Corsair K90 Keyboard

After a few years with Logitech’s MK700 wireless keyboard, I decided it was time for an upgrade, and went for the new Corsair K90 mechanical keyboard.

The Logitech wireless was in fact a good keyboard, it worked as advertised, provided good battery life, and tactile feedback was decent. The only thing missing really, was back lighting. I often end up working on the computer ’til the wee hours of the morning, and realized my typing-in-the-dark would be so much more fun, if I had a keyboard with back lighting.

So, I got myself this aluminum cased, blue backlit mechanical keyboard by Corsair. Corsair, as you may know is mostly known for their RAM memory and HDD’s, but recently they have been making a splash in gaming accessories with their Vengeance line-up, with gaming mice, keyboards and headsets being the focus. The K90 is their attempt of making a mechanical gaming keyboard good enough for everyday heavy-duty typing — or maybe it’s the other way around: a mechanical keyboard built for heavy-duty typing that also excels in gaming?

My verdict so far: mmmkay. At $130, this is not exactly an inexpensive keyboard option, and it is one with some flaws and compromises.

If you are not familiar, mechanical keyboards are the sort of the tried-and-true old school option to the modern dome/membrane cheap(er) keyboards one can pick up anywhere from $10-$100. The K90 employs Cherry® MX Red key switches, i.e. there is a mechanical switch for each and every key — well, actually not quite, more on that later — allowing deeper key travel with an accompanying enjoyable (or annoying, depending on your preference) loudish click every time you press a key. The Cherry® MX Red is slightly quieter, and has slightly shallower travel, than a Cherry® Blue switch, and as such is a compromise between gaming performance and typing efficiency.

The K90 compromises where it employs the mechanical switches. Where the mechanical switches are actually not found, are in function key row, including the Esc key, the Insert/Delete/Home/End cluster, and the included programmable “G” keys on the very left of the keyboard. Most of the time my fingers are solidly on the QWERTY section of any keyboard, so not having mechanical switches on F-keys, or some less frequently ventured keyboard areas seem like not a big deal. But on that odd occasion when you do use a let’s say the “Home” or “Esc” key, you are treated with a not so clicking and free traveling keystroke, but instead more of a “thump”. Again, not really a deal breaker, but for the price, couldn’t Corsair just go all in with the Cherry switches and not skimp on here and there?

Now to the back lighting. I have an Alienware M11X I use extensively, with a decent backlit keyboard (granted to get it to work on my previous Arch Linux, and current Linux Mint installation, is, if not impossible, not exactly easy). It’s not exactly sophisticated, and with plenty of flashing lights and multitude of colors available, one might call it even cheesy. But for s sub-$1000 ultraportable, you can’t have the cake and eat it too. On the other hand, for a $130 purpose-built external keyboard (close to $150 in CA with taxes), you sort of want to eat the cake, and, you know… So why did Corsair give me measily three brightness levels for backlighting? 33%, 66% and 100% lighting levels. Or to translate, these will be “bright”, “brighter” and “other room lighting optional…”. Now the night-typing challenge is not how to see the keyboard, but how to match the screen and room brightness with very bright backlighting of the keyboard. The end result is workable, but again, c’mon Corsair, couldn’t you tone it down just a bit?

But all is not lost with the K90. When you type on it, it does feel like a solid, well-built quality product. I like the aluminum roller for volume control, as well as the minimalistic media playback buttons above the numeric keypad. I haven’t done much gaming with the K90 yet, so the programmable keys and configurations for games have yet to truly reveal themselves, but the glimpses I’ve gotten so far (for example, I’ve programmed several “G” keys for different web browsers, email client, DreamWeaver etc) indicate there’s much more this keyboard can bring to the table.

The K90, and its sibling, the K60, does offer mostly a good bang for your buck. These are Corsair’s intro to gaming keyboards, and as such, they will not be perfect. Even if you are not a gamer, but are just looking for a solid, backlit mechanical keyboard, the K90 is in my opinion, mostly worth the price premium.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for that great analysis.

    I also have a K90 and finally understand why some keys felt different!
    At one point, you mention running arch (or mint) and at another point, you mention programming the G keys.

    Did you manage to get the G keys working with Linux? If yes, could you please enlighten me on how you did it.

    Thanks 🙂

    • Hi there!

      I do indeed run Mint, and used to run Arch, but unfortunately no luck getting G-keys working. I don’t think Corsair has released Linux drivers for the K90, so the only way to take advantage of the G-shortcuts and macros is to use the keyboard with Windows.

  2. Thanks for the quick answer,

    I actually don’t plan running windows on my computer any time in the future.
    I imagined two possible ways that would allow the use the G keys on Linux, but didn’t have the time to dig deeper into these solutions so far. The first one relies on the control code that can be caught from a /dev/event interface, the second on the keyboard’s internal memory which appearantly might be configured using windows and then used with Linux (as precoded scripts).
    I’ll make sure to post it here if one of those work 🙂 (Though it’s unlikely I find the time to test those solutions before a few months).

    • I don’t blame you for a Linux-only approach. Only time I use Windows is for some intro programming classes I’m currently taking at UCLA Extension (class uses Dev-C++ for a C-compiler, and Visual Basic) yet my daily driver at the moment is Mac OS X — gasp! Though I don’t feel so guilty since I’m running it on a kick ass hackintosh 🙂

      You seem to have way more experience in Linux so I’ll let you worry about precoded scripts and control code; I have Ubuntu on VM and Mint on the laptop, and since I’m 1 for 4 just compiling a kernel, I think I should leave the deep stuff to the pros. But if/when you do find a G-key solution, please do post!

  3. Re,
    Found some free time and got it kinda working, I’m currently writing a script to manage it’s action a bit.
    I’m an economist rather than a geek, so the code is clumsy, but it might inspire others, I’ll share it in a few days when it has comments and examples.

    • I haven’t run your script yet, but I’ll report back on once I get the chance. Good effort and job well done nevertheless!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *