QPAD MK-90 review: a worthy flagship

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Today we’re looking at QPAD’s latest mechanical keyboard, the top-of-the-line MK-90. We found the mid-range MK-70 solid if uninspiring, but with fancy LED backlighting and some added features the MK-90 has a chance to do better. Let’s see whether these added features are worth the price premium!

Specifications

  • Kailh mechanical switches (red, soft linear)
  • Full N-Key rollover (NKRO)
  • 60 million keystroke lifetime
  • Per-key RGB LED backlighting w/ 16.8M colours
  • LED modes: breathing, trigger, explosion, random, audio, rainbow, custom
  • On the fly macro recording, repeat speed, profiles
  • Gold plated USB connector + 2m braided cable
  • 2x USB 2.0 + 2x 3.5mm audio passthrough
  • Media keys for volume control, play/pause, skip
  • Comes with key cap puller
  • 448 x 149 x 35mm, 1.27 kilograms

Design

 

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The MK-90 has a similar design to the MK-70 we looked at earlier this year. That means a few sloped sections, an unusual perforated texture around the status LEDs in the upper right, and plenty of QPAD branding.

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The layout is quite ordinary, which is always nice. A Function key in the lower right allows access to various controls – media, backlighting, macros. A numberpad is included on the right side, making for a relatively wide keyboard.

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While previous QPAD keyboards used Cherry MX switches, this latest effort has switched to Kailh switches. These are generally held in lower regard than Cherry despite being made to the same specifications, but they are much more readily available to manufacturers. This unit has Red switches, which offer a very light feel thanks to their low weighting (40g) and linear nature (no added bump or click, like Brown or Blue).

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The keycaps are made from thin ABS plastic, with laser-engraved legends that allow the backlighting to shine through and still remain readable when unlit.

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On the far side of the keyboard, you can see the passthroughs: two 3.5mm audio ports for your headphones and microphone, and two USB 2.0 ports for mice, USB drives and other peripherals. The two metre USB cable is gold-plated and braided for durability.

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The bottom of the keyboard includes the traditional flip-out legs and rubberised pads.

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Overall, there’s nothing I can really complain about with this design, except for its lack of originality. As I mentioned in the review of the MK-70, this same chassis is used by iOne, Rosewill and Max Keyboard, with only the branding differing between them. I’d really like to see QPAD make their own distinct design, rather than rely on what is the most convenient to use.

Software

Final drivers for the MK-90 have not yet been released. As the 0.98 beta drivers didn’t work properly on my Windows 10 test machine, software testing was instead performed on a Windows 8.1 laptop (the Gigabyte P37X).

While it’s possible to record macros and change lighting levels without using software, it’s necessary for customising each of the six profiles and access the different lighting modes.

There are seven different modes available:

  • Standard: All keys are the same colour and level
  • Breathing: LEDs slowly fade from max to zero and back
  • Trigger: keys light up when pressed, then fade to zero
  • Explosion
    • Pressed keys emit a horizontal shockwaves
    • Pressed keys emit a shockwave
  • Random
    • Individual keys are set to a random colour, and change periodically
    • All keys are set to a random colour, which changes quickly
  • Audio*: Keys are lit in the manner of a graphic equaliser
  • Rainbow: A rainbow wave goes across the keyboard
  • Customise: Choose the colour of each key yourself

* This mode didn’t seem to work at all, with no level of music playback producing anything other than a completely dim keyboard. This – and some crashes – should be fixed by the time the software exits beta.

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The modes are fairly similar to what we saw with the Tesoro Excalibur Spectrum. While it doesn’t quite approach Corsair or Razer’s assortment of modes, it is reasonably deep and it’s fun to try each one. The random (individual) setting was the standout choice for me, which produced a very cool sparkling pastel look.

Otherwise, the software is quite standard – you can set up macros and profiles, tweak the LED colours and set up automatic profile switching. It’s a little cleaner than Tesoro’s efforts, but less comprehensive than Corsair or Razer’s software.

Testing

We used the MK-90 for gaming and writing over the course of a week. Games played included Counter-Strike, Project CARS, and Wolfenstein: Old Blood.

Writing

As a writing keyboard, the red switches on this MK-90 were quite reasonable. The thin ABS keycaps didn’t feel as good as more expensive PBT alternatives, but everything worked well enough. The layout of the media controls was appreciated for quickly skipping tracks; as the media controls are directly above the Function key, it’s easy to press with only one hand. The wrist rest is also appreciated, although it could stand to be taller. All in all, a reliable keyboard for writing essays or long emails to grandma.

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Gaming

As a gaming keyboard the MK-90 has no real flaws. The red switches are well-suited to a range of games, particularly shooters and MOBAs, but ultimately the choice of switch is a personal one. N-Key rollover ensures that all of your presses will be registered, and the backlighting allows you to play in low light conditions without suffering a loss in accuracy.

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The new backlighting modes can be helpful here, particularly the custom setting. With this, you can colour keys used in a particular game to make learning them easier. For example, in a game like League of Legends, you could make your four abilities one colour (QWER), your summoner spells another colour (DF) and active item abilities yet another (1-3). Setting up a new custom backlighting layout takes time, but it can be helpful when you’re learning a game.

Conclusion

The MK-90 is clearly a strong mechanical keyboard, with all of the must-have features at the moment: mechanical switches, per-key RGB backlighting and powerful software, all packed into an attractive keyboard with a standard layout.

Ultimately, the question that we have to answer is this: does the MK-90 justify its higher price point (£115) over the MK-85 (£100) and the MK-70 (£75)? I’d say yes, largely down to the popularity and utility of per-key RGB backlighting. While the MK-90’s design and lightning modes could do with differentiation from other keyboards, QPAD have crafted an excellent keyboard that any gamer should be proud to own.

Pros

  • Per-key RGB backlighting is always welcome
  • Solid construction, some nice design touches
  • NKRO, media controls and profiles all prove useful
  • Red switches and a wrist rest keep things comfortable

Cons

  • Profile modes disable Windows key by default
  • Not very distinct: the same design is used by Rosewill, Max, Asus and iOne
  • Kailh switches are less trusted than Cherry alternatives
  • Software is buggy at times

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