Hands-on: Corsair Gaming's new K70 is the first RGB-backlit Cherry MX keyboard

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Hot on the heels of Logitech's G910 Orion Spark keyboard announcement last week, Corsair's rebranding its entire peripheral depart to "Corsair Gaming" and releasing its own RGB-enabled keyboard: the K70 RGB. The difference? Corsair gets to keep those sweet, sweet Cherry MX switches. It's a backlit mechanical keyboard arms race, and I'm all too happy to watch it play out.

See, Logitech's Orion Spark uses exclusive Romer-G switches. You can read a bit more about them here, but basically it's a mod to the no-longer-under-patent Cherry MX design. Instead of the iconic Cherry MX stem, the center of the key is hollow allowing for smooth and even backlighting. The cost? At least to my fingers, the Romer-G switches feel a bit more rubber dome-esque than I prefer.

But there's a reason for Logitech's exodus—up until recently there was no RGB Cherry switch, and not due to lack of demand. According to Corsair, "Due to the current design of the Cherry MX switch, there is only room for a single 3mm LED that could mount directly onto the key switch." An RGB LED requires five millimeters of space, by contrast.

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Corsair really wanted RGB backlighting though, so it worked with Cherry to solve the problem. The pair found that if they mounted the LEDs directly to the circuit board and used a lens to refract light, they could keep the iconic stem design and feel of the Cherry MX switches while still enabling full RGB backlighting.

Hands-on with Corsair's K70 RGB keyboard

It worked, as far as I can tell. I've got a Cherry Red K70 hooked up to my desktop rig right this moment, and I couldn't tell the difference between it and another Cherry Red board I had lying around. They feel identical, and pulling the keycaps off does indeed reveal that same Red stem.

As for the lighting on the K70, it's impressive though not without some weird design choices. Instead of recessing the keys into the casing, the K70's keys all jut out from the base. In other words, you can see underneath all the keys. You know—where all the light comes from in this new switch design. This results in a lot of light bleed from the sides of each key, which can be distracting. Also, due to the nature of RGB LEDs any keys that are set to White will bleed a bit of green out the top edge, which is unpleasant.

And for whatever reason, the K70 doesn't actually switch off when I put my computer to sleep. I don't know if that's intended or not, but I have to manually kill the backlighting in order to stop the thing from shining all night.

On the other hand, Corsair's built some intuitive software to go along with this device, and it's easy to set up anything from a solid background color to a WASD/Shooter control scheme that pulses quietly to a setup that sends waves for each key press to...well, complete visual chaos. You can just keep adding layers of lights until your eyes bleed, though you can only have a maximum of sixteen distinct colors on the board at a time.

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Too lazy to make your own lighting scheme? Corsair allows you to import/export whatever you'd like, and is partnering with a few e-sports teams to, for example, make a keyboard set-up in that team's colors.

Similar to Logitech, Corsair is also putting out an SDK for the keyboard so developers can integrate the new lighting features into games—for instance, turning your entire keyboard into a health bar that fades from green to red as you take damage.

Sounds like a fantastic keyboard, right? Just like Logitech's Orion Spark, however, I expect the price to be the point where you choke: $170 for the K70 and $190 for the K95 (which adds eighteen dedicated macro keys to the left side, though both the K70 and K95 allow you to set a macro on any key, both on press and release). That $170 flies in a bit underneath Logitech's $180 offering but still, holy mother of expensive peripherals.

We'll have a more extensive review sometime soon, but at the end of the day Corsair's K70 is a Cherry MX keyboard with full RGB backlighting, and it's the only such keyboard on the market. For now, Corsair's your only option if both those features are important to you.

A new name, a new logo, a new era

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As I mentioned at the top, the K70 is just part of Corsair's new "Corsair Gaming" rollout, which ditches the old name, the old logo, and symbolizes a focus on name recognition. Corsair's reps admitted to me that they're more known for their internal hardware than their peripherals, and this new onslaught of devices is their attempt to turn that around.

So alongside the K70 and K95's release today Corsair's also putting out the M65 RGB mouse, which seems exactly the same as the previous M65 model except it has programmable three-zone backlighting and features the new Corsair Gaming logo.

And then there are the H1500 and H2100 headsets. Both feature 7.1 Dolby Surround with 50 millimeter drivers, and I was told they feature a "fun" audio footprint—not flat response, but not as bass-boosted as something like Beats. The H1500 is wired, the H2100 wireless, and they retail for $80 and $100 respectively. I'll be doing a review of both in the coming weeks, but if they're even halfway decent headsets then that's a really impressive price point to fly in at.

Overall, it's a big push by Corsair. A really big push.

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