If you've not yet sampled the joys of playing games or bashing out your magnum opus from the oh-so-satisfying clickety-clack of a mechanical keyboard, trust me, they're a wonderful investment. But mechanical keyboards are de rigueur these days; every major PC peripherals manufacturer has taken to slapping some Cherry MX switches and a garish logo on a keyboard in an effort to appeal to gamers. With so much competition out there, how does one stand out from the crowd? Clickier keys? Oddball layouts? A ridiculous array of macro buttons? No, what keyboards need are more lights. Lots and lots of lights.
Enter the Corsair Gaming K70 RGB, a fully programmable mechanical keyboard with individually backlit keys each capable of displaying 16.8 million colours--and these aren't your typical static array of backlight colours either. The RGB can display all manner of weird and wonderful lighting patterns that react to user-defined key presses and macros. It's utterly mesmerising in action, although how useful these colourful displays of light are in games is up for debate. One thing's for sure, though: there's no keyboard out there quite as bling-tastic as this.
Not that the K70's design screams "look at me!", mind. Outwardly at least, the RGB is rather unimposing, coming in any colour you like so long as it's black. You also may have noticed that it's Corsair Gaming now, and not Corsair Vengeance, as the company's peripherals used to be known. Also gone is the old sailing logo of old, replaced instead with an apparently trendier tribal pattern. Frankly, I didn't see anything wrong with the old logo, but hey, I'm not the sprightly youngster I once used to be.
The keyboard's base is made of a weighty anodized aluminium with the keys protruding out of it, rather than being sunken in. Along the top of the keyboard is a button for adjusting the brightness of the backlight, a button for disabling the Windows key, and a few keys for media playback along with volume adjustment. It's an appealing no-frills approach, especially when compared to keyboards like the Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E. TE with its rather oddball looks and layout.
There are several versions of the RGB planned, differing in their choice of Cherry MX switches for the keys and layouts. The K95 will feature a bunch of extra macro keys to left of the standard set, while the K65 (available only at Best Buy in the US) drops the number pad for a more compact footprint. All feature anti-ghosting with full 104-key rollover, along with a choice of Cherry switches. Initial models will feature reds (which is what my version is equipped with), followed by the more tactile browns and the extremely clicky blues.
Which to choose is largely down to personal preference. Reds have a smooth action without any tactile bump to let you know the key press has been registered, while blues feature a very audible clicking sound and feel that's wonderful for typing on, but incredibly distracting for anyone around you. My personal favourite are browns, which sit between the two, offering up a smooth action with a soft tactile bump near the middle of a key press.
Notably, the RGB keyboards use a slightly different kind of Cherry MX switch--developed in conjunction with Corsair--which embeds the RGB LED directly in the mechanical switch, supposedly without changing the feel of the key from standard switches. Indeed, the Cherry red switches on the K90 feel just like those in the non-RGB version, with that great tactile feel you just don't get from the standard rubber membrane used in cheaper keyboards. There's around a six month period of exclusivity for Cherry's RGB switches, meaning if you want that Cherry feel with some shiny lights attached, for the moment, Corsair is the only place to get them.
So the RBG gets the fundamentals right, but what about using all those lights? For that, you need to dive into Corsair's new RGB software, which lets you tweak all manner of settings and update the keyboard's firmware should you need to (yes, keyboards are now yet another thing that need a software update). The trouble is, the software is rather overwhelming, even for the more technically minded, and getting the keyboard to do what you want it to do a little practice.
The best place to start is by creating a new profile, which can be activated either by right clicking on the keyboard icon in the system tray, or by attaching it to the launch of a game or piece of software, which is handy if you have a specific layout and lighting setup you want to use for a single game. The actions tab is similarly straightforward, letting you re-assign keys to whatever you like. Want to make that E key into a CTRL+Q? No problem. Want to automatically paste a body of text on a key press? Not a problem either. There's even a neat function that lets you assign a double macro to a key, so that pushing it down activates one function, and releasing it activates another, which could prove to be a boon for fast-paced shooters and MMOs.
Things get complicated when you want to modify the RBG's lighting. Each profile you create can contain any combination of lighting you like, ranging from just creating different colours for gaming keys like WASD, through to all manner of fancy lighting effects that have the keyboard pulsing with every key press. Corsair divides these lighting effects into background and foreground lights.
Background light is just another term for the static backlight that you see all the time on the keyboard. Changing this is relatively easy; all you have to do is select the keys you want to change, and then select a colour. You can create different groups under each profile too, which makes it easier to change a large number of keys at once. I found it helpful to create groups for things like WASD, as well as action keys like CTRL, Q, and E, highlighting them in different colours. There's no limit to the amount of colours you can use, so if you fancy giving each key its own individual colour (and your eyes a hard time!), go for it.
The fun, and unfortunately, the complication comes when you start to create foreground lighting effects. There are four effects to choose from starting with Solid, which lets you alternate between single or multiple colours on a key. Gradient does the same, but with the smooth transition between colours. Ripple is, as the name suggests, a way to have a colours or colours ripple out from a key press. Finally, there's Wave, which creates a coloured wave pattern that spans the length of the keys in a chosen group.
Getting them up and running is a bit of challenge, though, which is largely down to the sheer amount of tweaks you can apply to each setting. You can, for example, have an animation play constantly rather than with a key press, or have it play when you activate a specific macro. You can have the lights of the keyboard off, only activating on a key press, or you can assign a timer to a key and then have it playback a lighting animation when done--useful for reminding you about those extended cool downs in MOBAs.
Everything from the duration of an animation and its velocity through to the angle it moves across the keyboard and the intensity of the colour through an animation can be changed. You give up ease of use for such deep editing capabilities, though. The graph system for changing the intensity of the lighting doesn't make a whole lot of sense at first glance, while numerous options are buried in right-clicked context menus. It took me a good 20 minutes just to figure out how to change the colour of a lighting effect, such is the complexity of the software.
Having such a deep system for creating lighting effects is great for those that really want to tweak, but I was hankering out for a simpler mode that would just let me load up a few cool effects without to dig out a manual; even just chucking in a few good presets would go some way to making the RGB easier to use. Corsair's focus seems to be on the power user at the moment, though, with the company working on a scripting engine that will allow users to delve even deeper in the lighting effects.
Still, if you can wrap your head around the software, the RGB is an undeniably cool piece of hardware. Sure, there's definitely an element of lighting for lighting's sake about it, but you can imagine some cases where a fully programmable keyboard might come in useful. Using different colours so you can see at a glance what profile or macros you have loaded up is neat, while the double macro feature could prove to be a boon in shooters where you could perform multiple tasks like setting up and detonating a bomb in one swift keystroke.
The whole wavy neon lighting thing? Sure, it's a little excessive, but hey, if you want a keyboard that's just at home in a nightclub as it is powering its way through the latest shooter, there's no better option. Only Logitech has a fully mechanical RBG keyboard on the way with the G910, and that makes use of Romer-G switches rather than the more sought after Cherry switches. The price for all this lighting loveliness? A not-insubstantial $169.99 for K70, $189.99 for the K95, and $149.99 for the K65.
That's quite a bit to spend on a peripheral, and a $40 markup on the non-RGB version of the same keyboard. But when you think about how much time you spend using a keyboard, and the fact that mechanical versions are more comfortable and last far longer than their mushy membrane-based counterparts, it's a worthwhile investment. If you can wrap your head around the software, the Corsair K90 RBG is one of the very best and most unique keyboards out there. Let's just hope Corsair can make things a little friendlier for the beginner soon.