Rosewill's RK-9000V2 mechanical keyboard reviewed

Ordinary in a superior realm

For years, Rosewill's RK-9000 series has set the template for affordable mechanical keyboards. The lineup offers all the mechanical bliss of Cherry MX switches with none of the frilly extras associated with pricier alternatives.

As much as we like this straightforward approach, the RK-9000 has always been a flawed favorite. Its removable cable sprouts from a Mini USB port that can fail under lateral loads caused by inadvertent snagging. Complaints of busted USB ports can be found in not only online reviews, but also our own forums.

The problem isn't lost on Rosewill. The company has tweaked the cables and beefed up the port for its second-generation RK-9000V2. This RK-redux has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve, too, and I've been typing on one to see what it's like.

From the outside, the V2 looks practically identical to its predecessor. It has the same matte plastic shell, wide rubber feet, and optional lift kit. But the glaring white logo from the original has been replaced with a subtler black graphic that better matches the keyboard's low-key vibe.

As on the old model, the monochrome exterior gets a hint of color from the red metal base plate faintly visible between each row. This solid foundation helps the keyboard feel firm and planted even when I'm violently thrashing the keys.

Much of the feel is defined by the Cherry MX switches. The V2 is available with the same MX red, black, blue, and brown variants as its forebear. Our review of the RK-9000 series provides a detailed look at each switch type, and it's recommended reading for anyone unfamiliar with the characteristics of the various switch colors. For tl;dr types, the MX red and black switches have a fully linear stroke, with the blacks backed by stiffer springs. The MX blue and brown switches have a tactile "bump" at the actuation point, which the blues accompany with an audible click.

Rosewill sent us the RK-9000V2 with MX brown switches, which happen to be my favorite. The keys respond with the same crisp, smooth action as on the other MX brown keyboards I've used. The familiar feel is consistent across the full range of keys, too.

Although the MX browns lack the sharp clickety-clack of the blues, they're far from silent. As with other mechanicals, rapid keystrokes produce a gentle chatter that's oddly soothing to my ears. The soundtrack is part of the experience; I wouldn't want a truly silent mechanical keyboard even if such a thing existed.

The RK-9000V2 mostly follows the first generation's no-frills lead, but it's not quite as austere. Rosewill's gen-two design swaps the menu key for a function modifier, unlocking a smattering of secondary shortcuts. Fn + F12 toggles the Windows key, allowing gamers to avoid accidentally dropping to the desktop during the heat of battle. Functions mapped to F1 through F8 cover media playback, volume, and a couple of other shortcuts.

A blue LED behind the F12 key lights up when the Windows key is disabled, and its glow is pleasantly muted from all angles. The lighting for the other lock keys is similarly subdued, but only from a normal typing position. The blue LEDs have retina-searing power when viewed from directly above. I can't look at the keyboard while getting up or down from my chair without seeing a brief lens flare.

Those LEDs represent the extent of the onboard illumination. The V2 doesn't need dedicated backlighting to be usable in the dark, though. Its oversized lettering is still visible under the glow of an LCD monitor. The jumbo font should work well for the visually impaired, but it's not the most stylish treatment.

As with its inspiration, the V2 follows a standard 104-key layout. Everything is in its right place, with no double-height nonsense or other awkwardness. The narrow outer border, combined with slim gaps for the numpad and paging block, contribute to a reasonably compact 17.3" x 5.4" footprint.

Rosewill doesn't make a tenkeyless version of the RK-9000V2, but it should consider one. Having your mousing hand closer to the keyboard is better for ergonomics, and a lot of folks can get by without a numpad, especially in gaming circles. If I didn't spend so much time doing numerical data entry for TR content, I'd be using a tenkeyless unit on my main desktop.

Removable cables are included for USB and PS/2. The old-school port offers full n-key rollover, while the USB connectivity is capped at six-key rollover.

That rollover limitation is inherited from the RK-9000, but the cables have evolved somewhat. Instead of connecting via straight Mini USB jacks that leave the cabling vulnerable to snags, the connectors are angled at 90°, which routes the braided housing along the keyboard's top edge. There's just one problem with that arrangement: the cabling runs to the left, so anyone with a machine on the right will have to loop it back around, a potentially more snag-prone proposition than the original design.

On the old RK-9000, lateral forces on the cable can break the port's flimsy connection to the keyboard. Fortunately, Rosewill has beefed things up for the second generation. Here's a close-up of the port on the RK-9000V2 (left) and RK-9000 (right):

The Mini USB port on the RK-9000V2 (left) and RK-9000 (right)

Generous dabs of solder anchor the V2's port to four points on the top of the circuit board. Meanwhile, the RK-9000's port is attached to just two points on the bottom the PCB. There's less solder at each of those two points, as well. Rosewill says the new circuit board uses more solder and higher-quality components throughout.

Only time will tell if the V2's port is more robust than its predecessor's. It seems sturdier to me, but having the port on the outside definitely isn't as bomb-proof as some other approaches. We've tested a fair number of mechanical keyboards that bury the port in the enclosure's underbelly and then run the cable through tight grooves that take the brunt of any physical trauma. Consider one of those—or a keyboard with fixed cables—if your system lives in a particularly abusive environment.

After a couple weeks with the RK-9000V2, the most telling thing I can say is that I've barely noticed using the thing. That sounds kind of harsh, but it's really a compliment. My lab is loaded with Cherry MX keyboards that deliver the same predictable, satisfying keystrokes PC enthusiasts have come to expect from the breed. As the most unassuming of the pack, the RK-9000V2 blends right in. It's ordinary in a superior realm, if you will, and a night-and-day upgrade from keyboards equipped with inferior switches.

Rather than calling attention to itself, the RK-9000V2 simply goes about the business of delivering the goodness of MX switches to your fingertips. Rosewill's tweaks add useful functionality without messing with the basic forumula, and the reinforced USB port and new cables show the company has paid attention to complaints about the original. That's the kind of ordinary I can get behind.

At $99.99 for the red, black, and blue variants and $109.99 for the brown, the RK-9000V2 is among the most affordable keyboards with genuine Cherry MX switches. It's TR Recommended for anyone looking to ascend into a higher realm of key response while honoring the modesty of the IBM Model M.TR

Tags: Input devices

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