The Das Keyboard Prime 13 brings the gaming keyboard to the board room

I have, as you might imagine, deep and abiding opinions on keyboards. I’m not a gamer per se – I do enjoy the odd bout of Lemmings now and again – but I type a lot. So I always look for keyboards that are comfortable, clicky, and compact. The Das Keyboard Prime 13 is all of those.

Das Keyboard has focused for years on creating very clicky, very usable keyboards for gamers and hardcore computer users. Their blank 4C model is still one of my favorite keyboards and I’ve moved between Das and Logitech over the years, eventually landing on Das.

The latest model is sort of the Aeron chair of keyboards – all business but it’s fine to pop out the clutch now again and make it sing. It’s a backlit keyboard with Cherry MX switches for maximum click and a full numeric keypad. Instead of flashy rainbow LEDs, however, this model casts a dimmable white light from the translucent key caps. These switches are soft tactile which means there isn’t a “click” during downward travel but when the keycap actually hits the board. Keys spring up quickly after each press and the space bar sounds like a the smack of a well-worn IBM keyboard. If all of this is a little esoteric know this: you’ll feel the keys moving under your fingers and unlike modern chiclet keyboards each keypress is a noisy and satisfying adventure.

Das Keyboard is selling this as an alternative to the boring work keyboard. It doesn’t have many of the features gamers crave but it does have one onboard USB port and it is very slim and compact. I’ve been using my tester for a few weeks now and it’s gotten kind of cruddy from my disgusting hands but, as you see from these press photos, the entire keyboard is scrunched into an area with a minimal bezel. The only odd spot is the upper right corner where the lights and USB port are hiding. Otherwise it’s nearly a perfect rectangle.

The keyboard has full N-key rollover and lots of travel. It would make an excellent programming keyboard and, because there are no special macros or volume controls, it would look good on a minimalist desk. I don’t think this model is great for gaming – Das and others make excellent keyboards for that purpose – but this is more of a “unplug it and drag it to the data center” kind of keyboard or a nice clicky addition to your workstation. At $149 it’s a bit pricey – there are hundreds of Cherry MX-enabled keyboards on multiple boards – but I like the metal faceplate and the subtle backlighting. It’s also best to decide what kind of switches you are looking for. For example, these are a bit softer than, say, these IBM keyboard clones and you have to assess how much noise and “clickiness” you’re looking for. Once you’ve used a clicky keyboard, however, you probably won’t go back to a soft, mealy-mouthed clacker ever again. Just don’t let your cubicle-mates steal this thing and/or banish you for too much keyboard noise and you’ll be Das golden.