HyperX's Alloy Elite mechanical gaming keyboard reviewed


Making more of less
— 5:15 PM on July 17, 2017

HyperX's first foray into crafting clicky keyboard was the Alloy FPS, a minimalist steel chassis stuffed with the buyer's choice of Cherry MX Blue, Brown, or Red switches. I got a chance to look at the Alloy FPS a few months back, and I was impressed with that board's sturdy construction, compact footprint, and few frills. HyperX is back for another round of the mechanical keyboard game with the larger, more feature-packed Alloy Elite.

Like the Alloy FPS before it, the Alloy Elite is fashioned from a dull-coated steel deck filled with Cherry MX switches. As it did with the Alloy FPS, HyperX will offer the Elite with MX Blue, Brown, or Red switches. My review unit sports Browns, which are tactile but not clicky. While the Alloy FPS was just barely large enough to fit a standard 104-key layout, the Alloy Elite is more generously proportioned. The extra real estate let HyperX's designers include a light bar containing 18 red LEDs, as well as a trio of buttons to control the onboard red backlighting and a bank of dedicated media keys. Users with desk space to spare can attach the included wrist rest if they like.

The keyboard's deck measures 17.5" (45 cm) wide and a hearty 6.6" (13.7 cm) deep. The key blocks are clustered together tightly, but the light bar and the multimedia and lighting keys extend the depth of the board by about 1.75" (4.5 cm). Gamers looking for a compact 104-key board should look at the Alloy FPS instead.

The included wrist rest is made of plastic covered with the same soft-touch coating as the key caps. The part of the wrist rest below the main key block has a rubber pad with the same texture as the optional silvery WASD keys included with the Alloy Elite. The wrist rest attaches firmly to the bottom of the keyboard using integrated clips and extends the depth of the keyboard to a total of 9" (22.9 cm). I don't use a wrist rest, but I can accept that its inclusion could be an important factor for some buyers.

The bottom of the keyboard sports four large rubber gripper pads and clicky plastic feet to elevate the back of the board by about 0.375" (9.5 mm). The bottom is constructed from ABS plastic, but the top panel is made of very rigid steel. The Elite FPS is every bit as robustly constructed as the Alloy FPS.

Three square-shaped buttons on the top-left corner of the keyboard control the onboard LED backlighting and the gaming mode. The button on the far left with a star-shaped icon on it controls the backlight brightness. Gamers can choose from off, low, medium, and high settings. The brightness effects are controlled using pulse-width modulation of the red LEDs, and I was able to observe some flickering at lower brightness settings as a result. That flicker was particularly evident in the light bar between the primary keys and the lighting control and multimedia key blocks.

The Venn-diagram-esque button controls the six built-in lighting effects. All keys and the light bar are illuminated when the solid mode is activated. The breathing mode slowly cycles through the board's brightness levels in a sinusoidal pattern. The trigger mode lights up keys for about one second after they are pressed. The explosion mode causes lighting to radiate from the keys around the one that was pressed. The custom mode allows the user to program only specific keys to light up. Choosing the set of keys to be illuminated this way is fairly straightforward and requires no software, though users will want to keep the quick start guide around. Finally, the target-shaped gaming mode button does not activate a higher polling rate or n-key rollover. Gaming mode simply disables the Windows keys.

I was not a huge fan of the placement of these keys, because I would occasionally change the backlight intensity when I was trying to press the escape key. More time with the Alloy Elite would probably eventually break me of that habit. I also wish the Alloy Elite included more than one profile for the custom lighting mode. As it stands, gamers can have one and only one such profile. Hardcore fans of a single game might find this setup optimal, but gamers who favor multiple titles might have to choose a favorite to light up relevant keys for.

The Elite's new dedicated media keys are positioned in the upper right corner of the keyboard. The standard previous track, play-pause, next track, and mute keys are present, as is a smooth-feeling metal roller for volume control. Three status indicators with blue LEDs sit below the volume roller on the far right edge of the keyboard. The three lights illuminate when gaming mode, caps lock, and num lock are activated. The keyboard has a scroll lock key and a scroll lock function, but no status light is provided to go along with them.

The key caps on the Elite are single-shot ABS plastic with a soft-touch coating similar to that found on interior parts in Volkswagens and other automobiles. The key legends are in a bold font that allows even backlighting to shine through when the onboard illumination is active. As on HyperX's Alloy FPS keyboard, the only color choice is red. Members of the RGB LED Illuminati will have to look elsewhere for their disco lighting fix.

The six-foot (1.8 m) non-detachable cord on the Alloy Elite is the thickest tail I have ever seen on a keyboard. It boasts a diameter of over 0.375" (9.5 mm). It's wrapped in a stylish black braided nylon material and is terminated with a pair of USB Type-A connectors. It is interesting to see a fixed cable on this premium offering when the less expensive Alloy FPS model has a detachable cord, but I welcome the change. One of the USB 2.0 connectors is for the keyboard itself, while the second end is for the USB pass-through jack on the back of the keyboard. I really like the USB pass-through, but I wish the USB ends were marked in some way so I could tell them apart. I would really like to see a different-colored molding on the connector for the pass-through. This is a minor nitpick. I did test the USB port on the back of the keyboard with multiple USB 3.0 devices, but speeds were consistently limited to USB 2.0's upper bound of about 40 MB/s.

Countless hardware enthusiasts have written at length about their personal preference in mechanical switches, so I will keep this part of the review brief. I am used to the tactile feedback and clickiness of Blue switches. When I switched over to the Red clackers in my Alloy FPS review unit, I had to add a set of rubber o-rings because my fingers hurt after using those linear switches for extended periods of time. The lack of tactile or audible feedback caused me to bottom out the keys on seemingly every keystroke. The tactile bump in the Brown switches in the Elite helped me avoid this problem, though my tastes still trend toward the heavier actuation force and clickiness of Blue switches. My first computer was an IBM XT with a buckling spring keyboard, so perhaps I subconsciously wish to return to that era.

Once I had it on my desk, I found a lot to like from the Alloy Elite. I'm a big fan of HyperX's switch-mounting design, which lets the keycaps float over the steel deck. The stiffness of the metal plate and the gripping ability of the large rubber feet made for a solid typing experience. I called the Alloy FPS the most rigid keyboard I had ever used in my review, and the Alloy Elite is every bit as stout. I'm also a big fan of the Elite's metal volume roller wheel, which adds a premium feeling to the keyboard. I was less pleased that the extra-large size was not put to use adding a few programmable macro or profile keys, which would have added to the Elite's gaming credentials.

Conclusions
The $110 HyperX Alloy Elite keyboard offers some features that I really like versus the company's existing Alloy FPS. The Elite's USB 2.0 pass-through port and dedicated media keys offer up real convenience that are missing from HyperX's earlier model. I also appreciate the Elite's fixed cable, though that's a matter of personal preference. I use a wireless mouse most of the time, and I liked being able to attach its dongle to the Elite's USB pass-through in order to keep the mouse and the receiver as close together as possible. Other users might appreciate the ability to plug in a thumb drive without having to reach all the way to their computer.

I found other changes to the Elite less valuable. I don't think the dedicated illumination-control keys offer any real benefit when compared to the Alloy FPS's Fn+arrow key method of cycling through lighting intensity and effects, and I didn't like the placement of these added keys. The Alloy Elite is also missing macro, profile, and lighting features I think most buyers expect in this class of gaming keyboard. I applaud the absence of any utility software from the Alloy Elite, but that approach means the Elite doesn't have macro functions or any profile storage, omissions that both sting a bit. RGB LED-obsessed youngsters may not find the Elite to their tastes, and high-quality competitors with those LEDs aren't much more expensive these days.

Thanks to the densely-populated mechanical keyboard market, it's a bit tough to make a value judgment on the Alloy Elite. A Newegg search suggests $110 is about the going rate for Cherry MX gaming keyboards with single-color LED backlighting. HyperX's own Alloy FPS is only $10 less, for example, and while it may be more compact, that slim frame means more of its functions are hidden behind modifier keys. Buyers that need a wrist rest or have a specific desire for dedicated media controls will get all of those things plus similarly excellent build quality when choosing the Elite. FPS gamers, particularly those that go to a lot of LAN parties, are probably better served with the Alloy FPS or its new, even more compact Pro sibling. If you want to give your fingers room to roam and can live with single-color backlighting, though, the Alloy Elite's clean looks, software-free approach, and tank-like build should keep it ready to serve for years to come. 

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Tags: Input devices