Installation for a keyboard is pretty straightforward, even for one with a few extra features such as the eSports Challenger Pro/Ultimate. You take the USB cable and insert the small end into the back-center of the keyboard -- the plug is angled 90-degrees so that the cord lays flat against the back edge toward the cable management channel, which is in the shape of a ‘C.’ Bend the cord so that it fits snugly inside this canal, and when you’re done, it should be hanging away from the keyboard more toward the left-hand side. The reason for this routing is to prevent the USB cable from detaching when you don’t want it to; notice how you can tug on it and it won’t come unplugged? Now you have the convenience of a detachable cable without the potential for frustration when you lose control of the game because your foot got snagged on the cable under the desk or something. That particular accident shouldn’t happen anyway, as the cable also has one of those Velcro straps permanently attached to it, which lets you bundle up the slack after you’ve plugged the other end into your computer.
Once you’re connected, the eSports Challenger keyboard will be automatically recognized by Windows and should work without any further configuration. You can even plug the 30mm cooling fan into one of the two built-in D/C sockets (remove the rubber covering first) and it will work right away. By default, the Thermaltake logo and the backlights will glow red; you can adjust the brightness of the light or turn it off completely by pressing the key in the upper-right corner with the little sun on it. In order to turn off the annoyingly-bright “Tt” logo light, adjust the backlight color on the Ultimate, or make use of the macro buttons, you’ll have to install the software that comes on that CD.
Every eSports Challenger keyboard comes with ThermalTake’s graphical user interface software (they don’t really have a name for it). It’s a very small package -- the executable is 8MB and it doubles to 16MB when installed -- which makes me wonder why they didn’t just build it into the keyboard itself instead of wasting a CD. If I can get a 2GB flash drive for $5, shouldn’t you be able to put 32MB of memory into the keyboard for next to nothing? Anyway, I digress…
The application does pretty much what you’d expect it to: it allows you to assign functions to each of the “T” buttons, control the backlight and logo illumination, upload those settings to the keyboard’s integrated memory, and save or load them to and from your computer. Though you can’t program macros on the fly, there are some very advanced options for setting them up, including delay times in increments of tenths of a second. And that’s not the extent of what you can do with these custom keys; they can be configured to do anything from basic Windows functions like copying, pasting, searching, or printing to launching a shortcut or program.
You can configure multiple profiles at a time -- 4 for Pro and 5 for Ultimate -- and then toggle between them on the fly with a dedicated key. It will even indicate which profile is loaded by flashing a number at the bottom of the screen and changing the color of the LED next to the lights for the number, caps, and scroll locks. The software also has a built-in timer, though I can’t think of any specific function it has here, if any. Unique to the Ultimate and its version of the software are the ability to bind any four regular keys as additional “T” keys, as well as a sub-menu dedicated to customizing the RGB color scheme for the backlight.
Unfortunately, there are some issues I’ve noticed with the eSports Challenger software. With the Pro version, the preference for the logo backlight doesn’t “stick,” meaning you can turn it off, but it comes back on after a reboot. At that point, you have to load the software and turn it back off again, which can be quite annoying if you turn the computer off with any frequency. The Ultimate version takes a full minute to load up due to some kind of synchronization process, and that’s a long time if you just want to change one little setting. You can leave it running in the background to avoid having to suffer this inconvenience more than once per session, but it’s still an issue that shouldn’t be there. In fact, it’s not a problem with the Pro’s software, which has a higher version number, interestingly enough.