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Quality mechanical gaming keyboards are rarely cheap. In a market where big-name keyboards like the Razer Huntsman Elite or Corsair K95 Platinum cost upwards of $200, getting a quality mechanical keyboard with decent lighting that doesn’t require taking out a small loan can be a difficult task. Luckily, there are cheaper options out there, but as it is with anything, going with a budget option can sometimes require serious compromises. Peripheral company Cougar has tried to defy that trend with its new Ultimus RGB keyboard (See it on Amazon), which is a full-blown mechanical keyboard with RGB for just $75, making it one of the most affordable keyboards of its type available.

Cougar Ultimus RGB – Design and Features

After removing the Cougar Ultimus RGB from the box, it was immediately clear this isn’t some cheap, plastic keyboard despite its midrange pricing. The underside of the chassis is a thick plastic, but Cougar has gone a step beyond with a steel top deck. While plenty of high-end keyboards have adopted anodized aluminum face-plates, the heavy steel frame on the Ultimus means you’ll never have to worry about this keyboard sliding around the desk. Unfortunately, your wrists may slide around a bit as there’s no wrist rest included.

The keycaps on the Ultimus have a pleasant, slightly concave feel and a wide stance that works well when typing. I never found my fingers tripping up over narrow, bunched keys like I so often find on other budget keyboards. The iconography on each keycap is large, easy to read, and reminds me a lot of the Corsair K95. There’s no USB passthrough on the Ultimus, but there is a durable braided USB cable. There’s also no dedicated media keys, and that’s a shame since there’s a large, open space just above the numpad. You can, however, access media control via function-key commands.

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Under the keycaps, Cougar has opted to use its own mechanical switches. Undoubtedly, this is another cost-saving decision over the ubiquitous Cherry MX switches found in so many gaming keyboards, but I found Cougar’s switches to work flawlessly all the same. The review unit provided to me used Cougar’s red switches—linear and smooth and, you guessed it, very similar to a Cherry MX Red switch. There’s a little more of a bottom-out at the end of a keystroke than I would have liked, but all-in-all Cougar’s switches are very comfortable and speedy. The Ultimus is also available with a range of Cherry MX-like silver, blue, and brown switches if you’re more interested in tactile and/or clicky feedback.

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As the name suggests, the Ultimus RGB features some vibrant lighting under the keycaps. The lighting is excellent and Cougar has included an impressive 13 presets including color wave, a moving arrow, lights that react to typing, a circle effect, etc. Additionally, there are five “gaming” presets which light up particular key arrangements by genre, such as illuminating the WASD keys for first person shooters.

Light settings…[are] a breeze to use.

The only drawback is there’s no software for the Ultimus, so all of the light settings are controlled through function key commands. Thankfully, the keyboard’s manual lays all of this out very succinctly and it’s a breeze to use. You can even save up to five custom per-key lighting profiles and recall them with a function keypress. Lighting notwithstanding, there’s no clear way to assign or record macros on the Ultimus, which is likely a detriment to heavy MMO and MOBA players. Strangely, Cougar offers a seemingly robust software solution for many of its other keyboards and mice.

Cougar Ultimus RGB – Gaming

The red switches in the Ultimus RGB worked great, regardless of what game I happened to be playing. I personally prefer Cherry MX Red, so the speedy switches in this keyboard felt wonderful. As mentioned previously, these did bottom out a bit more than I would have liked which lead to these keys clicking more than the average linear switch would allow. But the actuation force still felt light and quick, and I appreciated the Ultimus’ response while playing games like Overwatch and Destiny 2.

Keys bounced back quickly while gaming and I felt confidant on each keypress with the Ultimus. I never experienced any key wobbling, even while hammering away on larger keys like the spacebar. The only real drawback I found in regards to gaming was the lack of a wrist rest. Certainly, with the money saved on this affordable unit, you can just buy your own wrist rest anyway. But I did find my hands becoming tired more quickly during longer gaming sessions.

There’s also the matter of macros, as mentioned above. I’m not a huge macro user, but the lack of access here is really a shame. Cougar obviously spent a great deal of time making sure its RGB lighting worked fine without software, so I feel like they could have thrown in an on-the-fly macro recording key.

Purchasing Guide

The Cougar Ultimus RGB has an MSRP of $94.99 but you can usually get it from Amazon for around $80.


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