Page 2 - A Closer Look - Hardware and Software
I have been using the excellent ROCCAT Vulcan 121 AIMO on my work PC for quite a while now, and I have to admit I am a fan of the series. Like its predecessor, the Vulcan II Max 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. The subtle ROCCAT logo and Vulcan branding can be found at the top center. Meanwhile, the exposed dull silver-colored aluminum backplate in our white version is great to look at and easy to clean. It even hides fingerprints well thanks to the matte finish. A black version of this keyboard is also available. A shiny silver strip runs almost the entire perimeter of the keyboard, and there are no more exposed screws at the top like the Vulcan 121 AIMO for a cleaner look. The sides and bottom are all made out of quality textured plastic. Overall, I like the looks and the anodized 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 translucent silicone and is fully detachable from the main unit. I find the silicone to be very comfortable in day-to-day use. The wrist rest is designed to be connected to the keyboard by a series of tabs, which you will see in subsequent photos. This is not the best attachment mechanism I have seen, but it is made this way for the RGB LED lighting to shine through. When placed on the table, the wrist rest does not move from side to side, and will hold on even when lifted off the table.
The ROCCAT Vulcan II Max measures in at 463mm width, 152mm depth, and 33.5mm height. Adding the wrist rest increases the depth to 236mm. These numbers are very close to the Vulcan 121 AIMO, and 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 1.04 kg without the wrist rest and 1.30 kg with the wrist rest 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 II Max's RGB LED backlit keys, you can see why the company claims this is "the world's most beautiful keyboard" in their press release. The Vulcan II Max has great design elements for both form and function, and the RGB LED lighting only adds to the experience. The laser-etched font is large and easy to read through the low-profile keycaps with exposed island-style switches. The Vulcan II Max features full independent key RGB LED backlighting. A dedicated 32-bit ARM Cortex M3 is inside to run all the effects and up to four profiles can be stored on the 4MB 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 II Max with this feature. The ROCCAT Vulcan II Max'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, unless there is a second LED at the bottom to indicate its alternate function. This is due to physical design limitations of Titan II Optical stems, which you can see in our photo above.
One of the coolest features on the ROCCAT Vulcan II Max is the dedicated LEDs that lights up when secondary functions are active. The Smart Keys on the top row, as ROCCAT refers to them, have a second LED at the bottom of the keys to indicate status. F1 to F4's second LEDs are used indicate the current active profile, F5 for ROCCAT Swarm notifications, F6 to F8 for communications, F10 for streaming, and F11 to Break for performance monitoring. For example, F1's second LED will glow the color of your choice when Profile 1 is active, F5 will blink if ROCCAT Swarm has any notifications such as new updates, F7 with breathe red when your mic is muted, and F8 will glow various colors if you have new, recent, or old messages in Discord. You can custom-configure the colors and effects for the secondary LEDs for pretty much all of them.
My personal favorite are the performance monitoring secondary LEDs, which I find very useful. I have a ROCCAT Kone Pro Air, and by default, F11's second LED will breathe when the mouse is charging, blink red if battery is below 10%, glow red from 10% to 19%, yellow from 20% to 49%, and green when 50% and above. Keep in mind this is only compatible with ROCCAT mice. The same goes for F12 if you have a compatible ROCCAT wireless headset. The LED color and effects are configurable, but the percentage thresholds are not, which they should be in my opinion. Also, for some reason, the pre-configured percentage thresholds are not even listed in ROCCAT Swarm -- it has ambiguous labels as Warning, Low Usage, Mid Usage, and High Usage. For CPU, GPU, and RAM, you can set it to different effects and colors based on configurable load or usage thresholds.
An additional array of RGB LEDs is located at the bottom edge of the keyboard to project light into the translucent silicone wrist rest, which acts as a diffuser for a stunning appearance. The wrist rest has a series of parallel vertical strips that spans the entire width, which are there not just for aesthetics, but also makes the wrist rest more flexible for better comfort. The projected light looks evenly distributed. However, one issue the ROCCAT Vulcan II Max has is light leakage at the bottom row key switches. If the configured RGB LED color of the bottom row does not match ones illuminating the wrist rest, the bottom row keyswitches will show two different colors -- its configured color through the keycaps, and the wrist rest's color through the side of the clear switches. It does not look great, and I hope this will be fixed in a future revision.
The low-profile acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, plastic keycaps are of average quality. Polybutylene terephthalate, or PBT, keycaps are stiffer, harder, and has better color retention, but the ones found on the ROCCAT Vulcan II Max are smooth and feels nice on the fingers. The white version of this keyboard will not show oily marks, but I imagine the black version will. 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 prefer the single row Enter key layout as present on our US QWERTY ROCCAT Vulcan II Max. 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 round multimedia buttons and a volume knob, which includes previous, play/pause, and next. All multimedia buttons are RGB LED backlit and can be configured in software. Pressing the knob will mute your audio. I love having a knob it feels like what you will find on a mixer, just like the Vulcan 121 AIMO.
There are secondary LEDs on the corresponding keys for the Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Win Lock functions. Unfortunately, the secondary LEDs are not user-configurable and only glow white. If you like to set some keys to illuminate white like me, then you will not be able to tell when these locks are activated. Making these secondary LEDs user-configurable is preferable in my opinion.
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 II Max costs the most because each keyswitch is an independent part.
The Vulcan II Max we are reviewing today features Titan II Optical Linear switches. These switches feel identical to the Titan Optical-based Vulcan 121 AIMO I have been using for a while, with the only change being compatibility with third-party cross mount keycaps. The Titan II Optical 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 II Optical 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 II Optical Linear may not appeal to everyone. The switches are rated for 100 million operations like Cherry MX switches. 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 II Max has a lower pitched tone and thinner sound than the K95 RGB Platinum XT, making it more pleasant sounding in everyday use.
For wider keys, ROCCAT opted to use Cherry stabilizers. A stabilizer, as its name suggests, is to maintain the balance of wider keys. The other main stabilizer design is Costar. The Cherry stabilizer found in the Vulcan II Max, as shown in the above photo, uses additional non-electrically activated switches without the spring on the sides for support. Costar stabilizers, on the other hand, has a wire bar that spans nearly the entire width of the keycap and attached by a clip at the bottom of the keycap. Costar stabilizers are rattlier, but are easier to maintain, while Cherry stabilizers feel mushier.
The ROCCAT Vulcan II Max 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. Your system will be unable to register any more strokes when too many keys are pressed at the same time. A full NKRO keyboard like the ROCCAT Vulcan II Max 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 II Max 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 very thick and extends 1.8m in length to connect to your computer via two standard, non-gold-plated USB connectors. 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 II Max.
At the bottom are two large rubber strips. The one on the side closest to the user extends the entire width of the keyboard, while the one on the side away from the user spans the area between the pair of risers to help the Vulcan II Max stay in place during intense gaming sessions. Two rubber lined flip-out risers at the front tilts the keyboard up for those who prefer it. The wrist rest is made out of silicone, which by itself provides a lot of grip. In addition to the large rubber strips, the ROCCAT Vulcan II Max 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 II Max works along with the latest version of ROCCAT Swarm, which is a 115MB 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, if application. 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 three 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[+], Smart Key functions if compatible, 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 Adobe Photoshop.
Our screenshot above shows Key Illumination, where you can adjust your Vulcan II Max's lighting effects. All of the available options are shown in the screenshot above. Smart Keys can be configured via Smart Key Manager, which opens a new window when you hit the button at the bottom. As aforementioned, regarding the performance monitoring secondary LEDs, the pre-configured battery percentage thresholds are not listed in ROCCAT Swarm -- it has ambiguous labels as Warning, Low Usage, Mid Usage, and High Usage. The LED color and effects are configurable, but the percentage thresholds are not, which they should be in my opinion. For CPU, GPU, and RAM, you can set it to different effects and colors based on configurable load or usage thresholds, which is good.
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 GG.
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. A Closer Look - Hardware and Software