This is a swell mechanical keyboard that knows its target audience well, but could stand to use a firmware fix and ditch the membrane dome-switched function keys.
It used to be that keyboards were indestructible feats of engineering that were a dream to type on. And yet in a concerted race to the bottom, the major hardware manufacturers stopped shipping mechanical keyboards in favor of the cheap silicone dome design that's prevalent today. Mechanical keyboards were all but dead, relegated to a niche market of bearded geeks for the better part of a decade. But at long last, this dark era is coming to an end as mechanical is once again entering the mainstream, thanks largely in part to a small handful of companies that aren't afraid to sell $100 keyboards to the very same gamers who can somehow justify spending $3000 on a watercooled SLI rig.
As part of their rapid expansion into gaming peripherals under the Vengeance brand, Corsair has now entered the fray with two mechanical keyboards of their own, the K60 and K90, to complement the M60 and M90 mouse. Both share many common features such as Cherry MX Red keyswitches, 20-key rollover and more, but otherwise differ on features that split the market for FPS and MMO gamers respectively. Naturally, we've taken an in-depth look at both. In this review, you'll learn all there is to know about the Corsair Vengeance K60 for first person shooters, shunning glitzy features like dedicated marcro keys and backlighting in favor of pure tactile ergonomics. Likewise, if you're interested in the glitzy K90 MMO variant, I have a full review for that too.
I must admit that I'm heavily biased towards the use of aluminum in anything. From the aesthetics of my computer cases to the smooth feel of a soda can, there's something about the material that's just perfect. That's why I was so enamored by the Vengeance keyboards when they first arrived at my doorstep for review; the brushed aluminum frame is as unique as it is prominent.
Whereas most keyboards will partially shroud the bases of the keys in a deep plastic housing, Corsair opted to go a different route and leave the keyswitches fully exposed, using their sturdy aluminum plate mounting as the face of the keyboard itself. The end result is an incredibly sleek, utilitarian look that basks in its own simplicity. As an added bonus, the lack of a shroud means the Vengeance K60 is remarkably easy to clean. Any crumbs, dust or hair that accumulates under the keys is now a breeze to get at since there's a clear path for an air duster's straw as well as an exit path for the debris.
Complementing the brushed metal look are some plastic multimedia hotkeys in the top right corner that are painted to match, along with a textured metal volume roller that's highly reminiscent of Logitech's gaming keyboards (i.e. G19, G110, G510) from 2009 onwards. The sheer drop from the adjacent number pad to the low profile playback buttons does take some getting used to, but also does well to prevent accidental keypresses. Personally, I very much prefer the discrete multimedia controls offered by Corsair here as opposed to the function-shifted F-keys keys that all the other mechanical keyboards use. (Why is this?!) And the volume roller, well, there's just no way to improve on its absolute corner placement and smooth stepping.
The Vengeance K60 features an incredibly thick, braided USB cable that leaves little to question about its durability. Towards the end of the cable you'll find that it branches out into two separate USB connectors. One plug is for the keyboard itself, while the other serves as a pass-through extension cable for the solitary USB 2.0 port at the back of the keyboard. I would have liked to see a 2-port hub here instead of a pass-through if only for connecting a gamepad or USB flash drive alongside my mouse, though I do appreciate the stability attained by a direct connection to one of my motherboard. At least Corsair learned from Razer's mistake and placed the port at the rear of the keyboard instead of the right edge where I'm keen on using my mouse. You won't find any analog headset ports on the K60, but that's okay with me as a USB headset reviewer.
Of course, the biggest draw to the Vengeance keyboards is their use of Cherry MX mechanical keyswitches. Each key contains its own metal spring and plunger design, which greatly improves on the feel of the keys and also their reliability--rated at 50 million keystrokes per key. Contrast this to your standard membrane dome-switched keyboard that's sole purpose in life is to cut costs and offer you, well, a keyboard. They're good enough to get tasks done, but the silicone membrane beneath the keys is rated for only 2-10 million keystrokes per key and will feel mushy or uneven in comparison. The tactile difference between a mechanical keyboard and a dome switch keyboard is simply night and day. If you're a skeptic, find a friend or store that has a mechanical keyboard you can play with and feel the difference for yourself.
Today, Cherry Corp makes the most popular and widely available mechanical keyswitches as part of their Cherry MX family. There's a few different flavors of the MX keyswitch which range from MX Blues that replicate the tactile, clicky experience of IBM's legendary Model M keyboard and its buckling spring design, to the MX Browns that have a tactile bump but aren't as loud, and the MX Blacks and Reds that offer a linear application of force without any bumps or clicks. Finding the right color is a matter of subjective taste, so I strongly encourage you to take a look at Overclock.net's Mechanical Keyboard Guide to learn more about the different keyswitch types and see animated cutaway diagrams of them in action.
Corsair utilizes the lightest of the bunch in their mechanical keyboards, the linear non-tactile Cherry MX Reds. These keys are incredibly lightweight, requiring only 45 grams of force and 2mm of travel to actuate. This can be a problem if you're prone to resting your fingers heavily on the keyboard without intending to type as I sometimes do, but is otherwise a boon for combating fatigue during gameplay and minimizing response times. While I do prefer the Cherry MX Blue keys as found in Razer's BlackWidow for typing, I find myself coming back to the Corsair keyboard for the smooth linear action in gaming. The tactile click of the blues simply gets in my way when I'm quickly strafing left and right in a sniper duel, especially in Quake Live matches. I have yet to try the MX Browns that are described as a compromise between Red and Blue, but hope to offer my thoughts on those in a future review. Tactile or not, the Cherry MX Red keys in the Vengeance keyboards keys beat my array of traditional gaming keyboards hands-down for both typing and gaming.
With regards to noise levels, I do find the linear action of the Cherry MX Reds much more conducive to atmospheric gaming than the comparatively loud Cherry MX Blues, particularly in games like Metro 2033 where the subtle noises of the tunnels set a rather dismal mood. All of the Cherry MX keys do however produce substantially more noise than an ordinary dome switched keyboard, caused by the impact of the keycap bottoming out on the keyswitch. It's possible to lessen this effect by installing rubber O-ring dampeners on the interior of the keycap, which may be worth looking into if you find yourself staying up for late night gaming sessions while others are sleeping.
It should be noted that the Vengeance K60 is not entirely mechanical. The top row of keys as well as the Insert-PageDown cluster are actually your garden-variety dome switch keys, which I find to be rather unfitting for a mechanical keyboard. Corsair explains this unusual choice on their blog by saying this was done to prevent double-keystrokes with tuned silicone as well as place them on a lower plane than the typewriter keys, but I personally find the experience to be more than irritating. Here I am, well over a month into this review, and every time I press Shift-Home I find myself distracted by how mushy the second keystroke feels. Hopefully, Corsair can right this decision with their next generation of keyboards.
The black keys offer a clean contrast to the silver plating they're mounted on and feature laser-engraved white lettering that's easy to read. Unfortunately there's no backlighting to be found here, though you can get that on the MMO-oriented Vengeance K90 keyboard if you're willing to pony up an additional $20-30 and lose the other K60-centric features like the gaming rest and special keycaps. Keycap quality is hit and miss. The hard plastic feel of the keys is fantastic and in my opinion better than the softer touch of the Vengeance K90, though you can feel and pick at the laser-etched lettering that appears to have been a thin coating on top of the actual plastic. Corsair should have gone the Deck route and used a double-shot injection molding, but this admittedly would have driven up the cost quite a bit.
Unfortunately, many of the early batches of Vengeance K60 keyboards including my own press sample suffer from fading lettering that turns grey with finger oils. This is caused by a material problem, though apparently it's been resolved at the factory not too long ago. There's still likely to be a number of defective keycaps on store shelves for a while though, so I feel it's important to bring light to the issue. Unlucky users who experience this problem themselves should fill out an RMA request for a free replacement with return shipping covered by Corsair. It's a shame that the defect wasn't caught during the QA process since it exposed itself in less than two weeks of my own testing, but I will give credit to Corsair for seeing to it that affected customers are taken care of.