In most keyboard reviews, the intro gives you the spiel on how important it is to have a “gaming” keyboard in order to play PC games. Such keyboards emphasize the X number of milliseconds their fancy switches will save you on reaction times. If you’re one of the many people who have switched from rubber dome to mechanical switches, you’ll notice an obvious difference in typing quality that often translates into improved comfort and accuracy. However, unless you’re a top-level professional gamer, chances are you won’t notice much of a difference in your reaction time—or any of the other attributes that gaming keyboard manufacturers promise their products will improve. The only real advantage offered by gaming keyboards is anti-ghosting.
So, now that we’ve shot this entire category in the leg, what about gaming keyboards makes them worth buying? Their look and feel certainly help. Nobody wants to show up at a LAN party toting the $20 keyboard they borrowed from an accounting department, and some convenience features do come in handy while playing. However, such differences, and the impact they have on the final gaming experience, tend to pale when compared to software.
Today’s gaming keyboards and mice come equipped with programs that allow you to customize and enhance your experience beyond what a matte-black finish and fancy switches can provide. Of course, not all configuration software is created equal. Some config programs don’t offer much customization. Some are merely glorified settings menus. But other programs, like the Corsair Utility Engine (CUE), provide an almost limitless amount of customization that truly does enhance the gaming experience.
We’re going to take a close look at Corsair’s $119.99 K68 RGB, but understand our biases going in. Bells and whistles are cool, but software will make or break the experience.
When disconnected, the Corsair K68 RGB looks like a typical mid-range gaming keyboard, apart from the grip-textured space bar…
The keyboard is matte-black, with the Corsair logo centered above the function keys, and the fixed, non-braided USB cable centered behind the logo. To the right of the logo, you’ll find a brightness adjustment button and Windows lock key, as well as indicator LEDs for Num, Caps, and Scroll Lock. Keep going to reach the volume control buttons, which are backlit, as are the media control buttons directly under them. Keycaps are concave, with the symbols on each key (numbers and F keys included) etched so they allow the backlighting to shine through.
The keyboard comes with a detachable, grip-textured wrist rest…
Unlike most wrist rests at this price range, the K68’s is not magnetic. It attaches via two pinchable plastic prongs that clip into the K68’s underside. Unlike some magnetic wrist rests, this design won’t accidentally detach when you bump it. On the other hand, it’s troublesome to attach or remove. The wrist rest is textured for gripping, but it’s still hard plastic, making it only incrementally more comfortable for typing than the edge of your desk.
The keyboard’s backside is nothing fancy…
Two rubber feet attach near the bottom, and a set of flippable feet recess at the top. Only one height setting is offered, so you go either elevated or flat. A series of small holes dot the backside of the keyboard.
Performance and Features
The K68 is impressively tough. Both the red and RGB models were built with resistance in mind, earning an IP32 certification. This means that the K68 should be protected against damage from water sprayed up to 15 degrees from vertical. Essentially, its spill-proof (officially equivalent to rainfall of up to 3mm per minute), but not waterproof—a useful feature for gamers who enjoy their energy drinks during gameplay. According to Corsair’s documentation, the K68 has two lines of defense against spills. A sheet of rubber silicone protects the inner areas of the keyboard, and the keyboard’s innards feature channels that redirect your beverage from important components to drainage holes in the bottom of the keyboard.
Under its durable exterior, we find one of the keyboard’s top attractions: Cherry MX Red switches, which feature an actuation force of 45g and an actuation point of 2.0mm…
Cherry Reds are typically preferred by FPS players for their quick, quiet responsiveness.
Alongside its fine switches, the K68 has 100 percent anti-ghosting with full key rollover. When a key is “ghosted,” the keystroke doesn’t register and thus goes undetected. This commonly occurs when multiple keys are pressed at once. Key rollover refers to how many keys can be pressed at once and still register in the system. Full key rollover allows all keys to be pressed simultaneously and still be detected.
The original Corsair K68 is identical to the K68 RGB, save for the lack of RGB backlighting and attendant Corsair Utility Engine software that makes the RGB lighting, well, shine. What makes CUE so desirable? The extensive control it offers users over backlighting and macros.
Admittedly, when we downloaded CUE for the K68 RGB, we found the custom key lighting a bit of a pain to figure out. Corsair advertises that the keyboard’s backlight colors can be customized down to the individual key, and this is absolutely true. It’s Corsair’s implementation that’s so unintuitive. Like seemingly every other keyboard configuration app, CUE provides a series of preset patterns from which users can choose. All the usual faces, such as “rainbow spiral” or “ripple,” are present. Note that these basic lighting modes can be activated and manipulated (speed, duration, and direction) via function-key shortcuts, even if you don’t install CUE. However, CUE provides even more customization. For example, you can layer multiple lighting effects and organize them by priority. Lighting layers on the top would be more visually apparent than lower layers.
While having “ripple” play over “spiral rainbow” was cool, we still wanted to set our own patterns. Individual key lighting options are located in the “static color” preset. In other keyboard applications, static color allows you to choose one color for the whole keyboard. Corsair’s take on “static color” is far more interesting but somewhat hidden. The infinitely useful Help Text button informed us that we could assign a color to a key or groups of keys. We found that if, with color assignment engaged, you click on one key, that key takes on the selected color. If you click and drag, a box appears that allows you to select multiple keys. From there on, it’s a simple matter of dragging your mouse over a group of keys and selecting the right color. While this is fairly simple, it would have been useful if the Help Text button explained fully how to use this feature.
Now, maybe you’re like us, and you think it would be cool to have WASD lit in an edgy red while the classic “rainbow spiral” continued in the background. But wait, you can’t only drag over WASD without also selecting Q and E. But if you click one key, and then click another, it deselects the first key. It turns out you can hold the Ctrl key to select multiple keys via click—a brilliant feature that would be even better if the software explained how to use it.
With the lighting features fully figured out, the possibilities for customization and custom patterns are virtually limitless. You can light up any key you desire in over 16 million colors and use the presets to fill in blank spots on your keyboard once you run out of creative ideas. With the initial ambiguity of navigating the software’s interface out of the way, CUE’s lighting system delivers nearly infinite possibilities.
CUE has one of the most fleshed-out macro configuration tools around, loaded with a variety of fancy features. The macro text feature allows you to enter bodies of text as one macro rather than having to record the individual actions of each keystroke. This proves particularly useful for RPG players who’d like to set up their skills without cluttering their macro profile. The remap key feature does just what it says. For those who prefer arrow keys over WASD, remapping the arrows to function as WASD prevents you from having to change the control scheme for every new game you play. Like most macro editors, you can have multiple profiles, letting you easily switch to a different set of macros for different games. The media launch application timer allows you to set a timer that can play a sound, enable an option, or trigger a lighting effect. For instance, we had fun setting up media timers to change our keyboard lights to let us know when the cooldown on abilities ends in Overwatch.
The macro editor also records mouse movement, clicks, and scroll wheel movement. Our favorite use of this feature was setting a macro to very quickly make Team Fortress 2’s Scout perform a quick 180 and fire his shotgun to take out pesky Spies attempting a backstab. CUE’s macro editor also allows you to set a double macro, which means you can bind two macros to the same key, executing both simultaneously. Example: We added a fancy lighting effect on our keyboard whenever we used our 180-degree anti-Spy spin.
Moving on from the macro editor, the Performance tab allows you to disable certain key bindings while “Windows lock” is activated. The Windows lock feature prevents the Windows key from being used. Without Windows lock, you might accidentally minimize your game by pressing the Windows key when you meant to press Ctrl, which is commonly the “crouch” key in many FPS games. The list of bindings that can be disabled includes Alt + Tab, Shift + Tab, and the most important one, Alt + F4. Alt + F4 is the combination that closes your current window, so keeping that one disabled is a smart idea.
If all of the above sounds like a referendum on CUE rather than the K68 RGB hardware, please understand that, in our minds, the two are inextricably linked. If you just want to talk about the hardware, yeah—the K68 is a fair unit. The MX Red keys are smooth and comfortable. Build quality is Corsair’s usual, meaning superb. Now, for $90, would we expect the K68 to feature more interesting features than backlighting, media keys, and a rather unimpressive wrist rest? Not necessarily. For a no-name brand trying to gain a foothold in the gaming keyboard market, we’d expect to see $60 to $80 for mechanical switches with these specs and spartan features. For a premium name and build like Corsair, especially with the IP32 resilience thrown in, $90 seems fair.
That takes us to the K68 RGB. Now, we’re asking: Is the RGB lighting and control worth an extra $30? We’ve shown enough use instances above to give you a sense for how you might answer that question for yourself. For us, the answer broke down to two elements: it’s fun to watch, and it improves the clarity of our game play. Not the performance—the clarity of our ability to see what’s what and where to press. More clarity means fewer mistakes and thus better results. Is it a night-and-day difference? Of course not. But are those largely intangible benefits worth $30? For many, including us, yes.
Of course, the CUE lighting customization goes hand in hand with Corsair’s macro editor. We love the timers for switching lighting profiles, and that feature that executes two macros with one key should be standard issue for every serious gaming keyboard. Fortunately for Corsair, it’s not. If Corsair only did a better job with its UI and/or documentation, we would call the software side of this product downright irresistible.
In the end, what you really get with the K68 RGB is the quality of a $160-to-$170 gaming experience for roughly 50 dollars less. If you like a Cherry MX Red feel, and if the CUE usage described here starts you salivating, we would be hard pressed to recommend a better option.