The Attack X3 proves that it is possible for frugal gamers to get a high quality mechanical keyboard for as low as $90.
The Attack X3 uses the standard ANSI layout, complete with the ten-key, which some price competitive keyboards don’t have. The only extra keys are dedicated to volume up, volume down, and mute, in the upper right corner. That’s it. The body is almost all plastic. A brushed aluminum plate covers the keyboard, and your choice of Cherry MX Blue, Brown, Red, or Black switches sit on top of it.
As an additional feature, each key is backlit with a red light. Forget about RGB stuff with millions of colors that you will probably never use. Keys are made of a hard plastic with a soft-touch coating, very pleasant to the touch. It also features a standard set of low-profile feet in the bottom, and the top feet flip out for a more angled typing experience. A thick and heavy non-removable 1.8-meter USB cable delivers the power necessary to make it work. No additional USB or audio ports.
For the most demanding gamers, the keyboard includes four dedicated polling rates: 125HZ, 250Hz, 500Hz, and 1000Hz. The lower the rate, the higher the responsiveness. The can also switch between 6-key rollover and N-key (infinite) rollover with a dedicated function button.
Unfortunately, Cougar decided to deliver a non-standard layout for the Attack X3’s bottom key row. The spacebar is shortened to allow elongated Ctrl, Function, and Alt buttons on the left side, while the right side has the usual key lengths. This may not seem like much, but creates two important issues for no reason: First, there’s no Windows key on the left side of the keyboard. I’m used to many shortcuts, like Windows + R to run quick commands. You can forget about it, you will need to reprogram your brain to use the right side, which means you will need to use both hands to run a simple shortcut. That also means taking your hands off of your mouse. The second issue, is the reduced availability of keycaps to replace the left side Ctrl, Function, Alt and Spacebar keys.
As stated above, the switches are Cherry, so they perform and behave exactly as you would expect them to. Standard Cherry switches plus the ability to choose between Cherry Blue, Brown, Red and Black means you don’t need to worry about weird performance. They all have their specific niche. The keys also have the standard height and shape, so it just feels natural coming from a different mechanical keyboard. You won’t have to adjust to a few millimeters’ difference. They use a sci-fi “gamer” font style.
BACKLIGHTING AND FUNCTIONS
The red backlighting on the Attack X3 is adjustable with five levels of brightness: low, medium, high, a wave effect from off to high, or completely off. The top function row commands most of the keyboard features. F1-F3 are dedicated to saved custom key profiles, and F4 toggles the light level. F5-F8 are used to switch between poling rates. F9-F12 are reserved for basic media controls: play/pause, stop, back, and forward. Finally, the six-key or N-key rollover are in the Print Screen and Pause Break keys.
The backlighting is not perfect, but it is good enough. The highest level is bright, but it unveils an issue: The red LEDs are situated on the top half of the keys. This means that only the keycap legends that are also on the top half are fully illuminated. Those keys with top-and-bottom legends, like the entire number row, the ten-key area, all of the function row, and most modifier keys, are only half-lit even at the brightest setting. This design flaw isn’t exclusive to Cougar’s keyboard, but others have solved it with clever keycap designs, or simply both primary and secondary functions to the top of the key. I must admit Cougar half-fixed this issue with something I really liked. Special keps, like CAPS LOCK, NUM LOCK and SCREEN LOCK have the led on the bottom half, so while the legend is half-lit, you can be fully aware for when they are enabled or disabled.
Gaming feels like you can expect from a high quality mechanical keyboard. Yes, it’s true, this is an affordable mechanical keyboard, but only non-essential features are out. Obviously every gamer will have different needs, especially those who enjoy completely different genres. You may need multiple extra keys for MMORPGS like WoW, but it is completely playable without extra keys. The same goes for the basic lighting: you won’t improve your gaming level by switching to a green light.
I believe that by sacrificing those extra features, Cougar achieved a high quality keyboard in terms of fit and finish. I didn’t have any kind of wobble, which you may expect from cheap models.
While the software provides a confusing layout to create your preferred profiles and macros, the Attack X3 provides a feature that even more expensive competitors don’t: it features on-board memory. This means that you can set up and save them to the keyboard, and never have to open the software again. It offers additional goodies, like lighting controls, key repeat testing, and three profiles can be switched on the fly with F1, F2, or F3. As with any other software, it can only improve overtime.
Cougar made the right choices and sacrificed non-essential features to deliver a high quality but still affordable mechanical keyboard. At $90, the Attack X3 is unique. It gives you the option between Cherry Blue, Brown, Red and Black keys, complete ANSI layout with the ten-key, basic lighting and on-board memory.