By: Aaron Lai
December 12, 2014
Today I woke up and realized, "Woah, Christmas is only thirteen days away!" This month is an oddity for myself, because it is the first time in three years where I do not have the burden of studying for finals. On the other hand, it is also the first time I only have a week off for the holidays. Unfortunately there are some things that never change, including the difficulty of finding gifts for people. Without fail, every year when December rolls around, I come to the realization I have zero gift ideas for everyone on my list. It is not like I hide in a hole for the other 364 days of the year, ignoring people. However, gifts are not on my mind until the twelfth month of the year. In my case, there are three groups for my friends, and none of them are mutually exclusive. The first group of friends are the ones that do not know what they want, or do not want anything. You may think this is the worst group of friends to deal with, especially since they are as clueless as I am. However, these people are easy to shop for, since you can just ask them what they like. It might be predictable, but at least it works. The second group are the people who are pickier than others, and are opposed to receiving certain types of gifts. The third group of friends are those who have everything they want. If they ever see something they want, they end up buying it themselves. The problem is everything they like is probably already in their possession. Do not get me wrong, I still like buying and giving gifts to my friends, but some are easier to shop for than others. However, when it comes to products, the reverse is true. The bigger problem is when the product does not have anything, and you are left wanting more. Likewise, if the product has all the features I want already, it does not make me wish for more. As for today's review of the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate, I can ask the same questions. Is it lacking features that keep it from its "ultimate" status, or is it the full package, with everything users want in a mechanical keyboard? Luckily, I have the privilege of answering these questions today. My only hope is this review is easier to deal with than gift shopping.
Today's review unit of the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate arrived from Tesoro's USA offices in Milpitas, California, in excellent condition. For your geographic curiosity, Milpitas is located just south of Fremont, which houses office locations of some other manufacturers like Antec and Silicon Power. In a standard corrugated cardboard box, the shipping container looks about the right size, especially when you consider the contents inside. Riding the United States Postal Service, and passed to Canada Post past the border, the parcel arrived with zero major dents or holes. Otherwise, there is not much else to note. I pulled out my handy utility knife and cut the box open.
Unfortunately, inside are not packing peanuts or anything fun of the sort, but rather, just some packing paper. Still, it is better than nothing at all. Pulling out the retail packaging of the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate, you can see a similar resemblance to the Tesoro Tizona G2N and G2N-P, especially in terms of color scheme and box shape. Tesoro follows the brand colors of purple, black and gray. On a side note, this color scheme has always reminded me of the old Los Angeles Kings colors, and it is understandable considering the relation between purple and royalty. The box is also shaped in the same trapezoidal fashion as the Tizona, which is unconventional in comparison to other keyboard manufacturers. On the front are very few words. This includes the name of the product and a product description reading "Backlit Mechanical Gaming Keyboard". Tesoro's slogan, "Break the rules", and their website are the other two things listed on the front. Finally, there is a plastic window in the shape of Tesoro's logo, which allows potential buyers to see what the keyboard looks like. On the top of the box is a handle to make for easier carrying, as well as the type of switches inside the keyboard. Today's review unit features Cherry MX Brown switches, but the keyboard is also available in Cherry MX Blue, Red, and Black. We will go over these mechanical switches later on in the review. On the back is a larger diagram of the Durandal Ultimate itself, with several features pointed out.
Before moving on, I have obtained the features and specifications from the manufacturer's website for your perusal:
- All key rollover - Full N-Key Rollover is an advanced anti-ghosting technology that allows for multiple simultaneous key actuations. This makes you more agile when in the game.
- USB hub - This keyboard has a 2 port USB Hub and two audio ports for your headset and mic.
- Memory - This keyboard features 128 Kb of onboard memory for easy macro storage.
- Palm rest - Durandal Ultimate is shipped with a comfortable palm rest so you won’t feel tired after winning another war.
- Braided cable - The keyboard’s thick braided cable is protected from mechanical damage and will endure your hardest battles.
- Macros - Durandal Ultimate can be configured to store 10 sets of macros for each of 5 gaming profiles. The macros can be bound to any key.
- Memory: 128KB
- Profiles: 5
- Macro keys: 50
- LED levels: 4
- Weight: 1.4kg
- Key lifespan: 50 million keystrokes
- Multimedia keys: 6
- Connection: USB
- Cable length: 1.55m
- USB ports: 2
- Dimensions: 455 x 206 x 43.4mm (WxDxH)
Carefully, I peeled off the plastic seals, and cracked open the box. The keyboard is found underneath a plastic cover, and wedged in between two large black foam sidings, which makes for good protection while the product is in transit. The wrist rest can be found underneath the keyboard, wrapped in a thin foam pocket to protect the piece of plastic from surface scratches. Other items inside the box are a product manual and a CD containing some more product information, drivers, and software for the keyboard. Tesoro recommends users to get the updated version of their software from their website. As you read in Jonathan Kwan's review of the Func KB-460 keyboard, this should not be an issue, as the chances of users not having any internet access is close to none. However, in the case you do not have internet, I will graciously send you a direct link via mail. Just send APH Networks Calgary a letter and label it "404 Not Found".
Much like other Tesoro keyboards, the Durandal Ultimate is named after the sword of Charlemagne's paladin, Roland. According to the poem "The Song of Roland", the sword was delivered to Roland by an angel. The hilt of the sword contained a tooth from Saint Peter, blood from Saint Basil, hair of Saint Denis, and a piece of the raiment of the Virgin Mary. The sword was also said to be the sharpest of all swords in existence. Unfortunately, we do not have a distinct answer if this sword is actually real, as there is no real evidence to prove its existence. Thankfully, today's unit of the Durandal Ultimate is made up of plastic and steel, and does not contain any blood, hair, or teeth, which I would label as a health and safety issue.
Taking a closer look at the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate, this keyboard is both basic and not at the same time. For one, basic are the colors, with black covering majority of the board. A translucent shade of gray is used to color the font of the letters. If you look at the keyboard as a whole, there does not seem to be as much creativity as we saw with the Tesoro Tizona. But do not get me wrong, this is not a blank slate either; there are still many places where the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate is unlike other keyboards. On both ends of the wrist rest, as well as on the right side of the keyboard, is a finish quite similar to a diamond plate floor pattern, making it look rugged or industrial. The rest of the keyboard features a horizontal brushed metal-like finish, which feels really good in the hands. In fact, both of these surfaces feels fine on your palm, which is good. The two finishes also do not attract fingerprints. The only place you will notice any type of smudging is on the glossy top right hand corner, where the LED lights are located. Tesoro's branding is limited to two spots; one of which are located in the center of the keyboard at the bottom. The other one is only displayed when you plug in the keyboard, and this is their purple logo, located where the Num Lock and Caps Lock are. I quite like it when manufacturers do not label up their products very much, or at least make the labels more discreet, as in-your-face logos make products look cheap.
When it comes to dimensions, the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate is average sized, with measurements of 455 x 206 x 43.4mm (W x D x H). Comparatively speaking, this is not as wide as the Tesoro Tizona with the number pad attached, but wider than the Func KB-460. It is deeper and taller than both of these keyboards, which makes for a mixed experience. The extra depth means you will need a tad more room on your desk. The extra height also can also affect the comfort of your keyboard usage, but I will get into that later. One of the features of the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate is full NKRO mode over USB. Traditionally, full n-key rollover modes only appear over a PS/2 connection, but nowadays, full NKRO over USB is becoming more common. From my review of the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire Pro, you will know NKRO is abbreviated for n-key rollover. This means each key is independently scanned by the hardware, so all key presses are detected regardless of other keys being pressed at the same time. In essence, this fixes ghosting issues found in cheaper and/or laptop keyboards. While ghosting is a bit of misnomer, and at times a marketing term, there are cases where keyboards will not be able to recognize more than one keystroke at a time, which can cause for missed keys. This can be extremely frustrating when you are playing games, or even if you are just a very fast typist. Generally, 6KRO is more than enough, as it allows users to press six keys at a time, and the keyboard will recognize all six independent strokes. NKRO allows for more than six, but can vary from keyboard manufacturer. Using Microsoft’s handy keyboard ghosting demonstration, I am able to press down more than twenty keys at one instance, with all of them being recognized.
On our review unit we received the standard QWERTY 104-key American English layout. If you look at the past keyboards we reviewed recently, you will notice practically all of them have similar key sizing too. For example, the Enter key is half of its size, which allows for the backslash key to be larger than the other keys by about fifty percent. The rest of the keyboard is laid out as you would expect, but I will point out a few things. Firstly, while the location of the LED indicator lights are where you would expect on the top right hand side, these LEDs do not function exactly as you would expect. Starting from the left, the first two lights are the standard Caps and Num Lock indicators. However, the third is not a Scroll Lock light, but rather the Gaming/PC mode indicator. This indicator lights up when you have selected a macro profile, or if you have disabled the Windows key. This is accomplished by pressing the Fn + F12 keys. Speaking of the function keys, these are also the same location of all the other media and profile keys. From F1 to F6 we have Mute, Volume Down, Volume Up, Play/Pause, Previous and Next. These media keys which can be activated by pressing Fn + the corresponding function. From F7 to F11 we have a quick access to the profiles for macros, but I will touch on this later in the review. Finally, on the number pad, you may notice the numbers 8 and 2 have a Contrast Up and Contrast Down symbol. While they do not actually refer to contrast, this controls the keyboard's backlighting. Again, I will dig further into this in the paragraphs to come. Otherwise, the rest of the layout is as you would expect.
Before continuing on, one of the best part of the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate is its mechanical keyswitches. This section has been adapted from Jonathan’s Thermaltake Tt eSPORTS Meka G-Unit review in October 2011. There are three main types of keyboards in the market today. The cheapest is the membrane keyboard, which is the easiest to make, but also has poor typing feel and response due to squishy keys. A scissor switch keyboard has its own independent keyswitch mechanism for each key, which delivers improved tactile response and typing experience. Modern scissor switch keyboards can be very good for everyday office use. Mechanical keyboards such as the Durandal Ultimate costs the most, because each keyswitch is an independent part.
The Durandal Ultimate features Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches, which is a first for us here at APH Networks. These keys are rated to last up to fifty million keystrokes, just like other Cherry MX switches. Brown switches are what I would call a hybrid between gamers and typists. They feature low resistance to typing, have a low actuation force to trigger them, but do not produce an audible ‘click’ on every key press. However, they feature a non-linear travel, with a tactile bump in the middle to tell you when the key has been actuated. To sum it up, the Cherry MX Brown switch is the silent version of the MX Blue switch. Preference of which keys will come down to consumer opinion.
When I first tried this keyboard, it was my second dip into Cherry MX Brown switches. My main keyboard, the Cooler Master QuickFire Pro, which had Cherry MX Red switches, started to develop a few problems, so when I received a replacement unit, they only had the QuickFire Ultimate in Brown. Prior to that keyboard, I have tried various mechanical switches, from Cherry MX Reds to Blues to Blacks. After using the QuickFire Ultimate and now the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate, I really like the Cherry MX Brown switches under the hood. It does take a while to switch between any flavor of mechanical switches, but after a while, you will get used to it. While there is no clicky feedback from the Brown switches, typing still is a joy on this keyboard, especially with the slight bump. For gaming, it produces similar noise to Cherry MX Reds, but is a tad louder. While the double tapping does not bother me as much, the noise or lack thereof is an advantage for those who prefer a quieter environment. Of course, these are still loud when compared to other types of keyboards. As for overall quality of the Cherry MX Brown switch, these are pretty much as I expect from any Cherry switch. I have noticed some keys have occasionally gotten stuck, leading to a row of repeating letters in my typing, but this has happened ever so raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarely (Haha, that was on purpose).
Looking at the backside of the mechanical keyboard, you can see the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate features a handful of connections. Starting from left to right, there are two USB 2.0 ports, a headphone jack, and a microphone jack. This is very handy because it makes commonly used ports easy to access. Tesoro has told users these USB 2.0 ports can only provide a maximum current of 100mA, thus you should not use these ports to charge your devices. Still the USB input is useful for things like quickly plugging in thumb drives to move a few files. It would be nice to see the newer USB 3.0 interface here, but I am not complaining; the very fact the Durandal Ultimate has these to begin with is a positive in my books. The headphone and microphone 3.5mm inputs are practically an extension cable, as the keyboard requires you to plug the corresponding audio jacks into your computer. While it would have been interesting to see a built in USB audio driver in a keyboard, I feel like this would unjustifiably raise the cost of the Durandal Ultimate for a feature few would use. Next to those ports is the fixed braided cord, which measures 155cm in length. On the other end of the cable is a gold-plated USB cable, plus some gold plated audio and microphone cables. As you know by now, the gold plating does not do anything for the USB port other than to make it look fancy, and is purely a marketing feature. These three plugs split off from one other about three-quarters down the cord.
Flipping over the keyboard for my final physical inspection, the Durandal Ultimate once again offers everything I expect from a keyboard of this caliber. Rubberized padding? Check. Rubberized feet? Check. Rubberized... wrist pad feet? Wow, check too. As you can see, Tesoro has pulled out all the stops for its base. These rubberized areas making contact with the surface are very grippy, and in conjunction with its hefty 1.4kg weight equates to a keyboard that does not move accidentally. This is one of the sturdiest keyboards I have ever used, which is a good testament to the design team at Tesoro. When it comes to comfort and height adjustment, this is the first keyboard I have used where I did not pop out the back legs. Normally, I find keyboards these days, both membrane and mechanical, are much too flat for my liking. However, the Durandal Ultimate already slants at a high angle without lowering the extended feet. Because of this, my wrists barely ever rested on the wrist rest, which could be uncomfortable after extended usage. While it is hard to make a plastic wrist rest more form-fitting for every single user, I would want to see Tesoro lower the keyboard slant as a whole, and allow users to increase it if they so desire. The wrist rest itself holds onto the keyboard quite well, and it is actually quite difficult to take off without fear of breaking the plastic tabs. While the Func KB-460 suffered from a too-easy-to-remove rest, I think Tesoro has almost made the extra piece of plastic too permanent once attached.
Unlike what Meghan Trainor thinks, this keyboard is not all about the base. Rather, it is also about the typing experience. I plugged everything into my computer, and fired up my desktop. As I have mentioned before, typing with Cherry MX Brown switches is not a new experience for me. I think these switches offer the best balance between gaming and typing. For one, playing games on this is flawless, especially on more keyboard demanding games. While majority of my gaming is not necessarily keyboard intensive, it is still a pleasure to use. As for typing, the keyboard is relatively comfortable to type on. The height issues with the keyboard being too tall is still a problem for myself, as I find my wrist does not actually rest as intended. However, I am writing this review with the Durandal Ultimate, and it has been a painless experience so far. Finally, I have to talk about the blue backlighting in this keyboard. The Tesoro Durandal Ultimate offers four modes of lighting. Three of these modes are just different levels of brightness, and the fourth mode is a breathing mode. The breathing mode pulsates between off to maximum brightness in a gradual wave. When it comes to the lights, the brightness distribution is pretty evenly spread, as each key has a dedicated LED underneath. The keys with words on it like Shift or Enter get a tad dimmer at the edges of the word, but it is not a huge issue. The only problem is the function keys, which light up the upper area of the key, but not the lower part where the media symbols are located. As we have seen in other keyboards like the SteelSeries Apex, there are keyboards with color customization of the backlight. While I like the blue, I know some users will want to change up their keyboard illumination color once in a while.
Included with the Durandal Ultimate is an application to set up your macros. Unlike Gigabyte's GHOST engine, this utility does not work across the board with all of Tesoro's products. However, after working as a software developer for eight months now, I realize there are annoyances in maintaining a do-everything machine, but I digress. The Durandal Ultimate is able to store up to 50 macros (10 macros in 5 profiles), and assign it to a specific key on the keyboard. These macros can be set to either a combination of keys, or to launch executable files, but it cannot launch them with flags or arguments. It would be good to see Tesoro provide more advanced options. Unfortunately, with the macro keys there are several areas to improve on. First, there are no separate macro keys, thus you will have to replace one of your keys. Separate macro keys would allow users can use all of their keyboard in addition to storing some more keystrokes, but this is similar to other previously reviewed keyboards like the Func KB-460. In addition, while there are five different profile modes, there is no way to actually tell which profile you are using. Inside the entire keyboard is 128KB of onboard memory, which is used to store all of your macros. Overall, it is not the best utility I have used, as there are areas of improvement, in both the user interface and the features. I should also mention I have seen a few quirks while using the application. For one, while all the media keys worked the volume up and down did not display the volume slider. I am running Windows 8.1, and on my other keyboards, adjusting the volume would automatically display the volume slider. However, with the utility working the background, this would never happen. Only when I exit the application would the default behavior be restored.
After all is said and done, I come back to my initial question and ask, "Is the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate everything I want?" Yes and no. Starting with the design, Tesoro has delivered another keyboard that is unique in its own way. The two finishes or surface patterns make it attractive, and unlike other mechanical keyboards. It also reduces the visibility of fingerprints on the device. As for build quality, the Durandal Ultimate is like a rock, in both feel and heft. The keyboard sits in its place, and does not move around unintentionally. Finally, with all the features I have been looking for including full backlighting, wrist rest, media keys, macro keys, USB ports with audio in and out, and full NKRO, it is hard to find things to add to the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate. In essence, it is the ultimate package of all the goodies. On the other hand, while it checks off everything on the feature list, it does not necessarily accomplish them with the best effort. For one, the macros and the implementation can also be improved, for both the hardware and the software. First, there should be separate macro keys so users do not need to remember which keys are acting as macro keys. There should also be a visible cue to tell users which profile they are in. Finally, the application can be easily improved in both the ease of use, and to make the utility play nicer with default Windows settings. Thankfully, the utility issue is not a hardware problem, and updates can be released to the public over the internet. I also find the keyboard has too steep of an incline, which causes more strain on your wrist. Lastly, I do not think it is unreasonable to ask for the ability to customize the backlight. In the end, the Tesoro Durandal Ultimate is a very solid keyboard in both build and features. However, at a demanding price tag of $130 USD from Tesoro, the Durandal Ultimate is not the cheapest of keyboards. I am not against paying more to get more, but unfortunately the Durandal Ultimate requires some refinement.
Tesoro Technology provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
6/10 means A product with its advantages, but drawbacks should not be ignored before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 6.7/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The Tesoro Durandal Ultimate is a solid contender with many features, but I think some resharpening is required for this sword.
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