Cooler Master might not be the first name that springs to mind when you're thinking about shopping for the best gaming keyboard (opens in new tab), but that might all be about to change with the release of the MK850. It's an excellent mechanical keyboard on its own merits, with a slew of useful features and well implemented Cherry MX Red switches, but the headlining feature is how it incorporates Aimpad tech into a selection of keys.
What is Aimpad? The core idea is that it changes some of the keys on your deck from standard, binary switches to analog controls similar to a gamepad's analog stick. Using IR sensors, the Aimpad keys can detect how far down a key is pressed, so if you need to turn gradually in a racing game or walk rather than sprint in an FPS, the keyboard can detect this and your character/vehicle will respond appropriately. It's a great idea, and an important first step for making a keyboard and mouse setup viable in games that have traditionally required a controller.
Cooler Master MK850 - Design
The overall design of the MK850 is really appealing, due mainly to its anodized aluminum chassis and RGB backlighting (which can be customized across a number of patterns and configurations in 16.7 million colors). It's also one of the better looking boards that doesn't adhere to a strictly rectangular form factor, making good use of diagonal angles and rounded edges around the periphery.
The MK850 also comes packaged with a comfortable wrist rest, which is basically mandatory to reach up to keycaps that have been elevated to best flatter that RGB glow beaming through stems. My only real issue comes with the placement of the macro keys along the left side of the deck - they're crowded so close to the other keys that I found myself hitting them accidentally when reaching for Caps Lock or Ctrl.
Cooler Master MK850 - Performance
The MK850 is built around Cherry MX Red switches, which perform well and as quietly as you'd expect, though I noticed that there was significantly more resistance to each keypress than I'm accustomed to from Reds. While this wasn't a huge issue, and I imagine it has to do with the implementation of the Aimpad stuff, when typing continuously for long periods of time there was some noticeable hand fatigue. I take several runs at an online typing test when I'm evaluating keyboards after after several minutes of furious typing on the MK850, I needed to take a short rest and let my hands and wrists recover.
The Aimpad keys themselves function as advertised, and it's pretty remarkable how well they're able to replicate the sensation of using an analog joystick. By default, the macro keys let you adjust the Aimpad controls for different genres, like driving games or first person shooters, and it's a cinch to switch between them on the fly. You can also more precisely tune their sensitivity (or toggle them on and off) with three keys placed above the tenkeys on the right side of the board.
Cooler Master MK850 - Features
The MK850 also comes with a great suite of features I look for in a great gaming keyboard. Alongside the macros, there's also a generous bar of dedicated media controls, the wrist rest, and USB passthroughs. And it's possible to adjust a ton of the deck's features without ever jumping into Cooler Master's proprietary Portal software, including the pattern, color, and brightness of the RGB backlighting. There's also a pair of smooth scrolling precision wheels next to the other media controls, which you can dial around to change system volume or brightness. It's a robust feature set that ticks most of the checkboxes of a modern gaming board, though I do wish there was a 3.5 passthrough option alongside the USB.
Overall - should you buy it?
The MK850 is an impressive keyboard, and actually makes the case for relegating gamepads and controllers permanently to the console side of the aisle. It would be a really nice gaming keyboard even without the Aimpad technology, but the fact that it incorporates analog controls in a way that's practical and useful and not just a marketing gimmick elevates it even further. If you're sick of your computer desk being cluttered with a bunch of controllers or are just generally in the market for a great mechanical keyboard, the MK850 is a strong contender.