I tend to think of keyboards as plug-and-play, set-and-forget devices, but the K70 RGB requires more care and feeding than the average peripheral.
First off, the Corsair Utility Engine (CUE) software recommended that I update the keyboard's firmware when I plugged in the K70 RGB for the first time. Updating the firmware, according to CUE, requires the keyboard to be plugged into a pair of USB 2.0 ports. This post on Corsair's official forums further suggests that the K70 RGB's two USB plugs should be inserted into USB 2.0 ports in a specific order: the arrow-symbol-emblazoned one first, and the keyboard-emblazoned one second.
I'm hoping the USB 2.0 requirement is just a safety measure and not an essential part of the firmware update process, since the keyboards I own tend to outlive the PCs to which they're attached. My Asus Z97-A motherboard still has two USB 2.0 ports, but I can't help but think of the time when USB 2.0 will be phased out entirely.
Thankfully, USB port selection only seems to matter when updating firmware. The forum post above states that the K70 RGB works fine with USB 3.0 in normal operation, and I found that to be the case. When the K70 RGB is plugged into a USB 3.0 port, Corsair says that only the USB plug with the keyboard symbol needs to be used.
Whew. That's a lot of words about a process that's usually 100% mindless. Armed with the above information, I dutifully plugged the K70 RGB into the proper ports, downloaded the appropriate firmware update from Corsair's website, and applied it using CUE. With all of that out of the way, I was hoping to finally have some fun with the world of possibilities that the backlight promised.
Software, configuration, and the blinkenlights
I find that the user experience of a product that's as configurable as the K70 RGB tends to be inseparable from the quality of the included software. Corsair's CUE utility manages every aspect of the K70 RGB's customizable features, from lighting effects to macros (or "actions," as they're known in CUE lingo). While I found the CUE utility to be quite powerful once I got my head around it, the learning curve was extremely steep.
From the moment I unboxed the K70 RGB, I wanted to play around with the backlight settings. To my surprise, I couldn't even manage to change the backlight color, much less enable the fancy built-in lighting effects with any fluency. After downloading the 142-page user manual, I didn't feel quite so bad about my inability to figure things out.
Yes, you read that right: the manual is 142 pages long.
To untangle the hierarchical structure of foreground lighting, background lighting, built-in dynamic lighting effects, and their interactions, studying this lengthy document is essential. Corsair also has a few configuration guides for RGB LED keyboards on its YouTube channel, which help to make sense of things.
After a while, I was able to customize effects with aplomb—but it was a long road to get there. Buyers of the K70 RGB should plan on investing a good chunk of time to really get a feel for the CUE software.
As might be expected of a 1.0 release, CUE has some rough edges. Simple actions, like clearing lighting assignments from keys, didn't always work. Sometimes, the software seemed to lose touch with the keyboard, which forced me to restart CUE or reconnect the keyboard several times. Some of my backlight settings had to be applied multiple times before they took. Finally, CUE didn't seem to realize that I had the most current firmware installed, so it constantly nagged me to perform the update again. Hopefully, Corsair is refining CUE for its next version.
I also expected to find at least a couple of preconfigured lighting profiles to show off the capabilities of the backlight, but no such luck. CUE is largely a blank slate out of the box. The software can import or export profiles, though, and Corsair has set up a dedicated forum for owners of its RGB keyboards to share their profiles. A poster there, SmSumodude20, took great pains to replicate the rainbow wave effect that Corsair used to demonstrate the K70 RGB at CES. Whoever you are, SmSumodude20, thank you for your effort in making this profile. My review wouldn't be nearly as colorful without it. Here's a look at the insane settings necessary to produce such an effect:
Unfortunately, because profile import and export is an all-or-nothing affair, I ended up with a confusing mess of other people's test lighting effects and macros alongside my own. The overall experience felt like having someone else's garbage dumped on my front porch, and it made finding my own macros and lighting more difficult. A more selective way to import and export profile data would have been nice.
With a couple of community-sourced profiles loaded into CUE, I finally got a taste of what the K70 RGB is capable of. It's impossible to show off the full glory of this keyboard with photos alone, so here's a video:
Super cool, huh? I only wish that unleashing the full potential of this thing was a bit easier.
In addition to lighting management, CUE offers comprehensive key macro programming features, which I didn't dive into too deeply. If you're a heavy user of macros, CUE should offer all of the tools necessary. In addition to macro programming, CUE can automatically load different profiles upon the launch of specific applications, so it's practical to set up lighting and macro layouts for each of your favorite games.
If that's not enough room for customization, each profile can have a number of sub-modes assigned, which Corsair suggests for use with games that have multiple character classes, like League of Legends or Team Fortress 2. There's no dedicated button for profile or mode switching, though. Instead, to use these features, owners will have to reserve at least one key for mode switching.
All told, CUE is just OK. It's a very powerful and flexible tool, but I had to spend some time with the very thorough manual to figure it out, and I came across some rough edges in the current release. I really wish Corsair had included some preconfigured profiles, too, both as a reference point and as a kind of easy mode for those who aren't inclined to spend hours tweaking. Right out of the box, CUE shows off almost none of the K70 RGB's potential, and that's a real shame.
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