One of the best things about this whole hardware reviewer gig is getting to work from home in front of a bank of pretty sweet desktop PCs. Pants are optional, the fridge is maybe 25 feet away, and my dog can crash behind me on an oversized bean bag. Comfort is essential, because one of the worst things about this job is the sheer number of hours it takes to produce quality content. I spend an inordinate amount of time holed up in my lab.
In the past couple years, that time has become noticeably more enjoyable thanks to the mechanical keyboard trend that has swept across the industry—and my workstation. My daily driver is a Das Keyboard with Cherry MX brown switches that are perfect for extended writing sessions. The test rack next to my main PC feeds into a Thermaltake Meka G1, whose heavily weighted MX black switches are a good match for the short but violent bursts of input required for benchmarking. Above the Meka sits a Corsair Vengeance K60 mostly populated with MX reds, which have a light touch that's particularly appealing for gaming.
Spend enough time at a keyboard, and it becomes easy to notice the superior feel of a quality switch mechanism. There are plenty of mechanical switch flavors to suit different tastes and no shortage of keyboards based on them. The latest one to vie for a spot on my desk is Gigabyte's Aivia Osmium.
Yes, that Gigabyte.
Don't mistake this as shameless bandwagon jumping by the motherboard maker, though. Gigabyte got into the mechanical keyboard business way back in 2008 with the K8000. Billed as the world's first mechanical gaming keyboard, the K8000 set itself apart from the IBM Model M wannabes by adding media functionality, programmable macro keys, and audio jacks. The Osmium is an updated take on that theme, this time with LED backlighting and USB 3.0 thrown into the mix.
Before getting into the Osmium's features, we should take a moment to establish its mechanical credentials. This puppy has Cherry MX red switches throughout. The reds have a fully linear stroke, which means there's no "bump" in the travel to provide tactile feedback at the actuation point. This switch type also lacks an audible click at actuation. Touch typists will have to keep an eye on the screen or bottom out each keystroke to ensure it registers.
Blowing through the reds' four millimeters of travel requires only 60 grams of force, and actuation takes just 45 grams. Those figures are the same as for Cherry's MX brown switches, which feel a little stiffer due to the resistance put up by their tactile bumps. The table below highlights how the reds compare to the other popular mechanical switches in Cherry's lineup.
|Red||Linear||No||45 g||60 g|
|Brown||Tactile||No||45 g||60 g|
|Blue||Tactile||Yes||50 g||65 g|
|Black||Linear||No||60 g||80 g|
|Green||Tactile||Yes||80 g||105 g|
Which switch is best very much depends on personal preference. The reds tend to be favored by gamers who don't want any resistance slowing down their rapid-fire key mashing. However, the lack of tactile feedback isn't ideal for folks who do a lot of typing. Regardless of what you're doing, the soft springs won't tire out your digits during longer sessions.
Typing on the Osmium probably won't wake your neighbors, either. Mechanical keyboards tend to emit a sharp chatter, but this one is surprisingly muted. Keystrokes sound slightly muffled even when they bottom out. The Osmium isn't silent, of course, but it does seem to generate a little less noise than any of the other mechanical keyboards I've used. The Osmium is certainly quieter than the Vengeance K60, whose identical Cherry switches populate a minimalist frame that lets more sound escape.
Unlike the Vengeance, which uses mushy rubber dome switches for a handful of keys, the Osmium has MX red switches throughout. The key feel is consistent across the entire board, including larger keys like enter, backspace, and the spacebar. Those larger keys do produce slightly different audible notes, but that's true for all the mechanical keyboards I've used.
The keys themselves feel quite nice. They have a smooth, matte finish that almost feels like the soft-touch coating used on some mobile devices. The surrounding frame maintains the blacked-out theme but adds a slightly rougher texture. Mercifully, there's not a glossy surface to be found.
The Osmium's standard layout puts all the usual keys in all the right places. Five programmable macro keys live above the function row in the upper left corner. More on those in a moment. First, we need to talk about those scroll wheels to the right of the macro row.
Using mouse-style wheels to control the backlight brightness and system volume makes perfect sense; those functions are well suited to scrolling. I even like the grippy texture of the pseudo tires on each wheel. However, the wheels shift from side to side on their axles and don't feel nearly as solid as the rest of the keyboard. It's as if they've been pulled from the parts bin for a budget mouse, which is a letdown given the premium feel of the mechanical key switches.
Each notch in the backlight wheel corresponds to a distinct brightness level. I lost count trying to tally them all, but there's plenty of range between barely glowing and far too bright. Each key is lit by its own blue LED, and the wheels have lights of their own. If you don't want the light show, the backlight can be disabled by pressing down on the brightness wheel as if middle-clicking a mouse.
Unfortunately, turning off the backlight doesn't affect the illuminated Aivia logo in the upper right corner of the keyboard. You can change the logo's color from blue to green, red, pink, or turquoise. You can also toggle whether the logo stays lit or pulses slowly. There's no way to make it go completely dark, though.
The LEDs behind the logo are also unaffected by the backlight brightness setting, and so are the LEDs under the num, caps, and scroll lock indicators. They all seem to be set to 100% brightness, which can be problematic if you prefer a subtler glow. To see what I mean, check out the shot below, which has the backlight brightness turned down.
Those lens flares aren't Instagram effects. You can actually see the individual LEDs through the lettering, which is nearly transparent compared to the more opaque treatment used on the key caps. Even at full brightness, the keys don't shine with the same intensity.
The over-bright spots are most noticeable when viewed directly from above, so they're not always visible in regular use. However, in my normal typing position, I can clearly see the piercing glow of the num-lock light out of the corner of my eye. There's no reason for these extra LEDs to ignore the user's backlight brightness preference.
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