On Today’s table we have a rather interesting piece of gaming hardware; a mechanical keyboard. As any gamer knows, good accurate feedback from peripherals is of utmost importance when gaming, and today’s review focuses on a top end gaming keyboard: the MK-85,from the Swedish peripheral outfit QPAD.
In the arena of peripherals, QPAD is definitely a veteran, with their introduction to the market in the early the 90s and a drive to bring top gaming grade gear to the aspiring and professional Quake gamers, QPAD have made themselves rather prolific with their high quality peripherals. What I have today however is their current iteration of fruits of QPAD’s labour over the years: The MK-85. The MK-85 is their top end mechanical keyboard, boasting a rather long list of features and perhaps more intriguing, holds claim to the “worlds first NKRO keyboard via USB only”.
Coming in at £100, the MK-85 is certainly a threat as far as competitors in the mechanical keyboard business are concerned. For anyone unfamiliar with ‘mech’ keyboards, they tend to command a higher-price than your average keyboards due to the higher standard of build quality, the use of individual switches as opposed to the singular PCB “rubber-dome” keyboards, a sturdier construction and usually boasts a higher degree of tactile feel depending on the switch type. In other words, mechanical keyboards are technically a luxury item, but one that can definitively enhance the experience behind a desk.
N Key Roll over:
|Cherry MX mechanical switch technology|
Full N-Key roll over via USB
Individual LED backlight on every key for enhanced visuals
Four levels of brigthness allow you to locate keys easily
Gold plated USB connectors for extremly low latency
Media keys for volume control, play, pause and skip tracks
Two high speed USB 2.0 ports
3.5mm headphone-out and microphone-in jacks
1.8 meter braided cable
4 extra orange key caps and key cap puller
Keyboard: 44,8 x 14,9 x 3,5 cm (17,6 x 5,8 x 1,37 inch)
44,8 x 6,6 x 1,7 cm (17,6 x 2,48 x 0,66 inch)
1.27 Kg (2.8 LBS)
Customizable profiles, programmable keys and macro recording
One may wonder about why the price tag of a mechanical keyboard is rather high. That question of course lies in the use of individual Cherry MX switches, which incidentally is the focal point of this keyboard. Due to the rather varied nature of Cherry MX switches this review will focus on one type of switch instead of the wide varieties that range from: Blue (tactile+clicky), Brown (tactile), Black (silent + heavy), Red (light + silent). There are other variations as well but for now we focus on the switches used in the MK-85 – which I will try and briefly elaborate further.
This particular model (3202-MK85-NO-Red) of the MK-85 comes with Cherry MX Red switches. MX Red switches, for the sake of simplicity, are the most ‘gamer orientated’ mechanical switches in common circulation. The key presses with red switches require the lightest force in comparison to other switches and so are ideal for quick and multiple key presses.
For those interested in extra information, a good run-down and comparison of switches can be found here and anyone considering a mechanical keyboard should check it out.
With the introduction out of the way let’s take a closer look at the MK-85 itself.
First up naturally is the outer packaging of the MK-85.
The MK-85 is presented in clean package with the ever-common red and black gaming theme. I’m unsure whether this is red due to the red switches or if it’s the standard Mk-85 colour scheme – not that it matters much as the inside of the box is what really concerns us..
The rear of the box presents the specifications tabled in the introduction along with stickers denoting what switch and key layout the MK-85 uses.
The underside offers up snapshots of the MK-85’s features.
Last but not least is the internal packaging. The keyboard itself is extremely well packaged and tucked away by QPAD with plenty of foam padding and a plastic covering to ensure it arrives on your doorstep unspoilt.
Next up is the Mk-85 itself.
First impressions are that the keyboard looks sleek and professional. Upon picking it up, one may notice that there is a considerable weight to the MK-85 that instills confidence in the product suggesting the MK-85 is a well built and solid offering. The matte black “stealth” aesthetic is a rather nice addition and helps to keep the MK-85 less gaudy and more professional. I would find it hard to picture an environment where this wouldn’t look slick. Obviously QPAD are going after the no-frills type of gamer given that there is no LCD screen or extra areas located next to the Caps Lock key dedicated to gaming functions you may see on some other high end gaming boards. While some may decry this and consider the lack of extra features a negative, I find that the minimalist approach works quite well for the MK-85.
Upon flipping over this weighty keyboard we see the clean bottom with rubber feet and adjustable legs. The legs have two levels of height adjustment that will suit most people’s needs. As for the rubber feet, the feet provided a solid grip during my time with the keyboard. It never slid or moved under heavy typing or gaming sessions, a definite plus given the tendency for cheap keyboards to shuffle around in use.
The immense build quality doesn’t end with the keyboard itself however. Upon plugging in the keyboard I was taken back by how thick the cable leading out of the MK-85 is. You can get a sense of scale by comparing it to the keys underneath but I’d wager it’s roughly as thick as a PSU kettle lead and to boot the braiding is solid, a rather nice touch that shows good attention to detail.
The MK-85’s I/O section is a low-key affair offering two USB 2.0 ports, a mic-in and headphone out jacks, nothing too spectacular.
In the top right corner we see the usual “lock” lights and due to the hub and the headphone jack, we also see decently sized labels for each plug, an addition that is frankly quite welcome given that many keyboards tend to neglect the labeling. There is one difference on the MK-85 however, the scroll lock has made way for the MK-85’s ‘G’ light which fires up when gaming mode is enabled. In other words it’s an indicator for when you’re in macro mode.
For those interested, a close up of the keys. The un-illuminated keys still retain a nice and easy to read grey lettering for day time if you choose not to use the lighting option.
The included accessories are 3 replaceable orange keys for WASD, a key puller, driver CD,and quickstart/warranty guide. As you can see the MK-85 also ships with a palm/wrist rest. I found the design not necessarily effective comfortable but it’s nice to have it included anyway.
Last but not least are some shots of the MK-85 in operation. Note the pretty lights.
The MK-85 has four light modes which you can switch between quite fast by holding the Fn key and tapping up or down on the numpad. Naturally modes 1-3 are different brightness settings and 4 is a slow pulse between settings 1-4. From using it I didn’t find the lighting to be too distracting although perhaps the maximum setting is too bright. Nonetheless, there aren’t any obvious uneven spots of lighting for the keyboard so that’s definitely a plus.
So far the MK-85 is a superbly presented piece of kit on the hardware front. However is the software side of things up to the same standard?
The software side of the MK-85, sadly, isn’t as refined as the hardware. The software isn’t terrible, but it seems to suffer from a few niggles and limits imposed by the hardware; the most obvious being the need to use the Fn and F12 key to get the G indicator glowing in order to use any of the assigned gaming functions. Nevertheless, the software isn’t necessarily awful as it is sadly unrefined.
The first and probably most pertinent problem with the software is the speed. The software is terribly slow in use. Switching between profiles, returning to default values and so on all seem to take 3/4 seconds to kick-in, far too long for a gaming keyboard, especially one that costs a decent amount as well.
Secondly, due to lack of a dedicated side array of keys and the rather limited key nature of the MK-85 (compared to other larger gaming keyboards), assigning gaming functionality comes at the cost of losing a default key. For the most part you could probably get away with using the numpad for all ten M buttons but it may be worth bearing in mind that there are’t enough keys to really go around if you have specific game needs that require a lot of game function keys. Furthermore gaming mode also mean you lose F7-F11 as these are reserved for profiles.
Onto the MK-85 program itself, there are five profiles to switch between with the MK-85’s software and each one can have it’s own layout and macros. To be honest, the extent with which you can customise each key layout for each specific profile is actually rather thorough and impressive. The problem with the extensive customisation however is that the affair is rather cumbersome and time consuming. As to the software the basic gist is that the 10 assignable M buttons can be any of the keys which you have to select with the mouse – everything but the macro builder is done with mouse point and clicks. QPAD certainly aren’t the first to do this but it is ever so annoying that you can’t just tap a key to manipulate the software and making this a mouse-only affair is not only annoying but rather time consuming as well.
For example, to begin customising your MK-85, you have to click M1, then click a key on the virtual MK-85, then click an option from the drop down menu presented (in my example the ‘Find’ function), then click on said function to select the first key. Now imagine repeating this process repeatedly for the multiple keys and then multiple profiles. It’s clumsy and just simply not well designed.
The M key assignment is honestly far too slow and probably needs a reevaluation. On the other hand, if you choose to apply a macro to any of the M buttons you’re presented with the following:
The macro suite on the bright side delivers all it needs to. You can input a seemingly infinite number of commands and edit the delay between them although there appears to be no option to edit the amount of time a key is pressed. An omission that is a little odd given the premium nature of the keyboard, but at the very least the main part of the macro suite works well enough.
Aesthetically the software isn’t bad, the layout isn’t complicated and it’s rather understated if a little boring and uninformative. When customising, the associated M button and key have a purple glow but it isn’t immediately obvious to the eye, arguably, much like the function setup.
The software may not be up to the standards of the hardware but nevertheless there is no point in further delaying to see how the Mk-85 performed in actual usage.
The MK-85’s performance, for me, can only be summed up as “wow”. Having never used a mechanical keyboard before the MK-85 I didn’t really know what to expect and admittedly, I thought the MK-85 was going to be no different from a normal rubber dome keyboard and just an over-hyped and expensive peripheral that makes comparatively more noise.
The first thing to notice however is that it took a few days for the MK-85’s difference to “break in.” But after getting used to the key presses and response, the MK-85 became a satisfying joy to use. Typing is much faster and accurate with the only way I feel I can describe the key response as “laser-like.” Every keystroke is instantaneous so to speak. Normally I am prone to typos of all manners while typing but I know that for some inexplicable reason, my typos definitely reduced in frequency over the course of my time reviewing the MK-85 whilst my word-per-minute has also increased. The crispness and responsiveness of the keyboard really does do wonders, the hype is definitely something to believe in.
The increase in typing accuracy for me was also critical for gaming as my current game of choice, League of Legends (LoL), more often than not requires you to type to your team-mates. Having the ability here to both type faster and more accurately than I could before had a definite positive effect on team communication. It’s hard to quantify, but I know indirectly my performance in game was better just due to the rapid fire nature of being able to call out ward placements and suggestions without having to hit backspace every few words.
The noise typically associated with mechanical keyboards of all varieties – some worse than others – didn’t appear a factor to me either. Compared to the rubber-dome generic offering I used previously, I would describe the MK-85 as sounding different rather than discernibly louder.
In terms of gaming performance itself, I feel like there may have been a few issues where the NKRO wasn’t in full effect. I spent a good portion of the Battlefield 4 beta with the MK-85 and never noticed the any issues with key presses not registering, such as spotting enemies whilst sprinting, but LoL, on the other hand, would have a few instances where an ability didn’t go off when it should have. Admittedly, I only noticed the possible mishaps during the first few days of using the MK-85, whereas in the past week or so i’ve not noticed the issue in around 30+ hours of LoL. The past week or so has also included a move towards ‘smart/self-casting’ my abilities when playing LoL, which generally means you’d always have the Ctrl or Alt key pressed in addition to your usual key presses. Again, ‘smart/self-cast’ has worked fine compared to my original issues – perhaps the initial faults were just down to getting used to the MK-85.
To refer back to the inspection of the MK-85, the build quality also deserves a mention. I type quite heavy handed and the MK-85 has certainly taken a battering the past two weeks I’ve used it. Regardless I have absolutely no qualms it will last ten years through usage even as a workhorse gaming keyboard. Everything has worked out the box too -including the USB and audio hubs that I tried without installing the driver.
The lighting is also a boon too. Personally, I found any of the settings above ‘1’ to be too jarring and bright, but the lowest setting is perfect for use during the night shift without being distracting or even looking unsightly. QPAD have definitely delivered completely on the aesthetics of the MK-85 and the lighting option and implementation is no exception.
The performance of the MK-85 then is excellent, but how do I feel the MK-85 stacks up completely? We’ll find out in the conclusion.
To conclude, the QPAD MK-85 is an absolutely blazing piece of equipment. The keyboard is well built, competitively priced and performs great. I honestly don’t think the QPAD’s design and package couldn’t be any better.
There is however still one sticking point. On the bright side, there only is one and that is the software. QPAD’s software is honestly dire when compared to the rest of the package. The cumbersome nature of it, and the limited function leaves a minor, bitter taste because you only end up in the MK-85 software suite after having your mits all over the fantastic hardware. I’m not a huge macro user myself so the majority of my time was spent outside of the suite, but it would be a shame for anyone to miss out on the MK-85 due to the software not being up to scratch for someone’s requirements. The performance and functionality aspect of the software is probably something QPAD should look into as fixing the performance issues and the layout shouldn’t take too much time.
With the negatives gone, now come the positives. As one can tell, I love this keyboard. After all I’ve been gushing over it since the review began! The keyboard itself is perfect, it looks, feels, and performs like a premium item made for professional gaming. It’s priced competitively for a fully mechanical keyboard (not all mechanical keyboards have all mechanical switches) and it is priced so on it’s own merits, as opposed to being a cheaper, secondary option. If you spend a lot of time typing, for business or pleasure, I can’t recommend highly enough casting your eyes towards the MK-85 as a next purchase.
If there’s anything to take away from the MK-85 for someone new to mechanical keyboards, I feel inclined to suggest that upgrading to a mechanical keyboard is akin to the ‘SSD of peripherals’. In that you have to use one and familiarize yourself with it before you can fully appreciate it. Afterwards, you won’t want to go back to your old items despite the premium you have to pay.
To sound off, the MK-85 should be on anyone’s list looking for a gaming based mechanical keyboard this Christmas. It’s competitively priced at £100, and whilst I can’t speak for other keyboards, I think it would take an absolutely phenomenal product to unseat the MK-85 from my desk. With this in mind, I’m awarding the MK-85 the Play3r Performance and Value awards!
The MK-85 is a superb mechanical keyboard at £100 and comes with the strongest of recommendations.
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