As it turns out, there is a reason the backlit Aivia logo can't be turned off. The color of its glow corresponds to the active macro profile. Pressing down on the logo clicks through the five profiles, effectively putting 25 individual macros at your fingertips.
The Osmium's programmable macros are stored in the keyboard's internal memory, so you only need the accompanying software to program the thing. Some elements of the software UI are a little oversized for my tastes, as if sections of the app were designed for touch input rather than a precise mouse pointer. Having to scroll through long lists of portly icons is a little frustrating.
Of course, it's difficult to complain too much about having long lists of macro options. There are loads of basic shortcuts for things like mouse buttons, browser functions, media playback, and application launching.
The real power lies in the programming screen, which is capable of managing complex sequences of keyboard and mouse input.
The macro engine is pretty powerful, and recording is easy. First, decide whether to track the keyboard, mouse, or both. Then, choose whether to preserve the original timing, reset any delays to a fixed time, or delete the gaps entirely. Once input is recorded, individual actions can be rearranged at will. You can also control whether the macro is executed once or continuously when activated.
The mousing element is particularly robust, with the ability to record clicks at specific coordinates in addition to tracking wheel flicks and auxiliary thumb buttons. Gamers are usually the target market for programmable macros, but mouse support gives the Osmium's implementation some real productivity potential, as well.
Even though only 25 macros can be accessed via the five keys and profiles, the software has save slots for 100 macros in total. Transferring macros to the keyboard takes a few seconds, and once they're there, you can move the Osmium to another machine without losing them.
USB 3.0 onboard
The Osmium's Cherry MX switches, programmable macro keys, and LED backlighting are staples of high-end mechanical keyboards. So are the gold-plated audio pass-through connectors and the integrated USB 2.0 port. However, Gigabyte has gone one step further than its rivals by adding USB 3.0 connectivity.
The Osmium doesn't actually connect via SuperSpeed USB, so don't get your hopes up about the interface's higher bandwidth somehow improving key response. Instead, a pass-through cable routes one of your system's USB 3.0 ports to the right side of the keyboard.
Awesome, at least in theory.
USB 3.0 is pretty slick all on its own. The interface standard delivers a palpable performance increase for plenty of external storage devices, and there's no shortage of high-end SSDs that can really exploit the link's copious bandwidth. Most SuperSpeed-compatible systems have at least a couple of ports, so it only makes sense to move one of them to mission control.
I first tested the Osmium's USB 3.0 pass-through on a MSI Z77IA-E53 motherboard with ports driven by Intel's Z77 Express chipset. My device of choice: Thermaltake's BlacX 5G docking station paired with Samsung's 830 Series SSD, the very same tag team used for benchmarking in our motherboard reviews. That combo had worked flawlessly on other systems, but it didn't register when connected to the MSI board through the Osmium. The drive popped up when attached directly to the motherboard, but when piped through the keyboard, it failed to maintain a connection to the PC. I actually watched the drive flickering in and out of the Windows 8 Disk Manager. The associated drive letter never popped up in the File Explorer, though.
Perplexed, I then plugged the keyboard and dock into one of our storage test rigs, which has an older USB 3.0 controller made by NEC. No problems. A quick series of tests with RoboBench, our multithreaded file copy benchmark, confirmed that connecting external storage via the keyboard offered comparable performance to running off one of the motherboard ports directly.
Next, I tried Asus' P8Z77-I Deluxe, which has separate SuperSpeed ports powered the Z77 platform and an auxiliary ASMedia chip. Again, the BlacX dock and Samsung SSD were unable to connect to the Intel USB 3.0 ports through the Osmium. They were quickly detected when attached via the ASMedia-powered USB ports, though. As with the NEC controller, the keyboard didn't affect file transfer speeds.
Gigabyte suggested I try one of its own motherboards, which can pump extra amperage over USB. The Thermaltake dock already gets auxiliary power from a wall socket, so it probably doesn't need extra juice, but I fired up Gigabyte's Z77N-WiFi anyway. Again, there were problems. The dock was detected, but not consistently, and it usually disappeared after rebooting the system. Even when a connection was established, performance was sluggish. The flaky connection ruled out testing with RoboBench, which reboots automatically after each run, but even copying our file sets to the drive manually revealed transfer rates around 35MB/s—USB 2.0 territory.
I don't have a lot of different USB 3.0 devices in my lab, but I can confirm that my SuperSpeed-compatible Western Digital Passport drive had no problems connecting to any of the systems via the Osmium's pass-through port. The issues encountered with the combination of the Thermaltake dock and Intel controller clearly don't affect all devices. Gigabyte is looking into the problem, but it's troubling that there are issues at all. Compatibility should be a given with USB gear.
Multiple motherboard makers have complained about problems with sub-par USB 3.0 cables affecting performance, which makes me wonder if the Osmium's six-foot cord might subtly degrade signal quality in some way. The cable is pretty chunky, and the branch that attaches to the USB 3.0 port is considerably thicker than the one that connects to old-school USB 2.0 ports, so it doesn't look like Gigabyte has cheaped out in this department.
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