19 Feb 2012

[REVIEW] CORSAIR Vengeance K90 Performance MMO Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

When I saw that Corsair was going to be releasing mechanical gaming keyboards, it was almost like a dream come true for me. Being a loyal Corsair user, I could not wait to find out how their first offering would be. Could they really release the perfect gaming mech keyboard on the first go? Here’s my take!

Technical Specifications

  • Light, responsive  Cherry MX Red mechanical switches for fast, efficient gaming action
    • 45g actuation force
    • 2mm to actuation and 4mm to bottom
    • Rated for 50 million operations
    • Gold contacts
  • Tuned silicon dome keyswitches: F1 through F12, Esc, PrtScn, Scroll Lock, Pause/Break, Insert, Home, Page Up Page Down, Delete, and End
  • Three banks of eighteen G Macro Keys with Macro Record and Bank Select hot keys
  • 36Kb of onboard memory for storing up to three sets of eighteen G keys for gaming on the go
  • On-the-fly,  macro recording
  • Laser-etched, backlit keys with four illumination levels (off, 66%, 75%, and full illumination) selectable from the keyboard
  • Six multimedia keys — Stop, Previous, Play/Pause, Next, Mute, Volume Up/Down — with Solid metal, weighted volume “drum roller”
  • Windows Lock key for uninterrupted game play
  • Metal top plate for increased strength, durability and rigidity
  • USB pass-through connector giving easy access to a USB port on the back of the keyboard (USB 2.0/1.1/1.0)
  • USB Connector with gold plated contacts
  • 2m non-tangle cable Adjustable feet tilt for optimum personalization and positioning


    The K90 comes packed in a striking box with a window showcasing the Macro G Keys as well as some portion of the keyboard. No cutout on the box for you to actually get a feel of the keys for yourself though! This is a good and bad thing because on the one hand, it ensures the buyer a fresh keyboard. On the other, there will be people who appreciate having some form of demo to try out the mechanical keys for themselves.

    The keyboard and entire package are stored in 2 layers of tough recycled material, bounded by a clear cover at the top. It is extremely easy to unbox the entire package. Simply remove the cover, remove the keyboard, and the top layer lifts off to reveal the bottom layer where your extra accessories are. Absolutely no mess or frustration involved and another example of Corsair’s thoughtful design all the way to the product packaging.

    Contents of the package. You get the K90, a Quick Start guide, a Warranty guide, and a full size Wrist Rest.


    The K90 feels like nothing else currently on the market. The keyboard is extremely sturdy and well-built. All its parts seem to be properly in place and I could not detect from a quick glance any jarring imperfections. The base of the keyboard is made from plastic, but the aluminium top plate really gives the keyboard high rigidity. While you can hear some creaking if you try ‘bending’ keyboards by holding them at the side and turning your hands in opposite directions, there was no such thing with the K90! It is fairly easy to get a creak out of my Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Stealth; not to mention Filco’s Majestouch keyboards do creak very easily as well. In short, this is one really solid keyboard!

    The K90 also looks like nothing else currently on the market. The aluminium frame looks stunning and exudes a premium quality vibe about the keybord. That, plus the contrasting silver with dark keycaps give it a sleek outlook.

    The K90’s keycaps have a smooth, somewhat rubbery non-slip finish, and are of very high quality. The fonts are laser-etched onto the keycaps; so you wouldn’t need to worry about them fading! They are also individually lit with LEDs!

    The USB cord feels very tight and tangle-free; Good and bad because it kind of makes it hard for you to manage the exact length you want the cord to stretch out by; but it doesn't tangle. The USB cord splits into 2 USB ends: 1 for the USB pass-through jack located on the back of the K90, and 1 for the keyboard itself.

    The highlight of the K90’s design has to be its unique ‘open air’ keys. While traditional keyboards fit the keys in depressed areas hiding the keyswitch / domeswitch bases, there are no crevices on the K90's main body. This can make cleaning your keyboard an extremely easy affair; and helps to prevent dust and gunk getting permanently stuck / accumulating in the area underneath your keys. How this ‘open air’ design looks to people though might be subjective; however I have no issue with its aesthetic and feel such a design makes the K90 look very fresh and contemporary. The portion where the Macro G Keys are unfortunately do not feature the same open-air design though!


    Well first up, we definitely want to talk about the exquisite Cherry MX Red mechanical keyswitches! If you are new to the whole mechanical keyboard scene, you can read THIS GUIDE; up till the ‘Common Keyswitches’ section which will be pretty much all the basic knowledge you are going to need. In short, Cherry MX Reds are going to feel the most responsive and fluid compared to the other popular key switches (Blue / Brown / Black) since it requires the least amount of actuation force (45g) and is linear in nature (no bump).

    While other brands offer their mechanical keyboards in at least 2 keyswitch variants, Corsair seems to be confident enough by offering only Cherry MX Reds this time around. Being a Cherry MX Brown user, I was kind of disappointed, but at the same time it should be easy for me to acclimatize to the MX Reds since the main difference between them is that the Browns have a tactile bump. More of the MX Red’s performance in the “In depth usage” section! For now, let’s continue the tour of the K90, and to an important point.

    Although the K90 touts to be a mechanical keyboard, the sad fact is that it is NOT fully mechanical. The following keys also use ‘tuned’ silicone dome switches instead of Cherry MX Reds: The entire top row (Esc, Function (F) keys, and Prnt Scr, Scroll Lock, and Pause keys), and the 6 key cluster of Insert, Delete, Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys. Now Corsair's ‘official’ reasoning is as follows: "Since these keys are typically used for single key presses, rather than “double taps” or rapid, multiple key presses, the use of fast-actuating Cherry MX Red keys would introduce a greater potential for accidental actuation in-game. To prevent these undesirable accidental presses, we tuned the force and the linearity of the silicon dome for extra damping (which mechanical switches don’t have) to ensure they will be actuated reliably in a single press. These tuned silicon dome keys offer a better solution that simply using a different mechanical key, such as Cherry MX Black, as these keys would only provide a stiffer response, but not the extra damping that is desirable to prevent accidental actuation."

    A real bummer is that all 18 Macro G Keys on the K90 also use the tuned silicone domes. While their rationale may hold true for the previously mentioned keys, I don't think people will be using those macro keys strictly for "1 key press" macros. In addition, while having a slightly harder actuation force DOES help in preventing accidental presses on your Macro banks, you will virtually end up feeling a mix of domes and Cherry Reds throughout gaming if you use the Macro G Keys frequently.

    There are 2 camps of people with regards to this: People who do not mind the hybridization of the K90, and people who can’t see past Corsair’s rationale for making those keys domed and are criticizing them for that. I happen to fall to the latter (yes; I HAVE voiced my displeasure of their decision multiple times on their forum, so there).  To Corsair's credit, it is a reasonable enough rationale. However, while they do achieve their intended purpose, the result is extremely jarring to me if you do press them in-between typing on the smooth MX Reds. Some community members have encouraged nay-sayers to try it out before passing judgment, and now that I have tried it I can say without a doubt that the Macro G Keys not being mechanical really put me off getting the K90 for myself as a replacement for my BWUS. Of course, you might fall into the former category and not mind the hybrid nature of the keyboard at all, so whether this is a deal breaker to you or not is all up to you and you should give it a spin for yourself. Who knows? You may like the tuned domes instead!

    The K90 also features individually backlit keys on ALL keys including the Macro G Keys. The main keys glow Blue while the Macro G Keys glow white. There are a total of 4 illumination levels which can also be controlled via the K90 software. An essential for gamers who like to game in the dark; or if you are in a shared room and do not want to disturb others by leaving a larger room light / lamp on!

    Next, there’s the included full size wrist rest which feels durable yet comfortable. The wrist rest is detachable as well (It's not even attached by default), via hooks which you need to align to the underside of the K90, and then tightening the side screws to hold it firmly in place. While the wrist rest certainly doesn't feel as high quality as the likes of Filco's leather wrist rest, it still works reasonably well plus the fact that it is included as a standard bundle with the K90 makes it a really nice bundle. Nothing to complain about really!

    Let’s not forget something MANY mechanical keyboard users have been pining for: Multimedia control keys!! Yes; that’s right: The K90 is one of few gaming keyboards that actually implement a full range of controls for your media players on the keyboard itself. The volume knob feels AWESOME and is a joy to roll! There's even a Windows Lock key as well. Neat-O!!

    Behind the K90 you will find the onboard USB port; handy for connecting anything you do not want stretching too far; even your mouse!

    Finally to the ‘intangible’ features: the K90 also features full key matrix anti-ghosting with the help of an on-board keyboard micro-controller. It ensures that any combination of keys you press will not become 'ghosted'. In addition, there's that 20KRO via USB - the maximum possible over USB - more than enough leeway even for hardcore gamers and definitely at the top of offerings versus other established competitors which traditionally only offer 6KRO!


    The K90 features 18 Macro G Keys on the left hand side, and they lie attached slightly lower than the main keys are. There are also 3 'sets' or banks of Macros which you can store on the K90, allowing you to record up to 54 programmable functions, on-the-fly, directly from the keyboard. The macros can also be accessed and configured via the software user interface. Here's Corsair's official walkthrough on how to use their on-the-fly recording:

    “On The Fly” Macro Record Method 1

    1. Press the Macro Record Start/Stop key. The LED in the Macro Record Start/Stop Key will turn on to indicate that the recording process has been initiated.

    2. Press one of the Macro Set Select keys (M1, M2 or M3) to select the macro set to which the selected macro key in step 3 will be associated. The backlight LED associated with the pressed Macro Set Select key will light, indicating the selected Macro Set.

    3. Press one of the macro keys – G1 to G18. The G-key selected for programming will be associated with the Macro Set Select key selected in step 2.

    After pressing one of the Macro Keys, the LED associated with the Macro Record Start/Stop key will blink to indicate recording has begun.

    4. Perform the keystrokes and actions that you wish to record

    5. Press Macro Record Start/Stop key to stop recording - the LED associated with the key will turn off and stop blinking to indicate recording has finished.

    “On The Fly” Macro Record Method 2

    1. Press the Macro Record Start/Stop key. The LED in the Macro Record Start/Stop Key will turn on to indicate that the recording process has been initiated.

    2. Press one of the Macro Keys – G1 to G18. The Macro Key selected for programming will be associated with the currently selected Macro Set (M1, M2, or M3). After pressing one of the Macro Keys, the LED associated with the Macro Record Start/Stop key will blink to indicate recording is initiated.

    3. Perform the keystrokes and actions that you wish to record.

    4. Press Macro Record Start/Stop key to stop recording - the LED associated with the key will turn off and stop blinking to indicate recording has finished.


    To play a recorded macro, press M1, M2 or M3 to enable the associated macro key set, and then press the macro key – G1 to G18 – that was programmed.


    Below are some screens directly from official Corsair documents which fully explain the K90's software functionality (as of this review, the Software version is 2.12). On the whole, it is fairly easy to use and the user interface is great. It also seamlessly 'integrates' with other Vengeance peripherals you might own!

    As always, do check Corsair's website for latest software and hardware updates!


    With Cherry MX Red mechanical keyswitches, typing on the K90 is really very easy and only requires a minimal amount of force. Hitting keys feels insanely fluid, but you WILL be prone to making typos as the slightest of presses can trigger a keypress. It will be even worse if you are used to having to feel a tactile bump (e.g. coming from Domes or MX Browns / Blues) which will not activate the keys that easily.

    As expected, it was quite alright for me to get used to the MX Reds coming from MX Browns, but the difference in fluidity is very noticeable. On the one hand, fluidity is definitely a good thing as the MX Reds really feel extremely responsive. On the other, I am too used to feeling slight tactile bumps whenever I press a key as well as actuating them with slightly more force (i.e. not so fluid), so I can’t see myself making a permanent change to MX Reds. At the end of the day though; I can’t stress this enough: TRY ALL THE KEYSWITCHES FOR YOURSELF. This is the only way to make the best informed decision as to what keyswitch you like best / suits you best. Also, give yourself some time to get used to mechanical keyswitches. You will love them soon enough.

    But let’s come back to the K90’s performance. Now; bear in mind the K90 is primarily marketed to MMO / RTS gamers. I fired up Starcraft 2 with a few custom Macros for the first cluster of 6 keys on the G Keys area. In general, the MX Reds were OK for Starcraft 2. Their fluidity combined with their ease of actuation is definitely suitable in instances where you want to make lightning quick taps to your keys (which will in turn be lighter presses compared to a regular press). If you are as dependent on hotkeys as I am, you will know that your finger(s) will be flying all over the keyboard and having the ability of pressing the keys quickly and effortlessly is definitely appreciated. It *could* even slightly increase your APM! However, the bad part is that you WILL end up making a good deal more erroneous presses precisely because the MX Reds are so easy to press. At times, you could be 'getting ready' to press a key but end up pressing it too early, or end up brushing over a neighbouring key and actuating it anyhow. Also, because of the linear nature of the MX Reds, double-tapping was a problem at times because I could not tell if the key had travelled far enough to its "release point". It is MUCH easier to tell with MX Browns or Blues when and if a key has been actuated due to their tactility.

    In my K60 review, I mention that the MX Reds are perfect for FPS gaming, and that carries over to the K90. I fired up Battlefield 3 on the K90 and in general it just worked better for me in BF3 than it did in SC2. I strongly, strongly feel that MX Browns or MX Blues would have been better overall choice for MMO and RTS games instead of MX Reds. Browns in particular offer the perfect balance of easy actuation with a slight amount of control you have over pressing keys. While I recognize that there's no one 'correct' keyswitch for any genre of game, the problem can be easily solved: Make the K90 available in different keyswitch variants to cater to every individual.

    And then, there’s that issue with the silicone dome switch keys. Del, Page Up, and Page Down are keys I use fairly often in Windows, and so they definitely did not feel ‘welcome’ whenever I pressed them. The fact that ALL the Macro G Keys are silicone domes does not help either. The difference in ‘feel’ when I press them in-game is enough to snap me out of my concentration briefly. I CAN live with it; however I will never be TOTALLY HAPPY with it. Again, I cannot say for sure if this will be a big issue for any of you reading this since I am kind of a fussy person; so give it a spin before calling it. Chances are you will not find it as irksome as I do.

    Point to note too that just because the K90 uses those few dome switches does not automatically make it a 'failed' product. While it will be a deal breaker for some, I still cannot discount all other factors of the K90 that make it so amazing. I just WISH Corsair didn't green light the dome switch decision or it would have been perfect!


    For a first swing at the PC gaming and peripherals market, Corsair’s attempt with the K90 is *SO CLOSE* to being perfect! The K90 boasts a variety of design firsts in this market that puts competing products to shame. Its superior overall build quality, over-generous Macro keys, and overwhelming attention to detail down to media keys and ‘open air’ design make for a very compelling product! On the whole, the K90 is a VERY commendable first mechanical gaming keyboard release from Corsair that not only feels awesome but works great.

    The challenge for Corsair, however, is to not just come up with these unique plus points that give it a clear edge, but to also really keep up with popular competitor offerings and functionalities; and keyboards that are fully mechanical with keyswitch variants to boot. Sadly Corsair’s strong brand reputation has backfired as many people were literally expecting their new Vengeance gaming line – especially their keyboards – to be ‘perfect’. Their choice to hybridize the K90 – no matter the rationale – disappointed many users who swear by using mechanical keyboards that are 100% mechanical. Also, while the K90's software is pretty decent, it currently lacks some functionality essentials such as binding Macro keys to regular keyboard keys which MIMICS pressing a keyboard key (Currently, it is only able to SIMULATE this as a MACRO). I am confident however, that should Corsair release newer iterations in the future and take to heart user criticisms and suggestions, they will be the perfect mechanical keyboards every gamer has been dying to have! On the software side, things should only get better; so we shall see.

    To conclude, here are the pros and cons:


    -              Second to none build quality
    -              Fantastic hardware design and ergonomics
    -              Hardware and Software Macro functionality
    -              Cherry MX Red keyswitches deliver superior fluidity and minimum strain on your fingers
    -              Onboard media keys
    -              Individually back-lit keys
    -              20 key rollover via USB and anti-ghosting matrix
    -              18 Macro G keys with 3 banks for a total of 54 possible individual macros


    -              Not fully mechanical; with a total of 22 keys (albeit not frequently used) and all 18 Macro G-Keys using tuned silicone domes instead
    -              Software still needs a little improvement especially macro function-wise: more variety and capability to record different kinds of macro events
    -              Not currently available in other Cherry MX keyswitches

    OVERALL SCORE: 9/10. An excellent product that should be highly considered! The main thing that Corsair needs to do for the K90 to earn a 10/10 in my book is to make it FULLY mechanical down to every last available key. I would have given it a 9.5; but the Macro G Keys being domed made me deduct another 0.5. Also, if it were available in other keyswitches (*COUGH* Especially MX Brown.. *Cough*), that would be a dream come true!

    The K90 can be found at your popular IT retailers for an SRP of $189, and is distributed locally by Convergent Systems with a 2 year limited warranty!