Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6475/capsule-review-rosewills-illuminated-keyboard-and-rk9000bri-keyboard

Introducing Rosewill's RK-9000I and Illuminated Gaming Keyboard

One of the beautiful things about Rosewill's line of mechanical keyboards is that they're about as close to pure as you could conceivably get. They're not fancy, not tarted up by any stretch of the imagination, but instead simple, clean designs that afford the end user a tremendous amount of choice. Their basic RK-9000 series is available in four different varieties of Cherry MX switches, and today we round out our experiences with the different switches with the "special edition" RK-9000I with Cherry MX Blue switches and a white trim.

That said, if you want to go fancier, Rosewill has produced a remarkably stylish yet still fairly minimalistic keyboard in the form of the Illuminated Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, available with both Cherry MX Blue and Cherry MX Brown switches. This is a pricier product, but features mechanical switches and LED backlighting across the board along with a couple of other nifty features. At an MSRP of $119, though, it's contending with my personal favorite, the Corsair K90. Does Rosewill offer enough with this premium product, or did their reach exceed their grasp?

The RK-9000I In Brief

Rosewill sent me these two keyboards for review, and marketed the RK-9000I (and the whole I series) as special edition keyboards. That said, the RK-9000I is a Cherry MX Blue keyboard that features a white backplate and trim instead of the black one on their normal keyboards.

The I series, like the gaming keyboard I'll get to in a moment, only comes with two varieties of switches: Cherry MX Blue, and Cherry MX Brown. This is in contrast to their basic black mechanical keyboard that also comes with MX Reds or MX Blacks. However, because we've already reviewed their basic MX Blue keyboard, there isn't a whole lot to add here.

The only difference between this version and the previous one is the white trim; everything else is the same, including the keycaps. My experience was generally positive; I'm not convinced the lettering on the keycaps is particularly long-lasting, but the switches themselves should be. That said, I'm still of the opinion that Cherry MX Blues are pretty much strictly for typists and word processing. The way they actuate makes them unsuitable for doing double-taps or other fast inputs in more intense games.

Where I think Rosewill does bring excellent value (beyond the $65 asking price with promo code) is that this fairly basic keyboard includes detachable cables so that you can use either PS/2 or USB 2.0. The fact is that ghosting can still be an issue (it pops up irritatingly frequently with my K90), so the option to employ PS/2 is much appreciated.

The Rosewill Illuminated Gaming Keyboard RK-9100BR

I'm keen to go ahead and get this out of the way now: despite being at least called the Rosewill Illuminated Gaming Keyboard, there's very little here beyond a selected backlighting toggle that recommends this keyboard for gamers. That doesn't make it a bad keyboard, but you should have your expectations in order beforehand.

With all that in mind, I'm pleased to report that Rosewill's Illuminated Gaming Keyboard at the very least continues Rosewill's trend of producing simple, attractive keyboards. Though I'm still very much in love with the style and design of the Corsair K90, I still appreciate the basic, functional design of the Illuminated Gaming Keyboard. More importantly, too, is now I can evaluate the Cherry MX Brown switches on a level playing field. Logitech included them in their G710+, but modified them to reduce noise. With the RK-9100BR in hand, I can tell you there's a definite difference.

As with other mechanical keyboards, Rosewill uses individual blue LEDs behind each keycap to backlight it, giving them control over which keys are illuminated. As a result, they include a toggle that allows you to switch between illuminating the entire keyboard, just the WASD cluster and arrows, everything but the number pad, or even killing the backlighting entirely (except for the Lock keys, which have green LEDs behind them to indicate their status.)

The RK-9100BR is bright at its highest setting, but thankfully there are also four levels of brightness to choose between. Note that these toggles are all handled by an Fn key that replaces the right-hand Windows key and the function keys at the top of the keyboard. As with everything else, it's an elegant, simple solution. In addition to the toggles, there are volume controls, playback controls, and home and mail shortcut keys, all mapped to F1-F12.

In terms of build, Rosewill wasn't able to offer PS/2 connectivity like they do with their lesser models; the RK-9100 and RK-9100BR require two USB 2.0 leads, one for the keyboard itself and the other for power. In exchange, though, you do get two USB 2.0 ports on the back of the keyboard, behind the number pad. The shell of the keyboard is basic rigid black plastic, and the keys employ a black soft-touch paint coating that's very comfortable to the touch. The USB cable itself is braided and of high quality.

Before even testing it, I only have two major complaints: the green LEDs used for the Lock keys are just as bright if not even brighter than the blue backlights, and unfortunately these can't be turned down or off without actually just disabling those keys. That's a minor quibble. The other is the price; the RK-9100 with MX Blue switches is $119, and the RK-9100BR with MX Brown switches is $129, and that's just plain uncompetitive. This is surprising considered Rosewill is typically a value brand, and given the minimal frills with the RK-9100's design, I think we're at least $30 over where we need to be. There are feature-rich monsters from Thermaltake and Corsair that sell for less and feature arguably superior gaming switches in the Cherry MX Reds and Blacks.

The Rosewill Illuminated Gaming Keyboard in Productivity

The most amusing thing about the different Cherry MX mechanical switches is the subtle differences between the ones that aren't Blue. Our review unit features Cherry MX Browns, and these are going to be noticeably quieter than the Blues. They're still more tactile compared to the Reds and the Blacks (which are both more popular for gaming keyboards), but not quite as clicky as the Blues.

For basic productivity tasks I've noticed that the Browns in the Rosewill Illuminated Gaming Keyboard feel very different than the ones used in Logitech's G710+ keyboard. Logitech employed some extra tricks to reduce noise, but in the process the feedback from the keys actually felt like there was a bit more reverberation to it. I tend to beat my keyboards like they owe me money, and the G710+ became pretty painful to use in a hurry as I felt the reverberation in my wrists.

By comparison, Rosewill pretty much just lets the Brown switches be what they are, and the result is a much more fluid typing experience. These are definitely softer switches than the Blues in every respect, but they're very enjoyable to type on and I'd almost argue they're second to the Blues for that purpose. Any mechanical switch is typically going to be more pleasing to use than a membrane-style keyboard, but the Browns may be more ideal for people who like the feel of the Blues but either don't want or can't deal with the noise.

I also really like the treatment Rosewill uses for the keycaps on this keyboard as well as the size of the keycaps themselves. The G710+ felt slightly oddly spaced, either as if the keycaps themselves were too narrow or the keys were too far apart. Rosewill's design doesn't suffer from that issue. I wish they'd included a wrist rest (hell I wish they'd include a wrist rest on all of their keyboards), but for what it's worth, the RK-9100BR is pleasant enough to type on. They get the fundamentals right.

The Rosewill Illuminated Gaming Keyboard in Gaming

In being a slight jump from the Cherry MX Blue switches in typing and productivity, the Brown switches used in the RK-9100BR also lend themselves a bit better to gaming. I did a quick run in my woeful Centurion in MechWarrior Online (now in open beta!) and didn't feel myself really fighting with the keyboard so much as the fact that the Centurion is a terrible mech.

The reason is that while the Browns actuate in the same manner as the Blues, they require a bit less pressure, which will feel like slightly less travel. These still aren't ideal for gaming (for that, you really want Reds or Blacks), but it's definitely an improvement over the actuation force the Blues require.

Conclusion: Matters of Priority and Price

Now that we have a pretty full gamut of the four most common Cherry MX switches in hand and can rule out Logitech's otherwise solid G710+ keyboard as a representative of the Browns, we can get a better handle on the differences between the switches and what that means to you. The essential problem is going to continue to be that you're not going to know what sounds and feels best until you can actually put it under your fingertips, but hopefully we can at least point you in the right direction.

In regards to the switches themselves, they can essentially be broken down by the way they actuate: the Blues and Browns are tactile, with the Blues requiring more pressure than the Browns do (and producing a delightful audible click). Meanwhile, the Blacks and Reds are linear, with the Blacks requiring more pressure than the Reds. And amusingly, the linear switches lend themselves better to gaming while the tactile switches feel better for typing due to their distinct feedback.

It's hard to really recommend which switches for which users because of the way things break down, but I can try. If you're prioritizing typing and productivity, you'll want the Blues or Browns, with the lower actuation force of the Browns making them a better compromise for gaming. Meanwhile, if you're prioritizing gaming, you'll want the Reds or Blacks, and if you're the kind of person to beat on your keyboard, the Blacks may actually be the best choice, while twitchier players will feel at home with the Reds. I will say that you'll notice my day job is as a writer, and I'm still using Reds because I prefer the keyboard they're housed in.

As for the Rosewill keyboards, the non-illuminated models continue to be terrific values for the money and a great way for users to get a feel for mechanical switches. These are smart, practical, functional keyboards that feature both PS/2 and USB 2.0 connectivity depending on which you need/prefer, and while the durability of the key printing is questionable, the price is right. You can get one with Blue switches and a black finish for just $59 right now, which is basically a steal for a mechanical board. The boards with the white finish are a harder sell since Rosewill charges a slight premium for something that's basically irrelevant in any practical way.

Meanwhile, the only thing really wrong with the illuminated models is the price. At $119 for the Blue version and $129 for the Brown, Rosewill's prices are unrealistic and batting out of their league. Brown switches seem to pull a bit of a premium on their own and I can understand why, but other vendors are charging the same or less for potentially more feature rich keyboards. Rosewill needs to drop the prices by about $20-$30 apiece to hit that sweet spot; at that point they're an easy recommendation.

Where things get foggy is the "Gaming" branding, which I feel is inappropriate for the types of switches they're using. There are no Black or Red representatives in their lineups, and I'm personally of the opinion that the Reds are the ones you want as a gamer. This is more of an observation and even a request to Rosewill to expand their lines to include these switches as options than anything damning.

Ultimately these are both fine keyboards, and the illuminated one is pretty attractive in its own right, but ironically Rosewill's worst competition is themselves. Bring the prices down and you'll have a knockout lineup.

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