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Build Your Own: The Customizable, Illuminated Dream Machine

Keyboard: Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E. 7

There are a number of great keyboards out there with robust illumination controls, but we wanted something really special for our dream build. We found it in Mad Catz's S.T.R.I.K.E. 7.

The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is a modular gaming keyboard with several removable sections. On the left side of the keyboard is a function strip of four programmable macro buttons. The lower-left portion of the keyboard hosts a palm rest with its own thumb wheel and action button, which essentially turns the keyboard into a functional gamepad. To the right of the palm rest, you can see a pair of adjustable wrist rests, one of which corresponds to the keyboard and the other attached to the number pad (of course, that detaches from the keyboard as well). Finally, there is the programmable V.E.N.O.M. control module (enough acronyms, Mad Catz) with its own LCD touchscreen.

That's a lot to take in, so let's begin with the modular nature of this product. The main keyboard, number pad, LCD touchscreen, function strip, palm rest, and both wrist rests can all be removed and rearranged into a number of different configurations. The only obvious limitation we can see is that the palm rest is left-hand-only, leaving the left-handed mouse user out of luck.

In addition to being modular, the wrist rests are adjustable to fit different users, and the palm rest has height adjustment. Further customization is possible with a set of alternate WASD and arrow keys; one set is outlined with red rubber, while the other simply has arrow-shaped notches embedded into the keys.

If its modularity isn't enough to differentiate this keyboard from others on the market, the V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen control module certainly is. With it, you can adjust backlighting, launch apps, control media playback, adjust audio levels, set timers, take notes, and several other functions.

Images of eight of the bundled V.E.N.O.M. application screens

But the control module's real power is its ability to program macros for specific games, using up to 12 touchscreen icons. This means you have the power to customize both the functionality and look of the touchscreen controls. Our only criticism is the lack of background options. It would be awesome to change the generic blue image to a specific game-themed one. Mad Catz claims to be working on additional functionality for the V.E.N.O.M. control module, so we hope that adding background options makes its to-do list.

The V.E.N.O.M's TFT LCD screen is about 3.25" (measured diagonally). And although Mad Catz doesn’t publish the screen's specifications, we believe its resolution to be 480x320 based on the image in the control panel software.

Here's a custom World Of Warcraft macro profile with imported icon art.

Build quality is also top notch, as we'd expect and demand from a $300 peripheral. The main pieces are anchored by a metal frame, and even the keyboard risers are made of this material. The product is covered in a rubbery, yet solid matte finish. The color and brightness of the laquered, laser-etched keys' backlighting is adjustable via a V.E.N.O.M. app.

Given its price tag, this keyboard is not for the everyone, but it’s most certainly the right fit for our dream build.