Das Keyboard 4C Professional Review

We review the Das Keyboard 4C Professional, a straightforward tenkeyless keyboard with Greetech Brown switches.

Introduction

Das Keyboard has a reputation for simple and clean-looking, high-quality keyboards. But there was some confusion when the company announced its new 4C Professional and 4C Ultimate models. The marketing materials were vague about which switches the keyboards used, and many of us erroneously jumped to the conclusion that they were Cherry switches.

Oddly, Das Keyboard wouldn't clarify that information for us. So once we got our hands on a sample, we started yanking off keys and found Greetech switches underneath.

Why the change? The company won’t say, although a representative was adamant that it had nothing to do with saving money. He further noted that this by no means indicates Das Keyboard is moving away from Cherry switches, generally speaking. Even so, here we are with a keyboard sporting Greetech switches, as opposed to Cherry. You can read into that whatever you want.

Specifications

The model we have on hand is the Das Keyboard 4C Professional. I am not brave enough to attempt using the 4C Ultimate's blank key design:

Thanks, but no thanks. Let’s dig into the Das Keyboard 4C Professional.

MORE: How We Test Mechanical Keyboards
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Product Tour

The tenkeyless, 87-key 4C Professional is, as you would expect, nice and compact. It’s a relatively hefty device though, and between its weight and four long rubber feet (about an inch and a half long each), the keyboard simply does not slide around or shift on a desk at all.

The whole thing feels incredibly sturdy, thanks in part to its anodized aluminum top plate. In order to create any flexion at all, you have to roll up your sleeves and put your back into it. The Greetech brown switches have gold-plated contacts, and they’re rated for 50 million keystrokes. There's also a model with blue switches for a clickier experience, if you'd prefer that.

You can clearly feel both switch points on the keys, and the kickback is quite strong. As a result, you also get a distinct feel for the shallow pre-travel. The 4C Professional claims an actuation force of 60g (max).

The space bar and the wider keys employ a Greetech brown switch in the middle that's flanked by two Cherry stabilizers.

Das Keyboard has taken to including a thin riser with the 4C series. It’s bright red to match some of the lettering, and it has magnets that firmly affix it to the bottom of the keyboard. It’s worth noting that with the riser attached, the keyboard is far more likely to slide around on your desk. Its hard plastic edge doesn’t exactly offer the same grip and friction as the rubber feet.

The keyboard is plug-and-play, so there’s no software to fiddle with. It sports a long (6.5-foot) cable with a single USB connector; the keyboard end is wired directly into the board, a decision Das Keyboard says it made because a removable USB connection is too unreliable over time.

The USB end of the cable connects the keyboard to your computer and also powers the 4C Professional’s two-port USB 2.0 hub. You can find the hub tucked underneath the left edge of the keyboard, out of sight. The two USB ports in the hub are spaced about 17mm apart, which should accommodate even bulky USB devices (charming-but-chunky USB flash drives, we’re looking at you).

There are no dedicated media buttons on the 4C Professional, but the Esc and F keys pull double duty; with a press of the Fn key (located on the right side of the keyboard), the Esc key puts the system to sleep, and the F keys offer volume and playback controls.

The F12 key doubles as a Windows key disable control. We like that Das Keyboard conveniently places the Fn key on the right side of the board. This makes disabling the Windows key a quick, one-handed maneuver.

The keys are not back-lit. Although a lack of back-lighting no doubt appeals to a certain subset of prospective customers, it’s an omission that may be tough for others to swallow.

The keys are set inside of the chassis a bit, which makes cleaning slightly more difficult and will probably result in a generally dirtier keyboard. It’s basically designed to be a crumb-catcher, as opposed to, say, Corsair's K90. At least the aluminum top plate cleans up easily.

The concave key caps feature silk-screened characters with a clear UV hard coating, as opposed to prettier laser-etched keys. Some may balk at the look of printed key caps. Indeed, that telltale “sticker” look is painfully apparent. Das Keyboard said that the silk screen plus UV hard coat method is superior to laser etching, stating in a recent Tom’s Hardware AMA that the “durability of the print and the key surface is dramatically increased”.

That is perhaps true, although there’s an argument to be made that, well, who cares? Is it better to have nicer-looking key caps that fade over time, or less attractive ones that last longer?

The 4C Professional is the opposite of flashy, on purpose. Being tenkeyless, it’s nice and compact. And its simple, black austere look is attractive. The lack of extra dedicated media buttons further contributes to the clean look.

At this point, we would discuss software and accessories. In the case of the 4C Professional, though, there’s no software at all. And the only accessory is the riser mentioned above.

Teardown

Like the overall design of the Das Keyboard 4C Professional, the interior and construction of the keyboard is simple, solid and clean.

The top part of the chassis is held on by 10 hex screws. With that metal plate removed, you can see that there are strips of foam padding serving to prevent the top plate from bending. They also likely dampen the sound a bit.

The aluminum backplate assembly is secured to the bottom plastic tray by seven small Phillips screws. One on the upper-left corner also holds a wire connector for the USB ports. Two more tiny silver Phillips screws adjacent to the USB ports need to be removed, too. Instead of running directly through the body, three of those screws tighten down tiny metal tabs that keep the backplate assembly snug. With all nine screws removed, you can pop the backplate assembly right out.

Looking at the PCB, you can see that the welds for the USB ports are nice and tidy, as are those under the key switches.  

There are some smaller details to note, too. For example, some may prefer a removable USB cable, but Das Keyboard opted for a built-in connection, and the simple rubber bumper should protect the cable from tug- or pull-inflicted damage. Even the small black strip of tape securing the USB wire is placed precisely and as flatly as possible.

The observable craftsmanship in this keyboard is excellent.

Tests

By default, the 4C Professional offers six-key rollover, but you can toggle on NKRO with Fn+F11. The NKRO is enabled via the USB cable and does not require a PS/2 adapter. The 6KRO worked just fine in our tests, and using the Microsoft Applied Science and Aqua Key tests, we confirmed that NKRO was excellent as well. We were unable to find any flaws.

Audio

Das Keyboard 4C Professional Audio Sample

I recorded myself typing on the keyboard; playing with the WASD keys, directional keys, and space bar to simulate gaming; and clacked a few keys individually to get a simple, clear example of the sounds you'll hear. To capture and evaluate the nature of the sound, I used a condenser mic positioned above the keyboard (approximately where my head would normally be), where the projected sound was most likely to be identical to what reached my ears.

One thing I noticed right away is that there’s an extra high-pitched metallic “ping.” I’ve noticed a similar effect with Corsair's Vengeance K90. And it's curious, because those two keyboards have very different backplate constructions. The 4C Professional is more of a bowl design, with that aforementioned foam underneath the top plate, whereas the K90’s switches are perched right on top of the backplate with no bowl whatsoever. So it goes.

The 4C Professional has a rather “active” sound. I can live with it (and have for weeks), but some users may find the constant “ting” aggravating.

Conclusion

For its size, this is a hefty keyboard, but the weight seems to jibe with the sturdy build quality. You get the sense that you could whack a baseball with this thing and it wouldn’t cause any damage. Not that we'd recommend it.

The USB hub is a strong feature, as it offers users those extra ports and enables the NKRO capability, sans PS/2 adapter.

Few would doubt the overall quality of the 4C Professional, based on Das Keyboard’s reputation, but many are no doubt wary of the Greetech switches on board. The jury remains out for the time being, unfortunately, but we can say that if Greetech switches are in any way inferior to Cherry, we were unable to detect as much in our time with this device.

The fact that Das Keyboard has been so cagey and awkward about the decision to go with Greetech on this generation of keyboards certainly raises questions, but the answers may only come with time.

You can snag one of these sturdy beasts for $143.



MORE: How We Test Mechanical Keyboards
MORE: Keyboard Reviews
MORE: All Peripherals Content
MORE: Peripherals in the Forums

Seth Colaner is the News Director of Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.

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21 comments
    Your comment
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Close to $150 and it's not using Cherry switches *and* the markings are not laser-etched? Non-removable USB cable - do they even understand why people opt for TKL keyboards instead of full-sized ones? (Hint: it's often portability, and you do NOT want a cable sticking out while transporting the thing) And finally, no backlight. Why does everyone laud Das Keyboard so much? This product outright loses to CM QuickFire Rapid-i or Razer BlackWidow Chroma Tournament Edition. (Yes, I'm aware DK offers other models too, but if they can't get something as simple as a TKL right... then again, surprisingly, not many manufacturers can)
    0
  • iam2thecrowe
    So long as when i press "a" on my keyboard, an "a" appears on the screen, to me that's a good keyboard....
    0
  • Douglas_2
    Quote:
    So long as when i press "a" on my keyboard, an "a" appears on the screen, to me that's a good keyboard....


    I think you're on the wrong website.
    6
  • alidan
    Quote:
    Close to $150 and it's not using Cherry switches *and* the markings are not laser-etched? Non-removable USB cable - do they even understand why people opt for TKL keyboards instead of full-sized ones? (Hint: it's often portability, and you do NOT want a cable sticking out while transporting the thing) And finally, no backlight. Why does everyone laud Das Keyboard so much? This product outright loses to CM QuickFire Rapid-i or Razer BlackWidow Chroma Tournament Edition. (Yes, I'm aware DK offers other models too, but if they can't get something as simple as a TKL right... then again, surprisingly, not many manufacturers can)


    razor black widow, if you take the keycaps off you void the warranty, as for the cm, i cant tell if its plate mounted keys or not.

    as for backlight, i hate it.

    as for das in general, i have an older version of their pro full keyboard, and i believe that the caps are laser etched, it was 120$, honestly can't complain about it outside nitpicks and a crappy space bar i had to mod to get to work correctly.

    sadly i got the keyboard right as my hands were going to hell so yea, it gets limited use apposed to what i was planning to use it for.
    0
  • avatar_raq
    I got the much superior Corsair K70 RGB for $150 off amazon and it has cherry MX switches with highly customizable back lights that can be turned off altogether.
    0
  • Onus
    Good information. I like TKL, but this example will not make my short list.
    1
  • JQB45
    I also prefer no back light on my keyboards. The keyboard is for professionals as implied by its name. Most professionals can type in the dark without needing to look at the keyboard. I've found the times when I do need to look at my keyboard in the dark that the light given off by my monitor is sufficient illumination.

    With that said I don't think this keyboard is worth its price. For a similar to slightly higher price you can customize the keyboards made by WASD Keyboards.
    http://www.wasdkeyboards.com/index.php/
    0
  • smithbs
    I used to have a das keyboard professional, and ruined it by touching it and giving it a static shock. Unfortunately, DAS keyboard doesn't sell just the logic board, and they don't offer to repair the keyboard. I bought this to replace it, and didn't care for the greetech switches.

    They had a similar weight to the cherry switches, maybe slightly heavier, but were really scratchy. I ended up returning it and got a WASD keyboard.
    1
  • scolaner
    Anonymous said:
    Close to $150 and it's not using Cherry switches *and* the markings are not laser-etched? Non-removable USB cable - do they even understand why people opt for TKL keyboards instead of full-sized ones? (Hint: it's often portability, and you do NOT want a cable sticking out while transporting the thing) And finally, no backlight. Why does everyone laud Das Keyboard so much? This product outright loses to CM QuickFire Rapid-i or Razer BlackWidow Chroma Tournament Edition. (Yes, I'm aware DK offers other models too, but if they can't get something as simple as a TKL right... then again, surprisingly, not many manufacturers can)


    Good point about the non-removable USB cable. But I would disagree with your assertion that people like TKL ONLY for transport. Lots of people just like the compactness of them and don't need the numpad.

    Also, interesting thing about the keycaps...I think these on the DK 4C are not especially attractive, but they swear by the durability. Laser etching looks beautiful but can wear over time. So it's kind of a judgment call.

    Why are you concerned about the lack of Cherry switches?
    2
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Quote:
    Good point about the non-removable USB cable. But I would disagree with your assertion that people like TKL ONLY for transport. Lots of people just like the compactness of them and don't need the numpad.

    Also, interesting thing about the keycaps...I think these on the DK 4C are not especially attractive, but they swear by the durability. Laser etching looks beautiful but can wear over time. So it's kind of a judgment call.

    Why are you concerned about the lack of Cherry switches?


    Well, I did say "often"... I also don't transport my keyboard frequently and indeed prefer TKL keyboards primarily for the space on the right they free up. But when you're paying $100-150 for a keyboard, a detachable cable is a very minor thing to factor into its cost and can end up saving you a lot of pain even if you don't travel with it. I'm sure a lot of people had their pets or children ruin their peripherals' cables, for example...

    As for the Cherry switches, it's quite simple. We can all agree on their overall quality, and in my opinion, when you've got something that works well and can be trusted, any change to another manufacturer is a risk that's passed onto the consumer.

    What's even more important is that most mechanical keyboard enthusiasts have tried at least several keyboards before deciding on one, and most of these keyboards were likely equipped with Cherry switches. Try one Cherry MX Brown, you've pretty much tried them all - you know what to expect from another keyboard with them. Greentech? I have no idea. See smithbs's reply above - "similar weight to the cherry switches, maybe slightly heavier, but were really scratchy". That's a gamble I personally really wouldn't want to take. Also why I'm still not fully convinced about Razer's TKL (not much choice after CM admitted they can't give me a QF Rapid-i where LEDs don't die after a few weeks) - they're using Kailh switches and even though they're "close" to Cherry's Brown and Blue, I'm still cautious. So naturally, I'm disappointed to see a potential alternative crossed off my list.
    0
  • scolaner
    Anonymous said:
    Quote:
    Good point about the non-removable USB cable. But I would disagree with your assertion that people like TKL ONLY for transport. Lots of people just like the compactness of them and don't need the numpad.

    Also, interesting thing about the keycaps...I think these on the DK 4C are not especially attractive, but they swear by the durability. Laser etching looks beautiful but can wear over time. So it's kind of a judgment call.

    Why are you concerned about the lack of Cherry switches?


    Well, I did say "often"... I also don't transport my keyboard frequently and indeed prefer TKL keyboards primarily for the space on the right they free up. But when you're paying $100-150 for a keyboard, a detachable cable is a very minor thing to factor into its cost and can end up saving you a lot of pain even if you don't travel with it. I'm sure a lot of people had their pets or children ruin their peripherals' cables, for example...

    As for the Cherry switches, it's quite simple. We can all agree on their overall quality, and in my opinion, when you've got something that works well and can be trusted, any change to another manufacturer is a risk that's passed onto the consumer.

    What's even more important is that most mechanical keyboard enthusiasts have tried at least several keyboards before deciding on one, and most of these keyboards were likely equipped with Cherry switches. Try one Cherry MX Brown, you've pretty much tried them all - you know what to expect from another keyboard with them. Greentech? I have no idea. See smithbs's reply above - "similar weight to the cherry switches, maybe slightly heavier, but were really scratchy". That's a gamble I personally really wouldn't want to take. Also why I'm still not fully convinced about Razer's TKL (not much choice after CM admitted they can't give me a QF Rapid-i where LEDs don't die after a few weeks) - they're using Kailh switches and even though they're "close" to Cherry's Brown and Blue, I'm still cautious. So naturally, I'm disappointed to see a potential alternative crossed off my list.


    I don't disagree that a detachable cable is a nice feature, but I've had OEMs tell me they have concerns about the longevity/endurance of that. Now, that could just be mumbo jumbo, I don't know, but that's the line I've been given.

    I've used exactly one keyboard with Greetech switches, so I certainly wouldn't dispute smithbs' personal experience, but I did not have the same experience with this unit. (It's possible that Greetech's manufacturing consistency could be an issue, though. That's something to hopefully explore with larger sample sizes. Other 4C Pro users out there have any feedback?)

    You make a good point that when you're dropping so much cash it's sensible to stick with what you know. But I would by wary of dogmatically adhering to Cherry. There are other great options out there. :)

    Plus, some OEMs opt for Cherry switches simply because they're popular. The Das Keyboard folks did a lot of legwork before deciding on switches. They went to the factories, looked at the manufacturing machines, etc. They didn't make the decision lightly, for whatever that's worth.
    1
  • Urzu1000
    A phenomenal waste of money for a single keyboard without a number pad. I've seen basic Logitech keyboard/mouse combinations for $15. They work fine and have the exact same functionality. They're just a bit less "clicky" due to being membrane.
    0
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Quote:
    I don't disagree that a detachable cable is a nice feature, but I've had OEMs tell me they have concerns about the longevity/endurance of that. Now, that could just be mumbo jumbo, I don't know, but that's the line I've been given.


    It *is* mumbo jumbo. How do external hard drives and smartphones put up with this "wear", I wonder? :D They do have removable cables, after all... Agreed about the dangers of being dogmatic though.

    Quote:
    A phenomenal waste of money for a single keyboard without a number pad. I've seen basic Logitech keyboard/mouse combinations for $15. They work fine and have the exact same functionality. They're just a bit less "clicky" due to being membrane.


    Why is that every single article about a TKL keyboard gets a bunch of people like you? Don't you get that not all products are tailored for your preferences? I never use the NumPad and for me it's just a deadweight. I also type for at least 10 hours a day for both work and pleasure (IM) and I'll gladly drop $100-150 on a quality keyboard that has great feedback and travel. I'm on one of these crappy cheap Logitechs at the moment (K200) and while it's better than any other keyboard in this price range that I've seen, it still loses miserably even to basic mechanical ones. It's like saying that a minivan is "just a bit slower and less responsive" than a sports car. Correct, but irrelevant.
    2
  • scolaner
    Anonymous said:
    How do external hard drives and smartphones put up with this "wear", I wonder? :D .


    I shan't argue with you there. :)
    0
  • bit_user
    It'd be nice if they let you put the riser at the front. The main thing you want to avoid is bending your wrists. For some people, that's easier if the keyboard slopes away from you.

    Anyway, I've been astounded at the amount of fuss over the type of switches, in high-end keyboards, yet they all still use the awful, rectangular layout design.

    Check out the Kinesis Advantage. It's not cheap, but it's the best design I've ever used. They've made that style for so long, I'll bet the patents are even expired. Maybe someone can make a cheaper clone with a proper ESC key.
    0
  • Jay_29
    Why snag some Greetech when you can snag a Topre for a bit more.
    0
  • alidan
    Anonymous said:
    I also prefer no back light on my keyboards. The keyboard is for professionals as implied by its name. Most professionals can type in the dark without needing to look at the keyboard. I've found the times when I do need to look at my keyboard in the dark that the light given off by my monitor is sufficient illumination.

    With that said I don't think this keyboard is worth its price. For a similar to slightly higher price you can customize the keyboards made by WASD Keyboards.
    http://www.wasdkeyboards.com/index.php/


    professional is what they call the line with the letters on the keycaps, the non pro don't have anything, possibly media keys are painted on, but nothing more.
    0
  • iam2thecrowe
    Anonymous said:
    Quote:
    So long as when i press "a" on my keyboard, an "a" appears on the screen, to me that's a good keyboard....


    I think you're on the wrong website.

    Just a different set of priorities when choosing performance parts for my pc I guess. A $150 keyboard seems like a waste of money when you can get pretty good gaming keyboards for a lot less.

    edit: I do have a logitech g15 which is a bit more than just pressing "a" i guess. But it has things i use like programmable keys and LCD display that works with fraps, displays cpu utillization etc. So its a bit pricey compared to standard, but has more than just fancy buttons for still a lot less than this Das Keyboard.
    1
  • jamus34
    From everything I've read on DAS they are continually going the route of cost savings at all costs. a DAS Keyboard from 3-4 yrs ago > current run DAS keyboards. Especially at that price.

    I would have loved to get a Ducky but I couldn't wait 2 months for it to come in so I "settled" for a CODE keyboard. So far I have no complaints. White backlight that I can easily turn off. built like a tank, removable cord...it pretty much hits all my pressure points.
    0
  • pilsner
    I like the idea of TKL keyboards - I do not need the numpad, and I can use every extra bit of free space on my desk. But this keyboard here really is too expensive for what it offers. When I bought a new keyboard two months ago, I stumbled upon the German company "Lioncast" - they sell gaming keyboards with Cherry switches, and have a TKL keyboard with either Cherry blue or brown ones for 90 Euros, the "LK20". Seems to be only available on German Amazon, though.
    1