this keyboard debuted at Computex and has been one of our most eagerly anticipated releases since. Retailing for $299, it doesn’t come cheap, but few brands know how to make a great mechanical keyboard like Ducky. It’s a product that’s brimming with potential.
- Current Price: $299 (Mechanical Keyboards)
- Structure: Gasket Mount
- Trigger switch: Mechanical Switch
- LED: RGB
- Connection interface: USB 2.0
- Keycap material: Doubleshot PBT (early bundles only)
- Case material: CNC Aluminum and Carbon Fiber
- Plate Material: FR4 and POM included
- Stabilizers: Included, Screw-in
- Foams: Plate PORON, Switch IXPE, PCB PORON
- Output key number: USB N-Key Rollover
- Dimensions: 333x128x48 cm
- Weight: 1105g ± 10g
Ducky ProjectD Outlaw65 - Ducky Goes DIY
A few years ago, custom keyboard kits were mostly niche, group buy only affairs that mainstream gamers and brands would never even consider. How times have changed. The Ducky Outlaw65 isn’t just a custom mechanical keyboard kit, it’s an advanced one that even had me reading the manual. Don’t let that intimidate you, though: none of it is hard if you’re able to follow simple step-by-step directions.
Assembly isn’t the only lesson Ducky has taken from the enthusiast community. It uses a compact 65% layout that removes the function row and numpad but leaves you with arrow keys and a column of customizable navigation and editing buttons. It’s popular for both gaming and productivity. If you don’t need those extra keys, its small size saves a lot of space on your desk and leaves you with more space for your mouse hand. Compact is in, and so the Outlaw is compact.
It also gives you options within the build process. It can be built using a gasket mount structure with soft adhesive PORON strips or using removeable silicone sleeves on the plate. Either way, the typing experience is soft, opting for PORON gives you more flex while the silicone is a bit more firm. There are two plates to choose from: FR4 (fiberglass) and polycarbonate. The latter is softer and creates lower pitched typing sounds while the former is firmer and higher pitched.
There are also multiple foams to choose from, including PORON plate foam, IXPE switch foam, and a layer of PORON PCB foam for the bottom of the case. The plate foam isolates the sound of the switches, cleaning up the sound profile and allowing their unique sound to come through. The switch foam adds a bit of pop but nowhere near as much as some other keyboards. Even with the switch foam, it doesn’t sound marbly. The PCB foam, on the other hand, is to remove any hollowness from the case.
Available in black or silver, the case is made of aluminum and features a carbon fiber backplate. The sides and frame come together in multiple pieces and really look very nice once fully built. It reminds me a lot of a racecar with its hard angles and carbon fiber back. There are quite a few steps, but the final product is genuinely quite neat looking and unique.
The keyboard kit doesn’t come with switches or keycaps but does include a nice set of screw-in stabilizers. It also includes lube for the wires so your larger keys can sound good and be free of any rattle. It’s a thicker lube, though, and not intended for switches.
Early buyers were also able to p normally but is available as a bundle for early backers. This is the kit I was sent, which included a great set of doubleshot PBT keycaps (another of Ducky’s specialties) and a set of new Cherry MX2A switches. These are the latest and greatest from the venerable switch brand and deserve a closer look, so let’s move into that next.
Cherry MX2A - Improved But Not Enough
Coinciding with the launch of the ProjectD, Cherry is officially releasing its successor to its MX line of key switches. These new switches feature a reworked design and lubrication process, promising smoother key presses, less ping noise, and more stable keys. It accomplishes this through a new barrel spring design and refined stems and housings.
I’ll say here that I was very excited for these switches. Would this be the release that makes Cherry competitive again? Since it lost the exclusive patent on its switch design, literally hundreds of competitors have arisen offering innovative materials, improved sound and feel, and build quality that, in practical terms, is extremely close if not identical to the end user.
Spoiler alert: they’re not bad but don’t put Cherry back on top or even close to it.
I tested the red versions of these switches and they are indeed better. Spring ping has been one of the most persistent issues across Cherry switches, but the lubricated barrel springs seem to have eradicated it for good. There is no spring noise whatsoever, instantly improving their performance.
The lubrication process seems limited to the springs, however. I didn't disassemble these since there were precious few extras included, but if there is lube on the stem, it's not much. They're smoother than OG MX Reds, but still have a scratchiness to their sound. It's not as noticeable in the feel of each keypress, but it negatively impacts their sound compared to many competing switches with more thorough lubing processes.
While they're better, unfortunately, these switches are extremely expensive and still don’t compete with even much cheaper options on the market. They’re not bad, but Cherry is currently asking for $1.00 per switch, making them some of the most expensive switches on the market today.
Because the springs don’t ping. I’m being reductive, but also pretty much the biggest thing you’ll actually benefit from. The improvements to stability are negligible and that really wasn’t an issue on the original MX switches or most competitors. They’re now rated for 100M presses, which is great, but since few people will ever hit 50M, it’s really more of an on-paper benefit. Instead, you have no ping, but still pretty mediocre sound and feel.
For one of the most expensive switches on the market. At this price, I would never recommend anyone buy them on their own. If you’re between two keyboards and have the choice of these switches, maybe then. But if you’re building something like the Outlaw65, you need to lube these or are undermining all of the time and effort you’re putting into their design. Lubing them helps substantially and they become quite nice (I used a syringe to inject a very small bit of oil on the rails) but still aren’t worth more than Gateron Ink Blacks, or NovelKeys Silks, or C3 Tangies, or Alpacas, or Zakus, or Red Jackets, or Boba U4Ts. Or Gateron Cap Yellow V2s. It’s more expensive — and in some cases nearly twice the price — of all of these switches, and they all outperform them.
Do yourself a favor and just get Akko Cream Yellow V3 Pros. They’re only $13 for a box of 45 switches ($0.29 a piece, less than a third) and will actually impress you with their sound and feel.
Absolutely none of this is related to Ducky or the Outlaw65. But, since Ducky provided these switches, I felt I had to share my impressions. The MX2A switches are best suited to replace MX switches in premade keyboards and make no sense to buy for one you’re building yourself.
Ducky ProjectD Outlaw65 - Assembly and Final Build Impressions
As Hardware Canucks said in their review of this kit, building the Ducky ProjectD is a lot like building a Lego kit. Its case is made of ten different parts that each need to be positioned and fastened with upwards of twenty screws. Like other kits, you’ll also have to build the PCB assembly, prep and tune the stabilizers, and apply the different foams and gaskets. Thankfully, the guide walks you through every step of the process with helpful diagrams.
You’ll still need some knowledge, though. The guide is very simple, also in the style of Lego, and doesn’t explain things like what each foam does with depth. It doesn’t explain the difference between its two types of gaskets or plates. You can take it apart and experiment, and should, like any custom keyboard kit. But since disassembly requires removing more screws and parts, if you know what you prefer, you can save yourself some trial and error by building for your preferences from the start.
Start to finish, including prepping the stabilizers, took about two hours. The PCB assembly is exactly like other keyboard kits. You prep the stabilizers, add the PE foam, and install the stabs. Then, add the standoffs if you’re using them (you don’t have to if you want it to be easier to disassemble and have the most flex), install the plate foam and plate, and install switches.
Building the case isn’t difficult but it’s possible to make mistakes if you’re not careful. You begin by installing the weight and tilt feet to the carbon fiber backplate. Rushing things, I initially installed these on the wrong side; the proper side has wider openings to install the fasteners flush. From there, you have to attach the sides and top and bottom bezels. You then need to connect the JST cable for the USB daughterboard to the PCB and screw the daughterboard into the top bezel. Then, two more top bezels complete the frame.
With everything built, the quality and precision is good but still has room for improvement given the asking price. The top and bottom bezels are slightly out of position (right only on the bottom) — very minor, but noticeable if you’re looking. The other pieces all align perfectly. There are no machining marks or imperfections in the anodization. Everything outside of that comes together very well.
Update, 9/29/23: Ducky reached out to let me know that these pieces can be realigned perfectly simply by loosening the screws along that side, aligning them and retightening slowly. Alignment takes a bit more attention than other kits, but this appears to be user error.
Typing on the Outlaw65 is soft and quiet. It’s also quite firm. I tried the silicone sleeves at first thinking that they would offer the most flex but, in truth, it’s the opposite: the PORON gaskets are softer and the sleeves are more firm. Even with those, however, there’s not much observable flex when typing normally (you can see some movement when pressing intentionally, however). After some experimentation, the PCB plate foam isn’t explicitly necessary and removing it allows more movement if you prefer a bouncier typing experience.
I do recommend using the other foams, though; including the IXPE switch foam. Unlike the majority of keyboards that use it, it doesn’t add marbliness to the sound signature. Instead, it seems to clarify the sound of the switches a bit more. It’s genuinely quite strange and makes me wonder if the CF backplate isn’t interplaying with the filter effect of the foam.
Overall, the assembly experience is involved but not difficult and the typing experience is quite nice. It’s the best I’ve ever experienced from a Ducky keyboard, and as a longtime fan of the brand, that genuinely makes me happy. At $299, it does feel exceptionally expensive, especially with some of the areas it could still improve — streamlining the assembly process, refining how some of the pieces come together — but it’s an all-around unique experience that doesn’t just have to be “for the pros.” Building it is a project but it’s a fun one even new builders can enjoy.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.