Date: July 31, 2013
Author(s): J.D. Kane
When Cooler Master introduced its QuickFire Rapid last year, it seemed like it was a near-perfect mech. The only thing that let it down in some people’s eyes was the lack of a numpad, but now, a couple of years later, the company has addressed that with its latest offering, the QuickFire XT. Join us as we put it through its paces.
There’s no question that Cooler Master, through its gaming-oriented Storm brand, has one of the largest and most diversified product lines around when it comes to mechanical keyboard offerings. Even if you ignore the fact that most of its current offerings are available in a selection of the various Cherry MX switch types, CM Storm has (starts counting fingers) six different models of mechanical keyboard if you count via distinct model numbers.
The new QuickFire XT is just the latest to join the line-up.
Just as we mentioned in our news item from earlier this month, you can look at the new QuickFire XT as a QuickFire Rapid with a 10-key number pad added. As far as this reviewer is concerned, this is what Cooler Master should have issued straight out of the gate as its debut model in the mechanical keyboard marketplace. On the other hand, I do understand why the company issued the compact QuickFire Rapid sans 10-key pad instead: Its follow-up models, the QuickFire Pro and the Trigger, are both full-size planks. Product diversity aids marketing and promotes better sales, I guess.
But CM Storm’s newest mechanical keyboard is more than just a retooled product with a feature added back (albeit a very essential one for a lot of people). I don’t own a QF Rapid, but I have sampled one. It’s obvious that it’s an excellent keyboard, but comparing it with the new QF XT is like comparing tigers to lions (instead of, say, a Bengal tiger to a Sumatran tiger). The QuickFire XT is a different cat altogether compared to its older, 10-key-less sibling. Maybe it’s even more appropriate to consider them cousins than sisters.
Let’s take a look at the QF XT, then.
As you can see, the QuickFire XT is a full-sized keyboard, with a standard 104-key count. I love the smart, no-frills, no-nonsense matte black aesthetic. I also quite adore the fact that overt branding seems to have been kept to a minimum on the QuickFire XT’s most visible surfaces.
Our review sample is equipped with Cherry MX Blue key switches. This, then, is my first CM Storm mechanical keyboard fitted with this, my favorite type of Cherry MX switch.
As with the QF Rapid (Green Switch) I reviewed, the QF XT has replacement keycaps for the WASD cluster. The photo above shows those snazzy caps installed. There are also two extra replacement keycaps featuring the Cooler Master logo and the CM Storm logo; these two extra key caps can replace the Ctrl, Alt, Fn, and Win keys on the bottom row, if you wish. A key cap puller is included, too.
This keyboard has no special keys, except for a “Fn” key. This key is a function modifier; when pressed simultaneously with one of eight Function keys (F5 – F12) it enables some special commands.
Speaking of those special command keys, here is a look at them. Like the rest its CM Storm mechanical keyboard kin, the QuickFire XT has Function keys that double as multi-media shortcuts (that is, except for the F9 key). F5 is Play/Pause; F6 is Stop; F7 is Previous Track; F8, Next Track; F9 toggles the Windows Key lock on or off (handy for when you’re gaming); F10 will Mute your PC’s sound; F11 is volume down; finally, F12 increases volume.
The new QuickFire XT is markedly different compared to the rest of the CM Storm mechanical keyboard line in one significant aspect: While it does still have a detachable USB cable, this is the first CM Storm mech that eschews the mini-USB connector on the keyboard side. Instead, it has a full-size USB connector. While I’m not a fan per se of the detachable cable feature, I think having both connectors be the same size on both ends of the cable is more convenient since it doesn’t matter which end of the cable you plug into the keyboard. The QF XT is also the first CM Storm mech that doesn’t have its USB connector on the bottom of the keyboard; instead, the connector is at the rear right of the chassis.
The cable features a very fine braided sleeve, easily one of the best looking I’ve seen. The USB connector, meanwhile, conforms to the now-established CM Storm style by being gold-plated.
In case you care about it, branding is kept to the top-left corner of the keyboard. You can only see it from the rear of the QF XT. So, yeah, the branding is loud and proud, but you can only really see it if you look at your QF XT from the back. Which means you’re probably not doing it right (or, you can somehow touch-type with your keyboard upside down; if you can, you’re a way better typist than I could ever be).
For those of you who care, here’s a shot of one of the QF XT’s feet. With its feet retracted, the keyboard stays in place quite nicely with its four rubber pads that may look diminutive, yet are still endowed with Pirelli P Zero-like levels of grip on your desk.
As a final shot, I thought it would be interesting to show how the QuickFire XT compares to two other CM Storm mechanical keyboards. On top is the QuickFire Rapid (Cherry MX Green); on the bottom is my personal QuickFire Pro. As you can see, the QF XT is a little bit smaller than the full-size QF Pro. Its aesthetics, though, are similar to the Cherry MX Green-equipped QF Rapid.
Now that we’ve given the QuickFire XT a good once-over, let’s proceed to some testing and our concluding thoughts.
Testing the QuickFire XT is a straightforward process since it is such a straightforward mechanical keyboard. It runs on plain ol’ Windows USB drivers; it doesn’t depend on an often clunky software package to get the best out of it.
First, the obligatory comments on its build quality. Subjecting the QF XT to my de rigueur chassis flex test reveals it exhibits just the most minimal degree of visible flexion. It’s certainly no more than other top-notch mechanical keyboards that I’ve sampled, including most of the CM Storm mechs. Indeed, the QF XT’s degree of chassis flex is smaller than what I saw in the MSI CK Series I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Only the sawed-off QuickFire Pro (Green Switch) and the QuickFire TK I reviewed in November 2012 showed less chassis flex (probably because they are such short keyboards). To me, the stiffer and more resistant a chassis is to flex, the stronger the impression of durability and quality is. It’s not a scientific criterion, but as a purely subjective metric it makes sense.
The key caps and the cable also exude the same kind of quality. The cable sleeving, in particular, is top-notch, with its fine threads, tight fit around the cable inside, and absolutely no fraying whatsoever. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sleeving this good anywhere else, to be honest. The beautiful form is allied to its superb functionality, too: The cable is very flexible even with the tight sleeve enveloping it. The key caps, for their part, feel like they would stand up to everything except a hippopotamus stepping on them. They definitely don’t appear as if you could crush them with your fingers.
In terms of aesthetics, I love how it’s the most basic looking CM Storm mechanical keyboard yet. It doesn’t have any loud logos on the angles you see, and I love that. It retains the signature CM Storm font on its laser-marked key caps, and it has red LEDs for the Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Win Key Lock indicators. This is one keyboard you won’t get any embarrassing comments about in terms of its looks.
Ergonomically, it’s close enough to perfect. My only minor gripe is that the key caps seem to be just a little bit too smooth to the touch. Slippery key caps turn me off, and the QuickFire XT’s are dangerously close to being too slick. I personally prefer to have key caps that have some sort of texture, or maybe even a hydrophobic coating. The extra texture just helps me feel more “connected” to the keyboard, and the QF XT is missing this. But in terms of layout and end user comfort, the QF XT is the keyboard that feels closest to my daily driver that I’ve ever tested.
Good ergonomics go a long way towards enhancing a typist’s performance. Having your favorite type of Cherry MX switch type (Blue, in my case) also helps. It’s no surprise, then, that I averaged 89WPM/0 errors on the QuickFire XT. That’s very close to my best performance on my daily driver keyboard, the Filco Ninja Majestouch-2 with Cherry MX Blues (92WPM/0 errors). Intimate familiarity with my personal equipment probably accounts for the slightly better performance, but it’s a negligible gap.
Interestingly, though, the Cherry MX Blues on the QuickFire XT feel subtly different compared to the ones on my daily driver. The Blues on the QF XT feel just a little bit softer, requiring less actuation force. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s a very subtle difference, but I picked up on it immediately and feel it’s noteworthy enough to mention. It’s certainly very interesting, at least to me. I can’t provide a reason why there is that difference in feel, but given my familiarity with this key switch type (this is the third mechanical keyboard I have which has Blues) it’s noticeable.
A comment about its size and styling: It’s a full-sized keyboard, but its minimalist design ethic means its slightly smaller than the QuickFire Pro. The QF Pro isn’t over-styled like the Trigger is, which is easily the biggest CM Storm mechanical keyboard available; the QF XT is smaller still. I guess, in this way, it’s like the Trigger is the Ferrari Testarossa (ridiculously over-styled), the QF Pro is the Ferrari 288 GTO (not as over-the-top as the Testarossa, but still overtly designed to catch the eye), and the QF XT is the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona (simple, purposeful).
In gaming situations, the QF XT is no better than any other mechanical keyboard that I’ve used. It’s certainly no worse, either. As far as I’m concerned, with the games I play with a keyboard (FPSes, mostly, with a liberal sprinkling of most other genres bar MMOs thrown in), I find Cherry MX Blues to be just as good a key switch type as any. Some more hardcore gamers would probably prefer Blacks or Reds for their purposes, but in my testing any Cherry MX switch type is good enough, regardless of which one it is.
As far as the special function keys go, these worked superbly in most media playback programs. I tested them for functionality in Winamp, foobar2000, Windows Media Player, VLC, iTunes, and CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra. The volume controls worked universally; however, playback controls did not work in Winamp or CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra. I’m unsure why functionality of the playback shortcuts isn’t universal, but I think it has more to do with both of these players than it does with Cooler Master’s end of things. After all, I observed something similar with my last keyboard review, a product from a different manufacturer altogether.
So, what’s the final verdict on the CM Storm QuickFire XT?
With its MSRP at $89.99, it’s a well-priced product, in my opinion. You get high-end quality of construction, mostly clean aesthetics (important for me, at least), superb details such as a great cable (I still don’t get why it needs to be detachable, though), spot-on ergonomics, and superior performance in typing (the most important criterion in any keyboard for this reviewer). Most importantly, though, you get that essential 10-key number pad. For me, this is the only thing that stopped me from buying the original QuickFire Rapid when it was first introduced a couple of years ago. Extras such as multi-media shortcuts and a detachable cable are just that, extras; to me they aren’t strictly necessary. I will admit, though, that I quite like the red WASD replacement keycaps as they provide a neat, color-coordinated visual counterpoint. I still haven’t put the stock key caps back on. Indeed, the only complaint I’ll bother to register is the lack of suitable texture to the key caps. Despite this, in sum this is my favorite CM Storm mechanical keyboard yet.
Thus far, all of CM Storm’s mechanical keyboards we’ve reviewed here at Techgage have earned our Editor’s Choice award, and the QuickFire XT easily deserves one as well. If Cooler Master could go ahead and release a subpar plank so we can help even things out, that’d be great.
CM Storm QuickFire XT
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