For years, keyboards were just keyboards. Just the standard 104 key layout, and each key performed the expected function. Then we started adding new functions to the keyboard – media keys, keys to bring up specific applications, or pre-programmed alternate functions for keys. We even started adding LCD screens. Remember those $1200 Optimus keyboards that had an OLED screen in each key?
Lately, though, the keys themselves have been taking center stage. Mechanical keyboard are the rage now. Membrane keyboards – the standard – work for most people, but serious typists and gamers started to demand more from their keyboards.
While membrane keyboards feature a rubber membrane under the keys, mechanical keyboards use a separate switch for each key. Membrane keyboards are spill resistant and cheap to make, but don’t provide the same satisfying tactile feedback that mechanical keyboards have. They’re also not as reliable in the long term and require more force to use per-key.
Now Corsair has entered the gaming market with its new Corsair Gaming brand. This isn’t its first mechanical keyboard, but it is the first under this new brand.
The new line of boards is made up of the K65, K70, and K95. I’ve been playing with the K70 for a few weeks now. The K70 has the standard key layout as well as the ten-key keypad. The K95 adds a few columns of function keys on the lefthand side of the plank, while the K65 drops off both the function keys and the ten-key for a much smaller footprint for those with a smaller workspace or a bigger mousepad.
The Switches and Keys
For the last ten years or so, I’ve lived and died by the Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 keyboard. It saved me from carpal tunnel and I’ve been adhering to it like I’d sworn a Wookie Life Debt. I’ve probably bought six different models over the years for work and home use.
With that said, I’ve enjoyed my time with the K70 immensely. The switches that power the keys in this keyboard are Cherry MX Red switches. There are also blue and brown keys. Blue keys have a click to them that lets you know once they’ve activated, while brown keys allow a softer touch. Red is right in the middle – no click, but a bit more force to press the keys.
The keys are incredibly easy to type on. One of the learning curves, aside from adjusting to a non-ergonomic keyboard for the first time in a decade, has been how I idle with the keyboard. I’d often rest my left hand on the keyboard while mousing with the right but I found myself typing entire lines of spaces one one monitor while I read something on the other – that’s how little force the keys require. As a result, the keys feel great for typing and are especially responsive for gaming.
I’m not going to pretend I’m at the professional level in Starcraft, League of Legends, or Counter Strike, but the durability and consistency of the keys as well as the board’s n-key rollover (meaning you can press a whole bunch of keys at once and none of them get missed) should, I would think, satisfy even Starcraft players with the highest Actions Per Minute ratings.
One side effect of the keyboard’s lighting feature I enjoy is that the letters aren’t printed on but are instead translucent plastic inserts that allow light to pass through. They might get grungy if you like Cheetos too much, but the letters won’t wear off.
The board itself is sturdily built from “Aircraft-grade anodized brushed aluminum,” according to the press release. This board isn’t going to flex without some serious muscle (read: machinery) behind it.
Going further with the bare hardware look, there’s no top plate on the keyboard that hides the base of the keys from view. It almost (but not quite) looks unfinished.
The lack of a cover for the keyboard helps highlight it’s biggest cosmetic draw: Each of the mechanical switches on the keyboard is also its own, independent RGB LED light. Corsair has an exclusive deal with Cherry, the German company that builds these LED switches right now. The lights are capable of delivering 16.8 million colors, ensuring that you can get that perfect “cornflower blue” to complement the new coat of paint you just put on your office. If you just like every color, you can even have a different color on every key.
The K70 and its siblings are supported by Corsair’s software, the Corsair Utility Engine. If you’re willing to put the time in, the software is incredibly powerful and you can do all sorts of things with the keyboard.
Lighting is just the beginning and it’s almost overwhelming on its own. You can have ripple, pulse, and gradient effects, you can have them toggle on keypress. You can have the color layout change by application. You can put timers on keys so that they change color or play a sound to signal a cooldown.
You can assign all kinds of different things to different keys. If you’re like me, you think the caps lock key is a crime against humanity (I feel strongly about this), and you can reassign it. If you run raids in an MMO-style game or play a shooter that has you buying the same loadout over and over again, you can set up macros to post to chat or perform functions at a menu.
One of the crucial hooks to all of this is that any of these settings can be imported and exported. If you need to reformat your computer, you can drop these in your cloud storage account and get right back to gaming once you have things back up and running. Or if you want some sweet rave lights, you can hit up the manufacturer’s forums and see what other users are doing with the hardware and download their files to do it yourself.
You can even set up some stuff that I’d argue borders on cheating. I heard someone say they’d setup a macro to place, arm, back away from and detonate bombs in Battlefield 4. I can’t help but be reminded of turbo controllers back in the NES days. But even with that concern in mind, there’s a lot you can do with this hardware.
While the software is incredibly powerful, it’s also the keyboard’s biggest bruise. I found setup to be incredibly difficult. While many users had an easy time setting the software up, the first release of the software was consistently laggy for me and often wouldn’t read the keyboard’s firmware version. The keyboard even stopped responding a couple times and had to be unplugged and replugged.
A recent update to both the software and firmware seems to have resolved this, but it is a very real danger when choosing a keyboard as complex as the K70. If Corsair continues to update and improve the software, this shouldn’t be a problem for those who aren’t early adopters, but it is something that hamstrung me for the first couple of weeks of use.
If you just want a mechanical keyboard, there are cheaper ones out there – the K70 retails for $169.99.
It’s a sturdy piece of hardware, though, that emphasizes form without eschewing function. The customization options presented by the software put the K70 and its bigger and smaller siblings in a class of their own. If you want to do anything beyond simply typing, not much else can compare. The possibilities Corsair’s software presents are virtually endless in the hands of a creative user.
Whether your needs are for gaming, work, or purely aesthetic, chances are this keyboard can do what you want it to. If that’s what you’re looking for, take a chance and check out Corsair Gaming’s K70.
Disclaimer: Corsair Gaming provided us with the K65, K70, and K95 keyboard models for test and review. We used the Corsair keyboards exclusively for about two and a half weeks before writing this review.