Today I get my hands on a “mechanical keyboard”. A what? Well, let me do a little explaining and no, before you ask, it isn’t made of iron, doesn’t run on steam and doesn’t have cogs whirring in the background. A mechanical keyboard uses actual switches for each and every key on the board as opposed to the “cheaper to manufacture” dome-switch style or membrane style keyboards we see in the mass market today. These more common, dome-switch, boards use rubber domes to make contact with the electronics underneath to register your key strokes. The membrane part of it comes from a large silicone layer that sits between the key on the keyboard and the circuitry underneath. As the key sits on top of this dome and is pressed, the signal is sent and the dome pushes the key back to where it’s supposed to sit. It’s all very quick and clickety click.
A mechanical key however, uses real switches to provide the user with a more positive and tactile feedback when pressed. This means that these types of keyboard are more expensive than dome-switched keyboard because of the manufacturing process. That said, they have excellent durability and they have a sturdy, rugged feel to them like they could actually last for years and are generally worth the extra outlay.
The unit I’ll be reviewing is the QPAD MK-50 Pro Gaming keyboard. QPAD have 3 gaming keyboards in their arsenal, the MK-50, MK-80 and MK-85. There is only a very slight difference between them, the MK-80 has blue backlit keys and the MK-85 has red backlit keys and is also able to take programming requests from the supplied software. The MK-80 and MK-85 also have USB 2.0 ports built into them as well as 3.5mm jacks for a headset out and microphone in. There is a real difference in price however as the MK-80/85 are over twice the price of the MK-50.
The key features for the MK-50 are a 1.8m USB cable, which makes this great for low latency. It's 44.8cm wide, 14.9cm deep and sits 3.5cm at its highest. You can add another 6.6cm towards you for the wrist pad and that sits at 1.7cm high. It does weigh an impressive 1.27kg which is great for a heavy use keyboard like this. I can’t count the amount of times I have pushed my keyboard away from me when in the heat of Battlefield 2!
There are 4 extra “red” keys and a key puller to remove the keys and put these in their place. Not sure how much value these add as when I’m playing games, I don’t really notice my fingers, I just “do” and the game goes on. I suppose these could be good for placing in strategic areas for combo presses, that may help but I’ve yet to come across that situation.
It already has media keys such as volume, play and pause etc assigned to F1 through F6. Another thing to mention is the manufactures 2 year warranty with this which should give you some confidence about its durability. Their website claims 50 million keystrokes which to put in perspective is about 10 games of BF3 for me!
The unit itself is very tightly packaged. It’s a keyboard so doesn’t have a lot of things in the box. You will spend more time tidying away the tie wraps and clearing a space on your desk than you will unpacking the product. The USB cable is quite chunky and has a nice 1.8m length to it and so it has plenty of room to navigate its way through all of the cable tidies and monitor hoops you may have and make its way to its new home. It also comes with a PS/2 to USB converter dongle as the native end of the cable is PS/2. It’s a good quality one and fits very snugly in but as ever, be careful when using these as if you bend the pins, you’ve had it.
I will be plugging this keyboard in straight away into a Dell Latitude E6510 laptop. It’s running Windows 7 64bit with SP1. This machine has an i5 @ 2.67Ghz and 8Gb of RAM so it’s a middle of the road laptop in terms of spec. I get 4.6 on the Windows Performance Index for those who really want to know.
I will be using this keyboard in a number of tests, the mainstay of which shall be what the keyboard is designed for, games. Skyrim will be my first candidate since you never stop pressing keys on that. My next test will be Battlefield 3 as this is a more intense keyboard mash fest and it may well get a good beating from me as I get pwned regularly. However, the first test is already underway and that is writing this review!
My home office looks like it's sponsored by Dell. I have a Dell KB-212B keyboard which compared to the laptop keyboard is far superior, both are membrane style keyboards. My only comparative tests are that I have already played BF3, Skyrim and written an entire technical manual with the same keyboards.
Conclusion, from open to close
The keyboard was plugged into my USB powered 10 port hub on my desktop. Windows recognised it immediately and within a few seconds was available for use. The first thing I noticed about the feel of the keys is that they are vastly different to my existing “membrane” keyboard. It isn’t “clicky” nor does it sound like I’m using a type writer. It has a more tactile soft sponge feel to it. Very quiet. I do seem to be having a few typo issues as I write this as I seem to be letting my fingers linger on the keys too long resulting in double strokes. I just don’t think I am used to this type of keyboard as I seem to be waiting for the “click” before my fingers move on to the next key. There is some kind of link as when I type and I hear the click, I can relate to the amount of keys I have pressed with counting the sound. The MK-50 doesn’t click so I have to check what I’m typing more often that I currently do. Saying that, this is a gaming keyboard and probably not made for writing an entire manual or review! I do like it though, it’s well styled and moulded and also has a “stealth fighter” look to it. The keyboard itself is weighty, it’s not moved an inch yet on my desk.
To BF3 then. Well, I only managed to play one round, a basic no frills round. The WASD set are silent and quick to respond. It feels as if your fingers roll from one to the other and is actually quite nice without the click sound. You don’t seem to notice any double strikes like when typing as obviously, this doesn’t matter. My only niggle is the left shift key seems to be fractionally shorter than my existing one which caused me to miss a few times and hit the adjoining “\”. That may be just me because I’m not very good anyway and could be down to my cack handedness!
For Skyrim I didn’t really notice a whole lot as this is pure WASD mashing and I was already used to this in BF3. The angle of the function keys do seem higher. With the rear legs extended I found myself stubbing my finger against the side wall of the function keys and slight moving the keyboard away from me. What I did find though is if you attach the included wrist rest, this just does not happen. The weight of your hand on this rest causes further down force on the keyboard which is great.
For under £60, it might seem steep for a keyboard however the quality and feel is very good. For double the price, I can see the attraction to the MK-80 and MK-85 with the additional features and for me what sells it is the backlit keys. If you are looking for a backlit keyboard then also check out the Ducky DK-9008 Shine II as this has adjustable brightness and programmable keys so that your room doesn’t light up like an bedroom in Amsterdam.
It is a very solid, no frills mechanical keyboard for under £60 and with that you just can’t go wrong with. If you can’t decide if you want to go for a more expensive board, then get this and get used to it. I think that after a few weeks of use, you will then be able to make your mind up on whether or not is was a good buy. Yes, I would heartily recommend this for gaming but probably not for an everyday use maybe such as writing or programming as the feedback that I like just isn’t there. So if you are a gamer then you need a mechanical keyboard and this one is a perfect price.