Thermaltake Challenger Pro Gaming Keyboard
Author: Michael O'Neill
Editor: Shawn Knight
Date: 01-04-2011
Provided by: Thermaltake
Software, Keyboard

Thermaltake includes software that allows you to program the macro keys of the keyboard. Installation was straight-forward and quick. Once completed, you will be prompted to reboot your machine. This is pretty simple software and one must question why a reboot is required considering you can install the entire Adobe CS suite without a reboot (note this may not be the case for other operating systems – this occurred on Windows 7 Ultimate x64 edition). On a positive note, the program is lightweight and has a final install size of about 25 MB.

Once rebooted, the program will launch a system tray icon that you can open it from. Launching the program takes about 20 seconds as the keyboard's internal memory is being queried. The interface is simple but functional. Each macro key has a drop-down where you can select the following options: Macro, Cut, Copy, Paste, Undo, All, Find, New, Print, Save, Launch. Most of the functions are self-explanatory. “All” is select all, and "Launch" allows you to launch an executable file. The program has four tabs per profile. There is a keyboard key to change between profiles on the fly (more on this later). Once all the macro keys are set to their desired function, you can upload the configuration to the keyboard with the upload button. The upload only takes a few seconds and the functions are immediately available once it completes.

The interface to program a macro will pop up when the macro option is selected in the key function drop-down menu. The interface to program the macros is quite intuitive. To create a new macro you simply hit the record button and press the desired key sequence. The record process is very detailed and records both the key press and key release as separate events. It also times the duration the key is held down for and the duration between key presses. Once done, you can hit the stop button. At this point you can tweak your macro by adding delay time, reordering the events, or removing events. On a side note, this could lead to some interesting events as you can order the key release event before the key press event or completely remove key press/release events.

I could see this being used to exploit certain games, for better or for worse. There is a limit of 20 actions that can be recorded for every macro. Keep in mind the key press and key release events are counted as individual actions so this may actually put the limit at 10 complete key strokes. There is the ability to command the macro to run once, repeat when you press and hold the macro key, or repeat over and over until the next macro key is pressed. Finally you can save/load macros to/from a file.

Some other miscellaneous features in the program include a save and load button to save profiles, a timer, buttons to control the keyboard's backlight, and a shortcut button to register with Thermaltake. The function of the timer is a bit of a mystery and may be there to get in-game times. Overall the software is effective, lightweight, and simple. The only real negative aspects were the required reboot upon installation and the 20 second load time to launch the program. These are really only minor nuisances though.

All and all, the macro programming process is straightforward and easy. All of the macros execute from the keyboard's on-board memory so they are precise regardless of the state of the attached computer. This also allows the keyboard to remember its programming after being detected and powered down from the computer.

The keyboard itself is a very attractive unit. You can expect to find most of the keys in their typical places with the exception on the PrtScn, ScrLK, and Pause button which are displaced slightly to the left of their normal positions to make room for the multimedia keys. The common multimedia keys are in the upper right corner of the keyboard and include Previous, Play/Pause, Stop, Next, and Volume up or down. The ten programmable macro keys line the outside of the keyboard on the left and right side with five keys per side. The final keys of note are the backlight control key which allows you to change the brightness of the backlight or completely disable it, and the profile select key which will allow you to change between the four macro key profiles which are setup in the control software covered in the previous segment.

There are the three typical indicator LEDs for Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock. There is also a color coded profile key which will cycle between red, green, blue, and purple which is indicative of which profile the keyboard is running under. This is somewhat confusing as the profile numbers don't exactly indicate a color and vice-versa (Red = profile 1, green = profile 2, blue = profile 3, and purple = profile 4).

Typing on the keyboard took a little getting used to. As mentioned earlier, the Challenger Pro has flat, laptop-like keys. For those who prefer the normal sized keys this may be a deal breaker. The keys are also slightly stiffer to type, but after a couple days of use, anyone should be able to adjust. Multiple keys can be held down simultaneously with the computer registering all of the keystrokes. The keyboard is certainly for the disciplined gamer. While the chassis is quite sturdy, it is not going to take much to make the keys fly off. Taking out your frustration on this may only lead to further frustration as you have to reassemble the keys on your keyboard.

Other miscellaneous items of note include the built-in 2-port USB hub, the detachable USB cable, and the fan storage slot. The Challenger Pro comes with a really nice 5' USB cable. The cable has a fabric braided sheath and appears to be one of quality. One of my favorite features about the keyboard is this cable and the fact that you can disconnect it from the keyboard making the unit much easier to travel with and move around. The USB cable also comes with its own carrying pouch to keep it from getting tangled up. There is a built-in retention mechanism for the cable in the bottom of the keyboard to keep it from getting pulled out of the back of the unit on accident.

The two built-in USB ports work as expected. The computer immediately recognized when something was plugged in and it provided enough power to charge my phone and an iPod Touch. Lastly, there is a slot to store the fan at the top of the keyboard. Due to the poor performance of the fan, this slot may get more use than Thermaltake intended.

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