Date: November 28, 2012
Author(s): J.D. Kane
Through its Storm product line, Cooler Master has introduced an entire family of gaming-oriented peripherals. Time to add one more member to the mechanical keyboard lineup: the QuickFire TK. Featuring a unique layout and a compact footprint, how well does the TK measure up to its heralded sisters? Read on to find out.
Would you believe that it has only been scarcely a year since Cooler Master’s Storm gaming product line first waded into the shark tank that is the mechanical keyboard market? The QuickFire Rapid was the first to jump in, followed in subsequent months by its sisters the QuickFire Pro and the Trigger. By all accounts, including ours here at Techgage, all three are certifiable hits.
Today, Techgage has the newest member of the CM Storm mechanical keyboard family on-hand: the QuickFire TK. We’ll have a good look at it and see how well it stacks up to the pedigree established by its older siblings.
Cooler Master sent us its newest baby in nothing but a plain white box, so I suspect what we have is a sample strictly for review. I mention this at the outset since there is a possibility that the shipping retail versions may have some subtle differences from what we received. It’s currently shipping, but the roll-out to certain e-tailers is slow. It carries an SRP of $99.99 USD.
From the first time you lay your eyes on it, it’s clear that the QuickFire TK shares plenty of DNA with its elder sisters. For example, it has a detachable braided USB cable that plugs in underneath the keyboard chassis, just like the Rapid and the Pro. Also like these two variants, the TK has three channels through which you can route the USB cable (left, right, center) for best convenience, according to where your keyboard is relative to the PC.
In terms of physical dimensions, the TK is a just a smidge larger than the Rapid in all three dimensions (L, W, and H). Styling-wise, it borrows the most from the Pro: the TK features iterations of the Pro’s most distinctive styling cues, most obvious in the “Lock” indicator LED cluster, as well as its dark anthracite coloration. The TK also has CM Storm’s very attractive custom font on its laser-etched keycaps as well, a detail it shares with all of its sisters.
And in case you thought it borrows nothing from the Trigger, the TK has the Trigger’s capability for full backlighting of the entire keyboard. Indeed, not only can you have backlighting for all the keys, you can choose to have it just for the WASD and arrow key (more on this later) clusters, or “go dark” entirely. The TK borrows something else from the Trigger, too: Multimedia shortcut keys! These keys are not distinct, but are secondary functions of keys F5-F11. They are accessible by activating the Fn (Function) key first. (This particular feature is also shared with the rest of the CM Storm keyboard family.)
Speaking of the keys, Cooler Master has changed its tactics somewhat with the launch of the TK. When the other CM Storm keyboards made their debuts into the marketplace, the company did not offer consumers in a given region a choice of available Cherry MX mechanical key switches. For example, in North America, only the Cherry MX Blue key switch was available for the QuickFire Rapid; likewise, the QuickFire Pro and the Trigger both just came with the Brown switch type. Other key switch types for these models, though, were available in other regions, although it must be said that for each model, only one key switch type was available for each region.
Very recently, though, perhaps after some consumer feedback, Cooler Master has relaxed its “one key switch per model per region” availability policy and now offers consumers more choice in key switch type. A quick look at Newegg’s inventory shows the QuickFire Rapid is now available with the Blue, Black, and Red switches; the QuickFire Pro, with the Brown and Red; and the Trigger, with all four Cherry MX switch types. In my opinion, this is how things should have been done from the onset.
The TK will be available with the Red, Blue, and Brown Cherry MX switch types right from launch. The variants will be very easy to distinguish from one another as well. Though all TK models share the same dark anthracite chassis, the MX Red model will have red backlighting and a red steel plate (Cooler Master’s terminology here) beneath the keycaps, the MX Blue will have blue backlighting and a blue steel plate, and the MX Brown model will have white backlighting and a brown steel plate.
As much as the TK shares with its older siblings, though, one thing makes it different from most other keyboards: its unique form factor. As stated before, it’s just fractions of an inch larger in every dimension than the very compact QuickFire Rapid, but it has a complete numpad (tenkey) on it. Cooler Master accomplished this feat by physically eliminating the four arrow keys and the six so-called command keys (Insert, Delete, Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down) from the TK. This contrasts with a tenkeyless design which retain the arrows and command keys but forego a numpad. On the TK, those command keys haven’t disappeared completely. If you really need your arrow keys and/or any of the command keys, simply toggle the Fn key on, then hit the specific keys on the number pad which correspond to whichever function you need.
Now that we’ve had a good look at the QuickFire TK, let’s see how it is in action.
Here at Techgage, when we test things like keyboards, mice, headsets and the like, we prefer to take our time with the review sample. There’s a simple reason for this: testing certain types of hardware – things like motherboards, CPUs, graphics cards, even cooling equipment – is more objective and relies on gathering empirical data, while testing peripherals is far more subjective. It’s all about the individual user’s experience.
I say this at the outset because some of what I’ll be describing in this phase of the review might inevitably be colored by my own personal experiences and biases. I’ve already noted in a previous keyboard review (GIGABYTE Osmium) that I have developed a preference for Cherry MX Blues; in the spirit of full disclosure, had I made the request in time, there’s an excellent chance that Techgage might have received a TK equipped with the MX Blues.
The reality is, though, we have the Cherry MX Red variant. So all the observations and descriptions here apply specifically to the review sample we have. And that includes my performance on typing tests with it.
Having said all this, though, there are objective aspects to reviewing a piece of hardware. With a keyboard, its layout is as good a place to start as any.
As we said earlier in this review, the CM Storm QuickFire TK has a unique form factor. I’ve never ever seen, much less used, a keyboard that has a numpad but not the cursor navigation key cluster (including the four arrow keys) prior to receiving the TK for review. I use the number pad a lot, both at my job and when at home; I also use the navigation keys too, particularly when working on writing projects as well as when browsing the Web. So clearly I’m one of those users who needs a keyboard with the full complement of keys.
The TK’s layout definitely takes some getting used to. When entering numbers, I mostly rely on the numpad, and on most keyboards my hand just finds it with my fingers in perfect position to enter numbers even without glancing down. On the TK, though, sometimes my hand placement is imprecise; instead of landing on 4-5-6, my fingers would be skewed to the right. This is a function of muscle memory, though; it’s impossible to unlearn years of technique after just a couple of weeks of using a new piece of equipment.
The decision to eschew distinct keys for the navigational key cluster results in a more compact physical layout, but it also means that you have to adapt to your hardware if you rely on these functions. On the TK, you can restore the navigational cluster by activating the Fn key, then turning off the Numlock key. This activates the arrow keys (which helpfully show up backlit) as well as the navigational keys. Unfortunately, the rest of the navigational keys (Ins, Del, Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn) do not activate their backlighting in this mode, so unless you’ve committed their positions to memory you will need to look down at the number pad and hit the correct keys. (For the record, they are: 7 = Ins; 4 = Del; 8 = Home; 5 = End; 9 = PgUp; and 6 = PgDn).
The trade-off, of course, is that you lose the use of the number pad because Numlock is deactivated. Not only that, you’re also sacrificing data entry speed since 1) it’s a two-step process (involving a 3sec lapse to allow the Fn key to toggle on) to restore these functions, and 2) you’re taking your eyes off of your copy and diverting them to the keyboard. It’s not an ideal solution, but I suppose it’s the best possible compromise given the design.
When it comes to actually typing with the TK, due to my preference for MX Blues, I’m not as fast nor as accurate at touch-typing with the MX Red-equipped TK. With my daily driver keyboard equipped with MX Blues, I average around 89 wpms with 0 errors. Where on the GIGABYTE Osmium I averaged 81 words per minute and 4 errors, on the TK I average 85 wpms and 1.333 errors.
What accounts for the improvement? I honestly don’t think it’s the physical configuration of the keyboard; more likely I’m simply just getting used to the feel of Cherry MX Reds. The differences in feel of the key switches (I’ve now got experience with all four of the most popular Cherry MX switch types, including the MX Browns that the QuickFire Pro photographed in this review has) is significant and, at least for me, represents a major factor that influences my touch-typing performance. I really think that this is all about feel and what you’re used to.
What’s more absolute, though, is commentary on build quality. The QuickFire TK is superbly built. The keys feel good under your fingers, with no annoying squeaks or any other irregular sounds. The backlighting, which can be set to any one of five brightness levels and any one of three modes (full backlight, WASD + Fn, and full backlight in a “breathing” effect), is even throughout all the keys. The removable USB cable is braided and feels fairly indestructible. Likewise, the chassis exhibits no flex whatsoever. This might be a compact in terms of size, but it’s built like an M1 Abrams.
I won’t bother to provide much commentary of the TK’s performance as a gaming keyboard. After all, it’s not as if this keyboard has any macro keys or other extra functions. If anything, the fact that it’s a basic keyboard in this respect is a plus. In games, all I usually need is the WASD cluster, some of the number keys on the top row, and a few other miscellaneous keys. The TK did nothing to either embarrass itself nor distinguish itself as an exceptional performer. It just works as expected, and that’s all it needs to do, quite frankly.
The CM Storm QuickFire TK is a pleasure to use in most situations. Due largely to its superb build quality, you really would feel great about owning one. However, its design means it’s not strictly for everyone. The clunkiness involved just to use the arrow keys and the navigational key cluster is an impediment if you use those keys a lot. I’m one of those people who does use those keys fairly often, especially when I’m deep in the midst of that special textual feeling and I’m just banging on the keys writing the night away, or I’m entering tons of numbers and text on spreadsheets at my day job. The multi-step procedure to use the arrow and navigational keys slows you down some, but it isn’t a deal-breaker if you accept this as part of the deal of living and using the TK.
On the other hand, the TK does make perfect sense for some people. If you have just a limited amount of desk space for your keyboard, the TK makes good sense because of its compact footprint. If you enjoy keyboards equipped with Cherry MX Red switches, this should be on your short list of candidates. If all you do with your keyboard is game without needing to program and execute macro commands, it’s hard to think of better keyboards than the CM Storm QuickFire TK.
At the end of the day, after all, the TK is a gaming keyboard. Just like its elder sisters, it was born to play with the big boys (and with the girls too). Playing that role, it’s absolutely superb.
Cooler Master Quickfire TK Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
The CM Storm QuickFire TK keyboards are available in a variety of key types and prices from Amazon and Newegg.
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