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Cooler Master Storm Trigger Gaming Keyboard Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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12,857
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Montreal
When it comes to keyboards, people fall into one of two groups: those who use mechanical keyboards and those who have not yet had the privilege of using what some would consider the epitome of input device design. Products based off of rubber dome technology are much more prevalent than the “old school” mechanical keyboards but in many cases this is due to economics rather than overall quality. By opting for cheaper, shorter-lived dome switches, manufactures can pack in a lot more features without significantly increasing costs. Considering most gaming peripherals live and die by features like backlighting, programmable buttons, and media keys, high quality yet inexpensive keyboards are something of a rarity in this product space.

With the new Storm Trigger gaming keyboard, Cooler Master hopes to sell gamers on a mechanical keyboard that is loaded with all the extras enthusiasts have come to expect from their peripherals—at a price not much higher than that of the typical gaming keyboard.

Cooler Master’s Storm line is designed, marketed and priced with enthusiasts in mind, and based on many past examples from the Storm line, the Trigger will have a high standard to live up to. In addition, it is going up against some very stiff competition with Corsair, Gigabyte and many others having recently announced their own gaming peripheral lineups. Suddenly, a market that was the exclusive realm of Razer, SteelSeries and a few others is becoming very, very cluttered.

The primary feature of this new gaming keyboard is of course the fact that Cooler Master has opted for Cherry MX key switches, which have an enviable reputation. By itself the switch choice will not make the Storm Trigger an instant hit, but with its additional combination of features like multi-level backlighting, built-in macro profiles and a removable USB cable, the Storm Trigger has the potential to justify both its $125 asking price and its place in the Storm lineup.


 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
12,857
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Packaging and Software

Packaging and Software



Keyboards usually come in boxes as small and lightweight as possible, so the Storm Trigger’s sturdy packaging came as a pleasant surprise. Its container may not be as wide as the one which Gigabyte uses for their Aivia keyboard, but the Storm Trigger’s is taller and uses greater levels of internal padding to ensure it arrives safe and sound.

As with all of Cooler Master’s Storm line, the box itself is as aggressively eye-catching as it is robust. It also provides potential customers will all the data needed to make an informed in-store purchasing decision.


Unfortunately, the fancy packaging doesn’t quite make up for the disappointing accessories kit that Cooler Master has opted to include. There is a small instruction manual and a smaller correction pamphlet—and that’s it. There is no included software CD, no replacement keys, and no key puller. They do furnish you with a replaceable USB cable and a wrist rest, but in our opinion these are necessary components required for the Trigger to work optimally rather than true accessories.

While the anemic accessory list can perhaps be overlooked, one thing can’t: the lack of a driver CD. In order to actually use the Trigger to its full potential, the software (not included) is a necessity and not a value-added feature. Since Cooler Master has made the download a whopping 100+ megabytes, this is simply unacceptable on such an expensive, enthusiast-grade peripheral like the Storm Trigger.


The software—once you have finished downloading it—is classic Cooler Master, and anyone familiar with the other Storm peripherals will have no trouble figuring out this iteration. If anything, the Storm Trigger’s software has been streamlined compared to what ships with most Storm-branded gaming peripherals. It is still powerful, but it has been simplified in order to provide as shallow a learning curve as possible and it succeeds in this respect.


The only issue we have with the software is the Macro Studio. This macro editor may be quite capable, but it also has many quirks you will have to learn to live with, the largest of which is lack of prebuilt macros to cover the majority of situations. This is one area in which most of the competition—especially the Gigabyte Aivia K8100—is clearly superior to the Storm Trigger. However, once you start actually creating custom macros it quickly becomes evident that the Trigger’s software is just as useful as the competition’s, if somewhat less refined.

On the positive side, you can execute macros via the Trigger’s onboard processor. This means that your custom macros will work even in games that block the use of software macros. The game’s cyber-nanny will never know you are executing macros in the first place; they will simply appear as ordinary commands coming from the Storm Trigger. Just be careful to make sure the timing of your custom macros is humanly possible or you may still get banned for your creative “bending” of the rules. As Cooler Master actually states in their FAQ: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Initial Impressions

Initial Impressions





Even without the included wrist rest, the Cooler Master Storm Trigger is quite an imposing device. Making it seem even bigger is its aggressive silver-and-black color scheme, which causes the keyboard to stand out in stark relief to its surroundings. Most consumers will either find the design very appealing or not at all to their liking, with very little room for middle ground. In fact, the aesthetics arguably have more in common with that of the HAF line than those of the Storm line.

While the Storm Trigger may be a stylistically polarizing piece of kit, one quality that all users will appreciate is its durability. The top and sides are entirely covered in a non-slip rubber coating, and the whole keyboard has a robust construction which puts most competitors to shame. Since gaming enthusiasts—especially those who regularly attend LAN events—aren’t known for being easy on their equipment, this increased ruggedness may be enough to overcome its “unique” appearance.


Helping to overcome the love/hate aesthetics is the inclusion of two USB 2.0 ports, which will enable you to attach everything from storage to headset options without the need for another easily accessible USB port on your system. It is unfortunate that Cooler Master include USB 3.0 compatibility as the added bandwidth would have come in handy when the ports are being utilized by high-bandwidth devices. Considering the relatively slow adoption rate of USB 3.0, this isn’t necessarily a major concern, but be aware that you don’t want to overload the single USB 2.0 uplink. Doing so may result in random delays between when you execute a command and when the system receives it. For example, attaching an external drive enclosure could result in additional keyboard latency while transferring a file to the device.


Next to the two standard USB ports is the mini-USB port used to actually connect this peripheral to your system. The nicely braided cord itself is easily replaceable with any USB cable. However, Cooler Master is quick to note that if you must replace the cable, you should use only a high-grade one. A lower quality cable may not adequately handle the bandwidth demands this keyboard can place upon it. The 5-volt DC port next to the USB ports is for providing additional power to the Trigger should it be needed.



Unlike most wrist rests, which are meant to be used in between bursts of typing, this one is angled so as to place your hand in a comfortable and natural position for typical FPS gaming scenarios. If your genre of choice involves more than the WASD or arrow keys, however, the wrist rest will not seem nearly as comfortable.


The five macro keys positioned on the left edge of the Trigger are easily reached without moving your fingers from their proper WASD position. Sadly, the reason you will be able to do this is the lone row of five macro keys, which for serious gamers is far too few. Luckily, any key can be reprogrammed to execute a macro. This means you should never be lacking in macro possibilities, but it might take some creative key reassignment via the software profile editor to come up with macros that are both easily actuated and don’t interfere with your games’ various key combinations.




While we are not generally lovers of backlighting, we did find this feature on the Storm Trigger to be well thought out. It’s actually a gaming enhancement tool rather than just a flashy gimmick.

You can choose three brightness levels varying from dim to moderately bright, with two even brighter options available if you plug in a 5v adapter (which is sold separately). You can also choose between having the entire keyboard light up like a red light bulb, pulse like a beating heart, or stay completely dark; or you can have only the macro, arrow and WASD keys illuminated. This last option really facilitates proper finger placement in a darkened room. All you need do is cover the lights with your fingers for your right or left hand to be in the proper FPS gaming position. We found ourselves opting for this option more and more as time went by.


While all these features certainly impressed us, one thing that failed to delight was the lack of dedicated multimedia keys. Even though this keyboard has a very large footprint, Cooler Master didn’t make room for a feature many consumers would take for granted, opting instead to make the function keys pull double duty.
 

SKYMTL

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Hands-On Testing

Hands-On Testing



The Trigger certainly looks great and boasts an intuitive software stack but that doesn’t make it a good gaming peripheral. During our lengthy testing, we were initially less than impressed with the keycaps which populate this mechanical keyboard. Simply put, they’re small—both narrow in depth and width—and widely spaced. This combination means that when we started using the Trigger, our fingers had a disturbing tendency to either hit the wrong key altogether or fan within the space between two keys, causing both to be registered. With a few hours of practice we did learn to overcome this issue by slowing down and being more precise in our finger placement, but for anyone who’s used to rubber dome keyboards (or other mechanical keyboards) there may be a significant learning curve here.

Once we became acclimatized to the slightly small keycaps, the Trigger started to shine. Thanks to the Cherry Brown switches, which not only have a low actuation pressure of only 45 grams but also require only 2mm of distance to be actuated, this keyboard lives up to its “QuickFire” moniker. Better still, once you get used to using it, the fine art of key floating becomes a distinct possibility. Key floating is when you don’t allow a key to travel back to its full extension and rather hold it just above its reset point. This allows double/triple/quadruple taps to become so fast that the device’s 1000Hz / 1ms polling response rate is actually a necessity.


While Cherry Brown switches are considered tactile-feedback-only, the fact of the matter is that the Cooler Master Trigger can be a lot louder than rubber dome or even Cherry Blue keyboards. If you are looking for a silent option this is definitely not the one for you. With practice you can indeed get all the benefits of mechanical switches while making very little noise, but mastering this will take a lot of practice since pushing a key just past the 2mm actuation point will result in a slight bump rather than audible feedback. However, if you bottom out the key—as you are most likely to do when touch typing at word output or during gaming—there is a loud CLACK and a lot of vibration is transferred to your fingertips. This noise is louder than any CLICK you get with a Cherry Blue switch and much more noticeable than the dull thud of rubber domes being actuated. If the sound is annoying, you can always purchase rubber O-ring “silencers” via various third party sources.

Helping to balance the increased noise factor is the longevity Cherry MX switches afford the Cooler Master Storm Trigger. As with most of the Cherry MX line, Cherry Browns are good for 50 MILLION activations. By comparison, rubber domes are good for one to ten million, with most usually falling into the lower end of this spectrum. To put this in perspective: if your rubber dome keyboard lasts you three years, this one could potentially last between 15 and 150 years.


Overall, if you are used to rubber dome keys it will take a few hours to adjust to the feel of these Browns, but you will most likely enjoy any time spent doing so. However, the same cannot be said for someone who is accustomed to Cherry Black or Blue switches, and thus the Storm Trigger would not be our first recommendation for experienced users. The MX Brown really is more a jack-of-all-trades option designed to be decent at both typing and gaming but less effective than either Blacks or Blues in their respective specialties. If you already know what you like and demand from a keyboard, these switches may leave you wanting more. More importantly, the type of Cherry switches used will vary depending on geographic location so this may in fact be a moot point.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


The Storm Trigger is a functional, albeit quirky peripheral that may look oversized and oddly configured and yet ultimately provides a great gaming experience. Granted, there are higher end keyboards out there and even less expensive ones that seem to offer similar features but very few offer the combination of price and performance that Cooler Master has on tap.

One of the distinguishing factors of the Trigger is its ability to improve upon the features normally associated with generic gaming keyboards and attach them to a product that boasts enthusiast-oriented key switches. Multi zone illumination, USB ports and Macro buttons are all included next to those oh-so-sweet Cherry Browns.

While you won’t have to give up any features by switching to a mechanical design like this, such a keyboard takes some getting used to. This is a rather small annoyance, and you will quickly be back to your old speed—or better—as the Cherry Browns have a silent, built-in feedback mechanism that gradually trains the user to apply just enough force for the required throw distance.

Until you get used to “hitting the bump,” you can smash the keys with abandon, as the Storm Trigger is meant to take a beating. It has tough-as-nails internals so we have little concern over longevity and expect the average gamer will get sick and tired of looking at the Trigger long before it stops working.

Unfortunately, not everything has been as well thought out, and there are a number of controversial design decisions here. One of these is the rather industrial look Cooler Master has gone with. A good keyboard should either be unnoticeable or elegant—but never garish. The Trigger’s silver-with-black “rubber tracks” look shares more in common with the HAF line of cases than it does with the other members of the Storm series. You will probably either like the aesthetics or find them over-the-top.

While the looks may or may not grow on you, one thing that you will have to adjust to is the keys themselves. When most consumers think of Cherry switches they instantly think of a robust, tactile keyboard that simply feels different than a rubber dome model. Just by placing your fingers on the F and J keys, you should instantly know you are dealing with something special—but the feel of the Storm Trigger’s narrow, cramped keys doesn’t evoke such feelings. We don’t expect massive metal keys with laser etching, but we would appreciate keycaps that are more deserving of the Cherry MX switches they’re paired with.

In the end, we believe the Cooler Master Storm Trigger is a very good peripheral but one that simply won’t be right for all consumers. If you are interested in a gaming keyboard but also plan to do a lot of typing on it, Cherry Brown switches would not be our first choice. Similarly, the Browns would aren’t optimal for a gaming-only keyboard, as their characteristics lean towards compromise instead of excellence. Nevertheless, compromise is a good thing for first-time buyers who don’t know precisely what they want, so if you are looking for your first mechanical keyboard you can consider this to be a Dam Good choice.


Pros:

- Extremely durable design
- Good software
- Removable / replaceable USB cable
- Built in 2-port USB hub
- 64KB of onboard memory
- 5 onboard profiles
- Macros can be executed by the keyboard itself
- Multiple levels and modes of backlighting
- Tactile but not “clicky”


Cons:

- Controversial looks
- Rather small and cramped feeling keys
- 5 macro keys per profile is a touch low
- Divers not included and must be downloaded
- No dedicated multimedia keys
- To get all the potential lighting options, you need to purchase a 5v adapter
- 1 Year warranty


 
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