The gaming peripheral market continues to grow. Companies new and old are entering the fray and attempting to capture part of this growing pie. G.Skill, a long-time RAM manufacturer, recently joined in on the party with its Ripjaws gaming peripherals. A few weeks ago, we looked at G.Skill's Ripjaws MX780 gaming mouse, and today we're following up with the company's Ripjaws KM780R RGB mechanical gaming keyboard.
The KM780R's designers appear to have drawn inspiration from a number of existing gaming keyboards, perhaps most notably from Corsair's K70 RGB. The KM780R features a black, angular look with a sturdy brushed-metal base plate. The overall package definitely has a high-quality feel, but the extra trim and metal bars on the sides add unnecessary bulk to the already wide full-size layout with macro keys. I found myself slamming my thumb and mouse into the right side of the keyboard while I was still getting used to the extra trim.
The breadth of this board wasn't my only concern while getting acquainted with it. The layout of the bottom row of keys is a bit wonky. The Alt and Windows keys are slightly larger than they are on more traditional keyboards, at the expense of the width of the space bar. I didn't notice a functional difference from the slightly odd layout, but it does create a problem for those who like to use custom keycaps on their Cherry switches.
The keyboard's top-plate-free design creates an illusion of keys floating above the base plate. This style not only looks good, but also makes the keyboard easier to clean by preventing dust and crumbs from getting stuck inside the keyboard. Simply holding the keyboard sideways over a trash can and shaking it or using a bit of compressed air will remove most gunk that comes to rest between the keys.
G.Skill offers buyers a choice of Cherry MX Red, Brown, or Blue switches, all of which are backlit with RGB LEDs. If you aren't sure which switch type to choose, check out our guide. Our review unit came equipped with my personal favorite, Cherry MX Browns. These keys have a light actuation force and a slight tactile bump. Unfortunately, the great feel of the Cherry MX switches is slightly spoiled by the keycaps. The keys feel as though they are scraping up against something when I press them. Replacing them with keycaps from other Cherry MX-equipped boards I have on hand makes this issue go away. The gritty feel isn't a deal-breaker, but the feel of the keys is what makes the difference between a good keyboard and a great one, and the feel of these keys doesn't live up to the KM780R's $160 price point.
In my time spent with the KM780R, the stiffness of the keys was almost always noticeable. In games like Star Wars Battlefront and Dirty Bomb that require quick, precise movements and large amount of strafing, I felt held back by this board. My movements weren't as snappy as I expected, and the scraping feel of the keycaps distracted me from the actual game. The keycaps were equally annoying while typing, too. Again, this issue isn't severe enough to make the KM780R unusable, but it is highly distracting.
A group of media controls lives in the upper right corner of the board, including a textured volume roller and volume indicator. The slight amount of extra space required to accommodate these controls is well worth it. After my time spent with the KM780R, it'll be hard to use a keyboard without separate media controls. Even so, I do have a few problems with these buttons. First of all, the media controls will occasionally forget which program is playing music or other media, and they'll fail to do anything. That may be a Windows issue, though. The volume indicator can also be slightly glitchy, but it is only a slight nuisance. My main issue with these controls is that they can only glow red. That fixed backlight clashes with many of the KM780R's possible colors.
Opposite the media controls are a few more buttons used to record macros, switch modes, lock the Windows key, adjust the brightness, and set a timer. The Windows lock key is pretty standard for gaming keyboards, and the LED adjuster has three brightness levels as well as an off setting, but the timer seems like a bit of an odd feature. The LED under this button blinks for a duration set in the keyboard's included software utility. Users can further set the keyboard's LEDs to perform a preset action when the timer is up.
The KM780R has on-board profile storage, and each of the three modes stores its own LED settings and macros. The macros are bound to the six dedicated macro keys on the left side of the keyboard. The "MR" button allows for on-the-fly macro recording, but macros can also be edited in the keyboard software.
The KM780R also comes with an attachable wrist rest. The indentation in the middle of this rest looks fancy, but it's almost impossible to type comfortably thanks to the notch. My right hand would continuously slip down into the indent and off the desk while typing.
On the back of the keyboard are audio jacks and a USB pass-through, both of which are desirable features on a premium keyboard. I've had my mouse plugged into the USB pass-through port for most of my time with the KM780R, and I haven't noticed any sort of lag or latency in my mouse's responses.
The drawback of having audio jacks and a USB pass-through is the extra cables that accompany them. The KM780R has two USB connectors, as well as audio and mic-in connectors. The extra cabling can make for a bit more clutter behind the user's PC, a trade-off that may or may not be worth it depending on the buyer's taste.
The last of the features we'll examine are the flip-up stands and the mouse cable holder. The stands can be used to give the keyboard a bit of a forward slant, but there aren't feet on the front edge. The mouse cable holder is nice for cable management, and it doesn't get in the way for those who won't be using it.
For extra tweaking, the KM780R has a dedicated Windows utility that can be downloaded from G.Skill's website. The "Customize" tab can be used to program each key with a variety of functions, including Windows shortcuts, mouse functions, multimedia controls, and macros. The "Settings" tab allows for fine tuning of the repeat and polling rates, N-key rollover, repeat delay, and timer and sleep settings.
The "Lighting" tab offers control over the board's RGB LED effects. Colors can be assigned to individual keys or the keyboard as a whole. The software also offers a variety of preset effects like wave, breathing, cycle, and ripple, but the settings for these effects are difficult to use. It's also worth noting that some of the lighting effects aren't as polished as they could be. The wave effect is simply a parade of basic colors in groups of three, rather than a smooth animation with lots of transitional colors.
Unfortunately, the KM780R's software has the same issue as G.Skill's mouse software. The interface is ugly and clunky. Fine-tuning the lighting effects takes way too much work, and there is only a limited selection of colors to choose from, rather than the full 16.7-million-color palette we'd expect. Thankfully, software can be updated, even after the purchase of the keyboard, so we'd hope that G.Skill can refine and improve on these points. If you don't want to deal with the software much, you can install it, tune the keyboard to your liking, and then uninstall it. The keyboard has onboard profile storage, and it'll remember all your settings, even without the software.
G.Skill's KM780R has quite a few things going for it. The floating key design looks cool and makes the keyboard easy to clean. The media keys make life easier, the audio jacks and USB passthrough are welcome perks, the mouse cable holder is a nice little addition, and the keyboard feels sturdy overall. All of those niceties can be had for $140 on Newegg right now.
However, this list of strengths doesn't quite outweigh the KM780R's flaws. The keyboard doesn't have a completely standard layout, which makes installing custom sets of keycaps harder. G.Skill's utility software is difficult to use, though the company could improve that issue with future releases. Unlike other Cherry MX-equipped boards I've used, the KM780R's keys feel stiff and have a slightly gritty feel. No matter how many extra features a keyboard has, it needs to feel good to type on.
On balance, I think G.Skill's first entry into the gaming keyboard market is a solid one, and its issues wouldn't be hard to work out in future product revisions. For now, though, I think buyers will be happier with one of the many other RGB LED-equipped keyboards on the market from established players.