Gamdias Hephaestus V2 Review

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I’ve been a big Gamdias fan ever since I discovered their gaming-peripheral lineup back in 2012. The balance between sound quality, comfort and durability has always been the company's strong suit, but sadly, things are shifting into murky territory with the Hephaestus V2. The original Hephaestus remains one of my favorite Gamdias headsets, and it still performs beautifully after countless gaming sessions. Fast forward a few years later, and we’re looking at what can only be described as its devolved brethren. 

The Hephaestus V2 doesn’t make a pretty first impression, and it doesn’t fare much better after closer inspection. The drivers still deliver an impressive auditory punch, but the body looks like it belongs in the kids’ toy section. The cheap, plastic shell is grossly unattractive, and the gargantuan ear cups don’t help either. The surround sound is solid, but there's little here that stands out.

The new shift in design is equally confusing. Gamdias has been known for its obscure, power-metal inspired aesthetic, but the Hephaestus V2 is leaning heavily towards the generic. While I typically appreciate the more minimalistic approach, a design has to compliment its materials, and in the case of Hephaestus’ flimsy quality, the end result is equivalent to a cheap store-brand product. 

The poor build-quality becomes an even greater issue after extended use. The cushion enveloping the headband isn’t properly stitched around the edges where the fabric meets the plastic. As a result, the material tears easily - even if you’re handling it with great care. I’ve also noticed my ears becoming notably warmer over time.

The Hephaestus V2 is a strange headset, because the disappointing exterior hides some pretty solid tech. Gamdias hasn’t skimped on its driver quality, and the auditory performance is a stark contrast to Hephaestus’ aesthetic identity crisis. The bass delivers a heavy kick when playing action-oriented titles. Guns in FPS shooters have a satisfying grittiness when shots are fired, and even minute details are preserved when all hell breaks loose on-screen.

As with all Gamdias products, the Hephaestus V2 works in combination with the HERA software. Here you can make all the typical EQ tweaks, LED adjustments and save profiles, but it’s all just basic stuff that comes with most of these free programs. It doesn’t add anything to the overall quality, but the extra flexibility is always a welcome feature.  

I’m struggling to find any other noteworthy features. The Hephaestus V2 seems like a very sloppily-designed and manufactured piece of shovelware. I completely understand having to find a workaround when the budget is tight, but sometimes it’s better to promote the good products that have already been received well, rather than introduce a new, poorly-made item that will impact the overall lineup. That’s precisely what happened here. New customers will automatically assume that the Hephaestus V2 is an improved version over the original, when in fact, it’s a substantial step back. The original Hephaestus may be a few years old by now, but it’s a much better headset and its price has dropped tremendously.

Gamdias is a great brand. I still use their keyboards and headsets on a regular basis, and would recommend them to any gamer seeking great performance at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the Hephaestus V2 sticks out as a sore thumb from an otherwise solid lineup. I’m hoping it’s just an unintentional hiccup, and not a new direction for the company.    

 Review by: Tin Salamunic

C-

An In-Depth Look into Virtual Reality Gaming

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While the three biggest players in the VR gaming space haven’t revealed official sales figures, it's safe to say that virtual reality gaming is here to stay. But as the initial high demand for the Oculus Rift and other high profile headsets tapers off many enthusiasts and critics alike are wondering whether virtual reality hardware and software as it currently exists will be the driving force behind the widespread acceptance of VR as entertainment.  

And there's absolutely no consensus. According to TechCrunch, skeptics of today's VR technology need to accept that widespread consumer adoption is just around the corner. The Wall Street Journal has told readers to try VR (headset and all) as soon as possible. On the other hand, tech writer Meredith Placko has asserted that virtual reality gaming is more like playing a Wii than actually serious gaming. One telling Fortune headline even blithely declared that "It Doesn’t Look Like Virtual Reality Is a Thing Yet."

Will Virtual Reality Catch On and When?
Popular or not, VR is no longer just a novelty. What is certain is that virtual reality gaming isn't going anywhere even if some of the technology makes VR look like an expensive curiosity. Why are people not rushing out to buy the tech? A lot of VR headsets have a relatively steep price tag and require users to upgrade to a high-end PC to play. That's potentially off putting to anyone looking for budget-friendly entertainment. 

At the other end of the spectrum you have companies like Samsung, which shipped Galaxy S7 preorders with a free Gear VR headset and six games. That initiative alone may have done more to further the advance of VR gaming than all of the media attention the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive received prior to their releases. And really, in the long run it's probably mobile VR that has the best chance of turning virtual reality into mainstream entertainment. 


It's About the Games and Lack Thereof
As more headsets that make use of the technology we already have – smartphones - hit the market, the next hurdle the VR industry has to overcome is the lack of titles. As Hayden Dingman put it in PCWorld, "Recommending VR would be a hell of a lot easier if there were more to do at the moment."

It isn't that there aren't games and experiences for today's VR tech, but rather that none of them are living up to the potential of the platform. Fantastic Contraption and Starseed for the Vive, Lucky's Tale and Chronos for Oculus, and Darknet and VR Karts: Sprint for the Gear VR are all stand out examples of enjoyable virtual reality games but a comprehensive list of great VR titles would be relatively short at this point.

In other words there's a lot of promise, but so far nothing that wows beyond the innovation factor, and a lot of issues that still need to be fixed. 


Oculus has gorgeous graphics and arguably the best lineup of games, but a hardware shortage mean even enthusiasts aren't able to play. Sony's PlayStation VR will ultimately have an impressive list of titles but the console system's lack of power means its virtual worlds can feel jagged and jerky. And the Vive continues to bill itself as a high-end product rather than a mass market one, which is going to be an automatic turn off to consumers who aren't tech enthusiasts or early adopters. 

A Less Immersive Future?
The most surprising thing about virtual reality gaming may be that for all the hype, it's augmented reality that's catching on among consumers. Just look at Pokemon Go, the viral augmented reality success story that's making headlines left and right. Maybe the future of VR gaming is actually a future of mobile gaming enhanced by AR. 

Then again, while some pretty cool mobile VR and AR games are now playable thanks to the fastest mobile processors on the market (e.g., Snapdragon), you shouldn't write headsets off just yet. It may be that the VR and AR games of the future will be played on something a lot like Microsoft's HoloLens - just with all the kinks worked out and a price tag that's a lot more consumer-friendly.

Article by: Jessica Oaks

Key Developments Within the Gaming Industry in the Last Three Decades

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While it might have been a niche interest at one time, gaming is something that is now hugely popular among various different groups, regardless of age or gender. The industry has developed at a rapid pace during the past few decades and these are some of the major moves that saw it reach its current level of success.

Nintendo NES Launch
Although gaming wasn’t invented during the 1980s – Pong came along a decade before that – it was then that it really began to develop mass appeal. A key development in that was the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in late 1985. This really was the beginning of gaming at home and Nintendo picked the toughest market to launch in – New York. The company took the gamble of agreeing to supply the system, set up store displays and accept the return of unsold stock. It was a big risk, but the result was early dominance of the home gaming market for Nintendo.

The Console Wars
This has been a long-running battle between the major games companies and it began when Sega emerged to challenge Nintendo with the launch of its Sega Genesis. The company targeted Nintendo in a series of go-for-the-throat adverts, but Nintendo-exclusive games like Donkey Kong Country saw the Super Nintendo console sell more. The Sony PlayStation then arrived and destroyed the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn – at least partly because of design flaws by Nintendo and dodgy advertising by Sega. PlayStation 2 seemed to cement Sony’s control of the console gaming market, only for Nintendo to revive itself with the launch of the massively popular Wii – which won by luring casual gamers.

Mobile Gaming Emerges
It is just that casual gaming audience that mobile gaming has tapped into. The ability to play games on devices like mobile phones and tablets means it can be incorporated more easily into everyday life, making it appealing to non-hardcore gamers. Mobile era games like Angry Birds have attracted staggering numbers of players, many of them women and older people who were not as receptive to gaming before. Furthermore the availability of online casino games and sports betting on mobile devices via sites like http://www.casinoonline.co.nz has also seen people who love to gamble, but not play fantasy-style games, enter the gaming market. 

With both consoles and mobile gaming available now, the gaming market is bigger than ever and there are exciting developments still to come – including the launch of augmented-reality games systems like Microsoft’s HoloLens.

iBUYPOWER Revolt 2 Review

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It’s an exciting time to be a gamer. There are more choices than we ever thought possible, and new technological advances are being introduced at an alarming rate. Graphically advanced games can be played on tablets and phones, and VR is shaping up to be a technological marvel (if any of the hands-on experiences are to be believed). 

Things are particularly exciting for PC gamers as the platform continues to evolve and expand to the living room. Having a PC as part of an entertainment setup is nothing new, and mini-PCs have certainly existed for some time now, but iBUYPOWER is determined to speed up the transition by taking mini-PCs to a whole new level. 

iBUYPOWER’S latest Revolt 2 is a stepping stone in mini-PC engineering. It’s the first eSports mini-PC that can carry high-end parts typically reserved for standard-sized cases. The Revolt 2 is a surprisingly intuitive little box that’s designed for gaming enthusiasts who seek mobility and more flexibility from their setup. For the most part, the Revolt 2 outshines its competition without breaking a sweat. It’s beautifully crafted and the temperatures remain cool regardless of how much the system is pushed, thanks to the mandatory liquid cooling. However, upgrading parts isn’t as easy as the marketing implies, and our specific unit arrived with the HDD unrecognized by the operating system. But despite a few hiccups, the Revolt 2 is currently, without a doubt, the best mini-PC on the market.

As with all boutique PC builds, my review encompasses the entire shopping experience. This includes packaging, assembly, performance, system design and, of course, overall performance. iBUYPOWER sent us a system with the following specs: i7 6700K Intel CPU, Corsair H55 Liquid Cooler, 16 GB DDR4 2800 ADATA XPG-Z1, 240 GB ADATA SSD, 1 TB WD SATA-3, 64MB Hard Drive, Win 10 Home, 600W Corsair CX600 Power supply, Motherboard: Gigabyte Z170N - Gaming 5 and a GPU: Gigabyte GTX 980 4GB Xtreme Gaming.


"iBUYPOWER’S latest Revolt 2 is a stepping stone in mini-PC engineering. Despite a few hiccups, it is currently, without a doubt, the best mini-PC on the market."

Since ours is a custom build, the final price sits somewhere between the Revolt 2 Pro ($1,399) and the Revolt 2 Extreme ($1,899). The major difference is the 980 GPU that was used instead of the 970 in the Pro Edition and the 980 Ti in the Extreme Edition. This is an incredible deal considering the premium parts and the fact that Revolt 2 is exclusive to iBUYPOWER and can’t be acquired through a different vendor.

Shipping a PC across several states is always a gamble, regardless of how well it’s packaged beforehand. Fortunately, iBUYPOWER doesn’t skimp on protective measures. The Revolt 2 box ships within a massive, heavily padded secondary box that keeps the system safe from tumbling during transport. The main system packaging is enveloped by thick, foam-like pads that provide more than enough protection should the carrier handle it carelessly. Unless someone drives over the box with a vehicle, there’s no way to damage the contents.

Once unboxed, you really get to appreciate the creativity behind the case’s design. The Revolt 2 is one of the most uniquely crafted mini-PCs I’ve seen so far. The unusual shape doesn’t seem pragmatic at first, but every design choice has been made deliberately. iBUYPOWER deserves a big, big bravo for using a high-quality matte material for the main body surface. This allows the Revolt 2 to maintain its sleek and clean look even after it’s been sitting under the desk for a while. I can’t stress just how much a shift in materials can impact the look and feel of a case. The aesthetic can be best described as something straight out of a sci-fi movie. It’s modern, elegantly shaped, and boasts just enough flashiness to turn heads without looking kitch.


"Once unboxed, you really get to appreciate the creativity behind the case’s design. The Revolt 2 is one of the most uniquely crafted mini-PCs I’ve seen so far."

After the side panels are removed, the Revolt 2 reveals its true engineering magic. This miniature PC case successfully houses large components within a very tight space without overheating. The massive Gigabyte GTX 980 GPU sits on top of the case and can be reached via the center panel that also exposes the SSD. Both parts are easily replaceable thanks to the direct access even when the panels are screwed back on. 

However, things are trickier when it comes to replacing other, harder to reach parts. The motherboard, power supply and HDD aren’t easily approachable since there’s little space in between. I have very small hands, and I struggle to grab the HDD, much less anything else. If you are an experienced builder, that’s not going to be an issue since you can just take everything apart and put it back together. If you’re inexperienced, the Revolt 2 might not be the best choice if you expect to upgrade parts yourself regularly. The iBUYPOWER engineers have organized the tight space meticulously, but the same care and precision can’t be expected from the average user. The Revolt 2 is designed for pro-gamers, but not every gamer is a pro-builder. So the Revolt 2 isn’t quite as easy to use or flexible when it comes to installing new parts, but it’s still the best, and possibly the only, option that allows high-grade parts to coexist within such a small container.


"The motherboard, power supply and HDD aren’t easily approachable since there’s little space in between. I have very small hands, and I struggle to grab the HDD, much less anything else."

iBUYPOWER also deserves kudos for installing only the most essential OS files without including useless trials. There are only two extra programs, the Gigabyte OC software and the Light Control software, but they’re very small and quite handy. Unfortunately, our build arrived with the HDD unrecognized by the OS, and I had to access the BIOS to re-initialize the drive. This isn’t difficult by any means, but as a paying customer who’s going through a boutique store and paying a premium fee for assembly, having a unit arrive with an unrecognized HDD is disappointing. HDD issues aside, everything else is assembled relatively well. The cables aren’t as neatly organized as when we reviewed iBUYPOWER’s Z170, but there’s only so much that can be done in such a limited space.


"The Revolt 2 has exceeded my expectations, and while it’s not as easy to replace certain parts as I hoped for, I can’t think of another case this size that accomplishes as much"
    
Ultimately, it’s all about performance, and it’s here that the Revolt 2 delivers flawlessly. My tests consist of running several AAA titles at max settings for several hours at a time to see how the case handles temperatures and noise. Even after playing something like The Witcher 3 on max settings for 5+ hours straight, the Revolt 2 remains cool and quiet. The only time the system ever came to feeling even remotely warm was after an entire day of non-stop use without sleep or hibernation. The Revolt 2 has a Corsair H55 Liquid Cooler installed, and it does a superb job at regulating temperatures. Noise levels are always low too. The only time the fans are heard is during the initial boot up, and on a few occasions when the system is pushed to the absolute limit. In fact, the Revolt 2 performs better than our main, decked-out gaming PC that we use for reviewing all of our PC games. 

I’ve been testing the Revolt 2 for a full week now, and I haven’t experienced any technical difficulties. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself that this is a mini-PC and not a large PC tower. There’s something very liberating about having your PC sit next to your PS4, Xbox One and Wii U. The Revolt 2 has exceeded my expectations, and while it’s not as easy to replace certain parts as I hoped for, I can’t think of another case this size that accomplishes as much. iBUYPOWER has crafted something very special here. They’ve set a new standard for mini-PC design, and when combined with their aggressive pricing for parts and assembly, there’s no better choice for gamers seeking a high-end boutique PC that’s slightly larger than the Xbox One. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic

A-

Marvel Roulette PC/Mobile Review

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Few brands have had such a strong presence in modern culture as Marvel. From their origins as a comic-book company in 1930s USA, Marvel have blossomed into a multimedia empire that’s proven capable of entertaining the world with an endless array of blockbuster movies, TV hits and an impressive selection of video games.

Although Marvel’s games have been around since the 1980s, it’s only in the past decade where they’ve really delivered a series of titles that are as impressive as their range of comic book characters. From 2004’s well-respected Spiderman 2 for the Xbox, to the addictive Lego Marvel Super Heroes mobile app, it’s become clear that Marvel is showing a great amount of diversity as well as quality in their games releases.


"Iron Man and Wolverine, who are well-rendered on both PC and mobile formats, combined with familiar Marvel typography should appease even the most hard-to-please Marvel fanatic."

So it’s with a certain amount of intrigue that I encountered the Marvel online roulette game at Casino.com, as it’s just one of the many of the roulette games available at the website, but it has enough comic-styled appeal to help it appeal to a new generation of gamers. First impressions reveal a pleasing selection of many of our favorite Marvel characters such as Iron Man and Wolverine who are well-rendered on both PC and mobile formats, and the use of the familiar Marvel typography should appease even the most hard-to-please Marvel fanatic. 

Special mention must also be made to the wonderfully depicted roulette wheel that glimmered and gleamed with enough realism to turn even the dingiest man-cave into an opulent casino haven!


"The music is just a minor complaint, and as such Marvel Roulette manages to marry together two hugely profitable entertainment types in a great new package!"

In terms of the gameplay, I’ll have to admit I’m not exactly a casino aficionado, but it proved to be easy and really quick to pick a number, spin the wheel and make a wide range of bets. What made it all so much easier was the clear gaming interface that helped keep the action fast, and the way that it allowed you to monitor your stats and save your favourite bets also meant that it’s definitely a Marvel game that I’ll keep coming back to.

However, whilst the gambling gameplay should please just about any gamer, the choice of music might be a little off-putting. Unless you like the chilled-out sounds of lounge music, you might want to hit the mute button, although then you’ll be missing out on the surprisingly realistic sound of the ball on the roulette wheel and the glamorous lady’s voice calling out the numbers. But the music is just a minor complaint, and as such Marvel Roulette manages to marry together two hugely profitable entertainment types in a great new package!

Aurvana ANC Noise-Cancelling Headphones Review

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Noise pollution and creativity don’t mix well. There’s nothing more frustrating than attempting to work on the go while surrounded by constant distractions. On the plus side, such scenario creates the perfect opportunity for analysing Creative Labs’ latest Aurvana ANC Noise-Cancelling Headphones. So how does this headset compete with the frenzied chatter of early-morning Starbucks patrons? Let’s find out!

Creative Labs is no stranger to sleek presentation. The Aurvana ANC headphones are beautifully designed, and their luxurious appearance carries over to the accompanying carrying case. The case makes it easy to transport the headset anywhere as it’s built to withstand quite a beating. The matte black/blue palette combined with the silvery earcup plate ensures the headphones appear inconspicuous when on the go. After all, wearing flashy headphones in public isn’t practical.


"Creative Labs is no stranger to sleek presentation. The Aurvana ANC headphones are beautifully designed, and their luxurious appearance carries over to the accompanying carrying case."

For a headset of this size and weight, the 40mm drivers deliver a substantial punch. Music sounds rich and deep, and the audio performance is powerful enough to handle action-heavy video games with surprising results. The frequency channel-balance impresses regardless of how extreme the tonal shifts are. Minute details can be heard as clearly as the thunderous bass. Most importantly, Aurvana’s 87% active noise cancellation provides further sound clarity when the (ANC) switch is enabled. 

I’ve used plenty of noise cancelling headphones in my lifetime, and I can confidently say that Aurvana’s active noise cancellation technology rivals some of the best models on the market. That is as long as you know what to expect from noise cancellation technology. New users expecting a miracle might be disappointed to know that even the best noise-cancelling headphones don’t  work like earplugs. Having said that, Aurvana subdues enough noise to prevent surrounding disturbances from impacting your listening experience.


"In the end, the Aurvana ANC Noise-Cancelling Headphones are a great piece of tech completely let down by the absence of a volume control knob."

Aurvana’s biggest issue, however, is the lack of a volume knob. Sure, there is a switch to mute the volume/mic, but no knob to actually tune the volume. This alone may impact people’s purchasing decision, and frankly, it would likely be the only reason I’d personally seek another model if given the choice. I honestly feel that this is a devastating mistake on the engineers’ part, and I can’t wrap my head around the possible reasoning behind this silly decision. It’s like asking a car owner to use an external gas pedal if they want to control their speed. It’s 2016 people! Don’t exclude basic and essential functions from tech products. 

In the end, the Aurvana ANC Noise-Cancelling Headphones are a great piece of tech completely let down by the absence of a volume control knob. While this may not be an issue for some people, the whole point of on-the-go headphones is to provide portability and accessibility. But, if your only concern is effective noise cancellation and quality audio performance, the Aurvana don’t disappoint! 

Review by: Tin Salamunic

B

SteelSeries Apex M500 Review

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We’re not strangers to SteelSeries at this site. We’ve reviewed plenty of their products including everything from headphones to keyboards and we’ve come to expect a certain bar of quality from SteelSeries. Today we’re going to look at the M500 which is part of the Apex line of keyboards, and the quality of this device is certainly in line with a lot of the other SteelSeries products we’ve reviewed. SteelSeries markets the M500 as a “tournament-grade backlit mechanical gaming keyboard” which is a bit of a mouthful. But what exactly does the hundred-dollar price point get you, and how does the M500 compare to the previously reviewed M800? Let’s take a look at where the M500 fits into the Apex lineup. 

Upon opening the stellar packaging the first thing users will notice is the M500’s minimal design. There are no flashy bells and whistles, there’s not any extra space in its layout. There are no volume knobs, brushed aluminum surfaces, or overtly contoured keys. Instead users will find the M500 to be a compact black keyboard that focuses on practicality over extravagance. We’ve seen comparable designs by companies like Corsair with their K70 or Razer’s BlackWidow, but the M500 feels more comfortable and its priced more aggressively than the aforementioned comparisons. Everything from the pressure required per keystroke to the spacing between keys just feels good, making it an optimal choice for both everyday use and gaming. The versatility of the keyboard definitely extends beyond just gaming, and part of that is due to its minimalism.


"Instead users will find the M500 to be a compact black keyboard that focuses on practicality over extravagance."

Let’s talk about some of the prominent features of the M500 aside from its practicality: Cherry MX keys, full anti-ghosting N-Key Rollover, and extreme durability. Most mid-range mechanical gaming keyboards boast the quality of their Cherry MX Keys. Hardcore gamers are familiar with them and Cherry’s proven technology is an industry standard for a reason. What a lot of them may not feature is N-Key Rollover. The anti-ghosting on the M500 is no joke. It’s amongst the best I’ve encountered and it supports true N-Key Rollover via USB which is fantastic, no need for PS2 input. I tested the keyboard over a period of a month with a variety of games like Dota 2, Overwatch, Counter-Strike, Doom, Fallout 4, and The Culling.

Not once did I run into a situation where my keys ghosted, either in the traditional sense or otherwise. Not one false key input was logged and any mistakes were entirely my own fault. I even used the Microsoft Applied Sciences Group’s tools designed to detect keyboard ghosting and it definitely confirmed that not one false keystroke was detected. Impressive.


"Not once did I run into a situation where my keys ghosted, either in the traditional sense or otherwise. Not one false key input was logged and any mistakes were entirely my own fault."

Considering durability is such a marketing point for SteelSeries in regards to the M500 I decided to put it to the test purposefully dropping it outside… on concrete… from a height of about 6 feet (what a madman!). Aside from an impact blemish on the left corner people honestly wouldn’t even be able to tell the keyboard had been dropped, and the keyboard still works flawlessly. The hard alloy shell is lighter and more durable than traditional aluminum, and the steel plate in the back of the keyboard protects it from any additional wear and tear while serving as the foundation that keeps everything held together so solidly. I wouldn’t dare try a test like that with any other keyboards, especially my cherished M800.


"That being said, the M500 is probably the best option I’ve encountered for a mid-range gaming keyboard. You really can’t beat the build quality, performance, and design."

Speaking of the M800, how does the M500 stack up? Well, as it turns out they’re kind of hard to compare. Both the M500 and the M800 shine in entirely different circumstances. Sure, they’re both marketed towards hardcore gamers, but the M800 strives to innovate while the M500 creates a new pillar of quality from tried and true technologies. Both of them feature a wealth of customizability options due to the SteelSeries Engine 3, both of them are comfortable enough for everyday use while making gaming a breeze. I still prefer my M800 because of the color options, lack of “click” which each keypress, and low-profile keys, but the price point for the M800 creates a barrier of entry that may not be accessible to all gamers, while the M500 remains modestly priced packing immense value.

That being said, the M500 is probably the best option I’ve encountered for a mid-range gaming keyboard. You really can’t beat the build quality, performance, and design. One thing is for sure: if you’re looking anywhere other than SteelSeries for gaming keyboards, you’re looking in the wrong place. These folks are the epitome of comfortable, practical peripherals and the Apex M500 adheres to that standard flawlessly. 

Review by: Palmer Sturman

A+