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Thermaltake ESports Challenger & Challenger Pro Keyboards review

Rating: 8.0.

KitGuru has been very impressed with Thermaltake this year, their product range keeps getting stronger. We have reviewed a plethora of their products in the last couple of months, such as the very capable 775w PSU, The Contact 29 and Frio Coolers and the cost effective Armor A60 Chassis. They have all excelled within their specific classes enough to earn awards.

Today we are branching our range of Thermaltake reviews into the gaming sector with reviews of their latest Challenger and Challenger Pro Keyboards – these products are no run of the mill keyboards however as they are being used in the Finals of the World Cyber Games. This means they will be coming under some serious scrutiny by the gaming masses. Both keyboards are supplied with memory onboard to store macro configurations.

Both keyboards arrived together in the same black and red accented boxes. The artwork is great, its very dramatic and slightly sinister which is exactly what Thermaltake wanted to achieve.

The Challenger box opens up in a very stylish manner to showcase the various technologies incorporated as well as putting the CD in the center position for easy access.

The keyboard is beautifully finished and we like the red Tt logo which is in the center at the bottom of the board. When this is plugged into a USB port it glows red.

One of the more unusual decisions is the fan storage port top left. Yes, in case you didn’t already know, both keyboards on review today have a tiny fan which can be plugged into the keyboard to keep your gaming hands cool. Say what?

The fan slips out from the rear of the chassis and a little rubber ‘bung’ is removed on the keyboard to allow this fan to be connected and therefore powered.

You can attach this fan to either the top left of the keyboard, or the top right, whichever works best for you. This is one of the most unique features I think I have even seen on a keyboard and while its rather interesting, after a little while of using it, I found my hands getting cold, rather than chilled. Then again, im not an ace high octane clan gamer either, so perhaps on the right hands it would work wonders.

The Keyboard is relatively thin and it almost looks like the futuristic shell of some Alien entity. Yes, perhaps ive been playing Starcraft 2 too much lately!

The keyboard is supplied with risers on both sides of the rear, for angled typed positions. This is a rather standard feature now, but we would be lost without it. There is also a single USB 2.0 connector to allow easy connectivity of another device, such as a mouse or memory card reader.

There is a pouch supplied with the keyboard which is home to a replacement rubber housing for the Fan connector, in case one is lost. There are also two replacement keys for the Windows Key positions which can be replaced by the supplied key remover tool.

The keyboard is connected to a braided gold plated USB cable.

The Braiding is high quality and ive taken a shot with a high intensity flash to show you the ridged appearance. It will be extremely durable even under heavy, long term use. The cable ends in a rather funky looking Thermaltake branded header plug, which is gold plated for longevity.

Above the Tt logo on the keyboard glowing red, under two different lighting environments.

The Challenger ‘Pro’ Keyboard box is slightly larger than the Challenger version but it is finished in the same design and colour scheme. We have a very early prototype of this PRO board and it may change slightly before release in the next month or so.

This box opens up into a gatefold spread, with a multitude of descriptive texts on the various feature sets.

There is a manual, a sofware CD and two pouches. One of the pouches contains the same key removal tool as seen with the ordinary Challenger keyboard, however with the two Windows replacement keys Thermaltake also supply red W,A,S,D keys as well as replacement arrow keys. These are primarily used in a variety of first person shooter and racing titles. They are also red, to stand out from the rest of the keyboard.

The same high quality braided cable is supplied as noted on the last page but with the Pro keyboard it is bundled in a felt bag, and it is detachable from the main keyboard chassis. A very nice touch for transportation and easy replacement if it gets damaged down the line.

When the main box is opened we can see that the keyboard is shipped inside a heavy duty felt carrying bag. Very stylish indeed and a lovely touch from Thermaltake.

The Pro board looks similar to the standard Challenger product, however the keys are a different design and there is also a backlight system which we will look at shortly.

The pro has two rows of keys on either side of the main keyboard section which can be used for in game macro key commands.

Once again there are rubber stoppers at the top of each side of the board, which allow the connection of a fan to keep your hands cool. The rubber plugs are more substantial than the ordinary board.

Again, the same connection method as before, remove the fan from the transportation housing and slot it into the hole after removing the rubber plug. Warm sweaty hands are a thing of the past.

The rear of the keyboard is similar in design to the Non pro version but this one has a red accented area at the bottom. The keyboard risers are also thicker and longer.

This keyboard has three USB ports. two are for connecting external devices and the small one on the right of the image above is for connection of the keyboard USB cable to your computer (or hub).

This is a great idea, if the cable gets damaged you don’t have to throw away the keyboard, you can just order a new cable. It also makes transportation much easier, especially as Thermaltake supply a carrying pouch for the cable.

The Challenger Pro is kitted out with a variable brightness backlit keyboard. There are three settings which are accessible from the top left of the unit or via the software.

The images above show the software options for the brightness levels, 100%, 75% and 25%. You can also turn the backlighting off completely if this isn’t your thing, but it can be useful in darkened situations.

On the Pro keyboard the Tt light can be toggled on and off within the software panel, there is an ‘on’ and ‘off’ setting top right. Its a very ‘Alienware’ design, which is certainly appealing.

At the top of the board are various lights which indicate the macro setting you are using, as well as coloured buttons to notify of caps lock, scroll lock etc.

We aren’t normally big fans of back lighting as it can often look gaudy, uneven and ineffective. On top setting the effect on the Challenger Pro is very attractive and in a darkened room the keys are really easy to see.

Each of the keys on the side of the board can be configured with various macro settings to suit a variety of games, we didn’t experience any problems with the software, it was stable, looked great and worked exactly as Thermaltake said it would. Once macros are configured they are uploaded via the USB connector to the onboard memory and then the macro keys work as expected. Painfree and remarkably straightforward.

“Im sorry Dave I can’t do that”. Yep, this shot reminded me of the death of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is actually the underside of a key after its been removed with the supplied tool.

You can give your keyboard some wacky and weird colour schemes if you really are feeling bored.

Shooting people in the head has never been easier. Let the fraggin’ commence. Red keys are quite pretty next to black keys, aren’t they?

I like playing games, but recently I haven’t had much time with the amount of hardware I have been reviewing on a daily (and nightly) basis. Reviewing these keyboards was a good opportunity however to give myself the excuse that I was actually ‘testing’ them, rather than wasting a couple of hours playing first person shooters and a mixture of strategy titles.

Both keyboards are certainly well made, there will be no one who could complain about the chassis design and the attention to detail. Gaming in Left 4 Dead 2 online with a bunch of loudmouthed American 17 year old kids juiced up on Cola and sugar laced ‘candy’ … I still got my ass handed to me, but I think I maybe died a few times less than I did with my ordinary Microsoft gaming keyboard. I even won a few rounds which is surprising as I am almost 40 …. and feeling it. My online name though was changed to ‘Sexy thong bird’ … so maybe that was distracting the spotty gamers enough to land me a few kills of my own.

I would love to say I was a pro with World Of Warcraft, but I have never played it (or understood the passion of spending hours ‘grinding’ to level up a character), so I gave it to my young brother who has an online persona who is apparently maxed out and ‘badass’. His Warlock character looks a little like Ozzy Osbourne so I guess he could always break out into ‘Mr Crowley’ after butchering some newbs.

Anyway he played around with the macro buttons on the Pro board and said they worked as advertised, but he was more used to his Razer Naga so I think it was slowing him down. At least we know the macro functions work well, so thats another thing to tick off the list.

I fired up Call Of Duty 2: Modern Warfare and had a good time in single player mode, replaying some of the levels which I almost forgot about. Slaughering the women and kids in the airport level with a bright red glowing keyboard in a dark room, I swear I could almost have been mistaken for Satan himself. Or an aging, balding version of him anyway.

Putting gaming aside, I decided to try replacing the love of my life, the delightful DAS Keyboard which I have been using for about 2 years now. Unfortunately I could not get used to the feeling of the keys and found my typing rate had dropped from around 110 wpm to 70 wpm. I am sure with more practise I could have raised my game on the Challenger a little, but I am too set in my ways. To get maximum speed I go for long travel keyboards such as the DAS or even the Steelseries 7G, which isn’t quite as good as the DAS for typing, but a reasonably close second anyway.

If you like keyboards with little key travel and a soft spongy feeling these would be fine for typing, but personally I couldn’t use them long term, not outside their intended environment, which is gaming.

Thermaltake have entered into the high end peripheral gaming market with firm footing. While Logitech, Steelseries and Razer might not be that concerned just yet, I am positive they will be watching them out of the corner of their eyes over the coming year as they expand their ranges into the elusive ‘hardcore’ gaming sector. This is a very lucrative market for the big players.

The Challenger Keyboard is a solid enough design, Thermaltake haven’t cut any corners with this product and it delivers a top notch gaming experience while ensuring the product is built to a high enough standard to survive long term abuse. The design might not be to everyone’s taste but the attention to detail with braided cabling, gold connectors, and even a hand cooling fan system will be sure to grab some headlines. It certainly caught our attention when we were told about it.

The Challenger Pro Keyboard is a considerably more expensive product and while pricing on either has not yet been sent to us, we would expect this product to cost between £60 and £70 which is a pretty reasonable price point, especially for such a loaded bundle. You get two sets of keys for specific locations, the tool to remove them, a fan, several bags, removable, braided cabling and a fully dynamic lighting system with macro functionality.

Both products deserve a high rating because as gaming products I am very confident they will satisfy the target audience. These are fully kitted out products and a great leap for Thermaltake into a very exciting marketplace.

KitGuru says: Pricing will be coming shortly but expect to pay £30-40 for the standard board and £60-70 for the Pro version.

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