Tenkeyless keyboards lose the number pad on the right side in favor of a more compact footprint. I say, why stop there? Vortexgear’s 75 percent Race 3 features nearly all the functionality of a tenkeyless board in a smaller, sleeker package, and it’s gorgeous to boot.

While I’ve been a tenkeyless keyboard fan for ages, it’s only in the past year that I’ve started going even smaller. These days my primary driver is generally something in the 60 percent range, relatively tiny boards that relegate the arrow and F keys to an additional function layer (F1 is FN+1, for example). For some, that’s a pretty extreme jump, especially those who need those dedicated arrow and F keys for gaming. A 75 percent board like the Vortex Race 3 is the perfect middle ground.

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The Race 3 takes the standard keyboard layout and gets rid of all the extra space. The division between number keys and F keys is gone. The Delete key is in the top right corner. The bottom row and and right Shift have been pruned to accommodate arrow keys, and four of the functions normally located above the arrows on a standard keyboard—Page Up, Page Down, Home and End—are stacked along the right side.

Save the odd-sized Escape key in the top left, it’s an elegant design that’s got most of what a keyboard user needs in a much smaller space than a tenkeyless board.

Race 3 versus Filco Majestouch 2 Tenkeyless, in pink.

The Race 3 comes packaged with a keycap puller, a cable and a set of extra RGBY and Mac keycaps, in case you can’t tell your CTRL from your COMMAND. Also in the box are a pair of cute little aluminium feet, for the slight angle choosy typists crave.

Vortex Race 3 Specs

  • Switch: Blue Cherry MX (also available with Brown, Black, Silver, Red and Clear)
  • Case: CNC Aluminium
  • Keycaps: Dye-sublimated PBT in DSA profile
  • LEDs: Caps lock and layer indicators under space bar.
  • USB Key Rollover: Full
  • Switch Mount Type: Plate
  • Dimensions: 12.21" x 4.73" x 1.18
  • Weight: 1.69 lbs
  • Primary Interface: USB
  • Cord Length: 60 inches
  • Price: $139.99

What’s Great About It

Small Footprint: One of the biggest benefits of a 75 percent layout is a lot of keys in a very small space. By getting rid of the space between the F keys and number row and losing a few function keys, the Race 3 fits 83 keys in very little space.

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It’s an efficient use of space that results in a very striking look. It’s all keys, no space. Well, space bar, but no extra space.

Sturdy Little Thing: Between the solid aluminum frame and its short DSA profile keycaps, the Race 3 is all width without a lot of height, which makes for a very sturdy little board with no discernible key rattle.

Multi-Layer Programming: Though it features just about every key I need (function F10 is Print Screen, the only dedicated key I miss), the Race 3 also offers three programmable layers on top of the default layer, allowing users to create custom profiles based on their needs. It’s also great for making macros, with each programmable key handling up to 32 keystrokes, including timed delays. If you’ve got a regular spell rotation in your favorite MMO, this should handle it. Hit a button, go make a sandwich.

Great Keycaps: The Vortex folks know the importance of good keycaps, and so far every board I’ve owned from the company has had top-notch caps. Though while the popular 60 percent Poker 3 boards from Vortex use taller OEM profile caps, the Race 3 uses the sort of thick PBT plastic caps that also came on the tiny Vortex Core, a 40 percent board. These caps are dye-subbed, so the legends will never die, and the PBT plastic should resist shine (a sort of polish that comes with wear) better than less fancy ABS keycaps.

Color Options: The Race 3 comes outfitted with a subdued set of grey and beige caps, but it also brings the party along with an included set of RGBY modifier keys. These bright splashes of color really bring the board together for me.

What’s Not So Great

That Escape Key: Where most 75 percent boards I’ve seen like to line up the top two rows of keys instead of the standard staggering in order to keep key sizes standard, the Race 3 Vortex decided to go with a larger escape key instead. It might not seem like a big deal. It looks fine and works fine. But you’re hardly ever going to see a premade set of keys that includes that size of an Escape key.

Nothing that can’t be solved with a blank, but the Escape key is also a prime spot for special sculpted artisan keycaps, and nothing made with one space in mind is going to look quite right there.

Customization

Two things to keep in mind when customizing the Race 3. First off, that Escape key. Again, gonna be hard to find one that size. You’ll have to either have something custom made, or use a novelty key there.

Maybe the wider escape key space makes the artisan pop? Note the pink Y key. That’s as far as I could get. I just love the look of the Race too much to pink it up.

Second, the keys on the board are DSA profile, which is a uniform key profile created by the folks over at Signature Plastics. There aren’t a lot of third-party options out there for DSA—there are some, but not a lot. Happy hunting.

Final Thoughts

While it won’t sway the “I need to have a numberpad” crowd, the Race 3 is an excellent graduation point for folks looking to slim from a tenkeyless. The condensed layout is a significant space saver, without making the sacrifices necessary to go straight to a smaller 60 percent board.

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This is the third Vortex board I’ve purchased, and though I’ve been doing more building than buying lately, the combination of build quality and functionality Vortex delivers will keep me coming back long after I’ve replaced all my other boards with my own insane creations.