I have heard it said a thousand times that “a keyboard is just a keyboard”, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. A keyboard is the direct input tool between you and the box of components that makes all the wondrous computing things happen. Without a keyboard, your PC is just a bunch of powerful electrical parts, incapable of unleashing their true power. However, your keyboard needn’t be a ridiculously expensive input tool, and the Cooler Master CK350 proves just that.
Getting right down to how well it works, the Cooler Master CK350 is an incredible budget keyboard. Cooler Master has decided to skip the gimmicky tricks for marketing purposes, keeping the necessary performance aspects, all while ensuring the cost remains low. By using Outemu Red Linear Mechanical switches rather than Cherry MX, the CK350 is able to remain performance-optimised, while lowering the impact on your wallet. The CK350 is also available in Brown and Blue switch variants (mmm, Blue switches), which Cooler Master will offer at a later stage. The keycaps are easily removed, allowing you to add customised keycaps, as well as making your job of cleaning the KB thoroughly that much easier.
Now, I am not saying that Outemu switches are as great as Cherry MX but - while I do still maintain that Cherry MX is the preferred choice of the “serious” gamer - Outemu is the next big thing. To be honest, the only real difference I have felt between authentic Cherry MX switches and the Outemu Red switches used in the CK350, is that the Outemu switches feel slightly more springy, requiring slightly more effort to depress fully. However, this doesn’t cause increased fatigue in your fingers compared to Cherry MX, and it will take a good couple of hours of typing to make your hands sore. The Outemu switches do suffer from one noticeable flaw, which is the level at which the key needs to be pressed in order to activate the signal.
Outemu switches work on a similar principle to that of Cherry MX, in that the Red Linear switches do not offer a tactile bump or audible click. Not only does this reduce noise production, but is favoured amongst gamers for the linear key press, preventing any possible resistance/cause for a failed key press attempt. However, while Cherry MX offers a “variable” input on their switches (think of the analogue triggers on console gamepads), the Outemu switches don’t seem to offer as great of functionality. However, the cost of Outemu switches are lower, and they are slowly becoming the favoured switch type of the more budget-oriented peripheral, though they do lack the same performance of the Cherry MX. That being said, they are still the next best thing to Cherry MX switches, and really, what’s wrong with second to the best switch manufacture in the world?
When it comes to gaming, the 1000Mhz/1 ms response time is exactly what you need for even the most serious and brutal competitive gaming, as well as lengthy and casual gameplay. The 1.8m fixed cable connects to a USB 2.0 port anywhere on your PC, and while some may not need to connect straight to the motherboard, I preferred to use this method as it gave me the best performance possible. Connecting to any USB 2.0 port (I mean, who really has these on a gaming PC?) will do perfectly fine, however, with an almost negligible difference between connection points. Furthermore, the N-key rollover ensures that every key press is registered and translated into movement on-screen.
Obviously, the most rigorous testing I could put the CK350 through is all-nighter comps in CS:GO and round after round of Overwatch. While other titles might be more intensive in terms of key presses, the responsiveness is what I was really after. It’s all good and well to say that a KB has a 1000 MHz response time, but the most important result comes from actual field duty. In CS:GO, the switches were so smooth that I actually started strafing without even realising that I was pressing the A/D keys. Also, moving backwards and forwards felt as though I simply needed to think about it and it happened on screen.
The movement was so smooth, in fact, that I often moved forward accidentally, causing my untimely demise; both problems that I also encountered in Overwatch. Most importantly, though, once I got used to the key presses, my movement was significantly more responsive and reactive compared to my usual mechanical-membrane keyboard, and though I wasn’t able to instantly qualify for any e-sports clans, my in-game performance was surely enhanced.
Now, not everyone will be interested in having the best response time and smoothest key presses, especially not those focused on keeping their budget low. Thankfully, Cooler Master has recognised this in their design of the CK350, as it is also an incredibly comfortable keyboard to use for extended periods of time. Playing an RPG is slower but taxes the fingers more as there are more intricate key presses involved. Switching between inventories, quick-swapping weapons, chugging consumables, and the bevy of other RPG mechanics never taxed my hand to the point where I needed to stop. Even after a full week of typing all day on the CK350, and then playing at night, my hands emerged unscatehed.
The second most important aspect of a gaming-focused keyboard (and to some, the most important) is how the KB looks on your desk and fits in well with your ecosystem. While some may not really pay attention to the lighting and how well it all fits in and compliments your current build, the CK350 will probably change your mind.
The brushed aluminium finish gives the budget KB a premium look, with the per-key RGB lighting glinting off the gunmetal black finish giving off a minimalist, yet stunning, aesthetic. The customisable patterns, colours, and effects - all customisable without needing software for on-the-fly adjustment - not only exaggerates your play mood, it determines it. Personally, my favourite colour configuration has been a sort-of per-key rainbow effect, making the CK350 look like a vibrant, colourful mosaic, gleaming off of my desk.
The CK350 comes in at 440mm x 1400mm x 45mm, including the numpad, which is almost the perfect size for a KB. The keys are perfectly spaced to reach for typing, and for gaming as well. The CK350 has tons of functionality packed in, with lighting effects, patterns, brightness, and media tools all accessible by pressing the Cooler Master logo button. Also, there are set programmes that you can access and store for quick loading directly from the keyboard. Finally, there is a three-way cable management system, allowing you to route your KB cable to the left, right, or right down the middle. While a small feature, I feel that this is something incredibly important to the aesthetic of your set-up, and I am so happy that Cooler Master included it in the CK350.
Honestly, I could babble on and on about the Cooler Master CK350 but, overall, it’s a fairly simple conclusion. The CK350 Gaming Mechanical Keyboard is a low-frill keyboard that chooses function and versatility over flashy marketing tools. The pin-point accuracy and enhanced responsiveness of the keys, combined with the on-the-fly controls for media and performance, as well as the brushed gunmetal aluminium finish, make the CK350 not only one of the best budget KB’s around, but a good contender against the premiere alternatives.
Loves games with deep character development and a rich storyline. Also, shooty-shooties. Loathes microtransactions. Likes to use sarcasm and metaphors.
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