Part of the reason, if not the The reason people buy mechanical keyboards from the likes of Corsair and Das Keyboard is because of that sweet, sweet extended key travel. The mushy membrane keyboards that come with most desktops and the fleeting chicklet keyboards of laptops simply don’t have the depth of key travel and tactile feedback that fast typists and gamers demand. If you fall into one of those camps, I suggest you try a mechanical keyboard – it really does make a world of difference.
Oddly, however, Corsair thinks the most important actuation of a good mechanical switch is a bit at high for most l33t gamers – they might even lose precious e-sports dollars over it. Enter the K70 and K65 Rapidfire keyboards, which feature the all-new Cherry MX Speed mechanical switch. The MX Speed has an actuation distance – i.e. the point at which the switch is actuated – of just 1.2mm and a light actuation force of 45g. In contrast, my favorite mechanical switch, the Cherry MX Brown, has a much wider actuation distance of 2mm and an actuation force of 55g. The idea is to give esports players an advantage by shaving precious milliseconds (microseconds?) off each keystroke.
Now I know what you’re thinking, and no, if you don’t like your mechanical keyboards, it’s doubtful you can tell the difference between 2mm and 1.2mm actuation distance. Even if it is, the difference is subtle. But there is a difference, and I’m not so sure it’s one I like. Compared to a Cherry MX Brown keyboard, the Rapidfire’s keys aren’t as comfortable to type on. There’s no discernible bump or click – one of the key selling points of many mechanical switches that helps identify when a key has been pressed – and the reduced travel makes it much easier to bottom out when typing.
The Rapidfire is very similar to Logitech’s G-series mechanical keyboards, which feature the company’s own Romer-G switches. The Romer-Gs also have low actuation distance and actuation force – 1.5mm and 45g respectively – and rather than helping esports players hold on to their dollars, I suspect the Rapidfire is meant to help Corsair do nothing of its own to lose to Logitech . Either way, the shallow feel isn’t for typists, and even gamers might find that the reduced key travel defeats the whole point of owning a mechanical keyboard in the first place.
That said, it’s largely a matter of preference. If you’re a fan of the Logitech G series or you like the smooth clickless feel of a Cherry MX Red or Cherry MX Black switch, the Rapidfire is a good choice, especially since the rest of the keyboard is extremely good made. The chassis is made of sturdy brushed aluminum and has unobtrusive but useful additional keys such as a Windows key lock (which prevents accidental opening of the start menu during the game), as well as dedicated media keys and a nice knurled knob for adjusting the volume .
There’s also a comfortable detachable palm rest in the box, as well as extra twisted and textured keycaps that you can use on common gaming keys like WASD. Again, I don’t think they make a huge difference when playing games (when was the last time you couldn’t find the WASD keys without looking?), but it’s nice to have the option. On the back of the keyboard is a USB port for plugging in a mouse or other peripheral, along with a largely useless switch to change the polling rate of the keys – why you’d put it on anything other than the fastest setting? wanting is a mystery. There’s also full n-key rollover, which in theory means you can press all the keys at once and they’ll all be recognized by your computer – a feature that comes in handy for a small fraction of gamers.
The top of the “sounds great but probably pointless” pile has to go to the built-in RGB lighting. Since its introduction by Corsair in 2014, virtually every keyboard manufacturer has jumped on the RGB bandwagon and released peripherals packed with all sorts of flashy lights and gadgets. The problem is that other than a cool-looking light show, there’s no real practical reason to have RGB lighting. Corsair has tried to make it more useful by offering developers an SDK, and there are a handful of games that support things like lighting up the F keys to show how much health you have left.
But for the most part, the RGB lighting is there because it looks nice. Corsair’s Utility Engine software allows for a variety of customizations, including custom macros and lighting effects. For example, you can individually light up the WASD keys or have a wave of light flood the keyboard when you drop a grenade into it. Counterattack. There’s even a mode that lets you use the keyboard as a graphical visualizer when listening to music. Thanks to the sheer amount of customization options, the software isn’t always the easiest to use, but you can download pre-made profiles of other users from the Corsair website.
At $169.99 / £149.99 for the K70 RGB Rapidfire – and $149.99 / £119.99 for the K65 RGB Rapidfire, which omits the numeric keypad – it’s a serious investment. However, the price is comparable to competing keyboards like Logitech’s G810, which costs $159.99 / £139.99. The price is offset somewhat by the legendary build quality of the Cherry MX switches Corsair uses, which are rated for 50 million keystrokes; the Rapidfire will likely outlast your next gaming PCs.
But for my money, I’d skip the Rapidfire and get one of Corsair’s other models with more traditional switches like the Cherry MX Brown. They’re better for typing on, and best of all, you can also buy one without the RGB lighting for less money. The standard K70 costs around $130 / £115 – a very reasonable price for a well-reviewed full-size mechanical keyboard.
Frame image by Mark Walton