By: Ben Joubert
October 5, 2018
When I was a little kid, I was a very picky eater. One of the foods I did not like at all was cheese. I would eat a pizza with cheese on it, but I would not eat other stuff with the yellow substance. One day, I remember someone was going to be bringing burgers from a fast food place and I just wanted a plain burger. However, when the meal arrived, they were all cheeseburgers. Now, to a little kid this is devastating, which was really stupid. I ended up eating the cheeseburger and it was great! I did not like the change at first, but I realized how silly it was. Change at first always seems much worse than it really is, but moving forward or changing to something new can be very good. When I first received the Cooler Master CK550, I was excited that the red switch version arrived, but disappointed that it was Gateron and not Cherry MX. This disappointment was ill-founded, since I have never used Gateron switches before. They can be good or bad, but they are a change nonetheless. Otherwise, I have been using the same keyboard for years, which has Cherry MX Reds, so I have become exceedingly comfortable on this keyboard. Trying out a new keyboard at first always has its apparent flaws, but after some use a more objective picture can be seen. Read on to see how the Cooler Master CK550 turned out!
The Cooler Master CK550 arrived via FedEx Ground along with a couple of other peripherals that Cooler Master sent us for review. The Cooler Master MasterMouse MM531 has already been reviewed. The rest will be reviewed in the coming weeks. These products all arrived safely. The box is covered in Cooler Master branded tape, while the rest of the box is not too damaged.
As with all the products we have received from Cooler Master recently, the color scheme of the retail box is black and purple. In my opinion, this is a great choice of colors and creates an overall sleek look. Otherwise, the picture of the CK550 can be found dead center on the retail box, illuminated in all its RGB glory. At the top left, we find the Cooler Master logo and motto, while the bottom left has the product name and brief description. On the right side of the packaging, we find a small opening for the arrow keys to let users test the key switches. These switches are Gateron linear red switches, as indicated by the sticker found in the top right. The bottom right indicates the RGB functionality, hailing the CK550 as certified gaming gear. The rest of the packaging has more information regarding the keyboard.
Before we continue, here are the specifications taken from the manufacturer's website:
- Model Number: CK-550-GKGR1-** (Red Switch)
- Product Name: CK550
- Switch Type: Gateron
- Material: Plastic / Aluminum
- Color: Gunmetal Black
- LED Color: RGB, 16.7 million colors
- Polling Rate: 1000 Hz
- Response Rate: 1ms / 1000Hz
- MCU: 32bit ARM Cortex M3
- On board Memory: 512KB
- On-the-fly system: Yes, for Multi-media, Macro Recording and Lighting Control
- Multi-media Keys: Through FN
- Cable: Fixed Rubberized 1.8m
- Software Support: Yes, through Portal
- Connector Cable: USB 2.0
- Cable Length: 1.8m
- Dimensions: 460*135*41 mm (L*W*H)
- Product Weight (without cable): 850 g
- Warranty: 2 years
The inside of the Cooler Master CK550's retail box is nice and simple. The keyboard is kept in place by cardboard and has a hard plastic shell covering all the keys except for the arrow keys. This prevents any dust from settling between the keycaps and also protects against any type of surface damage. Included in the box, is a small manual housing all the required information and where to obtain the downloadable software. I like that Cooler Master also included a keycap puller, something not many manufacturers include anymore. However, I am disappointed with the absence of a wrist rest. At this price range it is not necessarily a norm, but I would have liked to see it here.
The Cooler Master CK550 has a great design. I always appreciate an aluminum backplate, as it gives the keyboard a quality feel while improving build quality. The brushed aluminum curves down at the left and right ends, extending the keyboard a little further in each direction, but the overall aesthetic is pleasing. Furthermore, the keys themselves sit slightly raised above the aluminum, meaning quite a bit of light escapes from the bottom when the RGB LEDs are active. The grey aluminum also reflects some of this light, but we will have a closer look at that later in the review. The keycaps are laser-etched ABS, which are of average quality. They do attract oily marks, but it is easy enough to clean. The grey color is the only difference between the CK550 and the CK552 that my colleague Aaron Lai reviewed. The CK552 features a midnight black color instead. Otherwise, the only indication the CK550 is a Cooler Master keyboard is the minimalist logo found on the function key. We also find the usual LED indicators at the top right of the keyboard, which are white LEDs. Lastly, the keyboard has a standard 104-key QWERTY ANSI layout, with no changes made to the spacing either.
The dimensions for the Cooler Master CK550 come in at 460 mm in width, 41 mm in height, and 135 mm in depth. The CK550 is bigger than other keyboards of the same form factor. This is mostly due to the keyboard sloping down at the left and right sides. However, it is only slightly bigger. Without the cable, the Cooler Master CK550's weight comes in at 850 g. This is pretty reasonable and nothing surprising for a mechanical keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are heavier than other types of keyboards, and are almost always close to 1 kg in weight. Of course, this is not really an issue, since the keyboard will mostly just be sitting at your desk at all times anyway. The weight also indicates build quality to an extent. I have already praised the aluminum backplate, but it definitely adds to the rigidity of the keyboard, even with the plastic base. There is very little flex to the keyboard and I did not notice any visual imperfections either.
As usual, there are plenty of secondary functions as well, which can be used by pushing the Fn key in combination with plenty of other keys. Before any software is installed, there is some limited functions one can execute using only the Fn key. On this side of the keyboard, that is changing the LED color from blue, to green, to red. These colors can be intensified by repeatedly pressing the button combo. F1 allows one to cycle through some different color modes. From F5 to F8, you can cycle through the LED mode, change the foreground or background effect, or do the lighting demo.
Moving on to this side of the keyboard, there are some more functions. F9 allows one to lock the Windows key, if pressed again it locks the whole keyboard, and then if pressed again it will unlock the keyboard. F10 to F12 is used to create macros, as well as Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause buttons are used to determine the different types of loops for the macros. The grouping of six keys above the arrow keys are all the media controls, which is wildly different from other keyboards I have used in the past. It took some getting used to, but being able to change volume with one hand is an advantage. The arrow keys control the speed of the lighting effects or change the direction of the lighting modes. All in all, there is plenty of functionality without the need for software. However, Cooler Master does have software for the CK550, which will be detailed later in the review.
Cooler Master has ensured the CK550 has NKRO, which is N-key rollover. This means that no matter how many keys are pressed independently, each individual key will be recognized. NKRO is a must for gaming keyboards, as there are plenty of occasions where you need to press multiple keys and having each key registered is crucial. Furthermore, the Cooler Master CK550 has mechanical switches, particularly red linear Gateron switches. Mechanical switches are one of the main types of switches selling today, the other two being membrane or scissor switches. Originally, Cherry MX had the mechanical switch market cornered, but there are more and more manufacturers such as Kailh or, in this case, Gateron. Gateron Reds attempt to imitate the Cherry MX Reds, and do so quite convincingly. They are rated at fifty million keystrokes, and have a 45g actuation force, ensuring a really light touch to actuate the switch. In this way, having the same excellent specifications and longevity of Cherry MX keys. As you can see in the picture above, the base is clear, allowing the LEDs to effectively shine through.
The back of the Cooler Master CK550 is fairly straightforward. At the top right and left, are two little feet that can be extended to angle the keyboard down a bit. These feet are covered in rubber to grip whichever surface they are on. At the bottom left and right, are two small rectangular rubber feet to keep the keyboard in place on any surface. Out of the top of the case, we find a 1.8m rubber cable. Inside of the keyboard, we find a 32-bit ARM Cortex M3 processor as well as 512KB on board memory. It boasts impressive specifications to store the necessary profiles and other settings you may save onto the CK550.
The Cooler Master software for the CK550 works similarly to the software of other Cooler Master products. First, one needs to download the portal, which functions as the base for all the other pieces of software. From here, one downloads a specific software to a specific accessory. It is a nice and simple process. The software itself is very intuitive. The first tab allows one to choose between a myriad of lighting effects or customize each individual keycap to your own liking. The Macro tab is used to create and assign macros. This makes using macros a little less clunky than programming them only using the Fn key and F keys. The Key Map tab, allows you to make changes to all the keys on the keyboard, while the Profiles tab allows one to change profiles or restore them to default. All in all, the software works and I encountered no strange bugs to speak of.
After setting this keyboard up, and customizing the switches to show it off in full RGB glory, I was able to appreciate its overall design. All the LEDs reflect slightly off the brushed aluminum backplate, creating a really cool look. Otherwise, when it came to using it, it was a pleasant experience. Even though I am used to Cherry MX Red switches, since they have for a long time been my daily driver, the Gateron switches are quite good, but also different. They require slightly less force for actuation and therefore produce an overall lighter experience. However, I feel like they lack a certain crispness to them. They feel slightly squishier, but only when I am directly comparing them to the Cherry MX Reds. Squishiness may not be the exact right word, but maybe slightly less taut is a bit more accurate. Overall, I definitely enjoyed using them and my preference is torn between these or the classic Cherry MX Reds. Ultimately, it will come down to the user's choice.
Trying out something new is always a bit of a hassle. Change does not always come with a great big fanfare, but more often than not, it is a good thing. As I said in the introduction, I was quite excited about trying a keyboard with a red switch, since all the other keyboards I have reviewed have not been the light linear switch I so enjoy. Regardless, the Cooler Master CK550 performed excellently. Starting with how it is built, the aluminum backplate increases its overall quality feel and the plastic casing provides enough rigidity to ensure the keyboard will not easily break. Furthermore, the design itself is sleek, even though it adds a couple of millimeters to the dimensions. The quality is continued in the keys as well. The ABS keycaps are not the best, but they provide a balanced alternative for a lower price, while the Gateron switches are rated to last as long as its Cherry MX counterpart. As well, the key switch performance was good, and provides excellent feedback throughout. Without the software, the keyboard can still be customized quite extensively with all the secondary functions. The software, however, adds to the customization and it is intuitive to use. I still would have liked to seen a wrist rest included. The CK550 gets a price bump up from the CK552, coming in at $90 USD. It seems odd to me, especially since the only observable difference between these two is a change in color. I would have liked to see a wrist rest included with the CK550 in light of the price jump. Overall, the CK550 is still a good keyboard with quality components.
Cooler Master provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that are not likely going to matter to the end user.
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.3/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The Cooler Master CK550 delivers an all-around great RGB keyboard at a competitive price.
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