By: Jonathan Kwan
June 8, 2018
Although APH Networks has worked with over 140 manufacturers since 2005, it is always exciting for us to review a product from a brand that has never appeared on our website. Do not get me wrong; we appreciate everyone who has continued sending us products for evaluation to this day after all these years despite our unwavering commitment to impartial reviews that can sometimes be quite brutal. Recently, my colleague Aaron Lai shared with me how excited he was to be the first editor to publish a Sennheiser headphone review here a few months back, as well as the opportunity he had in covering a LG smartphone a couple of years ago. To share in his excitement, today I will mark history to say I will be the first one at APH Networks to cover a product from one of the most respected companies in the technology world: MSI. I am not sure why we have not reviewed anything from them in the last thirteen years even though we have extensively covered products from ASUS and Gigabyte. But why bother about the past when we can look ahead into the future? The Vigor GK80 is one of MSI's latest entries into the ever-expanding gaming peripherals market. Equipped with genuine Cherry MX switches, Mystic Light-powered RGB backlighting, and a metal wrist rest with a hidden keycap storage, is this a mechanical keyboard of the times with a few extra tricks up its sleeve? Read on to find out!
Our review unit of the MSI Vigor GK80 arrived in a medium sized, brown corrugated cardboard box from the company's Canadian service center in Markham, Ontario, Canada. I visit Markham quite often, and if you have never been there before, it is a city in the Regional Municipality of York within the Greater Toronto Area and is home to lots of Chinese people, expensive houses, and good food. Traveling via Purolator Ground, everything arrived in reasonably good condition to us here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for our review today.
Upon cutting open the MSI-branded tape on the shipping box, I was greeted by the MSI Vigor GK80 in its retail packaging. Although I have seen a lot of MSI products at local retail stores, I will admit I have not taken a detailed look at their box art given I have not owned anything from them since 2005. Unsurprisingly, a lot has changed since then, and what we have here fits in well with the latest marketing trend of gaming peripherals. A large photo of the keyboard itself occupies a large portion of the space in front of red and black background to give it a gaming overtone. The model and product type, Vigor GK80 Gaming Keyboard, is printed at the lower left-hand corner. MSI's logo is printed at the top left corner, while tiles depicting its RGB Mystic Light support, gaming gear classification, and Cherry MX mechanical switches can be seen on the right. Feature highlights and specifications of the Vigor GK80 is found on the remaining sides of the box.
Before we move on, let us take a look at the specifications of the MSI Vigor GK80, as obtained from the manufacturer's website:
Model Name: Vigor GK80 RED GAMING KEYBOARD
Main Key switches: CHERRY MX RGB Red Switches
Keyboard Interface: Wired USB 2.0
Normal keys: 104/105/109 keys (different by languages)
System Requirement: System with USB port
Dimensions (mm): 439*141*38 / 482x84x200 mm (with package)
Backlight: Full RGB Illumination (16.77 Million Colors)
Operating System: Windows 10 / 8.1 / 8 / 7 / Vista / XP; Mac OS X (Supports while in Normal Mode)
- 4x Double Material Metal and Plate Keycaps
- 12x Double Injection and Material Keycaps with comfortable surface
- 1x Key Puller
- 1x Wrist Rest
Cables: 2m Braided Fiber
Keystroke Life: 50+ Million
Multimedia Keys: Dedicated Keys
Gaming Mode: Fn + Windows
N-Key Rollover: N-Key Rollover (Gaming mode); 6-Key Rollover (Standard mode)
Weight(g): 1400 / 2300g (with package)
Out of the box, you will receive everything you will need plus a few things on the side. Securely placed inside the box is the MSI Vigor GK80 keyboard itself contained in a white foam bag, while its detached wrist rest is wrapped inside a separate plastic bag. Twelve blank double injection rubber keycaps of various sizes, including eight standard, two Ctrl/Alt/Function/Windows, one left shift/enter, and one spacebar. Standard W, A, S, D labeled keycaps are in the box in case you do not like the pre-installed zinc alloy keycaps in the WASD location. A keycap removal tool is present to make your life easier. On the product literature side, there is a manual. The MSI Gaming Center and Mystic Light software can be downloaded from the company's website.
The MSI Vigor GK80 is the company's latest full-sized mechanical keyboard with RGB backlighting. If you are looking for the tenkeyless variant, the company offers the GK70. The Vigor GK80 is yet another product that closely represents APH Networks' design philosophy for keyboards, meaning it has a clean, practically reference layout -- no crazy designs -- with OEM Cherry MX keyswitches, media buttons on the side, LED backlighting, and a detachable wrist rest. The MSI Vigor GK80 checks all the boxes for the most part. MSI's branding can be found at the top right corner with four media control keys. Meanwhile, the medium tone brushed aluminum backplate is great to look at, and is reasonably fingerprint resistant too. The sides, bottom, and red top bar are all made out of quality plastic. Overall, I am a big fan of the looks, and the aluminum backplate is quite solid. There is little to no perceivable flex in the keyboard, and feels solid in everyday use.
Speaking of the MSI Vigor GK80's wrist rest, it is detached from the main unit. In fact, you cannot even attach it to the main unit, which I find kind of strange. Thankfully, the entire wrist rest is made out of aluminum. It will generally not move anywhere due to weight. The wrist rest has reciprocating grooves that interfaces with the keyboard, but one suggestion for improvement would be to make it magnetic. The wrist rest is coated with textured rubber across the entire top surface for improved grip, and protrudes comfortably for my average sized hands. MSI's red logo can be found dead center.
The MSI Vigor GK80 measures in at 439mm width, 141mm depth, and 38mm height. Adding the wrist rest increases the depth by about 60mm. These dimensions fall within the majority distribution of a standard QWERTY keyboard. To go along with its medium footprint and medium profile, the keyboard weighs about 1.4 kg according to the manufacturer. This is on the heavier side even for a mechanical keyboard, but with all the metal used, this is to be expected.
Once you turn off the lights and activate the MSI Vigor GK80's backlit keys, the keyboard really shines -- no pun intended. The backlight can be turned off completely or activated in ten different brightness levels. Two small LED strips on the side, which can be turned on or off depending on your preference, are present to give the GK80 a little more style. I am a big fan of fully backlit keyboards, and I am happy MSI designed it with this feature.
The font used on the keycaps is small and busy, which can be a bit hard to read. Furthermore, quite a number of keycaps have second row printing, making the illumination appear uneven. The cause for this uneven illumination is due to the fact the switch stem in the middle is partially blocking out the LED located at top of each keycap. That aside, the Vigor GK80 features full independent key RGB backlighting and can be programmed on the keyboard itself without software. Up to five lighting profiles can be stored in the Vigor GK80's onboard memory. Programming the keyboard without software will require you to read the manual; it is unlikely you can figure it out yourself quickly without referring to literature. Backlight intensity can be adjusted on the fly by holding down the Function key and up or down on the keyboard, while fourteen backlight modes can be scrolled through using left and right. These fourteen backlight modes include ten preset effects, one customized profile, and three special backlit modes for League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch. Effect speed can be adjusted using Function in conjunction with the angle bracket keys.
Other secondary functions activated by the Function key are labeled on the south side of the corresponding keycaps. This includes keys for LED indicators adjustment/programming from F1 to F5, backlight profile settings from 1 to 5, exclusive MSI video cards and motherboards features with the productivity keys, repeat rate configuration from F5 to F9, media functions from F9 to Pause/Break, and Windows Lock/Unlock with the Windows key. Windows 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?
The laser-etched 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 MSI Vigor GK80 are smooth and feels nice on the fingers despite showing a bit of oily marks. The four pre-installed zinc alloy keycaps in the WASD location is probably the best feeling of the bunch. The company also includes twelve textured non-slip double injection rubber keycaps in various sizes.
Almost everything here is pretty standard in terms of layout with a few additions. I am a big fan of the single row Enter key layout, as present on our US QWERTY MSI Vigor GK80. 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.
Above the number pad and productivity keys are four media keys, which includes play/pause, mute, volume down, and volume up. They are really small and its label is hard to read from the user's angle; this is not to mention the media keys are not backlit. Three indicator LEDs corresponding to Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Game Mode, respectively, can be found behind a darkly tinted piece of plastic adjacent to the MSI logo. They glow red when activated and its color cannot be changed.
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 MSI Vigor GK80 costs the most, because each keyswitch is an independent part.
The MSI Vigor GK80 with Cherry MX Red mechanical switches are quite audible while in operation, as it is not the Silent variant. You can also get it with Cherry MX Silver switches. Some mechanical keyboards, like the HyperX Alloy Elite RGB and Corsair Gaming K68, are comparatively quieter during operation despite having the same Cherry MX Red switches. Cherry MX Red, like the MX Black, is marketed as a gaming type switch. The maximum key travel distance is 4mm with actuation at 2mm. With an actuation force of 45g in a completely linear fashion, it is about 15g lighter than the MX Black; generally speaking, the MSI Vigor GK80 will feel very different than other non-mechanical keyboards. 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 may not appeal to everyone. It is rated for fifty million operations like other Cherry MX switches. The base is very solid and among the best I have seen as aforementioned, so you will get very minimal keyboard flex, which is excellent.
The MSI Vigor GK80 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 MSI Vigor GK80 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 will get.
At the back of the MSI Vigor GK80 is the USB cable lead out. Tracks at the bottom allow you to run the cable out the left, right, or center, depending on your preference, and is not detachable. This braided rubber cable is very thick, and extends 1.8m in length to connect to your computer via two standard, non-gold-plated USB connectors. There are two USB connectors to supply extra power to the keyboard as well as supporting a USB 2.0 port located at the back. 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 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 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 MSI Vigor GK80.
At the bottom are four rubber pads to help the Vigor GK80 stay in place during intense gaming sessions. The two flip-out risers at the front tilts the keyboard up for those who prefer it, and are rubber lined to maintain traction. I still think it would have been better if it could be attached to the keyboard magnetically, but let us not beat a dead horse, haha. You can see a track at the bottom of the wrist rest for storing extra keycaps -- an excellent idea in my opinion. Six additional rubber strips under the metal wrist rest are used to increase its grip on your desk.
The MSI Vigor GK80 works along with the latest version of Mystic Light and Gaming Center, which is a 17.21MB and 60.43MB download, respectively, from MSI's website at press time. Most of the keyboard configuration is designed to be done in Gaming Center, while Mystic Light allows you to synchronize the lighting effects across your MSI products. Mystic Light has marginally more RGB control over Gaming Center, but both software has functionality overlap that should be combined into one single suite in my opinion.
Our screenshot above shows MSI's Gaming Center application in the LED tab. At the top, you can select the MSI device you wish to configure. I only have an MSI keyboard, so naturally it was the only one that was not blanked out. One of five profiles can be selected on the left with three configuration tabs for each profile. These include Macro, LED, and Hotkey. In the Macro tab, you can select any key to program. Up to twelve macros can be set per profile, and are saved to the keyboard's internal memory. I found the macro programming system to be quite primitive, but it works. The second tab is LED. Here, you can pick colors from a palette, select the active effect, effect speed, and effect direction. All of these can be done without software on the keyboard itself, but it is a bit easier to do it in the application in my opinion. Lastly, the Hotkey tab allows you to toggle exclusive MSI motherboard and graphics cards functions on or off.
Overall, I found MSI Gaming Center to be generally straightforward and easy to use. It is basic and there is not too much to write about, but it gets the job done.
Equipped with genuine Cherry MX switches, Mystic Light-powered RGB backlighting, and a metal wrist rest with a hidden keycap storage, is the MSI Vigor GK80 a mechanical keyboard of the times with a few extra tricks up its sleeve? To start off, there is a lot to like about the Vigor GK80. Other than the fact it has genuine Cherry MX switches and Mystic Light-powered RGB backlighting for those who already own other products from the company, I like its clean, practically reference layout with no crazy designs. The brushed aluminum backplate is not only good to look at, but also exhibits little flex in use. A bunch of extra keycaps are included and can be easily swapped out for people with different preferences. To prevent you from misplacing those keycaps, you can even store them underneath the wrist rest -- a stroke of genius if you ask me. Throw in its five profile onboard memory and software-less configuration capability -- even though its software-less configuration was not very intuitive to use without reading the manual -- the MSI Vigor GK80 is no doubt a solid entry into today's saturated gaming peripherals market. However, there are a few things that could be improved upon to truly make the GK80 a mechanical keyboard of the times. Firstly, a magnetically attached wrist rest would do wonders. Secondly, avoid second row printing on the keycaps to prevent uneven lighting. At the very least, use a larger and more readable font. Thirdly, the four dedicated media keys should be larger and backlit. Lastly, unify MSI's Gaming Center and Mystic Light software and improve its functionality. Just look at what SteelSeries and Corsair Gaming are doing. For about $135 at press time, the MSI Vigor GK80 is a reasonably priced high-end mechanical keyboard with the 2018 features you expect.
MSI provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.0/10
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 MSI Vigor GK80 is a solid RGB backlit mechanical keyboard with a few tricks up its sleeve to make it a unique entry in today's saturated gaming peripherals market.
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