The best way to test a keyboard isn’t with benchmarks or statistics – it’s about real world use. I used the keyboard for two weeks, using it for every game I played as well as all of my work as a blogger. Indeed, this very review was written on it.
These games were used:
- StarCraft II
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
- Battlefield 3
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Unreal Tournament 2004
- World of Tanks
The most important feature for any mechanical keyboard is the type of switches used. According to the Reviewer’s Guide issued with the K90, Cherry MX Red switches are the best kind of switches for gaming, compared with Blue, Black or Brown. This is a highly debatable point – things are much less cut and dry than this, and it’s mostly a question of personal preference.
Red switches are characterised by their low actuation force and linear action. That means that the keys can be pressed down quite easily, reducing the latency. It also means that it’s more important to be accurate in your key presses; as the keys can be pressed accidentally more easily due to the lower force required. Linear action is also perfectly acceptable for a gaming keyboard, but it is again a question of taste – you might prefer additional feedback via an audible click (Blues) or a tactile bump (Browns).
With this in mind, I personally found the Red switches quite fine. While my preference is for the tactile bump found in Brown and Blue switches, the light touch of Red switches are a nice bonus that make rapid actions very easy. While I made more mistaken keypresses in StarCraft II, I was also able to maintain a slightly higher APM then I did normally which counteracted this. The keyboard’s red switches seemed slightly more at home in shooters, where making mistakes due to a typo was less likely.
While I’m not a massive fan of macro keys, these seemed to be the best possible implementation. They’re hard to hit accidentally, still within easy reach, and give you more than enough options with 18 keys and 3 profiles for 54 keys in total. The software is also quite powerful, allowing you to easily construct as complex or as simple macros as you require.
The decision to spend more on the PCB to allow for 20 KRO, the maximum possible over USB, elevates the K90 over cheaper keyboards from Western brands such as the Razer BlackWidow. While WASD-optimisation is acceptable, it’s sometimes problematic for gamers that use a different cluster or play games that require more simultaneous key use than others.
The back-lighting is also a small benefit for late-night gaming. A choice of four levels is also welcome, as it means that you’re not forced to choose between being blinded or not seeing the keys at all. The disable-Windows-key button is also a welcome addition, as many games don’t offer this functionality as standard and there’s nothing worse than accidentally being booted back to the desktop at a critical moment.
One disappointment is that not all of the keys are mechanical switches, with the function keys, macro keys and insert/delete cluster instead using more normal rubber domes. While it’s easy to see why this decision has been made with the high cost of mechanical switches, it still does make it difficult to hit that odd function key or macro key during gameplay. It’s not the end of the world by any means, but it is a point against the Corsair K90.
Overall, this is an excellent keyboard for gaming, sporting effective red mechanical switches and a solid design. If you’d prefer a keyboard without macro keys, then the lower-priced Corsair Vengeance K60 may appeal to you (review on that forthcoming).
As with all other mechanical keyboards I’ve tried, typing performance far exceeds that of a rubber dome keyboard. While Red switches aren’t ideal for typing, as they lack the tactile bump of Browns or the audible click of Blues, their lightness does make them a good choice for long typing sessions.
While writing this review on the K90 has proceeded just fine, upon using my Filco Majestouch 2 with Browns, I’ve got to say I prefer the typing experience of the Filco overall. Still, if you’re upgrading from a rubber dome keyboard, then this certainly going to make writing more comfortable and satisfying. They say once you go mechanical you never go back, and the K90 is no exception.
The low actuation force of the Red mechanical switches makes this a good keyboard to recommend for comfort. The wrist rest also plays a large part in ensuring that long-term use is quite comfortable, so I’d advise using it if you’ve got the space. As far as the design goes, there’s nothing to complain about in terms of comfort – indeed, I’d say this is one of the most comfortable to use keyboards I’ve yet tried.
The media keys are one area which I cannot praise enough on this keyboard. As well as being well placed on the right hand side of the keyboard, making them easy to access, they’re also arranged quite logically. I’m not a big fan of buttons of differing sizes, so having all five buttons be the same size is a great benefit.
Where typical keyboard volume buttons have a tendency to be imprecise because of their digital input, the roller works excellently to provide proper analog input. This means you can move quickly from maximum to minimum volume, as well as perform more fine-grained adjustments by rolling slowly. This is also a very space efficient design, and I’m surprised it’s not found on more high-end keyboards.