By: Jonathan Kwan
January 29, 2019
Around Christmastime last month, we were at a friend's house for a party. A group of us were standing around chatting when one of the girls began telling a story. "Have you ever been in a car with cloth seats?" She paused for a moment as everyone in the group looked at each other, suddenly bursting into laughter. "Did you just ask, 'Have you ever been in a car with cloth seats?'" Another friend chimed in, "This may be shocking to you, but I actually own a car with cloth seats!" Agitated, she insisted she was trying to tell a story and that was not the point, but no one was listening. "We get it, you are rich!" While it may not be surprising to anyone she never ended up telling the actual story, I think we are left with one big question to answer: Do all high end cars have leather seats? The answer to that, of course, is no; there are many vehicles that feature Alcantara seating surfaces and are priced only within the reach of the 1%. So what makes a high end keyboard? Cooler Master's latest SK630 certainly looks basic and ordinary at first glance. Do not get fooled by its plebeian looks though: This minimalistic tenkeyless keyboard has an MSRP of $120 at press time. What makes this price tag justifiable? Is it made out of quality materials? Does it have RGB? Let me give you a hint. It checks both boxes and throws in a bonus: Cherry MX Red Low Profile switches.
Our review unit of the Cooler Master SK630 came in a large brown corrugated cardboard box from Cooler Master's American headquarters in Brea, California, USA. Cooler Master sent us such a large package because they also threw in the Cooler Master MasterMouse MM830 recently reviewed by my colleague Ben Joubert along with a collection of products that has not been released yet. Using FedEx International Ground, everything arrived in great condition to us here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for our review today.
The retail box design for the Cooler Master SK630 is an updated interpretation of the company's "Make it Yours" campaign. The white background is complemented by mainly black text for maximum contrast along with a burst of purple to help you remember who made it. Cooler Master's logo and slogan is at the top left corner, backlight activated image of the keyboard is printed across the center, and the model name and product description is located at the bottom left corner. On the opposite corner, two icons indicate its RGB backlighting and Cherry MX switches, respectively. Our particular unit has Cherry MX Red Low Profile switches. Feature highlights can be found on the remaining sides of the box.
Before we move on, let us take a look at the specifications of the Cooler Master SK630, as obtained from the press material:
Product Name: SK630
Switch Type: Cherry MX RGB Low Profile Switch
Material: Aluminum / Plastic
Color: Gunmetal Black
LED Color: RGB
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 Function Key (FN)
Cable: USB Type-C Detachable & Braided
Software Support: Yes, through Portal
Connector Cable: USB Type-C (Keyboard Side), USB 2.0 Type A (Computer Side)
Cable Length: 1.8m, Braided & Removable
Dimensions: 353.5 * 125.5 * 29.8 mm (L*W*H)
Product Weight: (without cable): 552g
Warranty: 2 years
Out of the box, you will receive everything you need plus a few other things that are really nice to have. Securely placed inside the box is the Cooler Master SK630 keyboard itself contained in a classy suede drawstring bag, while the keycap puller and USB Type-C to USB Type-A cable is included inside a separate small box at the bottom. On the product literature side, you will find a quick start guide that shows you what some function key combination do.
The Cooler Master SK630 is a very minimalist tenkeyless keyboard. It is one of the cleanest looking keyboards I have seen in a long time; very classical Apple. With straight edges, no dedicated macro keys, and a reference layout, you will have to look pretty closely, and in a sense, figuratively, to see what makes the SK630 special. Indeed, there is nothing that really sets it apart other than the fact this is a good old mechanical keyboard with real Cherry MX Low Profile switches. There is no integrated wrist rest and there is no specially designed OEM accessory for it. Meanwhile, the exposed gunmetal colored brushed alumimum backplate is great to look at. It even hides fingerprints well. The sides and bottom are all made out of quality plastic. Overall, I am a big fan of the looks, but aluminum backplate flexes slightly under heavy load. It would be nice if it was stronger, but it is not a major concern.
The Cooler Master SK630 measures in at 353.2mm width, 125.5mm depth, and 29.8mm height. This is about as compact as a standard tenkeyless QWERTY keyboard will go. To go along with its low profile, the keyboard weighs about 552g according to the manufacturer. This is exceptionally light for a mechanical keyboard.
Once you turn off the lights and activate the Cooler Master SK630's RGB backlit keys, the keyboard really shines -- no pun intended. The font is large and easy to read. The SK630 features full independent key RGB backlighting when you use it with software. The RGB backlight and macros can be programmed or adjusted on-the-fly without software as outlined in the user manual. A dedicated ARM Cortex M3 is inside to run complex lighting effects like the built-in snake game.
I am a big fan of fully backlit keyboards and I am happy Cooler Master designed the SK630 with this feature. The Cooler Master SK630's key illumination distribution is reasonably even for the most part. The area between the keys are also backlit thanks to the reflection of the LEDs, and I like it. One thing to point out, for keys with more than one line of text label, you will notice the top half is significantly brighter than the bottom half. This is due to physical design limitations of Cherry MX stems, as you can see in our photo above.
Hitting the Function key along with the labeled F1 through F8 buttons and arrow keys allow you to do things like cycling through different lighting effects or adjusting the effect speed. One strange omission is the backlight intensity cannot be adjusted on the fly directly. The closest thing you can do is to reduce the intensity of each RGB channel, but this is not an intuitive method. Fn in combination with F10 to Pause are for macros. The productivity keys double as your multimedia keys with Fn held down. You can even switch profiles, stored on the keyboard's 512KB internal memory, by going through Fn in concert with 1 to 4. Fn in combination with F9 toggles Win Lock on or off. Win Lock is an important feature in any gaming keyboard, because let us face it: How many times have you tried to duck in your favorite FPS while engaging an enemy, only to be killed instantly, because you missed the "Ctrl" key and your game was minimized? Hit the same key combination again and you can even lock the whole keyboard.
The extra-flat acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic keycaps are of average quality. Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) keycaps such as the ones found on the Cooler Master MasterKeys L PBT are stiffer, harder, and has better color retention, but the ones found on the Cooler Master SK630 are smooth and feels nice on the fingers despite showing a bit of oily marks.
Almost everything here is pretty standard in terms of layout with a few additions. I prefer the single row Enter key layout as present on our US QWERTY Cooler Master SK630. Keyboards with a double row Enter key usually means the "\" button is moved to the left side of the right "Shift" key; reducing the size of the latter. I am more used to having a full width Shift on the right and a half height Enter. Obviously, this is more or less personal preference, but having a half height Enter key makes a lot more sense to me.
The Cooler Master SK630 has no dedicated lock indicator LEDs. Instead, the LED backlight for the caps lock and scroll lock button will turn on and off depending on the current lock status. One omission I noticed is the backlight for the Windows key will not turn off when Windows lock is activated. Even more confusing is when the full keyboard lock is activated; everything looks exactly the same. Those who are not familiar with their SK630 could be left wondering why their keyboard stopped working.
If you do not know what a mechanical keyboard is, there are three main types of keyboards in the market today. The cheapest is the membrane keyboard, which is the easiest to make, but also has poor typing feel and response due to squishy keys. A scissor switch keyboard has its own independent keyswitch mechanism for each key, which delivers improved tactile response and typing experience. Modern scissor switch keyboards can be very good for everyday office use. Mechanical keyboards such as the Cooler Master SK630 costs the most because each keyswitch is an independent part.
The SK630 features Cherry MX Red Low Profile switches. Corsair and Cherry collaborated on the design of this new switch and was first found in the Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile. In turn, the Cooler Master SK630 is reasonably quiet during operation even though it is has no dampening. It is a bit louder than the K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile with a higher pitched tone when actuated, but it is quieter than the average Cherry MX Red keyboard.
I really enjoy the feel of the Cherry MX Red Low Profile. Cherry MX Red Low Profile, like the regular MX Red, is marketed as a gaming type switch. The maximum key travel distance is 3.2mm with actuation at 1.2mm compared to the regular MX Red at 4mm total travel with 2mm pre-travel. With an actuation force of 45g in a completely linear fashion, it is about 15g lighter than the MX Black; generally speaking, the Cooler Master SK630 will feel very different than other non-mechanical keyboards. It will feel different than other mechanical keyboards as well. It is quite intriguing to use a keyboard that feels so familiar and different at the same time, considering I have been using Cherry MX Red switches exclusively since 2013. This keyswitch is desirable for gaming because you will be bottoming out all the keys anyway, but the lack of the "bump" of the Cherry MX Red Low Profile may not appeal to everyone. It is rated for fifty million operations like other Cherry MX switches. The base is is strong as aforementioned, but there is some keyboard flex under heavy loads, but it is not a major concern.
The Cooler Master SK630 is a full NKRO keyboard. NKRO stands for N-key rollover. If you have used keyboards with limited NKRO capabilities, you may have experienced ghosting issues in the past -- where when too many keys are pressed at the same time, your system unable to register any more strokes. A full NKRO keyboard like the Cooler Master SK630 overcomes this by independently polling each key, making all inputs detectable by the hardware regardless of how many other keys are activated at the same time. This mean in the event you have every other key on your keyboard depressed, it will still register the last stroke. While this is a highly unlikely scenario, since you have only ten fingers, this is as good as it can get.
At the back of the Cooler Master SK630 is the USB Type-C cable lead out. It comes out in the center and is detachable. This braided cable is of average thickness and extends 1.8m in length to connect to your computer via one standard, non-gold-plated USB Type-A connector. When we bring about the question of whether gold plated connectors are actually useful or not, let us just say if it was the actual pins, then possibly -- since gold offers better conductivity than other metals. This theoretically establishes a better connection with your computer, but on a digital signal level, we must understand it is a discrete one or zero; if anyone tells you they can tell the difference, you can definitely defeat their theory with a double blinded test. Additionally, if you are referring to the gold part of the connector you see on the plug, I would like to point out it actually does not make any physical contact electrically with your computer. In other words, it is nice to have and it is pretty to look at, but it is not anything significant on a practical level. The lack of a gold-plated USB connector will not have any performance impact on the Cooler Master SK630.
At the bottom are four small rubber pads to help the SK630 stay in place during intense gaming sessions. The keyboard itself is pretty lightweight, so it might shift a bit if your table does not have a lot of grip. There are no flip-out risers at the front to tilt the keyboard up for those who prefer it. There are no keyboard drain holes either, so it is advisable to keep your Mountain Dew at a distance.
The Cooler Master SK630 works along with a version of Cooler Master Portal, which is a lightweight 9.1MB download from the company's website at press time. This program unifies your Cooler Master peripherals into one application. Once the program opens, it will detect the products you own and download additional content specific to your models. The keyboard firmware can be updated from here as well. All settings are stored on the keyboard's 512KB internal memory for up to four profiles.
The main configuration window is separated into four tabs, as shown in our screenshot above. The first tab, LED, allows you to select RGB lighting effects and colors. The Macro tab allows you to program macros. Key Map shows a picture of the keyboard, where you can select individual keys and change their functions. Profiles is where you can import and export the four profiles stored on the keyboard's internal memory. Overall, I found Cooler Master Portal to be basic, but it is very straightforward and easy to use. It is certainly not as powerful as Corsair's iCUE or SteelSeries' Engine. In fact, you can do most of the things directly on the keyboard without software, but my overall experience was positive.
As basic and minimalistic the Cooler Master SK630 may look, there has been no questions in my mind this keyboard is high end from the moment I opened the box. And why should there be any questions? Is a high end keyboard defined by its size, the number of multimedia buttons, or the quantity of dedicated macro keys it has? Certainly not. I believe a keyboard is high end because of the way it was made. And let me tell you this. The Cooler Master SK630 is one of the sleekest and cleanest looking 80% tenkeyless keyboards I have ever seen. Its supremely compact dimensions and clean edges would make an Apple fanboy blush, while the Cherry MX Red Low Profile switches that reside underneath every keycap is an enthusiast's dream. The gunmetal brushed aluminum backplate is beautifully finished, and you can even play Snake -- in color -- thanks to the advanced RGB backlighting system. Pick the SK630 up and you will find out how lighweight it is, flip it around and you will find a USB Type-C port, plug it in and type away with the four stored profiles on the keyboard's internal memory. If you want to shake things up, the SK630 can be programmed with or without software. There is a lot to like about the Cooler Master SK630. If there is anything I would like to see improved on, here is my list. Firstly, strengthen the backplate to reduce keyboard flex. Secondly, the way Windows Lock works is slightly confusing; an indicator LED would go a long way. Thirdly, make the LED brightness adjustable on the fly. Lastly, a detachable wrist rest would be nice. For an MSRP of $120, it is very likely you can find it retail for less, making the Cooler Master SK630 an excellent choice if you are looking for a minimalistic 80% tenkeyless keyboard with Cherry MX Red Low Profile switches.
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 SK630 is a well-designed keyboard that feels high end and competitively priced at the same time.
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