Per-Key Quality Testing

In order to test the quality and consistency of a keyboard, we are using a texture analyser that is programmed to measure and display the actuation force of the standard keyboard keys. By measuring the actuation force of every key, the quality and consistency of the keyboard can be quantified. It can also reveal design issues, such as the larger keys being far softer to press than the main keys of the keyboard. The actuation force is measured in Centinewton (cN). Some companies use another figure, gram-force (gf). The conversion formula is 1 cN = 1.02 gf (i.e. they are about the same). A high quality keyboard should be as consistent as possible, with an average actuation force as near to the manufacturer's specs as possible and a disparity of less than ±10%. Greater differences are likely to be perceptible by users. It is worth noting that there is typically variance among keyboards, although most keyboard companies will try and maintain consistency - as with other reviews, we're testing our sample only.

The machine we use for our testing is accurate enough to provide readings with a resolution of 0.1 cN. For wider keys (e.g. Enter, Space Bar, etc.), the measurement is taking place at the center of the key, right above the switch. Note that large keys generally have a lower actuation force even if the actuation point is at the dead center of the key. This is natural, as the size and weight of the keycap reduces the required actuation force. For this reason, we do display the force required to actuate every key but we only use the results of the typical sized keys for our consistency calculations. Still, very low figures on medium sized keys, such as the Shift and Enter keys reveal design issues and can easily be perceptible by the user.

As we expected, there is practically no difference at all between the two keyboards in terms of consistency. The keys on the Das Keyboard Prime 13 have an average actuation force of 46.1 cN. Those of the Das Keyboard 4 Professional have a slightly lower average actuation force, of 45.9 cN. Both of these are a little higher than the 45 cN rating of the Cherry MX Brown switch, but this is consistent with all of our previous tests with keyboards featuring these switches, as tactile switches tend to have a stiffer pressure point before the rated actuation point. The disparity across the main keys of the Das Keyboard Prime 13 and the Das Keyboard 4 Professional was ± 3.12% and ± 3.10% respectively. The disparity testing results were eerily close to each other, most likely by a stroke of luck. Generally, keyboards with Cherry MX Brown switches display a disparity below 5%, with results below 4% considered to be an outstanding display of quality control.

Hands-on Testing

I always try to use every keyboard that we review as my personal keyboard for at least a week. My typical weekly usage includes a lot of typing (about 100-150 pages), a few hours of gaming and some casual usage, such as internet browsing and messaging. As I do not use the USB hubs and backlighting does not affect me, both of the keyboards were practically identical as far as testing purposes were concerned. The following comments mirror my experience with both of the keyboards.

Personally, I find Cherry's MX Brown switches preferable for my professional needs, as they are the least fatiguing tactile switch for long typing/working sessions. Cherry's MX Brown switch provides satisfactory tactile feedback with minimal stress on the tendons. As such, the Das Keyboards were an almost perfect fit for my working hours. I say "almost" because the lack of a palm rest became a definite issue for me past a couple of hours, forcing me to use an aftermarket solution. Using a keyboard this tall without a palm rest can become very uncomfortable after an hour or two. Then again, you are not supposed to be using a keyboard continuously over long periods of time without taking breaks, as such use is a major long-term health hazard, but a palm rest would keep one's wrists much more comfortable for when such occasions arise.

As far as gaming go, the Das Keyboards were very responsive and fun to use. The tactile and audible feedback from the MX Brown switch was excellent and, in my opinion, significantly less intrusive than the loud clicking of the MX Blue counterpart. MMO gamers will heavily feel the lack of programmability, as they will not be able to change the layout of the keyboards or issue macro/text commands without the use of third-party software. For single-player games however, the Das Keyboards will not disappoint. 

The Das Keyboard Prime 13 Mechanical Keyboard Final Words & Conclusion
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  • WorldWithoutMadness - Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - link

    Please do a review about Topre realforce RGB!
  • Krause - Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - link

    I don't think any of these tech sites review the actual high end mechanical keyboards, i've never seen a site like this with a keyboard review/mechanical best of list that actually contained a single keyboard that should be there.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - link

    They review what the manufacturers send them.
  • tachi1247 - Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - link

    They also can make requests to mfr's for reviews. While smaller sites and individuals will be sent things by manufacturers for reviews to help spread the word about the new product, a site like Anandtech has the industry clout to approach a manufacturer and request a sample for an upcoming article.
  • Holliday75 - Saturday, January 14, 2017 - link

    I wonder if Anandtech could....persuade people to turn over samples for testing. Say publish an ever expanding db of devices they requested and either a link to the article or a refusal by the manufacturer to send one. Naturally people will ask why, what are they hiding and could look bad on them.
  • JCB994 - Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - link

    What are the high end mechanical keyboards?
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - link

    The same ones as the low end mechanical keyboards. The difference between Kailh or authentic Cherry MX isn't as noticeable as the difference between $5 rubber dome office keyboard and an average $70 mechanical keyboard.

    Any further differentiation is pretty absurd and ultimately comes down to brand preference or possibly elitism. The entire point is that mechanical key switches have a MTBF of millions of keystrokes, which is several orders more reliable than rubber dome key switches.
  • Fallen Kell - Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - link

    The difference between a good mechanical keyboard and a crappy one is the same reasoning why rubber dome key switches were invented in the first place, cost cutting. The difference of type of plastic used in a part can be the difference of lasting for 10's of years without reacting to sunlight and oils/grease/dirt from people's hands/fingers or just making it long enough to exceed the keyboard's product warranty. It is the difference between using double-shot keycaps vs "painted and laser etched". A double-shot keycap will never wear out the character on the key from normal use, but laser etched keycaps will wear at some point as the paint does not last forever (unlike physical plastic which will last hundreds of years). The support braces used are another huge area of cost cutting which ultimately affects how well the keyboard survives. And then there is the matter of the switches being properly secured and supported into the PCB (a quick way to cut costs is to skimp on that physical connection, leading to solder points cracking over use as they take the load of the fingers hitting the key).
  • Jetpil0t01 - Sunday, January 15, 2017 - link

    I have a Razer Blackwidow Tournament Stealth 2014 and a Das Keyboard 4C Pro TKL and the difference is entirely down to build quality. I actually prefer the typing experience on the Razer, but you can clearly tell the quality of the build of the Das is much better. That being said, I have never had any keyboard in the last 20 years break due to poor build quality of the case, keys, cable or anything else, so its arguable the build quality doesn't add up to much in real terms. I have had the WASD keys on an expensive membrane board get mushy after 5 years of use, but that's still 5 years of use for under $100 which again to me seems trivial as far as the expense of replacing it.

    I can understand exactly why you would buy the Das Pro model featured here, the USB 3.0 and media controls as well as the clean but sharp aesthetic work perfectly in the office. If you are using it for productivity, the price also becomes trivial, so being higher quality makes sense. Plus there is little to no chance people will be dropping a Corsair RGB into the office without looking like a complete tool, so this seems to hit the target market perfectly.

    In the home however, the prime board starts to make little to no sense, outside of brand appeal. If it still had the USB and/or media controls the price might work, but where it is now, there are simply more feature rich products for less money, so it's going to have a tough time selling on build quality alone.

    All they needed to do here IMO was take the previous model, drop PBT caps on it, upgrade the hub to USB 3 and keep that in both models and you would have a compelling product. As it is, I would have a hard time recommending this over a Deck or Ducky board for professional or home use and I have had two Das boards previously.
  • Krause - Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - link

    The difference comes down to build quality and keycap material. Any POS that uses clear ABS (garbage plastic) keycaps that are then painted a dark color except for the legend to create cheap backlighting instead of doing true double shots should automatically be given 1 star out of pure principle.

    On a positive note though, painting (or "coating" in a rubberized spray paint if they try to spin it as a feature) completely negates the importance of using better plastics as the cap material in the first place so it really didn't matter if they used cheap ABS or PBT.

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