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Review: Corsair Gaming K70 RGB

by Parm Mann on 22 September 2014, 14:00

Tags: Corsair

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Having started life as a provider of computer memory, Corsair has developed into one of the world's most well-known purveyors of high-end PC hardware. Chassis, power supplies, coolers and gaming peripherals are all now part of the company's arsenal, and having found success in these fields, the California-based outfit is today taking the next step by launching a sub-brand dubbed Corsair Gaming.

Described by Corsair as "a newly created division with a focus on the gaming community," Corsair Gaming will encompass mice, keyboards and headsets, at the very least, and effectively replaces the existing Vengeance and Raptor brands.

Claiming to be more than just a name, Corsair tells us that its Gaming division will be actively involved in the PC gaming space. This will entail participation at gaming events, a dedicated forum community, working closely on products with leading eSports teams and collaborating with developers to create an optimal union of hardware and software.

It's a company-wide effort designed to make Corsair Gaming synonymous with eSports, and to help make that happen, the first product to launch under the new name is one that gamers are itching to get their hands on: a mechanical keyboard with per-key RGB backlighting.

Vengeance K70 RGB

Priced at an eye-watering £139.99, the K70 RGB mechanical gaming keyboard is exactly what the name suggests - a multi-coloured derivative of the original K70.

One of the first things you'll notice is the recurring use of yellow in Corsair's packaging. Turns out the company has been dropping hints with recent launches, and whether you like the colour or not, yellow is going to be play a prominent part in the Corsair Gaming brand.

Remove the keyboard from the box and, save for the logo on top, you may wonder how this new model is any different to the year-old K70? Though, that's not a bad thing. Corsair is still using the same general layout and exterior aesthetic, meaning a minimalistic design that comes across as strong, sleek and workmanlike.

This is still one of the best-looking gaming keyboards available, and build quality remains solid throughout. In keeping with the original K70, the RGB version makes use of a brushed-aluminium keyboard surface, a detachable, soft-touch palm rest, toggle buttons for the LEDs and Windows Lock, as well as dedicated media keys. If you enjoyed the latter on the K70, you'll feel right at home here - the media keys are practically identical, right down to the high-quality volume scrollwheel.

And the similarities don't stop there. The K70 RGB continues to offer 100 per cent anti-ghosting technology with 104-key rollover, a braided cable with dual USB 2.0 connectors (the second provides additional power for lighting), a BIOS mode for compatibility with older motherboards, onboard memory for storing profiles, and, of course, a choice of key switches. Following in the footsteps of the K70, the RGB will also be available in either Cherry MX Red, Blue or Brown flavours.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It's only on closer inspection that you begin to notice the differences. And it isn't all good news, as some of the K70's features haven't been carried over. Firstly, there's no USB passthrough, meaning you can't hook up your mouse or another gaming peripheral directly to the keyboard. A strange omission, as that's one of the features we used regularly on the K70.

Secondly, the bundle isn't quite so good. This time around, there are no contoured and textured keycaps included as part of the package - the pre-installed keys are all you get, and there's no keycap replacement tool.

Instead, it seems Corsair has focussed almost entirely on solving a long-standing conundrum: how do you make a quality mechanical key with RGB lighting when the switch is slap-bang in the middle?

Most of the mechanical keyboards produced to date feature a single 3mm LED mounted directly on the key switch itself. The system works well enough, but gamers have been craving multi-coloured backlighting that's typically driven by larger 5mm LEDs.

Working together with Cherry, Corsair has been able to implement the RGB LEDs using a unique approach. Removing the keycaps gives us a better look. As illustrated above, the LED is still positioned in the upper half of the key, so as not to interfere with the mechanism, but instead of being fixed to the switch, each RGB LED is now surface mounted directly onto the keyboard's PCB.

The LEDs are then connected to a Panasonic lighting controller and a 32-bit ARM processor that handles both lighting and key rollover.

To maximise the illumination, the Cherry MX switch has been outfitted with an integrated lens and a translucent body designed specifically to aid the spread of light.

The end result is 16.8 million colour options per key and a multitude of programmable effects, which we'll get to shortly. But what's arguably just as important is that the RGB illumination doesn't diminish the characteristics of a mechanical key switch.

The Cherry MX RGBs are still made in Germany, they're still designed to withstand over 50-million presses, and they still feel very precise. The goal was to add RGB backlighting without altering the mechanical feel, and in that sense the MX RGBs are a success.

So is this the perfect answer to backlit mechanical key switches? Well, not quite. Despite all the effort, the LEDs aren't central to the keys, and as a consequence the backlight isn't even. This trade-off is most noticeable on keys with multiple rows of text, as the upper row is brightly lit while the bottom row is dim in comparison (Caps Lock being a good example).

Keys with only a single line of text have their lettering positioned above-centre to maximise the backlight, and as a result of the LED being further from the surface, overall brightness isn't quite as high as having the light directly behind the keycap. There's still room for further innovation, we feel, but the introduction of the Cherry MX RGB switch has nonetheless paved the way for spectacular customisation.