Review: Cooler Master MK850 Keyboard (Hardware)
Before I'd begun my cavalcade of keyboard reviews for this site, the words "mechanical keyboard", "Cherry-MX", and "red/blue/brown switches" had no meaning to me. They were merely descriptors for a topic that felt far too niche for my preferences, as I obliviously typed on a rubber-domed keyboard. Then, I got my hands on my first mechanical keyboard, and suddenly, all the hype and particularities behind expensive gaming keyboards made sense. Fast-forward a handful of months later, and now, I'm writing my fifth keyboard review for GBAtemp. Previously, we've seen gimmicky, budget, elitist, ultra-slim, and split keyboards, so what more could there possibly be awaiting us in the grand world of fancy keyboards? We're about to find out, with the Cooler Master MK850.
Cooler Master is known as a reliable brand in the PC building world, though mostly for their namesake, in the field of CPU fans and well-ventilated computer cases. In recent years, they've stepped up their game, offering a variety of PC gaming accessories, ranging from headphones to keyboards. This keyboard in particular, the MK850, is one of their flagship products, as reflected by the massive price tag of $179.99. While the price tag is certainly startling, Cooler Master brings something new to the table with the MK850, and for some, it might just be a major game-changer when it comes to mouse-and-keyboard gaming. What could demand such a cost? Well, the answer is simple: analog keys. Cooler Master has added aimpad technology to this keyboard, becoming the second-ever (following the Wooting One) keyboard to have analog input, and giving it the ability to sense how far down you press a given key. This is comparable to the way that a controller's triggers work, with the player having full control over the amount of pressure they're putting in, which is incredibly useful for accelerating in racing games, or carefully sneaking up step-by-step behind enemies.
From the gigantic size of the packaging, to the sharp angles of the keyboard itself, Cooler Master has created an imposing piece of hardware. The MK850 is heavy, due in part to its shiny metal frame, and because it's a full-size keyboard, with all the trappings one should expect; macro keys, media controls, and a numpad are all present. Also included is a much-appreciated wrist-rest, which has magnets that keep it firmly secured to the front of the keyboard. The wrist-rest is quite possibly the best one I've ever used, being slim, but soft and padded enough to relieve fatigue when typing for extended periods.
On the very top of the keyboard are two wheels (volume and brightness) and five media buttons (play/pause, fast forward, rewind, mute, and RGB toggle). They're placed in a rather difficult spot to get at--you have to reach behind the Function keys--making them uncomfortable to press at a moment's notice. They'd be better off located on the right-hand side, where there aren't a top row of keys in the way of anything, but I digress. Regardless of placement, it's nice to have a volume knob on a keyboard, two even, in this case, and their large size and interesting design make them stand out, and give the keyboard a unique look. As an added bonus, two USB 3.0 ports are located just off to the right of the media keys, a great place to plug in any small dongles or headsets.
These days, you can't have a "gamer" keyboard without massive amounts of RGB, and the MK850 is no different. The black keycaps contrast nicely with the silver plate of the keyboard, but the visual appeal rockets upward, the moment you plug it in, and see those bright colors light the keyboard up. I'm a sucker for lighting effects, and this keyboard has it in droves, especially due to the slightly raised keys that allow the light to leak out underneath. Overall, it's a superb-looking keyboard, even if you don't like RGBs and turn them off.
Underneath those keycaps are high-quality Cherry MX red switches, widely considered as the best of the best, when it comes to gaming. They're not knock offs or imitations--these are the real deal, being quiet, yet having that nice springy feel that mechanical keyboards are known for. Each keystroke is delightfully smooth, and although I personally prefer brown switches overall for my typing experience, the reds are perfect for gaming. These switches are even more ideal for playing on, as they're slightly modified to have a slightly lower actuation point than your average Cherry MX reds, meaning you need less force to register a key-press, so your fingers will be able to lightly dance across the keyboard with minimal effort, registering every input. There's enough travel to be satisfying to press with solid feedback--unlike ultra-slim chicklet reds--while still retaining a good level of responsiveness.
- Layout: ANSI (US)/ISO (UK)
- Eight analog aimpad keys
- Switch type: Cherry MX Reds
- Connection: Removable USB-C cable
- Polling rate: 1000hz
- Warranty: 2 years
- Programmable macros via keyboard or software
- Weight: 1,092 grams
Now, on to the important part: the aimpad technology. Eight keys--QWER and ASDF--have special sensors that can tell exactly how far a key has been pressed downwards. Rather than a regular keyboard, which can only tell whether something has been pressed or hasn't, the MK850 essentially remaps these keys to that of an Xbox controller's left analog stick, and the L/R triggers. A slight press of the key will get your character to gradually inch forward, while holding it down fully will result in a sprint. For racing games, this means that you can actually control the amount of acceleration, or how hard you want to brake, just like you can with a gamepad. Cooler Master provides four different profiles for genres of games that can make the most of out this technology: racing, FPS, MOBA, and flight sims.
Previously, the concept of playing Forza Horizon 4 on a keyboard sounded like a complete and total nightmare, but with the MK850, I found that the overall experience was comparable to a controller. It was especially useful in situations where games such as Grand Theft Auto V or Watch_Dogs 2 had regular controls on a keyboard, yet featured driving segments. Using the M-keys on the left side of the keyboard, I was easily able to switch between my normal mapping and a profile specifically for driving. There is a bit of a learning curve, and it takes some time to adjust to how much pressure you need to exert on the keys, but all in all, Cooler Master knocked it out of the park with implementing analog control in a keyboard.
Even though you can set macros and change your RGBs on the keyboard itself, Cooler Master still supports the MK850 through its Portal software. Just like most generic gaming accessory proprietary programs from larger companies, it works, to enough of a degree that it can be considered functional, and it won't hog resources nor will it constantly need to be running in the background, but it does have the odd hiccup or crash from time to time. By using Portal, you also get access to a number of bonus RGB lighting effects, key remapping, a tab that shows all your macros, and a control panel to fine-tune the analog keys. Most useful of all is the ability to save profiles, for easy access to all your custom settings and bindings.
Cooler Master's MK850 keyboard is not only well-built, nice to type on, and generally a quality piece of hardware, but it also comes with a very unique feature. However, the aimpad analog function is still a tad gimmicky, and won't really surpass just using a controller in certain games, making it hard to fully recommend. Despite that, it's impossible to deny just how great of a keyboard that Cooler Master has come up with. If you're a keyboard purist and have ever wanted to get an extra layer of control in your games, and don't mind the cost, then the MK850 might be right up your alley.
+ Cherry MX switches that are smooth to type on
+ Built as solid as a tank
+ Analog aimpad technology
- Awkward placement of media keys
out of 10
Analog input puts this keyboard above the rest in terms of pure control. But even then, sometimes games are just best played with a controller. That makes the Cooler Master MK850 a bit of a mixed bag; on one hand, there are some games that make great use of the aimpad technology, but for the price, you could also just pick up a cheaper keyboard and controller together. Whether or not the MK850 is something you'll want depends entirely on how much you game with a mouse and keyboard, but if you do decide to take the plunge, you'll be certain to get a solid keyboard, regardless.