It's been a couple of years since I had the desire to want to try out mechanical keyboards, but like many, sticker shock to acquire one was what sent me packing back to keyboards with rubber dome switches. I was being told by a couple of close friends, for the amount of typing that I do with my reviews, they were shocked that I tolerated the rubber switches as long as I did. Personally, I don't have anything against them or the keyboards that use them. Until this sample hit my door I have been a dedicated user of averagely priced keyboards. To be more specific, that usually ends up in the $50 and under category. This doesn't allow for many contenders, but I was of the mind that I can do anything with a cheaper board that the more expensive boards can do.
That was my way of thinking, at least until I actually got to play around with and enjoy playing around with one of the two keyboards that Corsair just sent me. I spent quite a bit of time playing with the keyboards and mice at CES, but you just got the essence of what these boards were all about. They were fully functional at that time, but ten to fifteen minutes of play time does not give you the full feel of this product. Not only did Corsair steeping up to offer a reasonable priced solution to ponder in the mechanical keyboard segment, this keyboard seems to feel better every time I use it and that is something my fingers will say never happened on any of my rubber dome switch keyboards. In reality, with prolonged use of prior boards, my fingers did feel the brunt of the exchange between key and finger.
The Vengeance keyboard we will be looking at today is the K90 Performance MMO mechanical gaming keyboard. Don't let the long title fool you, this keyboard can and is used by many people who aren't currently into any MMO's, like me who is waiting for Guild Wars 2 before I get back into MMO gaming. That doesn't make this product any less appealing, just that it has potential to grow to my gaming habits once GW2 releases.
Without going into detail too much, let me just say that this is my favorite keyboard I have ever tested and to be honest, it is going nowhere anytime soon, that is for sure. My fingers thank me while I am writing, my gaming is easier and the K90 is backlit so well you can't help but like the icy blue glow on the aluminum top of this keyboard. I really urge you to continue on with reading this review, as there is just too much to cover in the introduction and the specifications to show how well Corsair really does with their new mechanical keyboard offerings.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Going through most of the basics, the K90 starts with Cherry MX red switches behind the black keys with clear lettering to allow the blue LED backlighting to come through. These switches require 45 grams of force to move the switches 2mm to actuation against the gold contacts, or up to 4mm where you get a satisfying click. Besides the typical keyboard layout of keys and the number pad, the K90 comes with eighteen programmable macros keys, the ability to record them on the fly. There is also the ability to program three different profiles for a total of fifty-four potential macro keys. One more macro feature is that you can store up to 50 profiles on the keyboard and swap them with other files found via the software. Other special buttons include the LED brightness key that changes the brightness between three level and of course the option to turn them off, the Windows lockout button and the media keys.
To go along with the macro keys and the various profiles found in the software Corsair adds 36kb of onboard memory to handle the storage. All of this is then assembled on a combination of black plastic for most of the construction as you find in most keyboards, but what I especially like about the K90 is that the majority of the top of the board is a thick piece of aluminum used under all of the keys minus the G-keys. This aluminum piece is extruded with a shape that leaves a well where the keys sit that is then cut to allow all of those Cherry MX red switches to protrude through it. This means that is somewhat spill resistant, but I like most that any crumbs or dirt that mucks up rubber dome switches can easily be removed just by tipping the board and shaking it a bit over the garbage. I never even got to the fact that it just looks amazing as well!
By now the Vengeance K90 has been out for about a month or so and availability is quite high in this short amount of time. While searching via my typical means, I found over sixty locations where you will be able to purchase one of your very own. In my searches I did find a few locations where you can obtain this keyboard a bit cheaper than buying directly from Corsair, but to be honest, the ones listed I have never used personally.
If I was in the market for one of these and didn't want to try out a new company, the listed pricing at Corsair is not so much more not to just buy it direct for $129.99. I know I may have just made a few of you spew pop on your screen as you just read that price, but I hope by the end of this you will see the value in this. At this point I will just say that the keyboard is very worth the asking price and I plan to convince you of just this as we take an in depth look at the Corsair Vengeance K90 Performance MMO Mechanical gaming keyboard.
Packaging and Contents
Corsair goes top end with the packaging on the Vengeance K90. Not only do you get to see a cool angle of the keyboard all lit up, but the same yellow that displays the Vengeance name moves your eyes over to the cut-away window on the left that shows the K90 inside. There are also the main three features of the K90 displayed in English and Spanish near the bottom.
Even the skinny sides of the packaging hold some valuable information with great images to show what they are talking about. Here again, Corsair covers the macro-keys and the Cherry MX Red switches used on this board.
On the other end of that same side Corsair covers the brushed aluminum top of the K90 and the laser etched backlit keys as they show off the multi-media keys.
On the back of the packaging you will find everything you need to know about the K90. Corsair uses images from the side and the top of the K90 to fill the space not used with the pair of feature listings at the bottom.
On the other thin side of the packaging Corsair filled it with the technical specifications at this end that I showed the image of on the previous page of this review.
The other end of the panel contains a bit of information on the amount of on-board memory to store the various profiles for the macros you can store in the K90.
Once the outer packaging is opened, you slide out a recycled cardboard tray that contains the K90 keyboard and all of its accessories and paperwork. Since there is the cut-away window in the box, the inner packaging is protected by a clear plastic cover to "seal" the inner packaging from fingerprints or dirt getting to the keyboard.
Corsair Vengeance K90
I wanted to start off with an image of the K90 keyboard along with the included textured wrist rest. As of this moment I will just let you absorb this because I am about to get into fine detail with each section.
To power the K90 Corsair uses one of the thickest cables I have seen on a keyboard. This braided cable ends up splitting into these two blue USB 2.0 connectors. One of which powers the keyboard and LEDs while the other is there to work with the pass through USB 2.0 port located near the cable in the back of the K90.
The G-keys are something I am very used to with my many years of using Logitech keyboards. Here Corsair provides 18 keys to program macros keeping this offering at the top of the food chain as far as the amount of macro possibilities.
To set the macro, you can record on the fly with the MR key on the left or you can go through the software. Along with the eighteen G-keys, you also have the M1, M2 and M3 keys that allow you to keep three profiles in use at any time.
The main section of the keyboard offers the standard US layout and later all of these keys, minus the function keys, will all be illuminated and the background flooded by blue LED lighting.
At the top right corner of the K90 there is a grouping of buttons that obviously offer multi-media controls, but there is also a pair to the left that aren't usually found on a keyboard here. The one on the left is for the LED light level control and the one to the right is a windows lock out key. This allows you to accidentally hit keys that would otherwise put you back to desktop or otherwise cause issues in your gameplay.
Finishing out the rest of the keys on the K90 you can see you get a full number pad and the arrow keys at the bottom. Again all of these keys, minus the nine at the top left, will also illuminate with LED light.
Here is the most important part of the K90 keyboard, the Cherry MX Red switches. With these, the keys actually press directly on the activation plunger, so the feel looses that "give way" feel of rubber domes in exchange for a fully smooth press of the key until it bottoms out.
Corsair Vengeance K90 Continued
Now I flipped the K90 on its face to show what goes on under the keyboard. On the back corners you get flip out feet to add an additional half an inch of height to the back of the K90 to allow you to get a more ergonomically angled keyboard for pain free usage.
Near the front on both the left and right sides you see this. There is a skinny, but longer rubber pad to keep the K90 from sliding around, but also notice the place at the right of the image that allows you to clip in the wrist rest.
Along with the mounting points I just pointed out in the last image, there is a brass insert on the side to allow for a thumbscrew to be used to securely mount the rest, something not offered on the Logitech G110 I had with a rest. This will keep the rest secure and hopefully it won't flop around like my G110 did.
This is a look at the back of the wrist rest. As you can see there is in fact a thumbscrew that will screw into the keyboard. Keep in mind there is a pair of these. Along with the clips that go into the front of the keyboard, this mounting system is top notch.
Taking a step back to look at the entire rest, you can see how the clips and screws match the bottom of the keyboard for a simple and quick installation process. I do like that the rest also has additional anti-skid pads so that the textured coating on the rest isn't worn off as it wraps the edges of the rest.
As I mentioned, the K90 offers a pass through USB port on the back of the keyboard and here it is. This allows you to add say a mouse here like the M90 or M60, or as I do, plug in my Vengeance 1100s. This port is native USB 2.0 and is backwards compatible.
Now that we have almost everything covered, I thought an image of the K90 with the textured wrist rest was in order!
Powering up the K90 and setting the light switch to its 100% setting, you can see the LEDs under each key are super bright and will do a great job of getting you through any late night gaming sessions in complete darkness.
Again taking a step back to soak it all in, you can now see what I meant about what keys are lit and which are not. From the tilde key to the backspace on down is illuminated on the left, the arrows in the middle and the number pad all get the blue LED treatment.
Paperwork and Software
In the bottom of that recycled cardboard inner packaging there are two bits of paperwork that are included. On the left is the bit for the information on the two year warranty and the terms of said warranty. To the right is a quick install guide.
By quick install guide, I mean quick, in just three steps to be exact. Power on the PC, insert the USB 2.0 connections and then go to corsair.com/vengeanceK90 and get the driver and software suite.
Just in case you were wondering about them here are the finer points of the two year warranty. Seems there are only seven things that will get you a denial of warranty and they are simple rulers to follow. Don't mess things up or use it for a baseball bat and it is likely a faulty keyboard will be replaced painlessly.
For the software end of the spectrum, once downloaded, this two panel setup is fairly easy to move around and get things set the way you want them to be. The left tab at the top, "assign keys" is made of course to program the G-keys with whatever macro you can possibly come up with. At the top you need to select which of the three profiles you want to use and assign macros onto. Then below that you select one of the eighteen G-keys you want to program. On the right you can add the name of the command at the top with three depths of programmability depending on if you want simple macros, more complex ones, or ones that require delays for the combination of keys to take effect.
Under the "manage profiles" tab, this is where you can create a full selection of gaming profiles. Click on "new" at the bottom and it will give you the chance to name it, most likely something easy to remember. You can also import profiles you may have traded with friends and either loaded on the PC or maybe on a thumb drive you plugged into the pass-through port on the keyboard. Following the same lines, the export button will allow you to take your own profiles and store them onto something to give to your friends. The 36MB of onboard memory allows you to store up to fifty of these profiles on the keyboard, so there is plenty of room to share a friends profile or two to play around with. Once done with what you want to do here, make sure you save it to the K90 and if you want it, activate the on-screen display so you can see the name of the macro being used in real-time.
First of all I want to discuss "feel" with you. I spent many, many years using whatever forty to fifty dollar keyboard with or without backlights and I am glad to say, aside from using my laptop on the go, I don't have to go through the usage or rubber dome switches ever again outside of the real of product reviewing. I was told a long time ago that I would definitely appreciate the benefits of a mechanical keyboard during my writing and I most certainly have. The toughest thing for me to get over as a mechanical switch n00b was the anti-ghosting. I guess my fat fingers tend to hit about three or four keys at a time. After a few days and a bit more concentration on finger placement, I have found it seems much faster and I know using this is much smoother. I could go into a ton of detail as to why mechanical switches are much better even for an everyday user than rubber dome switches offer, at this point you will just have to trust me on this.
Now let's pick the board apart a bit and I only could find one issue with my sample. Out of the box, the blue LED under my "W" key is dysfunctional. To many of you that may be an issue, but to be honest, even with backlit keyboards in the past, I always end up at some point trying to run with "E", the darkened "W" is now very easy to find. The reason I am willing to overlook this flaw is simple, the rest of the keyboard is just that seriously amazing. The blue LED is brighter than any board with blue LEDs I have owned to date. Helping with the "under-glow" of the keys at night and looking terrific during the day is that thick aluminum top that is functional to keep debris easy to remove, but also looks really good reflecting the LEDs at night!
I did play around with the macros a bit as I always do with PhotoShop and it was very easy to do. I love that I can keep up to fifty profiles on-board, if you do the math that is an insane amount of macro possibilities do take with you anywhere you go with the K90. Every time I hop on Mumble for my BF3 action, I stick in the Vengeance 110 headset into the USB pass-through instead of having to get up and insert it into my TJ11; super handy! The wrist rest is very comfortable and it doesn't seem to stick to your hands as the get damp in the heat of battle.
It seems everyone is stepping into the mechanical keyboard game. The near $200 of the Deck keyboards is what puts the K90 into an even brighter light. It used to be that you had to be really to shell out the big dollars to obtain something of this caliber. It looks like the days of needing to go to Deck, Philco and even Ducky keyboards are being overtaken with new competition that will ease your expense and bring you options on top of the typical 105 key layouts most mechanical keyboards are offering.
I also know that some of the previous examples may use different Cherry MX switches then the reds offered here, but that isn't my angle. For those looking to try out a mechanical keyboard for not only day to day use, but for gaming and full function multi-media controls, I don't even have to mention the macro ability to sell you on the Vengeance K90 Performance MMO mechanical gaming keyboard from Corsair. The K90 is so well thought out and put together that at the $129.99 at Corsair, the K90 may become hard to find as I see it being the must have keyboard of the year and its only March!