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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  • Jakeisbest - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Cherry corp has announced they they are making an even lighter switch, i think the announcement was at the CES tradeshow.
  • cmdrdredd - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Anything lighter and you'll have way too many misfires. No thanks.
  • AssBall - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    You type at "like 140wpm".

    When you ignore spelling and punctuation and capitalization.

    I can type "like 140 WPM" of junk too...
  • IlllI - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    completely ruins it.
  • fishbits - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    "While the aggressively loud and wonderfully clicky Cherry MX Blue switches in Rosewill's RK-9000 leave a lasting and indelible impression as being ideal for any serious typing (and not sensitive enough for gaming)"

    Disagree. I've had two makes of keyboard with Cherry Blues and they've been fine for gaming, and not just RTS. The clickity audio aesthetic isn't the best mesh for things like FPSs, but gaming was no problem. That includes Mirror's Edge ;)

    I did get a Rosewill with Cherry Browns recently, and like others are saying, it is really good for gaming and typing. Nice, quiet "thunk" feeling to them... but a lot lighter than that. Just satisfying to use. I've yet to try blacks or reds, but am picturing the browns as close to ideal for all-around use to me.
  • Belard - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    These keyboards are aimed at gamers? The tiny one as the worst layout... moving the ? key over? there is no reason for it. Just leave it where it is... stick the shit key where it belongs.

    The middle keyboard, almost got it... +/- for the points made.

    The Meka G-Unit is something I am almost interested in. First, I actually PREFER the L-shaped ENTER key. My keyboard was made in 1996... its no longer made... and is white(ish). Todays black keyboards are hard to read at night too.

    Anyway, my layout is similar to the Meka G-Unit but they screwed it up by moving the RIGHT shift KEY way over to the right. (Again 3 different keyboards with 3 totally different layouts? I think these come from different suppliers). Finding a keyboard with both a BIG-L enter key and BIG Backspace key is rare. On mine, they stuck the :\ key (rarely use) to the right of the RIGHT shift key and of course made R-Shift a bit smaller. I think that's a perfect layout.

    - BIG backspace
    - BIG Enter Key

    I'd go with this island keylayout... BIG Delete key, but keep the HOME/END Page UP/Down keys where they are. (toss out the Pause/break key, its a Fn or CTRL key combo on Scroll Lock).

    - not all keys light up... why not ALL and selective? Or how about multi-colored user control. Some keys red, some white, some blue, etc?

    - Not all players use WASD control. I use a mouse for all movements. Keyboard to fire.
  • cmdrdredd - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    WASD is the accepted norm and just about every competitive FPS player uses it because if you use your mouse to move, you can't aim for shit.
  • Belard - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Funny... my AIM is quite good with the mouse.

    The keyboard has 4 directions for moving. My mouse moves quite well. My tigger finger isn't interacting with the mouse.

    Mouse = Mouse view and movement direction... I can run at angles and circles that you can't do with WASD. The LEFT button = move forward. RIGHT button = move backwards. My logitech has two side buttons, I have these set to STRAFE <left and right>.

    CTRL key = Primary fire
    Shift key = secondary fire (grenade)
    ASDFG keys = Weapons keys. (also mouse wheel)
    Z = zoom
    XCVB = various controls keys.

    I never touch the right side of the keyboard.

    On my ONLINE FPS games... I'm usually in the top 3-4 in scoring/kills.

    Its fine that people use WASD, as long as I have the option to make it work for me.
  • perspicacity - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    Good to know I'm not the only one who use the mouse for movement. I've tried to get used to using WASD for movement, because it's the default for most games these days... but it just feels so clumsy for me.

    Mostly it's a bit of an old dog / new trick sort of thing... I'm too lazy to learn a new style of play.

    I think the WASD choice came about because of similarity to console games... my style came about because that's how games were set up in the earliest FPS's.

    left button = fire
    right button = forward
    back button = backward (extra button on mouse)
  • Porksmuggler - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    I have the base Meka, and yes the layout is odd, but that's i-rocks doing (they made the board before Thermaltake rebranded it).

    The reason I use it? It's the only compact mechanical with tenkey and 2 usb ports. Unless someone knows of another. I would love a standard tenkey compact with usb ports in a more standard layout.

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