Corsair’s Strafe RGB MK.2 gaming keyboard reviewed

Last year, I reviewed Corsair’s K95 RGB Platinum—the highest-end keyboard in Corsair’s lineup. It debuted some features that are now making their way to other keyboards in Corsair’s menagerie. The first keyboards to receive these updates are the K70 and Strafe. Corsair has slapped MK.2 on the end of these updated boards’ names to denote the differences between the old and new generations. Both the K70 RGB MK.2 and Strafe RGB MK.2 launch today, and I have a Strafe RGB MK.2 on my desk to test. Let’s dive into it. 

The Strafe is Corsair’s option for those who don’t want to pay the $20 premium for the full brushed aluminum top plate on the K70 RGB MK.2. Strafe buyers still get some of the brushed-aluminum goodness at the top of the keyboard, though. The rest of the chassis is made of lightly textured, matte-black plastic. The plastic will let out a soft creak if you apply a fair amount of force to it, but the construction is still solid overall. The first feature that has made its way from the K95 Platinum to the MK.2 is the RGB LED-illuminated Corsair logo up at the top of the board. As always, Corsair’s RGB LEDs are vibrant and have buttery-smooth color transitions. The only other RGB LEDs I’ve seen that come close are Cooler Master’s.

Like all Corsair keyboards, the Strafe MK.2 has a diamond-plate-textured space bar and a non-standard-width bottom row. I’m mostly ambivalent about both. I find the texture on the space bar pleasant and not overly pronounced, but I wouldn’t mind if the spacebar wasn’t textured, either.

I think the layout of the bottom row makes sense, though, especially for gamers. The shrunken Windows keys versus a standard layout reduce the risk of accidentally pulling up the Start menu during games. A lock button on the Strafe does prevent opening up the Windows menu in the middle of a game, too. That said, the non-standard layout can mess with muscle memory and is incompatible with standard keycaps. The Strafe’s included keycaps aren’t of the highest quality, so users looking to put on their own keycaps will need to procure custom keycaps for the bottom row. You’ll have to weigh the positives and negatives for yourself. As always, I recommend trying out the Strafe MK.2 or another Corsair keyboard in person before buying. 

The Corsair logo used to live above the numpad on the original Strafe, but media buttons have taken over the real estate left behind by the moved logo. A mute button and volume roller have also moved in next door. The media controls have always been one of my favorite features of Corsair keyboards, so I thought that their absence on the Strafe was a raw deal for Strafe buyers. I’m happy to see them on the MK.2. The stop, skip, and pause-play buttons are revised versions of the design that debuted on the K95 Platinum. They’re taller than past Corsair boards’ media controls, making them a bit more easily accessible, and they feel weightier and sturdier than the old controls.

I was hoping that Corsair would go back to its older volume wheel design for this update, but that’s sadly not the case with the Strafe MK.2. I have the same impression of the volume wheels in both the K95 Platinum and Strafe MK.2: they’re too smooth. The K70 Rapidfire’s volume wheel has tactile bumps in the scrolling action that correspond to each change in volume, making the scrolling action satisfying and giving the user an idea of how much the volume has changed. The Strafe MK.2’s volume wheel, on the other hand, offers no feedback. That said, scrolling action feel comes down to personal preference. Perhaps some users would rather have a smooth volume wheel. 

The Strafe MK.2 also received updated brightness and Windows lock buttons, plus the addition of a profile button. The old buttons were rubbery and looked slightly out of place, but these new buttons look right at home and feel much better. The brightness button cycles through three brightness levels in addition to an off mode. 

Corsair keyboards are known for a “floating keys” design that exposes the sides of the switches. However, Corsair’s boards that don’t have the company’s trademark metal top plate have subtle edges around the switch areas. Nevertheless, the “floating keys” look is still present. It is also worth noting that the surface upon which the switches sit is white. The white accentuates the glow of the LEDs nicely, but looks a little odd to me when the LEDs are off. 

As part of the MK.2 update, Corsair is using a new wrist rest design that feels less pleasant than the one that came with the company’s older boards. The Strafe’s wrist rest is made of thinner plastic than the K70 Rapidfire’s and lacks the full-length soft rubber that covered that rest. Even so, the wrist rest still does its job quite well. The soft coating and texture make the wrist rest surprisingly comfortable for being made entirely of plastic. However, you might find your wrists slipping a little when sweaty. 

A USB pass-through port is nestled in the back of the Strafe MK.2 for convenience.

 

The USB pass-through port comes with the tradeoff of a thicker cable ending in two USB connectors. Fortunately, those who don’t want to use the USB pass-through port don’t need to plug in the second USB connector. The cable is 5.9 feet long and nicely braided, but a bit stiff. 

Two flip-up stands reside on the bottom of the keyboard, as usual. However, the stands don’t have rubber bottoms. Many keyboards counteract the lack of rubber on their flip-up stands with large rubber pads at the front of the keyboard, but the Strafe MK.2’s rubber pads are quite small. The keyboard can slide around a little too easily when pressure is applied. It would nice to see the K95 Platinum’s large rubber pads and rubber-tipped flip-up stands on the Strafe MK.2. Users who really want an all-terrain grip will have to opt for the K95 Platinum or the just-released K70 RGB MK.2. The refreshed K70 appears to have the large, grippy feet of the K95.

Ten textured, rubber-topped keycaps come in the box, as well as a keycap puller. The textured keys are shaped so as to help keep gamers’ fingers centered on the primary gaming keys.

The keycaps on the Strafe are made of single-shot ABS plastic, meaning they aren’t the best-feeling under the fingers. Single-shot ABS plastic keycaps are the industry standard, but the $140 base price of the Strafe MK.2 makes it a somewhat tough sell for those who are familiar with double-shot ABS or PBT keycaps. ABS key caps can develop a slick or “slimy” feel over time, while PBT remains “dry” and grippy-feeling even after extended use. Corsair will happily sell you a set of PBT caps with its in-house font in black or white for an extra $50, but many similarly-priced boutique RGB LED keyboards include PBT caps by default.

 

A quieter Cherry

The Strafe MK.2 comes equipped with either Cherry MX Red or Silent Red switches. The $140 base price includes plain Reds, while Silent Red switches will run you an extra $10. I’ve never used Silent Reds before and wanted to have an informed opinion on them, so I asked Corsair to send over the Silents.

Cherry MX Silent Reds, like standard Reds, are linear switches, but Silent Reds have dampeners built into the sliding stems.  These dampeners slightly shorten the travel distance of the switches. Silent Reds have an actuation distance of 1.9 mm and a total travel distance of 3.7 mm, whereas Reds have an actuation distance of 2 mm and a total travel distance of 4 mm.

My complaint with Cherry MX Reds has always been that they feel mushy because they have too long a travel distance for switches without tactile bumps. Cherry MX Speeds solve this problem by significantly shortening the travel distance. Unfortunately, the shortened travel distance of Silent Reds is not significant enough to alleviate the mushiness. In fact, the built-in dampeners make the feedback problem even worse. Silent Reds are without a doubt my least-favorite Cherry switch yet. They make standard Reds feel good by comparison. 

However, Silent Reds are definitely quiet. When I first unboxed the Strafe MK.2, I hit a key and thought I had somehow not actually pressed it down. If you press down on Silent Reds softly, they make barely any noise. They get a little bit louder if you really pound on them while typing, but they’re still incredibly quiet compared to any other Cherry switch. I’m quite impressed with how quiet Cherry was able to make them. 

That said, there are other alternatives if you want a relatively quiet keyboard. I might be called a heretic for saying this, but rubber dome switches are an option. Most rubber domes are absolutely awful, but there are some high quality rubber domes out there. I pulled out Cooler Master’s Devastator II keyboard and used it for a little while. You may have to keycap me to death for admitting that I honestly prefer those rubber domes to Silent Reds. Those aren’t even high-end rubber domes, but they have tactile bumps and don’t feel mushy. They’re also quieter than Cherry MX Reds, which are already pretty quiet as Cherry switches go. If you’re concerned with noise first and foremost, though, Silent Reds are the winner. Once again, switches come down to personal preference, so try them out yourself if you can.

The Strafe MK.2 passes the N-key rollover test with flying colors.

Corsair recently released a new version of its CUE software called iCUE. It seems as though every time I review a Corsair keyboard, the CUE software gets a little bit more cluttered, and this time is no different. By default, CUE now shows “demo” devices that crowd the user interface and make identifying connected devices more difficult. One can shut off these demo devices in the software’s settings, but that’s an extra step I’m not pleased to take.

The key to good gaming peripheral software is a clean aesthetic that clearly displays all the options on one page without a ton of sub-menus. iCUE is still a better piece of software than many others out there, but other companies are finally beginning to clean up their designs. Corsair needs to work on making iCUE more user-friendly if it wants to stay ahead of the curve. 

Even with its complexity, CUE has powerful lighting and macro-programming controls, and the Strafe MK.2 can store those customizations on board in one of three macro profiles. That’s a handy new feature, as older Corsair keyboards in the TR labs lose their lighting modes and macro customizations as soon as CUE stops running. As I noted earlier, the board has a dedicated button to cycle through those profiles. That convenience alone could make the Strafe worth it compared to past Corsair boards.

Conclusions

It’s always good to see companies improve their products, and that’s certainly the case with Corsair’s Strafe keyboard. The top of the keyboard has been reinforced with aluminum. It offers direct access to media and profile-switching controls. The lighting and Windows-lock buttons have been updated, and there is a snazzy, new illuminated logo to cap off the package.

However, there is still room for improvement. The rubber pads on the bottom of the keyboard have shrunken enough that they are lacking in grip. Switch options other than just Cherry MX Red and Red Silent are a must. There are versions of the K70 MK.2 and even the previous Strafe in almost the entire Cherry color spectrum. I would also like the company’s tactile volume wheel to come back, but I could be in the minority on that. It would be good to see a version with a standard bottom row layout as well.

Lastly, single-shot ABS keycaps are not ideal for a keyboard that starts at $140. You can get Cooler Master’s Masterkeys L with PBT keycaps for only $90 on Amazon. It doesn’t have LEDs, a wrist rest, or dedicated media controls, but I don’t see those additional features as being worth $50 more—and that’s before we consider the cost of an extra set of PBT keycaps. To be fair, a more similarly-specced boutique board with PBT caps and RGB LEDs will sell for a price closer to that of the Strafe’s, and there’s no guarantee that such a board will have Corsair’s software support or on-board profiles.

In any case, those are all somewhat nit-picky complaints. Corsair has long had the basics down, and the Strafe is a fine example of that continued competence. The company’s RGB LEDs are the best in the business. The Strafe MK.2 comes with a good wrist rest, and it has a braided cable and onboard profile storage. Most importantly, the chassis is high-quality and well-proportioned.

Nevertheless, gaming peripherals are all about the little details, and the gaming keyboard market is becoming ever more crowded. Competition is ramping up, and Corsair needs to think about upping its game as well if it is going to keep charging $140 or more for its keyboards. That said, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the Strafe MK.2 if you don’t mind its price tag, and it’s worthy of being called TR Recommended.

Comments closed
    • deruberhanyok
    • 1 year ago

    Nathan TY for this!

    I’m buying myself a nice mechanical keyboard, been a Steelseries fan for a while and looking at the Apex M750, but some of the reports of extremely twitchy keys has me looking at a K70 mk.2. I’d probably be running it alongside a Steelseries mouse (might be replacing it next), and definitely a Steelseries headset (not replacing any time soon, unless it breaks).

    I know there used to be some issues running CUE alongside Steelseries Engine but I haven’t seen much about it recently. And it’s weird for me to say about bundled manufacturer software but I actually LIKE the Steelseries Engine software. It’s unobtrusive, relatively straightforward design does what I want and doesn’t interfere with anything. Where I’ve heard CUE is rather the opposite – confusing UI inconsistencies and in some cases actual performance issues caused while it’s running.

    I’ve had hands-on the Apex M750, M800 and the K70 (not the mk.2) but in a store environment, nowhere I could just plug them into a PC and play for an hour or two, so aside from all feeling nice when unplugged, I’m not sure which is really for me. Software issues might be what pushes me to one or the other.

    edit2 I realize I could also save myself this headache by looking at one of the non-RGB keyboards and may just do that – I like the idea of highlighting WASD in white, for instance, but I could do that by replacing a few of the keycaps as well.

    edit3 And now I’m seeing that the newer models have onboard storage of the profiles, so if I had issues with CUE I would only need to use it for some initial setup, and I somehow missed that entire section when I re-read this review. So that basically solves it for me.

    Now I just need to decide if I want it in black or white…

    • DancinJack
    • 1 year ago

    Font on the keys still stinks.

    • Inkling
    • 1 year ago

    Personally, I love the layout of Corsair’s bottom row. As far as I’m concerned the Windows key can be shrunk even more. I could take or leave the space-bar texture, though. All-in-all, the whole look of this keyboard is quite pleasing. The overall aesthetic manages to communicate both business and pleasure.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 1 year ago

      I don’t mind the layout itself but replacing keycaps with the smaller Windows key limits your options somewhat and always drives up the price of the replacement caps. That’s a pretty niche argument, I guess, but I live it.

      Typing on the same keyboard 50 hours a week over the course of five+ years has left many of my key caps totally devoid of paint (the most-used letters are the worst, obvi) and kind of gross-looking. I don’t want to junk the keyboard; I just want to replace the caps. The price gap isn’t as big as it should be.

        • Inkling
        • 1 year ago

        Fair point. But if you’ve gotten around 13,000 hours of typing out of a keyboard, I’d say it’s had a pretty good run, wouldn’t you?

        Now, if you really love it, I can understand wanting to replace the keycaps and get even more life out of it. But still, I generally expect to replace a keyboard before that point, if only to see if recent features, upgrades, and improvements are all they’re cracked up to be.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 1 year ago

          It’s had a good run, but the switches feel great and I’m a bit of a cheapskate.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 1 year ago

            I was thinking about something like [url=https://www.amazon.com/DREVO-Standard-Mechanical-Keyboard-Profile/dp/B077M85FVQ/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?ie=UTF8&qid=1528853707&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=mechanical%2Bkeyboard%2Bkeycaps&smid=A34B9V3J9HP489&th=1<]this[/url<], btw. $30 vs $100+ when all I want is to keep using the same Cherry MX Brown switches? Heck yeah.

            • Gyromancer
            • 1 year ago

            [url=https://kbdfans.cn/collections/all/products/pbt-backlit-keycaps-108key?variant=12166564053050<]Here[/url<]'s a nice set of clean, black PBT keycaps for only $34.

    • EricBorn
    • 1 year ago

    You’ll receive no flak from me about Cooler Master’s Devastator II. Last summer my wife spilled coffee on her keyboard and needed a replacement. She hates the noise of my mechanical keyboard, though, so I picked up the Devastator keyboard/mouse combo for her. I’ve had no reason to regret the purchase—it’s “good enough” quality at an entry-level price.

    I’ll still maintain the value of mechanical switches for anyone who types for a living, but there’s a place in this world for sturdily-constructed keyboards with membrane switches.

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