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Corsair's new K95 gaming keyboard is surprisingly classy

Even with the disco lighting, it doesn't feel tacky.

When I first encountered the Corsair Rapidfire K70, it was love at first sight: The feel of the brand-new Cherry MX Speed keys and their short 1.2mm actuation point was par excellence, and the RGB lighting gave me faint Candy Land vibes with its bright colors. However, while it was good for typing and many games, configuration fanatics were left out of the fun by the lack of dedicated macro keys. This month, Corsair finally added MX Speed keys to its flagship K95 model, but that's not the only upgrade gamers and typists will discover. The $200 K95 RGB Platinum features some redesigned buttons, a reversible wrist rest and a snazzy lighting bar. It's more of a refinement than a revamp, but it's one that makes the new K95 a flashy, yet somehow tasteful, addition to any desk. Yes, even with the colors.

Gallery: Corsair K95 RGB Platinum hands-on | 15 Photos

The rainbow shades are the first thing you'll notice upon seeing the K95 plugged in. In my case, comments from nearby co-workers ranged from an enthusiastic "That's really cool" to a confused "Uh, that's really ... colorful?" The lighting patterns can be customized in the Corsair Utility Engine, which lets you select specific shades if you want multiple colors and different lighting patterns. The "visor" configuration, which I assume is meant to invoke the distinctive vacillating red beam of a Cylon Centurion, is one of the most irritating things I have ever seen (and I've been to Las Vegas). The default "rainbow wave" is actually rather pleasant, and if you'd rather eschew the lighting altogether, a button on the upper-left area of the keyboard turns it off.

Most of the design changes are found in the media controls. The volume roller is a little wider, and it's silver, in contrast to the black keyboard deck. That makes its purpose as a control a lot more obvious, as well as more fun to flick back and forth. The media keys are also now wedge-shaped instead of flat; they're not as springy as before, but it doesn't matter, since you don't use these to type.

Meanwhile, the profile switcher, lighting control and Windows Lock (to turn the OS button off) have been moved to a small row of buttons on the upper left. It's a small, mostly insignificant change, but it really helps the K95's overall aesthetic as a sleek keyboard. The only real flourishes are the light bar along the back edge, which can be customized along 18 different zones, and the fact that the logo is now illuminated as well. I guess Corsair didn't want you to forget who made this thing.

Besides these small elements, the bigger changes that make the K95 RGB Platinum stand apart as Corsair's "flagship" are the reversible wrist rest and the row of macro keys. The wrist rest is a nifty bit of design, with the base easily connected by simply sliding it up toward the deck and waiting for the click. The base is rimmed so that the rubber mat slides into it perfectly, held in place via the wonder of magnets. One side is smooth, and the other side has a pattern of raised triangles to add a bit more texture. The mat is impossible to wipe completely clean, as I learned after eating a bag of white cheddar corn puffs while working, but a quick run under a tap in the bathroom cleared the crumbs nicely. As on previous models, the keys can be removed for easy cleaning using the included tool.

The six macro keys can easily be set to any combination of commands you want, or just simply mapped to do one particular thing. It's as easy as going into the "actions" tab of the utility software, locating the key on a graphic of the K95 and choosing what you want it to do via the drop-down. Some parts are still a bit confusing -- you need to select "Create action" before customizing anything -- but the process is generally less opaque than it was when I tested the K70. All told, the keyboard comes with 8MB of RAM, meaning it can store three profiles on board and take them anywhere. That's handy if you ever have to switch computers; once you've got things exactly where you want them, you never have to fuss with the software again and can get down to business faster.

Gallery: Corsair Utility Engine | 8 Photos

Unlike the standard keys, the macro buttons are gray, with a bit of hatch texture on them, supposedly so you don't hit them accidentally. The thing is, I tended to hit them a lot anyway when my fingers went in search of the Ctrl or Shift commands. The macro keys weren't set up, so it wasn't a programming problem so much as a physical issue, easily solved by using the key remover to just take them off. Probably not what Corsair intended for the K95, but hey, it's all about customization, right?

Besides the improvements to the Utility Engine, there's one under-the-hood change worth mentioning. The Vengeance K70 RGB had a weird quirk where there'd be a slight delay after hitting the caps lock, meaning letters typed after it was hit wouldn't appear on the screen right away. I'd usually end up with a jumble of mixed caps, only because I'd notice the caps lock was on, try to turn it off, and then have to wait for the system to adjust again. The same problem would occur in the media buttons as well -- the roller would take a second or two to change the volume. On the new K95, the volume seems to work instantaneously, while caps lock still exhibits some delay, but it's at least shorter.

A few years ago, the choice between Corsair's K70 and K95 was easy: Do you want macro keys or not? But now it's gotten a bit more complicated. If you don't need those six extra buttons, it comes down to how subtly stylish you want to be, and how much you want to pay for it. The K95 RGB Platinum is available this month.

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