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EpicGear's Defiant modular gaming keyboard reviewed

The gaming experience gets a new feel

Reviewing keyboards is tricky business. Every time I sit down to review a keyboard, my first impulse is to write "well, it's a keyboard," and call it done. Of course, for the very same reason, keyboard manufacturers work hard to make their products stand out from the crowd. Whether through aggressive styling, unusual form factors, or unique features, every premium keyboard has something that sets it apart.

When EpicGear offered to let me review its Defiant keyboard alongside the Morpha X mouse, I was actually pretty excited by the prospect because the Defiant really does have something pretty unique. Like the Morpha X, EpicGear calls the Defiant "fully modular". Forget about the swappable key caps that every other keyboard has. The Defiant's keyswitches themselves are socketed. (Of course, the keycaps are removable, too.)

The company refers to the socketed keyswitch design as MMS, which apparently stands for "Modular Matrix Structure". The Defiant doesn't include any extra switches in the box, but EpicGear helpfully sent along a 24-pack of MMS switches for me to play with the feature. EpicGear says the MMS design is proprietary, and while they superficially resemble Cherry MX clickers, the company claims the internal design is pretty different. In any case, I'll talk a little more about the MMS switches in a bit.

Looking at the Defiant, it has a relatively sedate appearance aside from the bright orange EpicGear accent at the top. It matches the Morpha X mouse's understated looks nicely. The base of the keyboard is dark grey plastic, but on top of that rests a metal plate that the MMS keyswitches actually snap into. I think the overall package looks great, but of course there's no accounting for taste.

The build quality of the keyboard itself seems to be pretty high. However, the key caps could use a better finish. I am, admittedly, pretty hard on a keyboard. Even so, I haven't even had the Defiant a whole month, yet three keys are already showing the backlight through parts of the keycap that they shouldn't. In particular, the backquote key was missing some of its coating on the very first day. This is a purely aesthetic issue—I certainly don't care myself—but it does suggest the keycap finish isn't as durable as it could be.

The keys themselves are each individually backlit by a single white LED. You can choose from five lighting styles and five intensity levels (including "off"), or you can set up four profiles for per-key lighting. I apologize for not showing you a picture of what the keyboard looks like all lit up, but I don't have the photo equipment nor facilities to take such a picture. Suffice it to say that the Defiant defies the RGB LED backlighting trend that's taken the gaming world by storm of late.

Despite the lack of RGB diodes, EpicGear does offer a decidedly old-school way to change the backlighting color: by replacing the translucent plastic lightbar in the casing of each MMS keyswitch. Going that route obviates the need for RGB LEDs and simplifies the design of the keyboard, so it's not as silly as it sounds. Still, it does preclude users from creating a dynamically-swirling mass of colors on their keyboards. It also is a lot of tedious work swapping out the light bars on each and every key.

Unlike a lot of gerbils, I like RGB LED lighting, but I certainly appreciate that it's purely a novelty feature. The white LED lighting on the Defiant serves the utilitarian purpose of keyboard backlighting—that is, letting you find the keyboard in the dark—just fine. My one gripe with the key backlighting is that there is one key which will never be lit even when in "fully lit" mode.

Using the Fn key and the PgUp or PgDn keys, you can select whether the Defiant is in six-key rollover mode or n-key rollover mode. Selecting a mode lights the key that represents the active rollover mode, while the other mode key stays dark. This leaves an awkward dark spot on that side of the keyboard. I asked EpicGear about it, and the company replied that the keyboard is working as intended. I suppose for some folks that would be no big deal. For me, it was incredibly distracting every time I looked down at the keyboard. Fortunately, I've been touch-typing for upwards of 25 years so I don't look at the keyboard much.

It's worth noting at this point that the Defiant will not function in BIOS setup (or non-USB-aware operating systems like DOS) while in n-key rollover mode, even when "USB Legacy Support" is enabled. That could be a peculiarity of my PC, but the keyboard defaulted to n-key rollover mode and it gave me a mysteriously hard time when I tried to use it in my motherboard's setup utility until I figured out what was going on. That's why the six-key rollover mode exists, of course.

That said, I never found the six-key rollover mode to be a problem while gaming on the keyboard. I've left it in that mode essentially the entire time I've been using it and it has given me nary an issue. EpicGear does boast of the keyboard's extensive anti-ghosting design. I tested using Microsoft's excellent Keyboard Ghosting Demonstration site and found that even in 6-key rollover mode, I can depress any six keys simultaneously. N-key rollover works as expected, too, for those with superhuman input rates.