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Corsair Gaming's K70 RGB keyboard reviewed

A Cherry MX-flavored rainbow
— 10:09 AM on September 25, 2014

Big changes are afoot at Corsair. The company just launched its new Corsair Gaming division, which is focused on making peripherals like mice, keyboards, and headsets tailored to the specific needs of elite PC gamers.

To mark the launch of this new division, the firm introduced one of its first Corsair Gaming products, the K70 RGB. With Corsair-exclusive Cherry MX RGB LED key switches and a very sophisticated backlight controller onboard, the K70 RGB is the flashiest keyboard in the arena by far. Is it king of the hill, or just a pretender to the throne? I'm going to get some actions per minute under my fingers to find out.

As its name would suggest, the K70 RGB is based on Corsair's tried-and-true Vengeance K70. (With the advent of the Corsair Gaming brand, however, the Vengeance moniker is no more.) The bones of these two keyboards are almost identical, aside from their backlights and badging. Geoff reviewed the K70 back in June, so I'm not going to bore you by repeating his work. Geoff found the regular K70 worthy of a TR Editor's Choice award, and I find no reason to dispute his conclusions. The fit and finish of the K70 RGB is impressive, and I would expect nothing less, given that it's priced at $169.99.

The K70 RGB I'm testing today is equipped with Cherry MX RGB red switches under every key. These switches are functionally identical to the non-RGB Cherry MX reds. If you're not familiar with the various Cherry MX flavors, Cyril explained the lineup in his review of the Rosewill RK-9000.

I personally prefer the tactile feedback of the blue and brown switches, but the reds do have some things to recommend them: they're significantly quieter than other mechanical key switches, and their light weighting makes it easy to deliver rapid-fire repeated keystrokes with ease. Corsair isn't leaving the tactile faithful out in the cold, though. The K70 RGB will be available with blue and brown MX RGB switches, as well.

Despite the $40 premium over the regular K70, the K70 RGB does away with some of the extras that were included with its more reserved sibling. There's no longer a USB pass-through on the keyboard itself, and the contoured WASD and arrow keys that came with the regular K70 are nowhere to be found. Corsair still includes a padded wrist rest that can be attached to the front edge of the keyboard, if that's your thing. I usually leave these wrist rests in the box. I appreciate the risers on the front edge of the K70, though, since they encourage a better wrist position while typing. I've never seen these front risers on another gaming keyboard. Kudos, Corsair.

Light 'em up
The headline feature of the K70 RGB is the RGB LED under each key switch. Unlike the Rosewill RGB80 that I reviewed earlier this year, the K70's LEDs are mounted to the circuit board underneath each switch. Since the switches have clear housings, they double as diffusers.

While this setup might make for a more even backlight in theory, I found that the diffuser didn't do much for keys with multiple rows of characters. The backlight LEDs are still located near the top of each switch, so there's still a brightness gradient from top to bottom. The fascia-less upper panel of the K70 RGB allows the clear housings of the switches to show, which looks great, but the design also allows for significant backlight bleed. I didn't find this bleed objectionable, but it might be annoying for others.

I also need to note one defect with my sample of the K70 RGB. The LED under the Enter key had a flaky red channel, which caused any color that used red as part of its output to display incorrectly from time to time. I was able to fix the problem by removing the keycap and pressing down on the key switch, however, and another K70 RGB sample Cyril received had no such issues. Corsair tells us problems like this one are covered under the K70 RGB's two-year warranty.

Quibbles aside, the backlight technology in the K70 RGB is the most sophisticated that I've ever seen. For a start, each key can display any of 16.8 million colors, and this range of colors isn't hampered by the included software, unlike with the RGB80. What's more, Corsair has designed the board around a Panasonic display controller chip. Each key can have its color (though not its brightness) set individually. The display controller also supports sweeping gradient, fade, and ripple effects, which can be combined to create some genuinely jaw-dropping lighting. Other than per-key brightness controls, the only limits to the K70 RGB's customizability are the number of keys on hand and the owner's imagination.

Corsair has an exclusive agreement to distribute Cherry MX RGB switches for the moment, so if you want German-made rave lighting under your fingers, the Corsair Gaming K65 RGB, K70 RGB, and K95 RGB are your only ways to get there. The K65 RGB is a Best Buy exclusive in the United States, while the K70 RGB and K95 RGB are more broadly available.

Is any of this backlight technology useful? That's debatable. Is it really, really cool? Absolutely. Let's plug in the K70 RGB and see what it can do.