Razer Tarantula

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

Introduction

Razer have transformed the gaming mouse market with their several successive mice; each building on the plus points of the last. With speaker systems and headsets; the keyboard was only a matter of time. Today I have the Razer Tarantula which is Razer’s first attempt (bar the Microsoft Reclusa).

Specifications

Razer Tarantula ™ Technical Specifications

  • 32kb Onboard Memory Powered by Razer Synapse™
  • Anti-Ghosting Capability
  • Profile switching with ease
  • Keymaps
  • Fully interchangeable keys
  • Macro Keys
  • 10 Gaming Hotkeys

The product

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard
Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

In keeping with the usual naming method of Razer, their keyboard is named after a deadly animal. It’s packaged in the usual Razer livery and has a flip-front which hides the window showing the replaceable keys. The whole packing is aimed at store shelves considering the front product image and overall looks of the box.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard
Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

Inside you will find the keyboard itself, a pamphlet with the driver CD and manual, 10 replaceable keys with a key removing tool. The keyboard oddly has two USB cables rather than just one, more on this later.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

There is more than just the usual USB connectivity. There are two audio cables; line in and microphone. These connect directly to your sound card and extend the ports to the back of the keyboard. Next to these sockets, you’ll find two USB ports which are rated at 1.1 speeds. This would pretty much negate them for file transfers, but other devices that don’t need high-speed connectivity would find them useful. As usual, it’s nice to have the option.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard
Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard
Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard
Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

The keyboard itself is in keeping with other Razer peripherals. The main body of the keyboard is glossy black plastic while the bottom wrist rest is matt black. In this wrist rest, you’ll find a large Razer logo in the middle, which will more than likely will fade blue when turned on. On the two far extremes of the keyboard, you’ll find a whole bunch of media keys. On the right hand side, you’ll find ones which link to your favoured audio application. You can start your media player, play, stop, next and previous song, shuffle, volume up and down and mute. Strangely, there is no pause button which I personally find the most useful. On the left side, there is a standby button and a home button (launches your internet client). Below these, there are buttons which link with image manipulation software. There is a rotate button, zoom in and out, and a 100% zoom key. These seem to relate mainly with Windows in built viewer rather than a full graphics suite.

Other keys of interest are the 10 macro buttons which are on the two sides of the board. Due to their position, they won’t be much use in first person shooters but could be of use in a game such as World of Warcraft where macros are the most useful.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard
Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

The layout is a slightly modified qwerty design. All the usual keys are present, but they have been repositioned. The menu context button has been replaced by a Razer logo’d button which I’m guessing will start the keyboard configuration software. The second right-hand Windows key has also been removed to make way from the arrow keys. Above this is the Home, End, Page Up/Down block which has a double sized Delete key and the Insert button has been shrunk and added above the numberpad. Next to the Function keys, there is a Profile button which – according to the manual – changes the profile on the fly. All the Function buttons and the Escape key are half sized.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard
Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

The back of the keyboard is still the shiny plastic, and has the usual height flip feet allowing you to change the pitch of the keyboard. In the four corners, there are rubber feet allowing the Tarantula to grip your desk better. The top rubber feet are pointless if you have the stands out however. This could be a problem while gaming as the keyboard itself isn’t that heavy.

Looking at the specs of the keyboard, you can see that it supports a maximum of 10 keys being pressed at once. This means that insane key chains can be setup without another key being pressed. That said, I personally can’t remember the need to press ten keys at once but this should stop ghosting where you press several keys and another key is sent incorrectly to your computer.

Like the Copperhead mouse, the board has 32kb on onboard memory or Razer Synapse as they like to call it. This allows you to save up to 5 different game-specific profiles on the keyboard meaning if you were to plug it into another PC, it would all be setup for you.

The keystrokes for the board have been physically shortened, so your finger has to move a shorter distance when trying to press a key. This means that you will have a very slight advantage over your competitors. Also, the board sets your USB polling rate to 1000Hz or 1ms which means the lag between pressing a key, and it appearing on screen is shortened again. This isn’t going to be by a huge amount, but at least when gaming you know it’s your reaction speed that needs work rather than your keyboard.

The keys themselves aren’t as prominent as a usual computer keyboard, and they seem to be the mid-point between computer and laptop style keys. This obviously is a product of shortening the physical distance required to press a button.

Installation

Following the installation manual was simple and clear. First of all, you have to connect both of the USB cables to your PC, then pop in the installation CD and follow the on screen prompts. Annoyingly, you have to restart your PC to finish the process. This is probably due to upping the USB polling rate.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

When plugged in, unsurprisingly, the Razer logo glows blue and does indeed fade in and out. If you already own a Razer peripheral, such as the Deathadder, the Tarantula won’t fit in perfectly, as the blue glow isn’t the same shade and is a pastel rather than vibrant. Neither does it fade at the same rate; not a major issue, but I noticed it straight away and it’s bugged me since.

Along with the logo, the 10 macro keys, the profile button and the lock LED’s glow the same blue, but don’t fade.

Testing

When I first started using the keyboard, I found the keys were in really odd positions. As I use the left hand side of the keyboard to align my fingers, I ended up pressing the macro buttons a lot. However, after a few days usage, this problem doesn’t exist. The rest of the keyboards layout isn’t an issue, and was quick to learn.

The keyboard uses standard keyboard protocol and as such can be used as a normal USB keyboard, which is especially useful in the BIOS so you don’t have to whip out an old PS/2 model. This also means that it works without the drivers installed.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

Your first port of call once the Tarantula is installed is the driver screen. This allows you to change pretty much all of the non-standard keys to your preferred task. For example, the media keys can be set up to your favourite media player, which even includes the advert infested RealPlayer. Other players include WinAmp, Windows Media Player and iTunes. The board defaults to Windows Media Player when first installed, or when using it without the drivers. The image keys can also be changed to which application they cater for, including Photoshop, Windows Fax and Image Viewer, Illustrator, Acrobat and ACDSee. It would have been better, in my mind, to simply allow any shortcut to be assigned to these keys to make them universal. However, Razer has decided on a restrictive preset method. Unless you use a very specialised media program, the presets will be more than enough.

The standard keys can also be changed, and they can even be setup to a maximum of 3 key-stroke macro. For example, you could change the space key to do a double jump in Unreal, or Ctrl to fire three times instead of once.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

Another interesting feature is the ability to change the selected keyset when in a specific program. While this could get confusing with several keysets, you could set up your favourite macros with your preferred game. This would not only save time, but keep the driver window closed and leave more time to gaming rather than setup.

It’s not the easiest process, and is a little fiddly with the unresponsive menus and confusing GUI, but once complete you’ll be ready to beat your opponents. It seems like aesthetics have been thought about more than usability. I’m sure there will be a better version released in the near future.

The 10 macro keys can be setup to start any program, a well-nigh unlimited macro, or change the keyboards profile. You can also change the profile by holding the Profile button and pressing the corresponding Function key. Most of the time, manual profile changing won’t be necessary as you can set up a keyset for a specific .exe file.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

The keys can all be changed to whatever layout you want. To do this, you use the included key removing tool that yanks the key out. Once removed, the key can go anywhere. This means that you could set your keyboard up to be Dvorak rather than qwerty. Or you could just use the included 10 icon buttons instead of, say, R for reload.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

These included icon keys all have see through tops meaning that they will glow blue when used on the macro key areas. It’s a shame that the whole keyboard isn’t lit up with the same glow, but that would mean that you couldn’t have the anti-ghosting 10 simultaneous key presses feature which many regard as more useful.

If you do feel the need for a lit up keyboard, you can use the Battledock which is located at the top of the keyboard underneath an easily removed flap. You’ll simply find a mini USB female socket which any Battledock accessory uses for power and data. The second USB connector that the Tarantula comes with probably connects directly with this.

Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard

As the USB ports on the Tarantula are rated as USB v1.1, the Battledock can’t really be used for anything data intensive, hence the only peripheral that you can get currently is the BattleLight. This is simply a mini lamp which shines on the keys meaning you can play in the dark.

After playing for a while with the keyboard, you can really feel that it’s expensive. Unlike a cheaper keyboard, you can whack it and really give it some punishment without it flexing/breaking. The keys – especially the Enter button – give awesome feedback. The typing keys are far from my favourite, as I prefer laptop style flat keys, but they are better than most computer keyboards that my fingers have danced on. The keyboard itself isn’t very heavy and when the rear height flaps are up it does slide around as there are then only two rubber pads in contact with your desk. I found that I had to have the keyboard flat instead of raised as its sliding around became annoying.

You can really see the difference where the physical distance of the keys has been changed. As it takes less movement to get a successful keypress, you are much more likely to make a typo. After using the keyboard for a couple of days, my typing has definitely improved. However, I find that the Space key is very sensitive and while typing, every few words there would be a double space. Again, after using the keyboard for a while, this goes away.

Before I get onto the gaming part, the media keys are great. They are nearly perfect. Nearly. The major issue I have with them is that there is no Pause button. It’s really annoying having to completely stop a song and restart rather than pausing and it pretty much makes the media keys worthless. Typically, those are the only keys that can’t be remapped. However, using WinAmp you can simply change the Stop shortcut to Pause so all is not lost.

The image keys are also useful, but to a lesser extent. The function is there, but they seem a little gimmicky rather than truly useful. All of the media keys are small micro switches which don’t feel that nice when pressed, but you’re not typing on them so they don’t need to feel tactile. They are difficult to press which lessens the chance to accidentally hit one.

As I’m not a particular fan of macros (semi-cheating in my book) I didn’t spend a lot of time working with them but I did have a loo
at the features that they offer. I personally couldn’t think of anything that would truly benefit from the macro ability in a game, apart from having a key that would press Space 10 times in quick succession. In Battlefield 2142 this would fire all of the fighter’s missiles at once, and take my mind of clicking the mouse rapidly.

Counterstrike players could use the macros to buy a certain weapon set instantly rather than faffing about with the in-game menus.

People who play World of Warcraft and similar will find more use from the keyboard as you could set up insane spell combinations that could last for an entire fight. If you had the time and patience, you could – for example – set up macros for defeating certain enemies depending on their type. There are a lot of options with the macro keys, but for me they are wasted as I prefer first person shooters.

Price

With a price tag of around £70, you pay a premium for having anti-ghosting and ultra responsive keys. However, if you are serious about gaming and need a new keyboard; the Tarantula is a viable option.

Conclusion

There isn’t a huge difference between this keyboard and a generic version. The differences are subtle; like the reaction speed of the keys and the tactile feel. The macro keys, and removable buttons – including the 10 swappable icon keys – all add more value and the option for personal customisation. It’s sexy, it’s big and it’s well-made.

If Razer sort out the weight issue, and improve the USB speeds of the built in hub, there won’t be anything stopping this keyboard getting an editors choice.

Pros Cons
Looks great Quite light; slides around
Nice to type and game with Expensive
Swappable keys No pause button
A horde of media keys Fiddly driver setup

I’d like to thank Meroncourt for providing us with the keyboard.

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  • Trinity Alex

    No pause button – upper right corner… Pause/Break …

    its after insert, scroll lock, print screen… -from left to right