In the field of mechanical keyboards, as of today, there are two promising areas for improving key switches. One of them is optical mechanisms. And in the latest reviews, we have already managed to talk about several new devices built on their basis. And the second, even more exotic technology, is analog keys that are sensitive to the force or depth of pressing. And if there are few solutions with optics, then analog keyboards can be completely counted on the fingers of one hand. The first mass-produced device of its kind was the Flaretech-based TKL version of the Wooting One. Then it was announced, but the full-sized Wooting Two has not yet appeared. Similarly, there is only the announcement of the Input Club Keystone so far. There is also a serial keyboard on Cherry MX switches using Aimpad technology called the Cooler Master MK850. And it is to her that this review is entirely devoted.

Cooler Master MK850

Specifications

Model Cooler Master MK850
Product page coolermaster.com
Connection Wired
Interface USB 3.0
Polling frequency, Hz 1000
Type gaming
Number of keys 109
Additional buttons 8
Keystroke resource, mln. 50
Key type Mechanical
Switch type Cherry MX Red RGB
Changing the angle of the body +
Built-in memory, KB 512
Ability to record macros +
Handling rollovers NKRO
Backlight + (RGB)
USB cable length, m 1,8
Braid material Nylon braid
Built-in display
Material Plastic / Aluminum / Faux leather
Color Black gray
Software Yes (Cooler Master Portal)
Removable palm rest +
External interfaces 2 x USB 3.0
Dimensions (L x W x H), mm 476 x 160 (248 with stand) x 45
Weight, g 1034 (1336 with stand)
OS Compatibility Windows 7 / 8.1 / 10
Peculiarities Eight analog QWERASDF keys with imitation of joystick operation, 18 interchangeable PBT caps with a key for dismantling included, two wheels for adjusting the brightness of the backlight and volume, a removable magnetic palm rest, backlighting of the side and front faces of the case. Five multimedia keys. Embedded 32-bit ARM Cortex M3 processor
Average cost, $ 200

Contents of delivery

The packaging of the keyboard is made in the corporate style of Cooler Master and combines black and purple colors. In terms of informing about the merits of the product, she is doing well, but technical specifications are traditionally absent.

Cooler Master MK850Cooler Master MK850

After removing the multi-colored cover, a monotonous black cardboard box appears before us, with a single purple company logo in the center. Inside the keyboard is packed without dampers, only covered on top with a transparent plastic overlay on the keys.

Cooler Master MK850Cooler Master MK850

The kit includes a magnetic stand, instructions, 18 interchangeable PBT keycaps, a wire wrench to remove the keycaps, and a detachable USB cable.

Cooler Master MK850

Appearance

The exterior design of the MK850 evokes mixed feelings. On the one hand, everything is solid — a graphite-colored aluminum plate at the base, a skeleton design, a magnetic armrest. On the other hand, in some places, glossy easily soiled plastic is visible (especially in front and on the back of the top panel), an abundance of extra buttons and artificially inflated dimensions of the case with a non-linear contour, necessary to accommodate all this. All this is reminiscent of a design from 2010, when peripheral manufacturers were just starting to get on the slippery path of gaming. But now minimalism is in fashion.

Cooler Master MK850

The palm rest consists of a plastic base, to which six oblong rubber legs are glued in the corners and in the center, and a front part made of polymer «skin». The soft part of the stand turned out to be quite dense and elastic and looks more like the surface of an expensive desk than a small pillow under the palm of your hand. To the touch, such a coating is pleasant, although it is sometimes hot on the hands. A barely visible hexagonal CM logo is applied in the center. There are only two magnets at the back, but they are quite large and located not far from the rear corners. The height of the stand in the back is 16 mm.

Cooler Master MK850Cooler Master MK850

The layout of the printed block of keys is made according to the American ANSI standard, with long single-row Shift and Enter. The function keys are located in the usual way, the F1 button is located exactly above the number «2». To the left of the main block of keys there are five additional buttons marked as M1-M5. Their task is not to record macros or switch profiles, but to change the operating modes of analog buttons. Latin engraving is laser engraved in the center of the buttons on top. There were no Cyrillic characters in our version. All keycaps (except long ones) are shaped with a cylindrical recess.

Cooler Master MK850

Above the function buttons on the left side of the keyboard are two embossed metal scroll wheels. They rotate very gently and lack fixation positions. The left one is responsible for adjusting the brightness, the right one changes the volume level, but these functions can be reassigned in the driver. A little to the right there are five more small buttons, which by default are responsible for stop / pause, rewind, fast forward, mute and turn off the backlight. If desired, their commands can also be reassigned.

Cooler Master MK850

In the block of numeric and navigation keys, everything looks quite standard. In place of the lock-indicators are three glossy buttons. The first of them switches the keyboard mode between analog and normal, the other two adjust the size of the «dead zone» of the operation of the analog keys up or down. The lock indicators themselves are built into the corresponding keys, which only light up when they are activated. It’s a pretty elegant solution in my opinion.

Cooler Master MK850

The keyboard comes with 18 replacement keycaps, purple. They are for Esc, M1-M5, «Q», «W», «E», «R», «A», «S», «D», «F» and arrow keys. But the main advantage is that they are made of PBT plastic using double molding technology. Much nicer to the touch than standard ABS caps and much more wear resistant. From my point of view, such buttons should also be added to the space and left Shift.

Cooler Master MK850

The switches here are classic light linear Cherry MX Red in a transparent case. Activation force — 45 grams, with 2 mm to actuation and a full stroke of 4 mm. The RGB diodes are soldered directly on the PCB. Stabilizers are internal, so all keycaps can be easily removed for cleaning. Standard caps are made of translucent white ABS plastic and painted black on the outside. The analog buttons «Q», «W», «E», «R», «A», «S», «D», «F» do not fundamentally differ from others, except for the presence of a pressing depth sensor in the mechanism.

Cooler Master MK850

In profile, the keyboard resembles a shell narrowed towards the front. The side faces are located at an acute angle from the bottom and top, in the middle between them there is a glossy insert made of transparent plastic, behind which the backlight LED is hidden. Thanks to the inclined planes, the keyboard is easy to lift and rearrange if necessary. The back of the case, taking into account the keys, is already quite high (45 mm). Expanded legs add an additional 10 mm to it. It’s good that the palm rest compensates for these height differences.

Cooler Master MK850Cooler Master MK850

On the reverse side, on a glossy insert, there are two USB 3.0 ports that are still extremely rare in the periphery. A round hole on the side of them is a connector for an external power supply, in case of a lack of voltage on the ports. PSU, of course, is not included. The signal cable goes under the keyboard, it can be output both in the middle and on the left or right side.

Cooler Master MK850

As a rule, with additional ports, keyboards use several massive signal cables. But not in the case of the MK850. It uses the usual detachable 1.8-meter cord in a nylon sheath. On one side, it has a USB 3.0 connector, and on the other, a full-length USB Type C. The wire is slightly above average in thickness, quite rigid and holds its shape perfectly.

Cooler Master MK850

The cord is routed through one of the three cable management holes and plugged into the keyboard jack located in the center recess. Unfortunately, the cord is not fully fixed in the holes and quickly falls out of them, nullifying the whole good idea.

Cooler Master MK850

The back side of the keyboard is smooth and made of matte plastic. Three rubber feet are glued along the front edge, two along the edge and one more in the center. The reverse side of the folding legs is rubberized on the sides at the back and therefore it successfully works on traction with the surface, even when they are folded. And in the center back there are two small, inconspicuous rubber blotches, on the sides of the cable channel.

Cooler Master MK850

Folding legs are equipped with rubber blotches on the edges and hold well to the surface when unfolded.

Cooler Master MK850

The RGB backlighting on the keyboard is great. It is bright and juicy, and even the white color looks like itself. It is possible to fine-tune the brightness. The only thing is that PBT-caps, if installed, slightly change the color rendering spectrum and yellow, for example, looks orange. There are many effects, in addition to the buttons, the LED strips on the side and front faces are illuminated. True, with a magnetic stand, the front LED is still not visible.

Cooler Master MK850

Functionality

Cooler Master MK850 has built-in memory for four separate profiles, and has ample opportunities for hardware configuration of many of its functions using key combinations. As usual, not everything is mentioned in the instructions. Like, for example, that analog keys must be calibrated before first use or after switching between analog and regular keyboard mode with the key in the upper right corner. Adjustment should be made no earlier than five minutes from the moment the device is turned on, so that the key sensors warm up. To start the process, press the function key with the CM logo in combination with «-» (the one to the left of Backspace). On the keys «U», «I», «O», «P», «J», «K», «L», «;» red or green diodes will light up. If the key glows red, then the analog button that matches its position must be pressed and held until the color changes to green. When all buttons turn green, the calibration process will end automatically and after a couple of seconds the keyboard will return to normal mode.

Cooler Master MK850

For the convenience of users, we have made a summary table for all the additional commands that we were able to reproduce.

Combination Function
Fn+Esc Switching to a basic unchangeable profile
Fn+E Resetting the keyboard to factory settings
Fn+R Reset the current profile to default settings
Fn+F1 Quick selection of 8 colors (off, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, cyan, purple) in all modes
Fn+F2, F3, F4 Custom color setting using RGB palette. Each press of the key increases the content of the corresponding hue in the color by one point, the level changes cyclically from 0 to 9 positions
Fn+F5 Backlight mode switching: 1) static, 2) color wave, 3) crosshair, 4) color change on click, 5) custom button color, 6) starry sky, 7) rain, 8) color cycle, 9) breathing, 10) circles on the water
Fn+F6 Front color setting selection (in any reactive backlight mode)
Fn+F7 Selectable background color setting (in any reactive backlight mode)
Fn+F8 Demonstration backlight mode (all modes are switched cyclically and automatically)
Fn+F9 Win key lock (one press), keyboard lock (two presses), unlock (one more press)
Fn+F10 Lighting Profile Recording (Custom Button Color Mode)
Fn+F11 Macro Recording
Fn+F12 Deleting a macro (press Fn + F12, then the key highlighted in red)
Fn+PrtScr, ScrLk, Pause In macro recording mode, select the option to play it: once, continuously repeat while holding the button, repeat the macro until the key is pressed again
Fn+1, 2, 3, 4 Activate one of four backlight profiles and macros
Fn+PgUp / PgDn Increase or decrease the volume
Fn+left/right arrow Changing the direction of the light effect
Fn+Down/Up Arrow Changing the playback speed of a lighting effect
M1 Standard Keyboard Mode, Aimpad Analog Mode Disabled
M2 Mode for FPS games, WASD buttons are used for smooth character movement
M3 Driving mode, W and S correspond to the gas and brake, A and D to the direction of the steering wheel
M4 Flight simulator mode, W and D — elevator, A and D — roll, Q and E — rudder, R and F — throttle control
M5 MOBA game mode, adjust the height of the keys Q, W, E, R, A, S, D, F using the buttons in the upper right corner of the keyboard

Software

Cooler Master MK850 uses CM Portal driver version 1.5.7. It requires installation, but is not permanently active, it works only on a call from the user. At the first start, the program offered to update the keyboard firmware to version 1.06.02, which was immediately done. If desired, the update could be skipped.

Cooler Master MK850Cooler Master MK850

The first Aimpad tab is for configuring analog key assignments and isn’t very versatile. In the basic version, eight buttons equipped with an analog depth sensor can be assigned one of four directions of the left joystick or left or right trigger. If you select the fourth profile, then the «R» and «F» buttons are fixed as movements of the right joystick up or down (by default), although this is not displayed in any way on the diagram. For all buttons, eight levels of sensitivity are simultaneously configured, although in fact the depth of the sensor operation is simply reduced, or, in other words, the dead zone of the joystick, in which it does not respond to commands.

Cooler Master MK850

But in the «Lighting» tab there is where to roam. Color, brightness and lighting effects can be individually adjusted for all 104 basic, five profile and three additional buttons. At the same time, the brightness is infinitely adjustable, all 20 effects have many customizable parameters.

Cooler Master MK850

To reassign commands, two directions of each of the two scroll wheels, five additional buttons, 103 main keys (except for the Fn button) are available. The five mode change keys of the analog buttons and the three buttons for their settings are not remapped. Oddly enough, the list of available commands is very limited — these are any macros, all keyboard commands, pressing LMB and RMB, and several multimedia commands. This is probably due to the fact that everything is stored in the memory of the keyboard itself, and playing too complex command options on other PCs can have an ambiguous effect. That’s why we decided to make it faster.

Cooler Master MK850

In the macro editor, you can create chains of commands with individual names and immediately bind them to the desired buttons. All keyboard, mouse, and scroll wheel directions are accepted. The delay between clicks can be set as it is when entering, fixed or set individually. There are 198 command lines available for writing, and since button activation consists of two actions — pressing and releasing, a total of 99 characters can be recorded. I note that the macro editor in Cooler Master is improving with each next release of driver versions.

Cooler Master MK850

The profile section allows you to individually manage each of the four on-board profiles, switching it, resetting it to default, renaming it, importing it or exporting it to your PC memory. And profiles can also be opened using an executable file, which, in fact, means that it is tied to the start of a specific application.

Cooler Master MK850

Ergonomics and testing

I propose to consider the operation of the Cooler Master MK850 in two separate sections: as a keyboard itself and as a device that replaces a gamepad, joystick and steering wheel. Let’s start with the first use case. As a mechanical keyboard, the MK850 is pretty much all right. Why almost? Because the extra keys on the left side (which switch analog modes) confuse muscle memory a lot and you have to get used to holding your hands a little further from the left edge in order to use the touch typing technique. And this despite the fact that the rest of the key layout is completely standard. In addition, touching the M-keys will randomly switch modes in which QWERASDFs are not treated as printed buttons. At times it’s just annoying. And if you switch the keyboard switch completely to the standard mode, then when you return to the analog mode, in order to play, you will have to re-calibrate the corresponding buttons according to the height of the operation. Otherwise, everything is decent — the classic Cherry MX Red switches provide a pleasant tactile sensation when pressed, they are not too light and do not have a tendency to false actuations. All long keys have normal stabilization. And the palm rest greatly increases the comfort of working with this device, although sometimes it gets hot on the hands. They add convenience and purple caps made of PBT plastic, this is especially felt in gaming applications. The volume control wheel is located under the left hand, it is convenient for them to adjust the sound on the fly. However, I do not recommend using the brightness wheel — when triggered, it can cause the keyboard to freeze for up to 10 seconds. Perhaps this bug will be fixed, but for now it is better to simply reassign this wheel to another function or disable it. The presence of two full-fledged USB 3.0 ports greatly simplifies the life of anyone who has to transfer large amounts of information from external media, plus this option itself is quite rare in keyboards. There is a possibility of laying cables here, but it does not fully work, since the wire is not fixed securely in the grooves and tends to fall out of them all the time when the keyboard is raised. The lighting in the MK850 looks great and is highly customizable. The software is unobtrusive and clear, and the built-in memory for four profiles more than covers all the needs for saving and playing user settings on any computer. The keyboard twist test is difficult, with plastic inserts creaking at the junctions with metal parts.

With the analog operation of the MK850, things are not so simple. The keyboard uses Aimpad technology, which, using a sensor built under the key, allows you to determine the depth of pressing the button, and therefore read not only two “on” and “off” positions, but also a significant number of intermediate positions during pressing. Theoretically, this allows you to use the keyboard instead of joysticks and smoothly change the speed of movement of the characters in the game, the angle of the steering wheel of a car or aircraft, in general, work with all controls where smoothness is required. But in practice there are a number of limitations. Firstly, there are only eight analog buttons and QWERASDF keys are reserved for them. This is frankly not enough. For example, a joystick may have two or even three sticks, not counting the analog triggers. This means that the keyboard should have an appropriate number of such buttons. For example, it is not clear why arrow keys are not used as analog keys. Further, it is not a fact that mechanical keys generally fit the Aimpad concept. Indeed, in this embodiment, the key works on a 2 mm path. That is, only 2 mm remains until it stops, into which from 10 to 15 positions of the “joystick” axis offset are distributed. The user will have to learn how to distribute the force of pressing the button in a jewelry way in order to catch the desired position along the axis on such a short distance. Another interesting point is that the key pin is not pressed quite evenly and even in the fully depressed position it has a backlash, which is perfectly read by the sensors installed here. And that along the road, that at the end of the path there is a “trembling” and “rattling” of the tilt axis. And finally the most interesting. To control one stick on the joystick, only one finger is required, which smoothly shifts the handle along the X and Y axes. When simulating the same on the keyboard, three fingers are needed, and the middle one has to be transferred from the top button to the bottom one or vice versa. And try to cause a diagonal shift — for this you need to simultaneously press the buttons to the side and up, for example, and this is not at all easy to learn. In a word, analog key technology is fun, but it is not yet suitable as a full-fledged alternative to classic joysticks or gamepads.

Cooler Master MK850 supports a full-fledged NKRO mode, which allows you to activate even all the buttons at the same time.

Cooler Master MK850

Results

The Cooler Master MK850 mechanical keyboard is a unique product of its kind, one of the first devices to implement Aimpad technology to simulate the analog mode of the keys, which allows you to fix the depth of their pressing and read many positions of their positions. Why is this needed? To simulate the operation of joysticks, gamepads and steering wheels in a gaming application. At least, this is how the developers of this technology see it. But, like any innovative product that hasn’t gone through extensive user testing, the MK850 keyboard is far from ideal. More precisely, this device is good as a keyboard, but as a joystick it turned out not very well.

Let’s start with the good. Classic Cherry MX Red switches with additional PBT caps, aluminum top panel, beautiful backlighting, comfortable magnetic palm rest, volume and brightness adjustment wheels, two pass-through USB 3.0 ports, built-in memory and understandable software for its configuration. It has everything you need for a top-class device

The disadvantages, I would say, are that the M1-M5 buttons are in the way on the left side, because they constantly touch when printing and switch analog modes. They should definitely be taken somewhere else, for example up. Using the scroll wheel in the brightness adjustment mode causes short-term keyboard freezes, this point also needs to be fixed by the manufacturer. In addition, due to the abundance of plastic inserts, the body is not very durable.

Regarding the features of the analog keys, a lot of things have been written above, in the testing section, and I would not like to repeat myself. But in short, the MK850 is no substitute for a good analog joystick, especially in flight simulations. From my point of view, Aimpad technology still requires the development of special switches with a long stroke and significant actuation force. On classical mechanics and optics, it does not fully reveal its capabilities.

Based on the above, and considering the recommended price, the Cooler Master MK850 is most suitable for PC game enthusiasts who want to try something new. Otherwise, the best alternative for simulators, in my opinion, would be the Cooler Master MK730 or MK750 keyboards, combined with a real good joystick.

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