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If you have a need for this kind of extremely niche product, there aren't many better choices than this one. Get ready to meet your new gaming best friend.
If you’re serious about gaming, you don’t want to just use any keyboard. That said, you may have different preferences for gaming than you do for typing. It’s tough to find a single keyboard that is perfect for everything.
That’s where a gaming keypad like the Razer Tartarus comes in. While the previous model had a membrane keyboard, Razer stepped up the quality with the Tartarus Pro, which uses analog optical switches for ultra-precise inputs. Is it worth the $130 asking price or should you stick with a standard keyboard?
What’s in the Box?
The Razer Tartarus Pro ships in a large box. This may give you the impression that it comes with plenty of extras, but that isn’t the case. All we found inside the box was the keypad itself and the manual. Most people will probably also get a sticker or two, as they’re almost always included with Razer products, but we can’t make any promises.
Build Quality and Design
As is the case with most other Razer products, the Tartarus Pro has a hefty feel to the plastic. It’s not overly heavy, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like it’s going to slide all over your desk at an inopportune time. The keys and various buttons all feel like they’ll stand up to rigorous use as well.
Looking at the Tartarus Pro, you may wonder how comfortable it could be. Obviously, this will depend on the size of your hands, but for me the overall layout put everything within easy reach. This is handy on its own, but the built-in wrist rest also made using the keypad over the course of a few hours comfortable. This can be adjusted between two different positions, depending on the size of your hands and the key layout you’re using.
We received our review unit of the Razer Tartarus Pro in black, which is the standard color for most of the company’s peripherals. That’s not the only option, however. You can also order the Tartarus Pro in Mercury White. This, combined with the colored lighting, gives the keypad a very 1970s science fiction-inspired look. Whether or not this is a good thing is something for you to decide.
Switches and Key Feel
Where the Razer Tartarus Pro differs most from the original Tartarus is in the key switches. While that model used a membrane keypad, the Tartarus Pro uses Razer Analog Optical Switches. These bring a host of benefits that help the keypad feel like it’s worth the asking price.
Compared to more standard mechanical switches, the switches here feel similar to Cherry MX Red switches. There is no mechanical click here; the only tactile indication that you’ve pressed a key is when you bottom out. This might seem disappointing if you’re more used to MX Blues or other “clicky” switches, but when you look at what these keys can do, the choice makes sense.
In addition to feeling silky-smooth, these keys can have dual actuation points. Razer’s example is pressing a key part of the way down to make a character walk, while pressing it all the way will make the character run. They don’t have to be related functions, however. For example, you could make lightly pressing one of several keys select a given weapon, while pressing any of them fully will fire.
You get 20 of these keys, which doesn’t quite match a full keyboard, but should cover any gaming functions you can think of. Even strategy games and MMOs (which are mentioned heavily in Razer’s marketing for the Tartarus Pro) will work just fine. This is especially true when you combine the other built-in controls.
In addition to the keys, the Razer Tartarus Pro also includes a programmable directional pad. Obviously, this is meant to control movement, but theoretically you can program it to perform any functions you like. Practically, this just means that no matter whether a game uses arrow keys or the WASD keys for movement, you can easily map them to the pad.
There is also a standard mouse-style scroll wheel. This feels like a strange inclusion since in most cases you would still be using a mouse alongside the Tartarus Pro. That said, like everything else, this is programmable so you can have it control one set of functions while your mouse scroll wheel handles another.
There is a single button located just above the directional pad. This might be programmable as well, and I’m sure even if Razer’s software doesn’t support it you could find a way, but really it’s meant for switching between three control profiles.
As with other Razer products, you need to install the company’s Synapse software to make the most of the Tartarus Pro. This is how you program the keys to perform all of the various functions, as well as where you configure different profiles. In addition to various keys, you can also have the Tartarus Pro emulate either a joystick or controller via the D-pad, which you set up here.
The Synapse software is also where you’ll go to customize the lighting. This is actually so deep that it’s deserving of its own section, which we’ll get to in the next part of this article.
If there’s one major downside to the Tartarus Pro, it’s that it relies on profiles saved in the Synapse software for its configurable keymaps. This differs from other Razer hardware like the Huntsman keyboard, which has internal memory to store lighting and other information. It’s not a dealbreaker, as serious gamers are probably only using the Tartarus Pro on their main gaming computer, but internal storage would have been nice.
In addition to keymap profiles and lighting, Synapse also lets you program and store macros for more complex functionality. If you want to know more about this, check out our guide to recording macros in Synapse.
If you’ve used other premium Razer products, you’re probably familiar with the base lighting options. There are a few built-in lighting effects to choose from, as well as some deep customization. The built-in effects include a ripple effect, a fairly convincing approximation of embers in the remnants of a fire, a breathing effect, and more. If you prefer things a little less flashy, you can even select a single solid color or even turn the lighting off.
The Synapse 3 software also includes Chroma Studio, which lets you customize every aspect of the Tartarus Pro’s lighting. The software supports assigning any of the 16.8 million colors the LEDs are capable of displaying. The easiest way to start is by customizing the built-in quick effects, but you can also download lighting effects others have created if you’re just looking for more visual flare.
I happened to have other Razer products around that work with the Synapse 3 software, specifically a Huntsman keyboard and Basilisk mouse. Using the software, I was able to easily sync lighting across the Tartarus Pro and these other devices, meaning as colors changed, they were exactly the same on each piece of hardware at the same time.
Developers can also use the Chroma SDK to create specific lighting effects in their games. Even the music creation software FL Studio includes Razer Chroma support to give your music a bit of visual flair.
Putting the Razer Tartarus Pro to Work
While the Razer Tartarus Pro is meant for any type of gaming, there are certain games where it will be more effective. If you’re only really using the WASD keys in a game, this gamepad may not offer much that a standard keyboard wouldn’t. This means that while it will work fine for first-person shooters, for example, it doesn’t provide much of an advantage in them.
On the other hand, for button-heavy games like MMOs, the Tartarus Pro absolutely shines. I played some Final Fantasy XIV, and the many various key combinations necessary were easier to pull out at a moment’s notice. I also found that my left wrist felt much more comfortable after an hour or so than it normally would.
As mentioned above, you can customize the Tartarus Pro’s keyboard layout in any number of ways. While this is handy for gaming, it’s less so for general computing. I could see people who work with video maybe finding some use in the Tartarus Pro, but it’s not going to help you much if you’re working with Excel spreadsheets.
Should You Buy the Razer Tartarus Pro?
The Tartarus Pro is a very niche product, but you probably knew that going in. It does what it does extremely well, and while the ergonomic layout isn’t going to be ideal for everybody, I found it comfortable. If you’re looking to improve your gameplay in an MMO, MOBA, or strategy game, this could give you the edge you need while proving friendlier to your wrists at the same time.
That said, I can’t imagine many–if any–situations outside of gaming where the Tartarus Pro would be more useful than a standard keyboard. Of course, this goes for any gamepad of this sort. If you’re just looking for a quality keyboard with a few extra features, you might want to take a look at our list of the best gaming keyboards. Many of these are great for gaming or for work.