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Corsair K90 Keyboard Review

post #1 of 32
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Hey guys. I'm a technology blogger and reviewer in the UK, and I've just finished off a review of the Corsair K90. Let me know what you think, and feel free to ask questions. I've got a few other keyboards on hand, so I can comparisons, videos or what-have-you. Thanks smile.gif

nUVqY.jpg

Corsair has been a major player in the RAM market for some time now, and has slowly been introducing new lines in related fields. After launching a line of headsets in 2010, it's now moving fully into the peripheral space with the launch of its Corsair Vengeance line of gaming keyboards and mice.

This keyboard, the Vengeance K90, is being marketed towards RTS and MMO gamers. With a heavy complement of macro keys and Cherry MX Red mechanical switches they've made a great start, but will Corsair's debut keyboard stand up to the competition? With Razor's BlackWidow and numerous other mechanical keyboards beginning to flow from Western peripheral manufacturers, it'll certainly be a hard fight.

Features and Specifications (as listed by Corsair)

- Cherry MX Red keys - the perfect keys for gamers
- 18 Macro Keys and 3 Macro-Set Keys for up to 54 Macros - ideal for MMO and RTS games
- 100% anti-ghosting technology and 20 KRO on USB - hit as many keys as you want!
- Blue backlighting with 4 levels of illumination - ideal for LANs and late night gaming
- Removable, full sized wrist wrest for optimal comfort and longer gaming times
- Rapid key response - 1ms response rate - faster than even the fastest gamer needs
- Media keys - easy access to your music controls, for when you take a break from owning (lol)
- Super build quality - metal top-plate provides unmatched durability and stability, as well as a premium look and feel

Physical Features

The Corsair Vengeance K90 has a unique look, with black etched keys mounted on a brushed aluminium back-plate. The left hand side of the keyboard is dominated by the eighteen macro keys in three equally sized groups, backed with hard black plastic. As you'd expect from a mechanical keyboard of quality, the K90's high weight lends it a very comfortingly solid feel. This is certainly a keyboard you could use as a club in the zombie apocalypse.

p4GLD.jpg

Let's have a closer look at the keyboard itself. On the left, we've got those eighteen macro keys. They're slightly lower than the main keyboard keys, meaning that there is little danger of pressing them - something that happens annoyingly often with keyboards where the macro keys are indistinguishable by feel from the main keyset, as on the BlackWidow. The keys are rubber domes here instead of mechanical, making them slightly more difficult to press. Corsair have told me that this is to prevent accidental double-tapping.

There are also MR, MR1, MR2 and MR3 keys along the top of the keyboard. They are small, but easy to press and come with backlighting to let you know which macro set is active.

gMje3.jpg

In the center, we've got the main key cluster. With the exception of the function keys (e.g. F1 - Print Screen) and the Insert/Delete cluster, these all use mechanical key switches. As stated earlier, these are Cherry MX Red switches, which give the keyboard a light feel. We'll take a longer look at the implications of this later on.

The mounting of the black keys above the aluminum chassis is a very cool look; it almost looks like the keys are floating in place. This dos mean that the keys are a bit easier to clean as well, as you can get in from the bottom with a duster.

2EzlA.jpg

On the right hand side of the keyboard, you'll find the media keys. As well as a row of standard media playback controls (stop, skip back, play/pause, skip forward), there's another row just above that has a mute button as well as a volume roller. This analog input is a great touch, being both space efficient and classy.

cCNCA.jpg

Just to the left of the volume wheel are the status lights, which are rather nicely done in a straight up white light instead of the more common green. There's also a key to toggle the level of backlighting between its four levels and a gaming key that disables the Windows key.

BtcMf.jpg

At the very top of the keyboard, there's a rather nondescript Corsair logo. Looking from the other side, you'll find a single USB port, which is passed through the double USB cable into your motherboard. This allows you to plug in your mouse or a flash drive, and goes a long way in reducing the number of cables sprawling behind your desk.

4deN3.jpg

Now, let's have a look at those mechanical switches. I've taken off the arrow keycaps to show you. As you can see, each see has a mechanical Cherry MX Red switch, as denoted by its red colour. Each key also has its own LED to provide backlighting.

LGcAN.jpg

If we take off one of the function keycaps, we can see it's a different story. Instead of a mechanical switch, we find a lower quality rubber dome. While this not entirely desirable, it does make the function keys quite distinguishable from their main-cluster peers.

ZuEPT.jpg

Here are the keycaps themselves - you can easily see the difference between the mechanical switches and the rubber domes.

tnyBp.jpg

And here's the USB cable. It contains two lines to allow that integrated USB port to be fully powered. It's protected with a very durable-feeling cover; one of the best I've seen on any keyboard.

fVbW7.jpg

Finally, we've got one last picture of the keyboard in action, with the backlights on full. As you can see, it's quite a nice display.

gFVsE.jpg

Software

Let's have a look at the software that powers this keyboard. Edit: Corsair have provided a rather comprehensive software guide, which you can read here.

The first tab is termed ‘Assign Keys’ and is the meat of the keyboard software suite. On the left is a visual representation of the macro keys. If you click on any of them, you can see which macros are assigned. Keys that have macros assigned to them are highlighted in teal, so you can also see which keys are free for binding. You can also change profiles here by clicking the picture M1, M2 or M3 buttons, or by pressing these buttons on the keyboard.

OBDip.png

You assign a key by pressing the ‘MR’ (macro record) button on the keyboard, the G key you want to assign the macro to, and then the keys that you want the macro to be made up of. This is pretty easy to do quickly. You can also make macros in the software by selecting common actions (e.g. copy, paste, find, launch program, lock PC). The delays in each macro are also customisable – 50 ms by default, but can also be ignored or set to have a random delay time.

Once the macro is recorded, you can also set what happens when you press down the macro key. By default, the macro will be performed once, but you can also set it to be performed a set number of times, to be performed as long as the key is held down, or to be performed until the key is pressed again. This gives you good flexibility in the macros that you can construct. Another option is the hardware playback option; once checked, this will ensure the macros are played back in hardware so that they bypass software macro checks which are common in many games.

Finally, you can change the brightness level of the keyboard here, as well as switch to other Vengeance peripherals that are plugged in (as they all run from the same program).
The second tab is the Manage Profiles tab, which is quite bare. You can save, load, import and export profiles; pretty much what you’d expect.

e8svQ.png

Now that’s concluded, let’s have a look at how this keyboard performs.

Testing

Methodology

The best way to test a keyboard isn’t with benchmarks or statistics – it’s about real world use. I used the keyboard for two weeks, using it for every game I played as well as all of my work as a blogger. Indeed, this very review was written on it.

These games were used:

StarCraft II (of course)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Battlefield 3
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Unreal Tournament 2004
World of Tanks

Results

Gaming

The most important feature for any mechanical keyboard is the type of switches used. According to the Reviewer’s Guide issued with the K90, Cherry MX Red switches are the best kind of switches for gaming, compared with Blue, Black or Brown. This is a highly debatable point – things are much less cut and dry than this, and it’s mostly a question of personal preference. For more information, have a look at my guide to mechanical switches.

Red switches are characterised by their low actuation force and linear action. That means that the keys can be pressed down quite easily, reducing the latency. It also means that it’s more important to be accurate in your key presses; as the keys can be pressed accidentally more easily due to the lower force required. Linear action is also perfectly acceptable for a gaming keyboard, but it is again a question of taste – you might prefer additional feedback via an audible click (Blues) or a tactile bump (Browns).

With this in mind, I personally found the Red switches quite fine. While my preference is for the tactile bump found in Brown and Blue switches, the light touch of Red switches are a nice bonus that make rapid actions very easy. While I made more mistaken keypresses in StarCraft II, I was also able to maintain a slightly higher APM then I did normally which counteracted this. The keyboard’s red switches seemed slightly more at home in shooters, where making mistakes due to a typo was less likely.

While I’m not a massive fan of macro keys, these seemed to be the best possible implementation. They’re hard to hit accidentally, still within easy reach, and give you more than enough options with 18 keys and 3 profiles for 54 keys in total. The software is also quite powerful, allowing you to easily construct as complex or as simple macros as you require.

The decision to spend more on the PCB to allow for 20 KRO, the maximum possible over USB, elevates the K90 over cheaper keyboards from Western brands such as the Razer BlackWidow. While WASD-optimisation is acceptable, it’s sometimes problematic for gamers that use a different cluster or play games that require more simultaneous key use than others.

The back-lighting is also a small benefit for late-night gaming. A choice of four levels is also welcome, as it means that you’re not forced to choose between being blinded or not seeing the keys at all. The disable-Windows-key button is also a welcome addition, as many games don’t offer this functionality as standard and there’s nothing worse than accidentally being booted back to the desktop at a critical moment.

One disappointment is that not all of the keys are mechanical switches, with the function keys, macro keys and insert/delete cluster instead using more normal rubber domes. While it’s easy to see why this decision has been made with the high cost of mechanical switches, it still does make it difficult to hit that odd function key or macro key during gameplay. It’s not the end of the world by any means, but it is a point against the Corsair K90.

Overall, this is an excellent keyboard for gaming, sporting effective red mechanical switches and a solid design. If you’d prefer a keyboard without macro keys, then the lower-priced Corsair Vengeance K60 may appeal to you (review on that forthcoming).

Typing

As with all other mechanical keyboards I’ve tried, typing performance far exceeds that of a rubber dome keyboard. While Red switches aren’t ideal for typing, as they lack the tactile bump of Browns or the audible click of Blues, their lightness does make them a good choice for long typing sessions.

While writing this review on the K90 has proceeded just fine, upon using my Filco Majestouch 2 with Browns, I’ve got to say I prefer the typing experience of the Filco overall. Still, if you’re upgrading from a rubber dome keyboard, then this certainly going to make writing more comfortable and satisfying. They say once you go mechanical you never go back, and the K90 is no exception.

Comfort

The low actuation force of the Red mechanical switches makes this a good keyboard to recommend for comfort. The wrist rest also plays a large part in ensuring that long-term use is quite comfortable, so I’d advise using it if you’ve got the space. As far as the design goes, there’s nothing to complain about in terms of comfort – indeed, I’d say this is one of the most comfortable to use keyboards I’ve yet tried.

Media Keys

The media keys are one area which I cannot praise enough on this keyboard. As well as being well placed on the right hand side of the keyboard, making them easy to access, they’re also arranged quite logically. I’m not a big fan of buttons of differing sizes, so having all five buttons be the same size is a great benefit.

Where typical keyboard volume buttons have a tendency to be imprecise because of their digital input, the roller works excellently to provide proper analog input. This means you can move quickly from maximum to minimum volume, as well as perform more fine-grained adjustments by rolling slowly. This is also a very space efficient design, and I’m surprised it’s not found on more high-end keyboards.

Conclusion

The Corsair Vengeance K90 is one of the finest keyboards I’ve ever used. I can think of very little that I could improve on this keyboard, with it scoring highly from everything from performance, features and style. This is one of the best examples I’ve found of across-the-board upgrades to the simple power of a well-made mechanical keyboard, including macro and media keys, well-designed software and a distinctive look. Simply put, the Corsair K90 is the best gaming mechanical keyboard available.

Corsair have done well in their first attempt at a gaming keyboard, and I hope the Vengeance K90 becomes available with different switch options to allow for greater personal taste – with a full complement of Blue, Brown, Black and Red switches, the Vengeance series would be hard not to recommend. Even with a large amount of well designed gaming extras, it still proves to be the same cost as more basic mechanical keyboards.

Pros
- Cherry MX Red switches work well for gaming, and are better than rubber domes for typing
- Full 20 KRO rollover
- Cleverly placed macro and media keys
- A distinctive and classy look
- Solid construction

Cons
- Not all keys are mechanical
- Only Red switches are available

Final Score
9 / 10


Would recommend to StarCraft II players who aren't prone to accidentally hitting keys in game and are looking for speed. If you're more prone to errors, then a stiffer Black switch or one with some feedback (e.g. Brown or Blue) may be more suited to you.

Edit: Amazon seems to be the cheapest place to get one, let me know if you can find it anywhere cheaper:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
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post #2 of 32
"Would recommend to StarCraft II players who aren't prone to accidentally hitting keys in game and are looking for speed"

The problem with this is as a SC2 gamer you use the F keys a ton, and swapping between mechanical and rubberdome is quite annoying when I tried the K60.
Its a shame that they did this tbh.
I use the F keys alot in all my games, I just cannot constantly swap between mechanical and rubberdome, it drove me nuts.
post #3 of 32
Thread Starter 
It depends on your level of skill, I'd suspect. I haven't added location keys to my SC2 routine (because I'm only Platinum), but if you did use them often it'd definitely be more of an issue than it was for me. I'd be interested to see if any SC2 pro-gamer picks up the K60/K90 as their playing keyboard, as that'd certainly legitimise / promote the board to ESPORTS fans.
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post #4 of 32
I don't think I'd recommend this board to SC2 players as mentioned above, rubber domes are really worlds under MX Reds, and switching between the two for gaming would be unideal, to say the least.
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post #5 of 32
I've had this keyboard for almost a month now. It's definitely a great keyboard. Of course it would have been better if the whole thing was mechanical, I would ave gladly paid more to get all mechanical keys.

The keyboard is very solid. I like the open design of the keys as you can easily blow out stuff that falls in between the keys.


I'll haven't tried any other switch types than Reds, so I can't comment on that. But i do like gaming on this board.

Great review though.
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post #6 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by VelocityGirl View Post

It depends on your level of skill, I'd suspect. I haven't added location keys to my SC2 routine (because I'm only Platinum), but if you did use them often it'd definitely be more of an issue than it was for me. I'd be interested to see if any SC2 pro-gamer picks up the K60/K90 as their playing keyboard, as that'd certainly legitimise / promote the board to ESPORTS fans.

Almost all korean progamers in bw+sc2 uses Blackwidow or Celeritas.
Some use filco browns aswell.

Its quite known among them that they prefer brown and after that blues, for the tactile feel.
post #7 of 32
Endorsements might have something to do with that.

Filthy Lucre.

Edited by ripster - 1/31/12 at 12:57pm
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post #8 of 32
Hmmm...

Might have to buy a K90 or a K60 now...
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post #9 of 32
I got mine last week and I love it.

Its my first mechanical keyboard so I had the "woah" experience the first time I typed a word on it.

Funny enough though, I have absolutely no problem with the rubber dome keys. I've been using them for seventeen years now and I never disliked using them so I'm not about to start now. If anything the K90s rubber domes feel quite good compared to past rubber dome boards I've used.

From that perspective, it means that I can have the performance from the mechanicals when I need them and the farmiliarity of the rubber domes. I dont use Function/Home/End/Page up/etc keys while gaming and it's not like I need 100% speed and accuracy navigating a web page or word document so they're fine for my needs.

As for the G keys, I use them more outside of gaming. I use them for clicky games like Civ, Anno, Simcity, Skyrim etc. None of which require high performance button mashing abilities.

Launching programs mainly, with some shortcuts thrown in here and there. Again, the rubber dome keys are more than okay for my needs as I'm not going to be double tapping "open media player" or "close window".

The feel of the mechanical switches while typing/gaming + the media keys (very easy to memorise their position without needing to search) + the backlight + the unique and imo very cool looking aesthetics means I'm probably not changing keyboard again for another seventeen years biggrin.gif.
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post #10 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nivity View Post

Almost all korean progamers in bw+sc2 uses Blackwidow or Celeritas.
Some use filco browns aswell.
Its quite known among them that they prefer brown and after that blues, for the tactile feel.

Blacks are also used by a fair amount of pro-gamers, e.g. IdrA, Lyn, Madfrog, Sarens, etc. Even more use QSenn DT-35s or other rubber dome keyboards, and a few (SK.MC comes to mind) use Topre keyboards smile.gif This is a good reference thread: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=172579&currentpage=13#251
Quote:
Originally Posted by GrizzleBoy View Post

I got mine last week and I love it.
Its my first mechanical keyboard so I had the "woah" experience the first time I typed a word on it.
Funny enough though, I have absolutely no problem with the rubber dome keys. I've been using them for seventeen years now and I never disliked using them so I'm not about to start now. If anything the K90s rubber domes feel quite good compared to past rubber dome boards I've used.
From that perspective, it means that I can have the performance from the mechanicals when I need them and the farmiliarity of the rubber domes. I dont use Function/Home/End/Page up/etc keys while gaming and it's not like I need 100% speed and accuracy navigating a web page or word document so they're fine for my needs.
As for the G keys, I use them more outside of gaming. I use them for clicky games like Civ, Anno, Simcity, Skyrim etc. None of which require high performance button mashing abilities.
Launching programs mainly, with some shortcuts thrown in here and there. Again, the rubber dome keys are more than okay for my needs as I'm not going to be double tapping "open media player" or "close window".
The feel of the mechanical switches while typing/gaming + the media keys (very easy to memorise their position without needing to search) + the backlight + the unique and imo very cool looking aesthetics means I'm probably not changing keyboard again for another seventeen years biggrin.gif.

Yeah, I love that feeling of typing on mechanical keyboards... I've now got a Filco Majestouch-2 (with Browns) at work, the Vengeance K90 at home and three or four others sitting in the wings.

I agree with what you're saying about the macro keys - they're better for non-competitive games anyway, like MMOs or single player titles. If I'm playing StarCraft II or Quake, I'll just bind whatever macro I want to one of the main keys instead of using a dedicated macro key.
Edited by VelocityGirl - 2/1/12 at 1:30am
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