Introduction

Mechanical keyboards have become increasingly sought after over the past year, with more and more manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon, oftentimes producing gamer-oriented hardware that features mechanical Cherry MX switches. Going mechanical has a lot to offer both the seasoned typist and the serious (or even semi-serious gamer), and we've gone over those benefits in our reviews of Rosewill's RK-9000 keyboard (with Cherry MX Blue switches) and Corsair's Vengeance K60 and K90 keyboards (with Cherry MX Red switches).

For a little while we've also had on hand a trio of Thermaltake's Meka keyboards (along with their Black Element mouse), and all of these keyboards feature Cherry MX Black switches. So we have a few questions to answer here: what's with all these colored switches, what has Thermaltake made out of them, and which one is going to be the best for you? And as a substantial sidenote, in a world dominated by Razer and Logitech mice, what is Thermaltake bringing to the table with the Black Element?

Thermaltake Meka in Three Flavors

With the Thermaltake Meka we have not one but three keyboards on hand, which sounds more onerous than it is. All three of these keyboards feature the same build materials and the same Cherry MX Black switches; they differ only in size, layout, and additional features. In order from smallest to largest, we have the Meka, the Meka G1, and the Meka G-Unit.

The smallest of the three, the Meka (no suffix) has the most condensed/compressed layout. The document navigation key cluster is gone, with the Insert and Delete keys moved to above the number pad while the Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End keys relegated to the number pad. More perplexing is the reverse-L-shaped Enter key, which forces the "\" ("|") key to share space with the Backspace key. And probably the most unforgiving change is moving the "? /" key from the left of the Right Shift key to the right of the Up Arrow. Mechanical switches or no, the Meka's bizarre layout makes it a poor choice for many typists, particularly those who routinely switch between keyboards. If Thermaltake wanted to save space they would've been better off looking at notebook keyboard layouts featuring keypads rather than putting together this chimera. On the good side of things, note that the Meka also features two USB 2.0 ports at the top, which is always a welcome touch.

The next keyboard, and my personal favorite, is the Meka G1. The G1 features the most standardized key layout of the three; the only hiccup is replacing the Windows key with an Fn key and then moving the Windows key over to the right of the spacebar. I'm not personally a fan of that change, but gamers who've had to get used to avoiding the Windows key will probably be happy to see the move. The G1's massive cable bundle includes two USB 2.0 connectors (one for the keyboard, and one for the two USB 2.0 ports at the top of the keyboard) along with passthrough cables for the headphone and mic jacks on your tower that connect to the jacks on the top of the keyboard (next to the USB 2.0 ports). Users who prefer PS/2 connectivity also have that option, and Thermaltake includes a removable plastic wrist rest. The one thing I don't like is that the lock LEDs are all very bright red; I actually found the Num Lock to be slightly distracting.

Finally there's the Meka G-Unit, the largest of the three. My only complaint with this one is the reverse-L-shaped Enter key, but the dedicated media keys, volume controls, macro keys, and control of the backlight are all appreciated. That white LED backlight is tough to capture in photos, but you can see that it's selective: Thermaltake only backlights the keys they expect gamers to use. That means the WASD cluster, the arrow keys (also on the number pad), the spacebar, the Left Shift, and the Left Control keys. The backlighting can also be disabled if you're so inclined.

One major point where the Meka G-Unit does differ from the Meka G1 is that it uses a single USB 2.0 cable as opposed to a bundle, and that cable powers the two USB 2.0 ports in the top of the keyboard. Not just that, but the G-Unit also features a built-in audio chip to handle the microphone and headphone jacks in the top of the keyboard. Installing the drivers will have Windows default to using the G-Unit's audio jacks, unfortunately, but it's easy enough to switch back to your normal speakers.

Of course, that's the other major point where the G-Unit differs from the others: it actually has driver software due to having macro keys. We'll take a brief look at the software on the next page.

Thermaltake Meka and Cherry MX Black Switches in Practice
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  • Belard - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    LOL! I expected they bought something else.... Hence the 3 totally different keyboard layouts.

    For the most part, Logitech keys its keyboards the same, as does Microsoft.
    Reply
  • 6x9equals42 - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    I Just got a Das Keyboard S with Cherry MX blues and couldn't be happier. It's at my workstation so I haven't tried it for gaming, but I could definitely see the advantages of red or black switches for that. I would be interested to see a review of the Das Keyboard Silent or another keyboard with the MX brown switches for comparison. Reply
  • jgrnt1 - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    I'm not sure how they stack up for gaming, as I'm just a casual gamer, but I'm a big fan of Unicomp's keyboards. They are the direct descendants of IBM's Selectric typewriter keyboards.

    I had an old IBM keyboard for a long time and when it finally died, I found Unicomp. I have the Classic 104 in black. Also note that most of their keyboards come with a choice of USB or PS/2 connectors:

    pckeyboard.com
    Reply
  • sjc1017 - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    I type at least 3000 words everyday on my lap top, can someone please tell me what are the advantages of these keyboards? Reply
  • cj145 - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    Do you guys ever plan to review mechanical keyboards from companies that have been doing it for years (Deck, Filco, Das, etc)? I like that you started to review them, it's just I have not seen one keyboard reviewed that is built like a true mechanical KB should be; like a brick and designed to outlast everything else. All of these new TT, Corsair, etc keyboards feel flimsy and cheap in comparison. Reply
  • tinspinner - Saturday, July 07, 2012 - link

    I'm using a mech4 Levetron keyboard that uses cherry black MX switches. It's an interesting keyboard because the keypad can be removed from the right side and put on the left. It still has a solid feel and locks into place. It also has an additional 6 key macro add on that plugs into the spare usb port, yes it's usb, ps2 doesn't work. The addon slides on a rail allowing positioning over any part of the main keys, but covers part of the function keys when down in position. It's a flipup style addon. This keyboard is rarely heard of as it is rather unusual. The keys have a standard layout otherwise but the back space key is painted with an arrow(but is back space) and is the size of a standard key, which doesn't affect my typing though it might some)

    Anyhow when I first used the keyboard I liked the feel for typing better than my razer black widow ultimate (I believe cherry blue MX keys, don't quote me though). The higher actuation force doesn't bother me but I like the linear smooth feel in actuation. I almost always bottom out when typing on either keyboard. (Heavy hands, long fingers).
    Reply
  • burkeden - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    I can only comment on my experience, but I had MAJOR issues with Razer's build quality and support process (i.e. - I strongly discourage others from making my mistake of going with a Razer keyboard)

    The only place you can buy Razer's BWUS keyboard is directly from Razer online. Let me summarize my experience and let you be the judge:

    May 8, I ordered the BWUS keyboard from the only place you can get it - the Razer store.
    It came to me with the backlit key feature defective. I immediately contacted support expecting a replacement to be shipped. I had to first take photos and send them in, wait several days, and then be told I need to return it and wait 2 weeks for the replacement. I was very unhappy but did just that.
    What I got back on July 2 (nearly 2 months after placing my order) was a dirty unit, in a bent and torn box, completely missing the left shift key. I thought this was a screw up of epic proportions, but I was sure Razer would correct this very quickly. Well, after relaying the story I was told to send pictures of the missing key!!!! Are you serious? You don't believe me when I say it is missing a key? Or even worse, you are trying to determine from the photo if you can send a new key and have my insert it. Forget the fact I ordered a new keyboard and have now been sent a used one.

    And finally I did get the email confirmation that they are going to send a key that I can hopefully just pop in, and that I can just clean the keyboard??? lol - I could not make this up.

    ps - they keyboard itself is decent if you get a new and working one. BUT IF YOU DON'T, YOU CAN ONLY CONTACT RAZER SUPPORT THROUGH EMAIL WHICH TAKES 2-3 DAYS TO GET A RESPONSE AND AS EVIDENCED ABOVE, THEY ONLY TAKE THE BARE MINIMUM STEPS TO GET YOUR PRODUCT FUNCTIONING.
    Reply

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