Going Green

I recently bought my brother a backlit mechanical keyboard for his birthday and Christmas. However, the green backlight doesn’t match the blue LED on the computer case’s front fan. I called the computer fashion police and they told me to screw off as they were busy ticketing another MacBook Pro clone (looking at you Lenovo!).

Green is my brother’s favourite color and I also hate mismatching colors on things other than clothes. So to complete the package, I bought a fan with a green LED. Now he can truly pursue his dream of being an e-athlete (lol).

Keyboard and fan

E-sports.

Ok, he’s not actually going to quit studying to enter university just so he can play video games at a competitive level. At least our family hopes.

His current “gaming” keyboard is a blue-backlit piece of crap which seems to use dome switches with membranes under the keys. It’s a piece of crap because he’s only had it for 6 months, but the paint coating on the keys was actually rubbing off with use.

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It did feel somewhat good to type on though.

I bought him the Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Stealth Edition, and that’s two words too many to describe a “backlit mechanical keyboard.” It goes for around $150 online, and I bought it from NCIX since there were some glitches on Canada Computers’ website. I figured he could use something better than his current keyboard that would last longer provided he actually cleans it (he usually doesn’t), but since this is the only time of year where he gets big presents, why not?

I don’t even have a keyboard as nice as this. (c) Razer.

I’ll take a few paragraphs to explain the difference (read: steal off the internet) between dome-switch and mechanical-switch keyboards.

Keys that use dome-switches with membranes have a rubber or silicone dome underneath each key which, when pressed by the key above, push together two membranes with conductive traces to complete an electrical connection. Most consumer keyboards today use this type of switch; some are even marketed as “gaming” keyboards! While typically quiet, they can feel “sticky” when you need to tap a key repeatedly very quickly due to the rubber dome collapsing over and over again. Their lifespan is typically in the millions of keystrokes. Below is a diagram from Deskthority which explains everything in more detail.

Rubber dome over membrane, exploded.svg

On the other hand, mechanical-switch keyboards use individual switch assemblies with a small spring for each key. These assemblies can give different types of actuation behaviour, and there are different types suited specifically for typing, gaming, or sometimes inbetween. An article on PantheonES explains the details very well, so I’ll just go over the main points:

  • mechanical keys typically take 25-30% less force to actuate than membrane keys
  • mechanical keys can be reset and multi-tapped far faster than membrane keys
  • mechanical key lifespans are in the 10s of millions of keystrokes
  • mechanical keys have a predictable, linear force response as they are pressed down

Razer developed their own keyswitches for their 2014 Blackwidow keyboards in “green” and “orange” variants, likely to avoid supply shortages of expensive Cherry switches used in most mechanical keyboards. The green switches are based off of the Cherry MX Blue design which is typically suited for typists, but not so much gaming (then again, it’s mostly user opinion). The blue switches have a tactile feel with an audible “click” sound when the key is activated. The green switch activates about 0.3 mm higher at a depth of 1.9 mm vs the blues’ activation depth at 2.2 mm. More details can be found in an in-depth review by AnandTech.

Razer Green switch. (c) Razer.

 

Below you can see how the blue switch works. The blue slider travels downward until it hits the white slider. The two parts then continue downward together with a tactile “bump” as the metal leaves on the left make contact. Razer’s green switch works in an identical manner.

Cherry MX Blue, with blue and white sliders. (c) MechanicalKeyboards.com.

Cherry MX Blue vs. Razer Green. (c) SweClockers.com.

 

I don’t know why they chose the Cherry Blue of all things to make their “standard” green switch, as the Cherry Reds and Blacks are simpler in construction and typically more suited to gaming. But if it sells, it sells.

Cherry MX Red switch, showing linear spring response. (c) MechanicalKeyboards.com.

This keyboard, the Stealth edition, uses Razer orange switches which are based off the Cherry MX Brown design. I chose this switch because it is suitable for both typing and light gaming. They do not have the slider as in the blue switches, but still exhibit a tactile feel. These switches are also typically stated to be silent, which is likely the reason why this keyboard is named the “Stealth” edition.

Cherry MX brown, showing tactile “bump”. (c) MechanicalKeyboards.com.

Personally I can still clearly hear clicks when I type on it, but it’s still better than my brother’s last keyboard. The decreased noise should help at night when my parents are trying to sleep in the room down the hall. The key action also feels very responsive and light to the touch. All in all, switch type is mostly user opinion and if you want a mechanical keyboard, you should try as many different switches as you can before buying.

I wanted to see how fast I could type on this keyboard compared to my typical 100 wpm on my membrane laptop keyboard, so I did a couple of typing tests for about 5 minutes on TypingTest.com.  I was extremely surprised to find that I made a lot of typos, accidentally hit Caps Lock several times, and ended up with an average corrected speed of 85 wpm, 15% less than my usual speed. Given that it was my first time using a mechanical keyboard, I often used too much force and bottomed out way too much. The keys also felt smaller and much closer together than the old keyboard or my laptop keyboard, making it hard to type fast without messing up. If I had one for daily use I would likely get better, but my brother likes it anyway so it’s all good.

For the fan, I looked through some green ones online. Below are the three options I found on Canada Computers, as they have stores in both Mississauga and Waterloo to which I could quickly go.

[easytable]Name,Airflow (cfm), Sound Intensity (dBA), Speed (rpm), Price (CAD),Color matching
NZXT FZ-120,59.1,26.8,1200,$17.00,10
GELID Wing 12 PL,75.6,26.8,1800,$17.00,8
BitFenix Spectre Pro,56.22,18.9,1200,$15.00,6[/easytable]

In the end I chose the NZXT FZ-120 ($15 on Tiger Direct). While the GELID had the far highest airflow, the NZXT had the highest airflow for its fan speed. Okay, I actually didn’t find the specs for the GELID until after I bought the NZXT because I was dumb and in a hurry, but hey the NZXT got really good reviews online. However, the deciding factor was how well the green light matched the Razer keyboard, and judging by the pictures, the NZXT fit it perfectly.

“And God said, ‘Let there be e-sports,’ and so it was.”

I needed to remove the front blue fan from behind the front cover which was secured to the case via some snaps, so the first thing to do was to ground myself with my anti-static wrist strap. There’s an xkcd comic about that.

I really, REALLY need a workbench.

I then popped open the case to check where the front fan plugged in, just to make sure I knew where to plug the new fan back in. Doing this while crouched on my floor because I don’t have a workbench was extremely painful. But I’m a big guy, for you.

I couldn’t pull open the front cover without seriously bending it, so I grabbed some pliers and squeezed the snap rivets so they’d unfasten. Upon removal, I realized that the snaps were rounded all over so I could’ve just yanked it off really hard.

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Future mechanical engineer.

The coil windings of the brushless DC motor in the fan can clearly be seen here. It’s a really neat touch and helps the fan LED shine as brightly as possible. It was also dusty as hell because my brother never cleans it.

starplatinum_front_blue_fan

That really winds me up.

I plugged it in and powered the computer back on. The fan roared to life and lit up, so I brought the keyboard next to it to check how the colours matched.

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Somewhere out there, a green viper weeps* a tear of joy.

Here’s what the computer used to look like:

ORA ORA ORA ORA ORA ORA ORA ORA

Here’s what it looks like now:

IMG_20141224_203846

Colour consistency in JoJo? Ahahahaha!

Mission accomplished. Merii Kurisumasu!

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Jingle bells~

*Snakes do not have tear ducts and cannot actually cry.