If you’re in any way serious about gaming on a PC, you’re going to want a mechanical keyboard. We’ve come a long way over the past few years and the old rubber membrane keyboards are now old hat among the peripheral manufacturers that are making the biggest waves in the gaming space. One such company is Corsair who have just ditched the rather cheesy sounding Vengeance branding in favour of a much more classy and sophisticated moniker: Corsair Gaming.
Today we’re going to take a look at their high end offering, the K70 RGB. The K70 features two USB plugs to power the keyboard and to facilitate the full anti-ghosting, 104 key rollover functionality. You’ll be able to press any and all keys and have the keyboard report those keypresses to your operating system without issue. There’s also a switch on top that allows you to select the report rate over USB from 8, 4, 2 or 1 milliseconds or at the same rate as your BIOS setting.
Although there will be other options in the future, this keyboard initially ships with the Cherry MX Red switches, which are the softer Cherry mechanical switches that are the de-facto standard for these lovely, tactile keyboards.
There’s a nice smooth action, with a fairly long throw to each key press but we’re missing the little bumping action that some of the harsher switches introduce mid way down the range of motion. That means we’ve also cut down a bit on the clickety-clacking noise that makes you feel like a secretary in a black and white movie. I’m personally quite a fan of that noise while I’m typing, although anyone else in the room ends up threatening me with bodily harm. When I’m playing games, though, I’d rather everything outside of my headphones were as quiet as possible so these softer keys, with their smooth motion, are perfect.
That long action as you depress the key also makes typing a little more of a workout for your fingers than tapping away on the low-profile chiclet keyboard of a MacBook. Your fingers have to bounce down and retract upwards a little further between keypresses so if you’re not used to this kind of deeper depression, it’ll take a little bit of practice before you’re comfortable with it. Again, for playing games, that’s generally a much better kind of key press so it’s very much a case of knowing what you’re entering into and choosing a keyboard for your purposes.
We’re looking at a keyboard that currently sells for a little over a hundred pounds – or 170 dollars – here so unless you’re serious about needing a real top quality gaming peripheral, you’ll probably want to look at the cheaper mechanical keyboards – they’re available for around half the price of this one, although that is generally reflected in the build quality.
So let’s talk about the build quality of the K70 RGB. It’s a solid piece of aluminium with the keys raised off that surface, rather than sunken into the face of the board. It’s weighty and solid, without any creaky seams or delicate edges. There are four flick-out feet on the bottom that offer a sturdy platform and a slight change of angle, if that’s your thing. There’s also a nice solid wrist rest that clips on and off as required and offers a little non-slip texturised area for the heel of your hand to pivot on as you use the keyboard.
In fact, it all feels extremely satisfying. While it doesn’t have the slightly rubberised coating to the keys that some other high end keyboards have gone for, it is a matte finish to the plastic keycaps that seems like it wouldn’t retain grease or become slippy, even after long, sweaty-fingered gaming sessions. One of the virtues of mechanical keyboard is how easy it is to remove and clean those key tops – and also, the availability of replacements, should you get a little too enthusiastic.
The real star of the show, though, and the origin of that RGB suffix on the name, is the array of configurable LEDs that sit across the full range of the keyboard. Every key has its own and each LED can display a range of brightnesses and 16.8 million colours. This is not your usual backlit keyboard.
The keyboard defaults to a red backlight but if you download and install the Corsair Utility Engine from the website, you’ll have the option to play with the lights – and other settings – to your heart’s content.
There’s an almost overwhelming array of options in the software and Corsair allows granular control of everything from the colour of each individual LED to the period of time each effect lasts for. You can program pulsing ripples of light, gradients and simple colour changes that play as you hit each key and you can also change the static lighting for when the keyboard is inactive. You can group keys together to have them behave according to one set of instructions while the rest of the keys do not and that makes for some interesting uses.
You can highlight the WASD keys for your favourite first person games. You could put different colour combinations on the number keys to show groups of of unit types you typically select in RTS game. You could light the M key differently to help find your map in the dark. And it can all be done with profiles so that the keyboard automatically changes to your set up, depending on the game you’ve launched. You can export your creations to share on the Corsair forums and you can import the setups that other users have designed too. That’s all free of charge and some people on those forums obviously have a great talent for this kind of thing.
The software is quite complicated and a little tricky to get to grips with initially but with a little time, it opens up into an extremely versatile, configurable tool that does much more than just let you set up your own light shows. You’ll also get plenty of extremely handy macro and hotkey configuration, that goes some way to making up for the lack of feature keys – you can assign a complicated macro to any key. The keyboard only has a button to cycle the brightness through four steps – three brightnesses and off – and a button to lock the Windows key, as well as basic media controls and a mute button and volume dial.
There are no USB ports and no socket for your headset to plug into the keyboard itself, as some other high end gaming keyboards might have. This is further evidence of Corsair’s no frills – and I mean that in a positive way – approach to this device. They’ve clearly set out to make a very competent, very well put together keyboard that’s highly configurable and extremely good at its intended purpose. It sounds odd to say of a keyboard that pulsates and ripples with light at your every whim but this is oddly bereft of gimmicks and that lends it an air of quality and sophistication that is usually entirely missing from PC gaming peripherals.
I’ve been using this for a couple of weeks now and I dread the thought of going back to my previously beloved gaming keyboard with its rubber membrane and static backlight. Mechanical keyboards are becoming a must for serious PC gamers and this one is a top quality device that does the basics with aplomb while it also manages to make its headline feature extremely useful in previously unimagined ways. The software needs to be a little more intuitive but that seems like an easy fix now that they’ve got such a solid product to support with it.