Date: May 1, 2012
Author(s): Rob Williams
After taking a look at Cooler Master’s QuickFire Pro keyboard last month, we walked away knowing that the company knows how to make a quality mechanical offering. Will the Trigger reaffirm that belief? It adds macro support, a palmrest and expands the backlighting to the entire keyboard – so it has a good chance.
The current hotness surrounding PC gaming at the moment is, without a doubt, keyboards with mechanical keys. Out of nowhere, peripheral makers from all over have begun releasing one or more models, no doubt leading to many “I told you so” smirks by those who’ve been standing by their own mechanical keyboards for many years.
Considering how long mechanical keyboards have been around, it’s taken forever for them to catch on in the gaming segment. But, it’s a good thing that it has, because as pretty-well anyone who has used a mechanical keyboard could attest, they’re worth the premium. In a nutshell, mechanical keyboards deliver better feedback than standard models, leading to an improved typing experience.
It was with Cooler Master’s CM Storm QuickFire Pro I reviewed last month that I had my first mechanical keyboard experience, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was excellent. I’ve since become a believer of the mechanical, and can’t see myself going back to a standard offering anytime soon. Given that I was so impressed with the QuickFire Pro, I looked forward to hauling the Trigger out of its box to see if I could be wowed over a second time.
As great as the QuickFire Pro was, it was missing a couple of things that some gamers might appreciate. Macro support, for example, was nonexistent; the backlighting covered just about a quarter of the board and there was no included palm rest. All of these things have been remedied on the Trigger, warranting its $20 price premium.
That’s not to say that the Trigger overshadows the QuickFire Pro in all regards. In terms of aesthetics, I believe the QuickFire Pro to look a lot better, and for some reason, we lost the ability to use an N-rollover function on the Trigger, limiting the number of keys that can be pressed at once to 6. On the other hand, the Trigger has an even more solid build; one Cooler Master is confident enough in to allow a Lamborghini to drive over it.
Both the QuickFire Pro and Trigger share the same CHERRY MX Brown switches (in the US, at least), meaning that there is a light “bump” about half a keypress down. This improves the overall feedback, but it can only be felt if you are a regular-speed typer. Typing fast, you won’t feel a bump at all (not a bad thing; the feedback is still excellent).
The Trigger, much like the QuickFire Pro, has an industrial-esque build-quality to it. As mentioned above, Cooler Master itself conducted a test where a car drove straight over it, and it survived. That’s going to be a ridiculously rare situation any gamer is going to find themselves in (and chances are, bigger problems would demand your attention at that point), but it’s nice to know that it’s built to last.
A complaint that I had with the QuickFire Pro was that didn’t include dedicated media keys, and unfortunately, that’s not something that’s fixed with the Trigger. Instead, media functions can be accessed by pressing the CM Storm key and then the appropriate F5 – F11 key.
Five macro keys vertically line up on the left side of the keyboard. A total of five profiles can be tweaked on the board at once, allowing up to a total of 25 different macros to be set. For some, having only five keys might seem a bit limiting, but don’t fret, CM has got that covered (will talk more about this on the next page).
Underneath each one of the top F keys is an icon for its alternate function. The F5 – F11 keys, as mentioned above, are for all of the typical media functions you’d expect. F1 – F4 are used to adjust the LED mode (off, pulsate or static) and brightness.
For those who don’t like to use a palm rest, the option of course exists to not use the one that’s included. If you take that route, there will be a large notch right below the arrow keys. This gives the keyboard an interesting look, though it provides no sort of benefit that I’ve been able to tell.
One of the nicer features of the QuickFire Pro was that the cable could be routed underneath so as to prevent it from being pulled out in the heat of gameplay, but the Trigger features no such mechanism. Instead, the USB cable plugs in right above the numpad. In regards to a feature like this, there’s no perfect implementation. On the Trigger, if the cord is somehow tripped over, it’ll simply pull out of the keyboard and nothing aside from the person tripping will be harmed. On the QuickFire Pro, the keyboard will just come crashing to the ground.
If you have a crowded desk, then chances are pulling this cable out isn’t going to be that difficult. I keep a clean desk, and in simply trying to reach another cable behind my monitor, I ended up pulling the cable out of the keyboard. A minor issue nonetheless.
Below is a shot of the keyboard equipped with the included palmrest. In all of my testing, I’ve found it far more comfortable to use this than not, and overall I have no complaints about it. It clips in well, and a swift drop to the floor failed to break the connectors. It’s comprised of a rubber that will show sweat well, but so far, it’s proven to clean with ease.
At the back-right corner of the Trigger is the port for the main cable, and two ports to be used for other peripherals or storage devices. Also here is a port for a 5V power adapter. This allows you to use the brightest LED setting possible, and also helps prevent a major issue I’m going to detail on the last page.
Testing aside, the Trigger is well-designed, crazy durable and comfortable. So far, so good. Let’s get into the software, shall we?
For what I’m sure are obvious reasons, I cringe at the thought of having to test out the software that comes included with whichever gaming peripheral I’m tackling. Too often, the aesthetics are designed for 8-year-olds and the function designed for rocket scientists. For the most part, the software included with the Trigger doesn’t detract from that goal.
I believe that outside of specific cases, software should be self-explanatory – especially for something as simple as a gaming peripheral. The Trigger’s software is no such thing. In fact, I found it headache-inducing at first, having to at times contact our CM press rep in order to figure out how to do something (like apply a profile – yes, really). Of course, once you actually know how to do everything, the software might be easy to use, but don’t expect a jump-in-and-go experience.
That’s the bad. The upside is that the Trigger software offers a crazy amount of customization. In a rare move, Cooler Master allows you to customize virtually every key on the keyboard to your liking. Don’t need the F keys in a particular game? Turn them into macro functions. This is what I teased about on the previous page about the “lack” of dedicated macro buttons. Because of this insane flexibility, you’re able to create as many macros as you like with whichever keys you like. This is the level of customization I love to see.
By default, there is no official “Windows key” on the Trigger. To regain that functionality, you’ll need to click on the left CM Storm button in the main UI, then choose the Windows key icon above. Because CM wants a dedicated CM Storm key on the Trigger, the right key on the board cannot be altered.
Upon clicking any other key, you’ll be able to choose its function above, including being able to create the macro. Once all configured, you can hit the CM Storm button + 1 (replaced with the number of the profile) to apply it. You’ll know that it applied successfully if all the LEDs blink. To offer even more customization, you’re able to assign a graphic to each profile (such as the logo for the game that the profile is for).
On the second tab up top is “Profiles”, allowing you to rename profiles or move them around.
The highlight of the Trigger’s software is “Macro Studio”, allowing you to fine-tune your macros to a ridiculous level. When creating a macro you will be able to choose whether your timing matches how you press the keys, set a specific value or remove the delay entirely. From there, you can record your macro and then adjust it once finished.
Back at the main screen, you’ll be able to apply your macros to any keys you like, and then choose whether to have them execute once, an “n” number of times, indefinitely, or loop only while the key is held down. Overall, I have got to say that the macro configuration on this keyboard is the best I’ve ever seen – bar none. I did find it odd, however, that the middle mouse button (scroll wheel) could not be used in a macro (testing using CM’s own Sentinel Advance II).
Setup aside, the macro execution was perfect, in all of the tests I performed.
At the page offset, I mentioned that the Trigger software takes some getting used to, but one resource I didn’t spot until I was writing this review was a how-to section found on CM’s official Storm website here. This resource provides actual videos of different functions, so it’s well worth taking a look at before trying to figure things out on your own.
After I fell in love with CM’s QuickFire Pro, I was excited to give the Trigger a test, since, at $20 higher, it should be even better. In some cases, it is. It has macro support, so that’s a major advantage, and it also has a comfortable palm rest. And who doesn’t love to have every single key backlit? Then of course there’s the fact that you could brag to your friends that a Lambo could run over your keyboard and it’d still be good to go.
Both the QuickFire Pro and Trigger use identical switches, though on the Trigger I found I had to break them in a little bit. At first, the keyboard just didn’t feel the same as the QuickFire, nor was it as loud. After a day however, the same feeling and sound that I expected clicked in (pardon the pun). I loved the QuickFire for its responsiveness, and that carries right on over to the Trigger.
Despite the initial headaches that the Trigger’s software caused, I found it to offer the best macro configuration of any gaming peripheral I’ve ever used, and that counts for something. So does the ability to alter the function of pretty-well any key on the keyboard – including adding macros to standard keys. The sky’s the limit as far as configuration goes.
A minor problem I had with the QuickFire Pro that I didn’t mention in the review (due to it being so minor) is that on occasion, some keys might give off an audible squeak. It happened so rarely that for the most part, I just never thought about it. Things are a little different on the Trigger, at least with our sample. The space bar has a very obvious squeak to it, which I hear on almost every press. It’s not major, but a squeak can be annoying even when subtle.
It could be that, like the noise and feeling of the keys initially, the squeak will be worked out over time. But up until this review, I’ve used the Trigger every day, and for many hours each day, for two weeks straight – the squeak remains.
As frustrating as a squeak is, though, the Trigger has another flaw that dwarfs that one. Because of the high-power that the keyboard demands, there are going to be cases where the keyboard might not work right after a boot, or after the keyboard is plugged in (when already in an OS). When I raised this issue with our CM rep, we were given a reference to an entry in the Trigger’s support section. In part, it states:
Since Trigger features a very powerful integrated processor, detailed firmware and a lot of memory, it requires more time than other Keyboards to initialize. On some PCs this can cause the boot process to slow down for a second, or result in Trigger not being recognized. In this case please use another keyboard to enter the BIOS and disable “QuickBoot” or “FastBoot”.
Requiring a user to alter a BIOS option for a keyboard is strange enough in itself, but stranger still was when I entered my PC’s BIOS and saw that my Quick Boot feature was disabled. For fun, I enabled it and then rebooted. That resulted in the issue becoming so bad that I had to grab another keyboard just to undo the change.
The reason this issue became a real problem for me is twofold: A) I have an OS selection menu at boot time and B) I need to type in a password to enter either Windows or Linux. With this issue, the keyboard would sometimes not work during event A), and then sometimes not work during event B). Whether or not the keyboard works at boot or after plugged in when already in an OS is totally random. I tested the keyboard on three different PCs (two featured a BIOS and one an EFI), and even after 50 or so replugs, I couldn’t find a theme to help me figure out when the KB would or wouldn’t likely work.
The tip pulled from CM’s support section covers the boot time, but as mentioned above, the issue can also occur when already in an OS. The “USB Device Not Recognized” error above was seen at random times after unplugging and plugging the keyboard back in on all three PCs I tested it on. Sometimes, replugging the keyboard again would solve the issue, and sometimes it wouldn’t. About two weeks ago, I was playing Borderlands with friends, and had to reboot. It took me nearly 15 minutes to get back into Windows with a working keyboard and ultimately back into the game.
This is an issue not unknown to Cooler Master, which is why the official support section tackles it. One recommended solution is to take advantage of a power adapter that the Trigger can use. Unfortunately, I had no adapter that could fit the port on the back, so I was unable to test it in this way. One is not included with the keyboard, and I don’t believe Cooler Master plans to sell them as an add-on. And let’s be real – who wants to plug a power adapter into their keyboard? I sure don’t.
In the end, the Trigger is not a keyboard I can recommend at this time. I’ve talked to others who have tested out the Trigger also, and haven’t been able to find anyone who’s experienced the above issue (or the squeaking) as severely as me. It could be that I received a borked sample, but after detailing all of the issues to Cooler Master, it didn’t seem likely – and once again, the power issue is detailed in the official support section.
I had hoped that the Trigger would blow my socks off, but thanks to the above issue, it left a sour taste in my mouth instead. Chances are good that the issue could be fixed in firmware, and if so, I hope to see a new one released soon. But with the issue as it stands, I recommend the Trigger be skipped over. If macros and full backlighting aren’t a must-have for you, I still highly recommend CM’s QuickFire Pro.
June 11th Addendum It took a while to get here (thanks to UPS), but I received a replacement Trigger late last week and have been using it since. As is now obvious, the original sample I received either had poor firmware, or was faulty in some regard. The replacement works just as I’d expect it to, and across the same three PCs as mentioned above, I have no issues plugging it in and have it work 100% of the time.
With our original sample, booting into the BIOS was impossible. The board just didn’t have enough time to initialize. With the replacement, that problem no longer exists. In fact, there hasn’t been a single time with this replacement that the board hasn’t been rock-solid. It’s unfortunate that the sample I did originally receive was borked, as the review reflected poorly on what in actuality is a great product.
Prior to and after posting our review of the Trigger, I perused about 10 other reviews, and no one mentioned the issue I experienced. Thus, I believe this to be a rare issue, and one that shouldn’t be held in high regard against the product. Ever purchase a product, just to get it home and not have it work? It happens.
At this time, I’d like to retroactively award the Trigger with our Editor’s Choice. If we didn’t experience the major issue laid-out above as a result of the fault, we would have awarded it originally. That said, if anyone out there experiences the same issue, I’d be interested to hear about it. And if that does happen to be the case, don’t consider it to be normal, and make sure to get it replaced.
CM Storm Trigger Gaming Keyboard
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