ROCCAT’s designers have certainly gone to town on their latest keyboard offering; the exposed switches, low-profile keycaps, brushed aluminum backplate and, on the Vulcan 120 AIMO that I’ve been testing for the past few weeks, we get per-key RGB lighting that really brings out the beauty of ROCCAT’s AIMO system. All that combines to produce a keyboard that at first glance has brought forth many compliments from literally every visitor that has seen it in action. But a gaming keyboard has to be so much more than just looks alone and to give their customers an edge ROCCAT have engineered their own TITAN mechanical switches that they say respond 20% faster than the competition thanks to their debouncing mechanics combined with focused attention to the keyboard’s firmware.
Let’s take a look into why this keyboard invokes such a positive reaction at first glance, but first, the specs as seen on the Vulcan homepage…
ROCCAT Vulcan 120 AIMO Specifications & Features
General Specifications (shared with all Vulcan Keyboards)
|actuation point (tactile, silent)||1.8mm|
|switch travel distance||3.6mm|
|integrated macro & settings memory||512kb|
|All keys remappable|
|ROCCAT® Easy-Shift[+]™ technology|
|32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 based processor|
|ROCCAT® Swarm software suite|
Further Specifications (specific to the Vulcan 120 AIMO)
|RGB per-key illumination with 16.8m colors|
|Removable ergonomic palm rest|
|462mm x 235mm x 32mm dimensions|
ROCCAT Vulcan 120 AIMO Closer Look
The box design is pretty consistent across ROCCAT’s range of peripherals. The front features a prominent photo of the keyboard on a black background but aside from the branding and product name, there’s not a lot else.
Around the back of the box, we get a couple of different photos of the Vulcan 120, as well as an exploded image of the new ROCCAT Titan mechanical switch. There’s also plenty to read albeit repeated in multiple languages so less than at first glance. The box itself is fitted with cardboard protection rather than plastic or foam.
With the contents laid out, we can see that there’s not all that much in terms of bonus loot. ROCCAT have included some stickers as usual and the appropriate paperwork though. With our first look at the Vulcan 120 keyboard, we can see that it comes with a wrist rest which attaches by way of a magnetic strip.
The Vulcan 120 is the full-sized, full-featured version of this new range and with it plugged in we can see that there’s a substantial amount of light bleeding through the switches, even under the studio lights. Not everyone is going to appreciate this but it really does show off the AIMO intelligent lighting.
The backplate of the Vulcan 120 is exposed, brushed aluminum and the Titan switches are attached on top rather than the usual method of burying them below it. Part of the reason for the amount of light bleed is the way the switches have been installed, however here we can see those lightweight, low profile keycaps which also do nothing to shield your eyes from excess light.
The back of the keyboard is pretty sparse when it comes to features. The braided cable is firmly attached rather than being replaceable and there’s no cable routing or USB passthrough. What we do get though is an enormous amount of rubber padding on both the keyboard and the wrist rest to ensure that neither is going to slip and slide during frantic gameplay.
With the feet extended we can see that there are also fairly long rubber pads added here as well to give as much stability as possible.
Along Function row we also get things like profile selection, media, and multimedia keys. The FX key allows you to tune the keyboard’s lighting in conjunction with the volume dial if you choose not to use AIMO. At least that’s what’s supposed to happen, but whenever I tested this feature it would quickly crash ROCCAT’s Swarm software, so, for now, I would stick with just using the software itself to fine-tune your lighting or just leave it on AIMO.
Something new to ROCCAT’s keyboard lineup is the introduction of their Easy-Shift[+] technology that was previously found on their mice. Easy-Shift[+] replaces the functionality of the Caps Lock key when the Vulcan 120 is set to Game Mode and allows you to add even more macros, shortcuts and remapping to the 20 keys between 1-5-B-Z. Think of it as you would the CTRL key when using copy and paste in Word and you’ll get the idea. This extra functionality is on top of the ability to remap and set macros and shortcuts to almost every key to use in Game Mode (with normal functionality retained in normal use), changing the keyboard from 104 keys to somewhere in the region of 220 without the keyboard increasing in size.
Taking a look at the visible parts of the switch and the keycaps we can see that they feature the same Cherry-compatible connector which might suggest that the keycaps can be swapped out. Unfortunately, that is not the case here, you can use the keycaps themselves on a different keyboard, but standard size replacement caps won’t fit on the Vulcan range. Almost all of the larger keys feature stabilizer struts, the only exceptions are Tab and Caps Lock And the difference between those with and those without is very noticeable when you type.
The ROCCAT Vulcan 120 AIMO Software
The software that ROCCAT supply for setting up and tweaking the features of the Vulcan 120 is ROCCAT Swarm which I’ve written about a number of times in past reviews since the same software is used across ROCCATs peripherals. With the Vulcan 120 added to the PC it was quickly detected by Swarm and after a short update, it was ready to use.
The first thing I did was have a look at what built-in lighting profiles were available and check the customizability. As you might expect with per-key lighting, there’s a lot you can do whether it’s tweaking the existing profiles or creating your own lighting from scratch. The only thing you cannot tweak at all is AIMO, and although I am a huge fan of this technology I would still like to be able to dim the lighting in the evening, especially considering just how much bleed there is on the Vulcan. Maybe this is something that will be added in the future…
Moving backward we have the Key Assignment tab which is where you can assign different functionality or remapping within the Game Mode setting and also for the 20 Easy-Shift[+] keys. Remapping is as simple as selecting which key you would like to activate in place of the standard one, and macros and shortcuts can either be written yourself in the Macro Manager or selected from any of the 45 preset files for games such as the Battlefield series, World of Tanks / Warplanes / Warcraft, Skyrim, SW: TOR and many others.
Last on this brief software tour is the General Features tab which admittedly is pretty thin in terms of features. This is where you can adjust the repeat rate of keys, turn on audio for every keypress (handy if you have noise-canceling headphones but still want to heat a ‘click’). You’ll also be able to reset the keyboard back to its original settings on this tab.
The ROCCAT Vulcan 120 AIMO Review: The Verdict
Using the Vulcan 120 for the past few weeks have certainly been interesting. The low-profile design might be familiar to some of you, but with full-sized switches placed on top of the backplate it’s more the illusion of being low profile with the keys being at roughly the normal height for a mechanical keyboard. That said, the wrist rest certainly is low-profile and as a result, I found that it caused me to have to raise my hands much more than I was used to, which quickly caused fatigue in my wrists. It took more than a couple of weeks to get used to the new typing posture to the point that long gaming or typing sessions no longer made my wrists ache.
The new Titan switches which ROCCAT developed to use on this keyboard are fine for office use even though they are designed for gaming. Structurally there is a slight wobble but no more than many other boards I’ve used and I was pleased to see the stability of larger keys thanks to the use of extra struts. I’m not a touch-typist or competitive gamer and so I didn’t notice the speed benefits that ROCCAT claim goes hand in hand with these new switches; that said, they are noticeably less punishing, especially if you are typing an essay (or review) or gaming for a couple of hours. Whether that is because of the lighter keycaps or the switches themselves I cannot say, but it would make sense for it to be a combination of factors. I did find that getting used to the keyboard in terms of accuracy also took a couple of weeks and I regularly got double-strikes, most noticeably when pressing the Space Bar. This was probably because of the different posture since they went away in time.
It is in gaming that the Vulcan 120 really comes alive. Using the Game Mode I was able to turn off individual keys that I tend to press accidentally when gaming and the added bonus of Easy-Shift meant that commands in MMOs which are normally spread across the whole keyboard were easily in reach of my left-hand meaning I could activate them faster and still keep my right hand on the mouse to control movement, targeting and the camera. I’ve used Easy-Shift on the Kone AIMO mouse but because the Easy-Shift is pressed by your thumb you cannot trigger the other 2 side buttons as a combo. There’s no such problem on the Vulcan though as the furthest you need to spread your fingers is between the Caps Lock key and B.
Ever since I first saw ROCCAT’s AIMO system I’ve been anticipating the release of a compatible keyboard with per-key lighting. It was one of my main complaints about the Horde keyboard with its lamentable 12-zones, and the Khan headset with 4 LED sections but only 1 lighting zone. I was not disappointed with the Vulcan 120 in this respect, and being a fan of RGB I’m really not put off by the amount of floodlighting that’s involved with this keyboard. I still think that there is room for improvement, and allowing brightness control rather than an all or nothing approach would be another important step forward, especially for those who are perhaps not such fans of RGB goodness but still want to experience the beauty of AIMO.
Lastly a note on the packaging… With more and more focus on the problems of microplastic, it’s nice to see that some companies are using effective, biodegradable alternatives, although it should be noted that ROCCAT has never used much plastic in their keyboard packaging. There is still more that could be done, such as using a paper sleeve to hold the paperwork and forgoing the plastic bag that shields the keyboard from that single spec of dust that might appear before it makes its way into the box. All in all, I’d give this a 4/5 for eco-friendliness.
- Stunning design and an abundance of quality RGB-ness
- Comfortable typing experience after you get used to the low wrist rest
- Very useful gaming features
- Some users will be unhappy with the amount of light-bleed
- Low-profile wrist rest could prove to be uncomfortable at the start
Priced at around £140 in the UK ($200 on Newegg) the ROCCAT Vulcan 120 AIMO is not what you could call cheap, but considering the gaming features that are on offer, the quality of the new Titan switches and the overall aesthetic, it’s not too much to pay. If you are on a budget and want a reliable mechanical keyboard you can save a lot of cash with other keyboards, but if you want the benefits of Game Mode, Easy-Switch and an abundance of RGB wrapped up in a very stylish product then run to the nearest web browser shouting ‘Shut Up and Take My Money!’.
The Vulcan 120 gets our Design Award not only for its overall attractiveness but also for the very comfortable Titan switches engineered in-house. I have struggled to find anything that’s not right with this keyboard; it’s a game changer in gaming compared to any number of keyboards that simply rely on profiles or macro keys, it looks amazing, it’s comfortable to use (after a burn-in period), the build quality is great and the asking price is not too high. And so, this offering from ROCCAT also gets our coveted Platinum Award.
Thanks to ROCCAT for sending a sample of the Vulcan 120 in for review.