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Another Corsair K90 Keyboard Review

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I had purchased a Corsair M90 mouse just before Christmas and was pretty disappointed with it. The hardware seemed great but the software was not-yet-ready-for-prime-time.
I was causing Corsair all sorts of misery, as I usually do, when I got an Email from Yellowbeard asking if I would like to try out a K90. So, everyone knows this is a free keyboard from Corsair. Currently I am using a Razer Blackwidow Ultimate. It uses Cherry MX Blue keys while the Corsair K90 uses Cherry MX Red keys. I have really been liking the Blackwidow more and more as I use it, so Corsair has a tough job to convince me their keyboard is better.

My current setup:

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The K90:

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While unpacking the K90 I noticed it comes with a wrist rest. I never use the things myself although I suppose a true touch typist would love them.

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Looking at the keyboard you can see it's a little unusual. The keys stick up quite a ways which takes a little getting used to. It has a rather striking aluminum housing (more like a platform) with a few extra keys across the top for:

Recording and changing macros and shift levels on-the-fly on the left side:

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A sweet looking Corsair logo in the centre and on the right a key for changing the backlight intensity levels, a Windows Key lockout, and the media keys:

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In this case Corsair has provided a "roller" control for the volume, something I personally appreciate. I hate tapping keys for the volume (tap tap tap tap...listen....tap tap tap). I'll take an actual control over some buttons any day. There is also a mute key and (stop, reverse, pause/play and forward) keys that remind me of the keys used on some cd or dvd players. Personally I hardly ever touch media keys (other than volume). However many people use them quite a bit while playing video files.

On the left side of the keyboard are three groups of six macro keys. This is an MMORPG keyboard, so these are for use in your MMORPG games. I only use one MMORPG (Guild Wars) and will test them in that game. I have not played WOW, but I hear these keys can be particularly handy in that game. I will also be testing it with Skyrim, Duke Nukem, and Star Craft 2.

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Unfortunately the macro keys, the function keys, and the keys in the Insert/Del/Home pad are not mechanical keys. They feel spongy (mushy). When I'm typing and I make a typo, if I use the DEL key for the correction I notice immediately the mushy feel of the key. It's like stepping on bubblegum compared to the mechanical switches used on the rest of the keys. If course, it's their own fault for making the rest of the keys so nice.

Unlike the Blackwidow, these Cherry Red keys still clack some but are not quite so loud. For people interested in a quieter experience, after market Cherry key rubber rings are available to fit under the keys and quiet them down. Aftermarket keycaps are also available for Cherry keys (although apparently no backlit keycaps). Also, these keys do not have the tactile "click" of the Cherry Blue keys, something I find myself missing.

After Market Keycaps and o-rings

400

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The typing experience is pretty good on this keyboard. The keys feel great, but are taking some getting used to because of the raised height and the different keycaps (something we have to deal with whenever changing to a different keyboard). The etching on the keys is well done and allows for a very bright shine from the backlight while the keys themselves are a flat black. The font they used is pretty standard, unlike the Blackwidow that has some problems in this area (such as the R key looking like half a T). Unusually, the backlight reflects off of the aluminum surface of the keyboard quite a bit and looks rather intense. Both the standard key functions and the shift key functions are illuminated by the backlight on the K90. This is a big plus over the BW keyboard as I'm not a touch typist and when typing in dimmer light I sometimes need a quick glance to see the colon or quotes. The backlighting is dimmer on the function and (Home, Ins, Del) pad while the backlighting for the macro keys is white instead of blue and does not reflect off the black plastic surrounding the macro keypad. As I'm typing this I've noticed my fingerprints are already showing up on the keys. The bottom of the keyboard is just a piece of plastic with rubber feet. There is a height adjustment on each side that hinge out sideways instead of forward/back as most keyboards. The height difference with the adjustments is only about a centimeter.

Installation

When I connected this keyboard I found that it uses two USB cables, as do some other keyboards. Thankfully there are no headphone jacks or microphone jacks and only one USB port on the back. Personally, I can do without these particular extras as just about everything you purchase for a computer these days seems to have extra jacks and ports on them.

I had the software for the M90 mouse installed on my system when I plugged this keyboard in. I was expecting it to just work. Unfortunately, the mouse software (which is supposed to be the same software) would not see the keyboard so I had to uninstall the software and, since the keyboard comes with no manual or software, download the keyboard software from Corsair. This turned out to be a good thing since the software came with a firmware update which updated the firmware on the keyboard without any problems. Checking through Corsair's website could not produce any manual or instructions for this keyboard. Some things can be inferred from the software, and some from the updated driver beta release notes, but overall Corsair has left you on your own. There is a FAQ that will tell you some things (like how to make a macro), but it's no substitute for an instruction or owner's manual. One question that came to mind was wondering if there was any way to load profiles from the keyboard without having to open the software. Unfortunately with no owner's manual that's a question I can't answer.

Creating a profile was easy enough. Just go to the profiles tab and click "new". Double click your new profile to rename it. Now you're free to start recording macros. The one unintuitive thing to remember is, click the record button first, then select the key you want to use and press the keys for your macro. Another odd quirk on the keyboard is that the recording does not always stop when you click on the MR button in the software. The MR key on the keyboard will keep flashing sometimes, requiring you to press it to stop the recording.

Profile Software:

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Guild Wars Test

Moves like: turn around/attack, target nearest enemy/attack, target/spell or any combination become possible using one key. This can be very helpful for spamming attacks or using skill chains. I've set up some macros for double, triple and quad key commands and attacks.
Using the "Hardware Playback" option in the programming software got the macros working fine and I was able to set up combo attacks on my warrior character without any issues. Apparently some games try and prevent macro use and this is the method Corsair uses to overcome. The Guild Wars test worked without a problem.

As I write this, the LED under the left shift key has flickered and died. It's come back now. I wonder if there's a bad solder connection on the LED. (It just stopped working completely).

Duke Nukem Test

I set up a simple macro to get Duke jumping up and crouching down really fast and it seemed to work without a hitch. The responsiveness was great and the keys felt good. The macro keys, of course, are smooshy and not very good. The mechanical keys felt great and the repeat speed was excellent. The LED in the shift key came back on, but it's out again now.

Skyrim Test.

This is the biggy for me. Using the M90 mouse I was never able to get any of the extra mouse buttons to work at all. Not even a simple key press, never mind a macro. Hopefully that was just a bad mouse. It's been RMAd and it's on its way back right now.
I can't see any major advantage to using the macro keys in Skyrim, but a simple test to see if the keys work well help as a compatibility test. Using the Corsair software I was able to program the macro keys without any problem. I did notice that there was no way to program them to hold a key down. You could program them for repeated key presses, but not for holding a key down (at least, not that I know of). The good news is that the macro keys and software worked well in Skyrim. The main keyboard keys were again very responsive and felt solid.

Star Craft 2 Test.

This is the most useful of all the tests I did. In this test I set up four macros for building the most common buildings (for example the pylons and canons for the Protos). With a simple click of the button (more like a simple mush of the button) that building was on its way and I was off to the next one. I had been used to using two keys quickly, but just tapping one key and off to the next build was pretty handy. Of course, you could set up a different profile for Protos, Zerg and Terran. Many of the basic build commands are the same keys, but many are different enough to make it worth creating a different profile for each race.


Corsair K90 Keyboard Results

Everyone should keep in mind that this is just my opinion of this keyboard. The keyboard (and mouse) market are treally tough markets because so many things people like or dislike about them are subjective. What would be a perfect keyboard for me may suck for someone else. One thing I know for sure, is some of the things I would like in a keyboard are not very popular. For example, I like custom directional keys (I hate using WSAD), and a more custom controller than a plain keyboard. So far, my favorite keyboard has been the Merc Stealth keyboard, but it also had some minor problems and of course it does not have mechanical key closures.

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For people who will make great use of macros I think overall the Corsair M90 is a pretty good keyboard. It has 3 banks of 6 macro keys, with 3 shift levels providing 54 macros in total. The aluminum chassis is not only good looking but has some weight to it. The Cherry Red key switches are great for typing on, but unfortunately none of your macros will be able to take advantage of the Cherry keys and actually feel mushy. Same goes for the function keys and the (ins, home, del) pad. I feel for this much money Corsair really should have made all the keys with mechanical switches.
I love the volume control, in fact I would have to say for me personally it's the best volume control I've ever had on a keyboard. The Windows Key disable is handy, and of course controling the LED backlight level is nice, but I wonder why no one has made this a software function as yet. There's also the problem with the software where it doesn't seem able to map holding a key in. This could be a pain for software like Ventrillo where holding a key to talk is necessary. The build quality seems pretty good other than the left shift key LED that died (it's still dead) and of course the mushy macro keys. Everything seems solid. I do wonder how many other people have had one or more LEDs die. Also, a couple of people have mentioned that the LEDs under the spacebar are too harsh. If you look at the keyboard from the front edge you can actually see the LEDs.

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If I was ranking keyboards where my own personal best fantasy keyboard is a 10, I think I would give corsair a score of 7 out of 10. Pretty good for a first attempt. I might have given it one higher if they had of included a simple instruction manual. However, from what I've heard one is in the works.

************
Personally I have some problems with 54 macros, such as remembering which macro does what. With no way to label the keys, or even change the colour of the caps, 54 macros are a lot to remember on keys with plain Jane "G1 to G18" labels. Of course, if you have two monitors you can always keep the driver software open on one monitors to remind you, but in this case the driver does not label the keys either so that would be of no help.
************
Please see edit at the end of the article.
************
Here's what I'm talking about (Logitech G13 software):

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Overall a pretty good job by Corsair. Of course, what computer user could look at a nice keyboard like this and not mention a few improvements? Again, this is juts my personal opinion.

#1: Make ALL the keys mechanical ( I was under the impression this would be a no brainer, but I guess I was wrong).

#2: Just cut off the macro keys completely. This would be a great aluminum keyboard and personally I find the macro keys make the keyboard too big (this is why I didn't purchase another Merc Stealth when mine started wearing out).

#3: Make the keyboard modular. Make the macro keys a module that can plug in on the side. (no cable, but direct attachment). Make multiple modules so people like me can purchase a module with custom movement keys and an arrangement of keys around them for (number keys), (function keys), and normal keyboard keys. Pre map them so they are already mapped to keyboard keys but can be remapped if the user wishes. Again, make sure the keys on the modules are all mechanical.

#4. Use multicolour LEDs so the colour under each key can be changed (including the keys on the modules).

#5: Come up with a way to label the keys. Perhaps clear keycaps with a small slot under them for sliding in a label? This would only be for the macro keys because they're the ones that need labeling so badly. Note this is not just a Corsair problem, the Logitech G13 suffers from the same problem (but, when I have the G13 software on my left monitor, I can see labels for the functions of the keys).

#6: If a modular system is created, make a module with custom directional keys, try to mount a mini joystick or paddle control somewhere handy. I never thought much about this before I started using the G13, but it's come in very handy for many different things.

One last thing, from a friend of mine. He mentions that both ends of the keyboard should be modular so the numeric pad could be removed and the custom modules connected to either side of the keyboard.
This is a "gaming" keyboard. I've never understood why companies making gaming keyboards have to stick so stringently to traditional designs? This is not a programmers keyboard, and it's not a typest's keyboard, it's not an office keyboard. Non of those groups would pay this much for a keyboard anyway. Why should we suffer with designs made for those groups when we're gamers? I want a GAMING keyboard, not a typists keyboard with a few extra keys added to it. This is why I purchased a Merc Stealth, and why I replaced it with a BlackWidow and a G13.
I have to say though, for anyone who uses macros a lot, this is a pretty good keyboard. And even those groups mentioned above would find it nice to use. As I mentioned, I really like the aluminum and the sweet volume control. If you're in the market for a gaming keyboard with lots of macros, this is not a bad choice.

Merg.

Note, when I get my M90 mouse back, if it works properly I will do a review on it as well.

**********EDIT**********

I just recently got my M90 mouse back. While I was attempting to get it working, I stumbled across a little information I thought I should mention here.

I found some information on one of the pages on Corsairs site mentioning that if you right click on the profiles in the profile list, some options will come up. One of the options is "preview". If you select this option, a window will open that shows a picture of the mouse along with labels of what the buttons have been set to do.

I no longer have the Corsair K90 installed on my system so I cannot provide a screen shot, but I was using it while working on a buddies computer the other day, and I tried this same thing out in the keyboard software.

It worked.

So, you CAN get a preview picture of the macro keys and corresponding labels showing you what you have set the macro keys for.

(Here is a shot of the Mouse Driver Preview feature):

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I still cannot give the keyboard an added point though, and it remains at 7/10 because there are no instructions included, forcing the customer to jump through flaming hoops of death just to find out how the keyboard is supposed to work. Corsair should have waited until AFTER they had all the bugs worked out and included a full set of instructions in the packaging. Then I may have given the keyboard an 8 out of 10.
Edited by Mergatroid - 2/20/12 at 6:06pm
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post #2 of 9
Not sure why i'm first to comment. Very good, comprehensive review.

I personally dont like the feel of the keys nor that it has inconsistent lighting. Also very noisy. Going to spend next few hours before I have to send back, RMA date is 12th.

Seems software is ok, able to assign keys, and combinations. Prefer the logitech method used for the g700 mouse.
    
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post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
I agree that Logitech makes exceptional software. They're been around for quite a while though so Corsair has a bit of catching up to do. The Black Widow is actually quite a bit louder when bottoming out, so going from that to the K90 made it seem to me that it wasn't too loud. I think the hardware they design (if they designed it, you never know these days) has held great promise for both the keyboard and mouse that I've seen, but the software has a ways to go. If they get everything finished and the manufacturing going smoothly they will be really good peripherals. What I like is Corsair seems genuinely sincere about improving them.
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post #4 of 9
Glad to see another review - nice job! If you'd like to have a thinner K90, then the K90 is an obvious choice. While it's marketed as being for FPS, it'll still handle MMO and RTS games just fine, just without the macro keys smile.gif
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post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 
The K60? Yes, it looks nice but it has no backlighting.
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post #6 of 9
I am too using the Blackwidow. Blues feel better the more you get used to them. My typing speed has increased greatly. Also got the o-rings to reduce the contact noise. I tried the K90 and was not really impressed with the way the keys show and didn't really like reds.
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post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 
How do you like the o-rings? I bet it's really nice now with just the tactile click and no bottoming out. Too bad none of the keyboard manufacturers include them with their expensive keyboards.
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ASUS BW-12B1ST Blu-ray RW Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate Windows 10 64 pro LG 34UM65-P 
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Hcman Zhuque Teamwolf Mechanical Corsair AX750 Corsair 760T Steel Series Sensei Wireless Gaming Mouse 
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Steel Series 4HD Pro On Board Thermaltake X 5G Superspeed USB 3.0 Hard Drive ... Logitech Driving Force GT Steering Wheel 
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Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X Joystick NZXT Hue LED Controller Razer Orbweaver Chroma RGB Mechanical Gaming Co... Ergotron LX Desk Mount LCD Arm 
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post #8 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mergatroid View Post

How do you like the o-rings? I bet it's really nice now with just the tactile click and no bottoming out. Too bad none of the keyboard manufacturers include them with their expensive keyboards.
    
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
i5 2500k 4.3GHz Asrock Z68 Fatal1ty MSI 7970 Lightning + Asus 7970 Matrix platinum 16GB G Skill RAM 1600Mhz 
Hard DriveCoolingOSMonitor
C M4 128 X 2 (RAID0?) Noctua NH-D14 3 fans 2 apache black front/rear Win7 Dell U2711+2407WFP+2408 
KeyboardPowerCaseMouse
K90 (but might return) Corsair AX850 Fractal Define XL Logitech G700 
Mouse Pad
Roccat Tatio + Boogie Bug 
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CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
i5 2500k 4.3GHz Asrock Z68 Fatal1ty MSI 7970 Lightning + Asus 7970 Matrix platinum 16GB G Skill RAM 1600Mhz 
Hard DriveCoolingOSMonitor
C M4 128 X 2 (RAID0?) Noctua NH-D14 3 fans 2 apache black front/rear Win7 Dell U2711+2407WFP+2408 
KeyboardPowerCaseMouse
K90 (but might return) Corsair AX850 Fractal Define XL Logitech G700 
Mouse Pad
Roccat Tatio + Boogie Bug 
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post #9 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mergatroid View Post

How do you like the o-rings? I bet it's really nice now with just the tactile click and no bottoming out. Too bad none of the keyboard manufacturers include them with their expensive keyboards.

WASDkeyboards will put o rings on as an option, and always lubes the stabilizers for you. They have a wrist wrest option besides all the custom key stuff.
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