Page 2 - A Closer Look - Hardware and Software
Like the original ROCCAT Vulcan 120 AIMO, the Vulcan 121 AIMO is yet another keyboard that fits APH Networks' design philosophy. It carries a clean, practically reference layout -- meaning no crazy designs -- with mechanical keyswitches, dedicated media buttons, RGB LED backlighting, and a detachable wrist rest. I have always used Cherry MX switches, so using the Titan-based Vulcan is a bit of a change. The subtle ROCCAT logo can be found at the top right, with the other thing at the top being two screws on the left. Meanwhile, the exposed black brushed aluminum backplate is great to look at and easy to clean. It even hides fingerprints well thanks to the finish. The sides and bottom are all made out of quality textured plastic. Overall, I am a big fan of the looks and the aluminum backplate is mostly rock solid. You have to push hard near the arrow keys to see it flex, but otherwise feels substantial in everyday use.
The detachable wrist rest protrudes comfortably for my average sized hands. It is made out of hard plastic and is fully detachable from the main unit. The wrist rest is designed to be connected to the keyboard magnetically, where alignment is automatic and fixed via a carved section. When placed on the table, the wrist rest does not move from side to side, but will fall off when lifted off the table. Some fingerprints do appear on the wrist rest as shown in the above photo, but it is not too bad.
The ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO measures in at 462mm width, 159mm depth, and 32mm height. Adding the wrist rest increases the depth to about 235mm by my measurements. This is slightly deeper and wider than a standard QWERTY keyboard due to the overall larger frame. To go along with its medium footprint and medium profile, the keyboard weighs about 1.15 kg according to the manufacturer. This is a bit on the heavy side even for a mechanical keyboard, but it packs a lot of hardware.
Once you turn off the lights and activate the ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO's RGB backlit keys, the keyboard really shines, no pun intended. The laser-etched font is large and easy to read through the low profile keycaps with exposed island-style switches. The Vulcan 121 AIMO features full independent key RGB backlighting. A dedicated ARM Cortex M3 is inside to run all the effects and up to four profiles can be stored on the 512K internal memory. The backlight can be turned off completely or activated in many brightness level steps. I am a big fan of fully backlit keyboards and I am happy ROCCAT designed the Vulcan 121 AIMO with this feature. The ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO's key illumination distribution is reasonably even for the most part. You can see the LEDs through the switches as the housings are clear. One thing to point out, for keys with more than one line of text label, you will notice only the top half is lit. This is due to physical design limitations of Titan stems, which you can see in our photo above.
The low profile acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic keycaps are of average quality. Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) keycaps are stiffer, harder, and has better color retention, but the ones found on the ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO are smooth and feels nice on the fingers despite showing a bit of oily marks. It would be nice if all the included keycaps were double injection PBT keycaps.
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 ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO. 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 are three rubber mixer-style buttons and a knob, which includes mute, backlight intensity, and volume. All mixer-style buttons are white backlit and cannot be configured. You can use the knob to adjust backlight intensity or volume, depending on the selected function. I love having a knob and they indeed feel the ones on a mixer. Four indicator LEDs corresponding to Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Game Mode, respectively, can be found at the bottom right corner. They glow white when activated and its color cannot be changed. Game Mode activates Win Lock, which 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?
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 ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO costs the most because each keyswitch is an independent part.
The Vulcan 121 AIMO we are reviewing today features Titan Linear switches. The Titan Linear is marketed as a gaming-type switch and is often compared to the Cherry MX Red. The maximum key travel distance is 3.6mm with actuation at 1.4mm compared to the Cherry MX Red at 4mm total travel with 2mm pre-travel. With an actuation force of 45g in a completely linear fashion, it is the same as the Cherry MX Red. The Titan Linear switch still feels like a mechanical keyboard, but feels very different than Cherry switches. There is reduced side-to-side wobbling and debounced switch contact for a 30% increase in speed compared to the standard. It also feels smoother in use. This keyswitch is desirable for gaming because you will be bottoming out all the keys anyway, but the lack of the bump of the Titan Linear may not appeal to everyone. No endurance rating is given, but my guess is it is probably 50 million keystrokes.
The base is mostly rock solid as aforementioned, so you will not get any keyboard flex other than near the arrow keys, which is excellent. During operation, it makes a little less noise than the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum XT with Cherry MX Speed switches, which is decent for a mechanical keyboard. The Vulcan 121 AIMO has a lower pitched tone and thinner sound than the K95 RGB Platinum XT, making it more pleasant sounding in everyday use.
The ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO 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. When too many keys are pressed at the same time, your system will be unable to register any more strokes. A full NKRO keyboard like the ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO 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 means 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 ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO is the USB cable lead out. It comes out in the center and is not detachable. A detachable cable using USB Type-C on the keyboard side would have been a better design in my opinion. This braided rubber cable is of average thickness and extends 1.8m in length to connect to your computer via a standard, non-gold-plated USB 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 there is a possibility 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 is only used as ground. 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 ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO.
At the bottom are three rubber strips that extend the entire width of the keyboard on the side closest to the user, two rubber strips on the side away from the user, plus two thin strips on the keyboard risers to help the Vulcan 121 AIMO stay in place during intense gaming sessions. The wrist rest adds six strips, one at the top and one at the bottom, that also extends the entire width of the keyboard. The two rubber lined flip-out risers at the front tilts the keyboard up for those who prefer it. In addition to the abundance of rubber strips, the ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO is a pretty heavy keyboard by itself, which is great to keep it in its place during intense gaming sessions. What you will not find are keyboard drain holes, so it is advisable to keep your Mountain Dew at a distance.
The Vulcan 121 AIMO works along with the latest version of ROCCAT Swarm, which is a 157MB download from ROCCAT's website at press time. This program unifies all your ROCCAT peripherals into one application. After installing the corresponding hardware module, you will be prompted to update the keyboard firmware. Updating the firmware was a quick and painless process.
After selecting the ROCCAT peripheral you want to configure at the top, the graphical user interface is basically separated into four separate tabs: General Features, Key Assignment, and Key Illumination. Under General Features, you can customize the keyboard's sound effects that plays through your PC speakers, character repeat settings, and reset settings. Key Assignment, as its name suggests, allow you to assign functions to different buttons. These include macro, basic functions such as caps lock, exclusive ROCCAT functions such as Easy-Shift[+], operating system functions such as shutdown, internet, multimedia, open a program, or timer. The macro manager allows you to directly link to actions from a preset list of games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or even programs like Microsoft Office.
Our screenshot above shows Key Illumination, where you can adjust your Vulcan 121 AIMO's lighting effects. All of the available options are shown in the screenshot above. The only thing I found annoying was you cannot adjust the lighting effects on the mixer-style buttons. Normally, it would not be a problem, but for some reason, ROCCAT thinks making the mute button blink non-stop when your computer's sound output is muted is particularly annoying. I normally mute my PC unless I need to turn on the sound, and I cannot keep my PC muted without watching the LED blink distractingly.
Overall, I found ROCCAT Swarm to be mostly straightforward and easy to use. Unfortunately, it seems like the software has stayed the same since forever, which makes it feel outdated compared to Corsair iCUE and SteelSeries Engine 3.
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. A Closer Look - Hardware and Software