About ten years ago, Metadot redefined the desktop computer landscape by repopularizing a style of computer peripheral that had once been ubiquitous: the mechanical keyboard. The product that resulted, the Das Keyboard, set a new standard for contemporary typing performance that acted like a swift kick to the knees of the cheap, forgettable dome-switch keyboards that at that point flooded the market. Since then, Metadot has redesigned and rethought around the edges of their original concept, but, aside from a foray into colored key caps, never actually going down the gaming keyboard route. But that’s changed with the Das Keyboard X40 Pro Gaming Mechanical Keyboard—although, despite fine construction and a few compelling ideas, it’s tough not to think that Metadot just hasn’t brought its A-game with this release.
Design and Features
Simplicity was obviously the watchword with the X40 Pro$129.00 at Amazon, which maintains Metadot’s commitment to efficient minimalism; you’ll find few external frills here. Measuring 19.13 by 6.81 by 1.22 inches (HWD) and weighing about 3.25 pounds, the sturdy keyboard departs only from the traditional 104-key design by way of the five macro keys lining its left edge. All other enhancements come by way of the FN key located in the lower-right of the main deck, between the Alt and Context Menu buttons, which you press in conjunction with one of the top-row (F1 through F12) function keys.
F1 and F2 cycle through the six brightness levels of the X40 Pro’s red backlight that can be viewed between the keys and through the labels on the laser-etched key caps. (This cannot be changed using the driver software.) F3 toggles Gaming Mode, which deactivates the Windows Key so you don’t accidentally bump yourself out of whatever game you’re playing. F5 through F7 are Rewind, Play/Pause, and Fast-Forward controls for your media. F9, F10, and F11 respectively mute, decrease volume, and increase volume; unlike on the Das Keyboard 4$165.99 at Amazon, you’ll find no hardware volume controls. And F12 is a macro recorder shortcut key. Also changed by way of FN: the Esc key, which will put your computer to sleep.
Aside from the backlighting, there are the usual three lights (for Number Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock) in the upper-right corner, along with a fourth light to remind you when you’re in gaming mode. The only other features of note are the three pass-through jacks on the rear upper-right edge. The first is a single USB port, though only USB 2.0; the Das Keyboard 4 is armed with two USB 3.0 ports in this location. Next to the USB port are headphone and microphone jacks. Because of all this, you’ll have a lot to connect to your computer, though the thick, braided cable is long enough (about 6.5 feet) that you shouldn’t have any problems with most desk setups.
Whereas most keyboards, even those designed specifically for gaming, maintain a fairly austere appearance when viewed from the top down, the X40 Pro distinguishes itself with an aluminum top panel that’s intricately designed with a dynamic collection of geometric shapes—and which you can you can remove and replace at your leisure. There are currently two designs, Stryker and Defamer (which, except for an angled protrusion at the top and a gentle shattered glass effect, looks a lot like the Stryker), with the former available in silver, red, and olive, and the latter available in silver and mustard. To me, the red Stryker and the mustard Defamer (both of which were included with our review unit) looked somewhat garish, but the coolly detached silver Stryker panel had an appealing military presence. (It’s easy to imagine panels for specific games or hardware companies being among the future designs.) The panels are swapped by way of eight hex screws located around the perimeter of the deck (a small hex wrench is included with each replacement panel). This process is hardly difficult, but I did find the bulky screws somewhat distracting, and uncomfortably brushed against them often while mousing.
Under the hood, the X40 Pro uses a new proprietary key switch design called Alpha-Zulu that boasts an actuation point of 1.7mm rather than the typical 2mm, which Metadot claims provides enhanced performance during particularly intense gaming situations. You can purchase the X40 Pro with either of two styles of Alpha-Zulu switches: Linear (aka Olive), which is both non-tactile and non-clicky (roughly equivalent to Cherry MX Red); and Tactile, which is tactile and non-click (think Cherry MX Brown). In both keyboards, the switches are gold-plated, and rated for 60 million keystrokes (up from the 50 million of earlier Das Keyboard models); and have full n-key rollover, so you can type as quickly as you need to and hold down multiple keys without needing to worry that they all won’t register in a pinch. A plastic key cap puller is included if you want to remove and replace any of the caps.
It’s not necessary to install the X40 Pro driver software; the keyboard will work just fine without it, though it gives you a lot more flexibility with regard to setup. In addition to making it easy to program the macro keys (you can select a number of useful default choices that will mimic, say, Web browser or mouse functions, or you can record your own), you can also configure up to five profiles that assign new values to keys, assign different polling rates (125Hz, 500Hz, and 1,000Hz are all options). Because the X40 Pro isn’t busting with features (such as multicolor backlighting across complex collections of key zones) the way some gaming keyboards are, the software is incredibly simple. Paradoxically, it’s also somewhat confusing, with a Home screen that does absolutely nothing and a Support/Updates tab that links you to the company’s website; it could all be streamlined quite a bit.
Across a couple of weeks of intense testing with a variety of titles (most notably Fallout 4), the X40 Pro proved a capable gaming companion that, surprisingly, I liked more for that purpose than my stalwart Das Keyboard II. The Alpha-Zulu Linear switches did provide smoother, quicker response in high-speed chase and combat sections, with the lack of a notable spring keeping my fingers where they needed to be, when they needed to be there.
Granted, the X40 Pro is designed for gaming, so its performance in that area is more important. But you’ll eventually need to type something. I found the X40 Pro somewhat less ideal for that task, especially across longer stretches; the firmer bounce and satisfying click of the Das Keyboard II’s classic Cherry MX Blue switches, and its deeper actuation point, better suited for helping me attain and maintain the rhythm and speed I’m used to.
There’s admittedly some element of personal preference here, and if you game a lot more than you type, chances are this won’t matter to you. But it’s worth keeping in mind.
Comparisons and Conclusions
Metadot is coming late to a crowded market, and has some trouble asserting itself here as completely as it did with the original Das Keyboard once upon a time. At $159, the X40 Pro is expensive and is missing some of the swankier features you’ll find on higher-end gaming keyboards—even those that cost less. The Corsair Strafe Mechanical Gaming Keyboard$80.99 at Amazon, for example, lets you create an infinite variety of lighting patterns and has presets for eye-catching animated effects. The Razer BlackWidow Tournament Edition Chroma$80.99 at Amazon lacks the X40 Pro’s 10-key number pad, but has fully customizable, multicolor backlighting. And our Editors’ Choice for gaming keyboards, the Corsair K95 RGB$149.99 at Amazon, combines sprawling backlight configuration with powerful driver software and even a number of additional function and macro keys that allow for preprogramming of more than 100 commands. Against all this, the X40 Pro’s big innovation of removable top plates looks a bit chintzy.
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide what matters most to you with a gaming keyboard, and then purchase accordingly. Because the Das Keyboard X40 Pro Gaming Mechanical Keyboard struggles to keep pace with its competition, and lacks the flash that characterizes the category, we’re keeping the Corsair K95 RGB our Editors’ Choice for now. We still love and heartily recommend the Das Keyboard 4 Professional for everyday typing, and all but the most hard-core gamers will find it perfectly acceptable for regular gaming chores as well. If Metadot wants to own the gaming keyboard space as definitely, it needs to set itself—and its value proposition—apart more distinctly than it does with the X40 Pro.