Vortex’s Race 3 75% Review
By: Henz Llarves | Date Posted: May 30, 2022
Holding its weight with the best stock keyset, the latest iteration of Vortex’s RACE series packs quite a few surprises. It’s boasting 1.5u Esc and Delete keys but this is still a well-built 75% mechanical keyboard.
Vortex’s Race 3 has some of the best stock keycaps of any keyboard. A solid well built 75% keyboard that cops flack, and deservedly so. But despite the flack, this is still an excellent keyboard
The New 75% keyboard from Vortex, the Race 3 is the latest installment in the Race line of keyboards. A few names have been used; 3ACE, and RAC3, however, this keyboard is known as the Race 3.
Have a look at our friend TaeKeyboards’ review of the Race 3
|CNC anodized aluminium case||Non-standard key layout|
|Floating key design||Lacking a keycap puller for switching out mods|
|PBT keycaps||Legend inconsistencies|
|Dye-subbed DSA Granite||Not all keys are programmable|
|Side printed secondaries||Weird line around the case|
|3 programmable layers|
|130 keystroke macro limit|
|QWERTY, Dvorak, & Colemak toggle|
|Coloured and Mac modifiers|
|Detachable Micro USB cable|
|Mac and Linux compatible|
My first glance at Vortex’s Race 3 had me wondering, is this keyboard going to be worthy of replacing the 60% keyboards sitting on my desk. Sitting atop my desk was my daily driver the Pok3r RGB and a recently constructed GH60. In the box was no sheet nor plastic cover, so when I opened the box the Race 3 came into full view.
In front of my eyes was a DSA Granite set housed in a CNC, anodized, aluminium case. Just like unboxing the Pok3r RGB, the first thing to note was the heft and sturdiness of the keyboard in front of me. The case was a solid piece of metal, machined to feel nice, looks great and ensures the keyboard will stay in position on the desk. Screw-in feet were included if I wanted to increase the angle that the keyboard sits at. This was fine and they also had small rubber feet to sit inside.
On the underside of the aluminium case is where Vortex’s metal plate sits. Generally with the Vortex logo, model number, serial number, and the iconic “Enjoy your Feeling” slogan. My unit simply said “ENGINEERING SAMPLE” accompanied by the Vortex logo. This will change once this keyboard is released to the public.
Issues pertaining to Mac compatibility have been noted. Although not affecting me, Vortex has taken steps to resolve these problems. A firmware update has been issued to resolve such issues.
Format and functionality
Normally I gravitate to 60% keyboards due to their smaller, compact size, while still retaining close to full functionality. This is a 75% keyboard, very similar to an 80% keyboard (TKL – tenkeyless), this format tends to lack a Numpad and on rare occasions certain keys from the navigation cluster. Vortex’s Race 3 keyboard is one of those rare occasions.
Listening to the community, some design aspects have been improved. Certain keys on the right-hand side of the Race 3 have been changed to better fit the keyboard. The End and arrow keys have all been shrunk to allow for the placement of an Fn key in the bottom row.
Instead of the full navigation cluster, keys such as Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause are all hidden under an Fn key combination. To access these keys F10-F12 needs to be pressed while holding the Fn key. Similarly goes for the media keys set to F1-F6 and a few other shortcuts available.
Another inclusion is the quick toggle of QWERTY to Colemak or Dvorak typing layouts. This is performed with a similar Fn key combination using Home, PgUp, and PgDn. These typing layouts make more sense with a uniform key profile and the DSA set included with the Race 3 caters to this perfectly.
Keycaps and switches
Getting up close to Race 3, I could see the DSA keycaps had a texture to them. Pressing a few keys confirmed that these were indeed PBT keycaps, with blue side printed secondary features.
The included DSA keycaps resembled that of DSA Granite. So, I had to inspect Vortex’s version. The coloring was added to these keys via dye-sublimation (a process where ink is heated into gas and sinks into the pores of the desired material). Lettering and symbols were all clearly defined, with some keys a little misaligned or some placement inconsistencies. From afar the keyset looked ok, however, some odd irregularities did stick out.
I grabbed a keycap puller to inspect the Cherry MX Blues housed underneath the keycaps. It’s shame one wasn’t included, especially for the colorful mods that look like pieces of Lego. The Cherry MX switches were clear just like my Pok3r RGB’s. Yes! To me, this indicated that this is an RGB keyboard. I immediately wanted to test out this theory and also see what it felt like to type on.
Typing on the Race 3
Once connected I typed up a few words into a notepad before finally feeling as though my fingers had adjusted to the uniform DSA profile keycaps. This was to ensure that I was familiar with the keyboard before attempting a speed test.
PBT keycaps really enhance my touch typing, especially for a keyboard that I’d just received. I typed no more than roughly 100 words on it before performing a speed test. I managed to hit 92 WPM which I was happy with, however, it should be said that the DSA profile is a little different from OEM and Cherry profile keysets.
When a new keyboard is added to my collection, my girlfriend types on them and will mention how she feels about the typing experience. Her typing speed wasn’t as fast nor as accurate to usual. That’s because DSA has a smaller surface area when compared to Cherry or OEM profile.
Looking over the keyboard, I was unable to find any indicator of how to turn on any form of LED functionality. I tried all sorts of combinations until it hit me, why not just see if the same commands for the Pok3r RGB worked. Pn+5 and my keyboard lit up like a Christmas tree, at least after another 2 more presses to set it to rainbow mode.
The lighting modes available are similar to that of the Pok3r, with only 1 mode functioning slightly differently. I am lucky, the ENGINEERING SAMPLE I received is to my knowledge, the only Race 3 with LEDs. I’ve received word that the initial release of keyboards won’t have LEDs, let alone RGB. Future releases may follow that of the Pok3r’s release.
3 layers of programming power
Only recently have I delved into the world of key and macro programming. And ever since my first taste, I’ve become really eager to test out what I can do with each keyboard.
To test I wanted to see how many keystrokes would be measured when performing a macro. My first macro spanned 26 keystrokes and I hadn’t reached a cap. So, I figured I’d see how many keystrokes I could register. That limit was 130 keystrokes. Vortex’s Race 3 did not disappoint when it came to macro keystroke programming.
Cycle layers with Fn+Shift, then press Fn+right Ctrl to set the keyboard to programming mode, select the key to be programmed then type what you’d like. Finish up by hitting pn and then Fn+right Ctrl to take the keyboard out of programming mode. Following these steps, you’ll find it’s quite an easy process and will allow such customization as making a Numpad.
Although there have been improvements, other design aspects remain unchanged. The Delete and Esc keys are still 1.5u, and the bottom row features three 1u keys for Alt, Ctrl, and Fn. These kinds of irregular keys add difficulty when looking to replace the stock keyset.
When initially revealed the community did not like the irregular size keys of Vortex’s Race 3. Yes, it does make getting replacement keycaps harder, however, lots of keycap manufacturers do tend to cater to odd layouts nowadays. I pulled out my GMK Cyan set just to see which of the irregular mods will fit this layout and the answer was all of them except the Esc key, however, enough novelties did exist to replace it.
Then there’s the keyset itself. I think it’s excellent. They’re amazing enough to type on every day and funnily enough, this is one of the only keyboards that I’ve decided to leave stock. Even with keycap inconsistencies, I’ve really enjoyed typing on this DSA keyset.
What inconsistencies am I talking about? Some numbers sit higher than the others, and the alphas are not aligned. My 6 key is really out of place.
Misaligned letters and numbers. Notice the 6 is very off, as well as the QWERTY keys sitting at different heights
My other main gripe is programming. Ideally, I would have liked to have swapped Caps Lock with the Fn key but due to limitations in programming, it’s impossible. I have been unable to set the Fn key to anything besides its already assigned position.
[UPDATE] Vortex is working on software for programming. This may address the programmability of this Race 3.
Should you buy Vortex’s Race 3 Keyboard?
This is an exceptional keyboard. Out of the box, it has the best stock keycaps I’ve seen included with a keyboard and that’s despite inconsistencies. The Lego-inspired colored mods can really add character to an otherwise grey and black keyboard. Either way, the stock look is professional, and swapping out the mods allows for a touch of flair.
If you’re a die-hard keyboard customizer then you may encounter some issues with some of the non-standard key sizes. However, I only struggled to find an Esc keycap for switching keysets. That being said, this keyboard is fantastic the way it is and the stock keycaps don’t need any swapping in my opinion.
Like the Pok3r, the aluminium case is brilliant. It’s sturdy and heavy which is something a premium mechanical keyboard should feel like. And that’s essentially what Vortex’s Race 3 is; a premium 75% keyboard.
The programming functions had their pros and cons. Having a 130 keystroke macro isn’t necessary to me but I think it’s nice to have the option. Being unable to turn Caps Lock into an Fn key was a bit of a sticking point for me, however, I can look past it.
Viable in all environments, be it gaming at home or working in an office, this is a keyboard that won’t let you down. If you’re a one keyboard suits all then this one should fulfill your needs.
To me, Vortex’s Race 3 has become the most prominent keyboard on my desk, replacing my daily driver. That is until I build another custom later on this week.