Here at TBG, we have a thing for peripherals, so we hunted down every single new gaming PC peripheral we could find at PAX West 2016, and after two days at the show, we were pretty sure we found them all! Keep in mind that PAX is ultimately a game convention, so new hardware releases aren’t its prime focus, but nonetheless, some of the biggest names in PC gear were in attendance to show off their latest and greatest.
Now, while the manufacturers would probably prefer that we provide an overview of all their gear in a dedicated article, or at minimum all in one section of an article, we’re going to present this gear in a slightly different way: by category. That way our readers looking for a new keyboard, mouse, or headset can just focus on the newest products in each respective category. Oh, and we’re also going to name our “best of show” at the end of each section, because not all new releases qualify as “hot” releases from our point of view, no matter what the marketing says!
Let’s start with keyboards, something we all use all the time, no doubt, but probably don’t pay all that much attention to on a daily basis. Ever since we published our big Peripherals Shootout, we’ve been singing the praises of mechanical keyboards to our audience, because we know for a fact they give the best response of any type of keyboard. That being said, they’re expensive, heavy, and loud, so they really aren’t for everyone. Luckily manufacturers are realizing that a lot of gamers on a budget still want keyboards with gaming features and an eye-catching look, and these models were on display front-and-center at PAX.
First up, the fine folks at Cooler Master North America, who were excited to show off a huge range of new peripherals. While Cooler Master is probably best known for components that keeps things cool (e.g., cases and coolers), it has a dedicated fan base that will likely be looking to score as much gaming gear as possible from their favorite manufacturer.
Cooler Master had two big new innovations on display at the show. First, its Masterkeys Pro line of pure white LED keyboards. This is something we at TBG have wanted for a long, long time, as the typical red, green, or blue LEDs of lighted keyboards don’t entirely appeal to us, and furthermore, RGB models that can display a white color do it in a somewhat round-about fashion, combining red, green, and blue to create a tinted white that just isn’t quite right. We were a little surprised that Cooler Master decided to feature a model equipped with Cherry MX Blue, which are going to be a bit louder than most gamers will want, so hopefully the white LED keyboards will also be available with MX Red or Brown switches.
Also new from Cooler Master is its new “mem-chanical” Masterkeys Lite keyboard, retailing for $60 with a bundled gaming mouse. As we stated in the introduction, mechanical keyboards are simply the best from a performance standpoint, but they have a range of drawbacks, most obviously price. Cooler Master has designed a new custom switch, compatible with Cherry MX keycaps, that provides a mechanical-like feel without the expense. To truly evaluate this new model, we might need to ask Cooler Master to send a long a sample, but from our brief hands-on test at the show, the mem-chanical keyboard did a passable job improving upon standard membrane keyboards. And yes indeed, Cooler Master did indeed create a new word to describe its membrane-based, mechanical-feel keyboard!
By the way, we want to highlight a product on display at Cooler Master’s booth that really caught us by surprise: wood wrist rests. Custom-designed to fit Cooler Master’s keyboards, these wrist rests are part of Cooler Master’s “Make It Yours” campaign, and were commissioned by Etsy artist Julie Jackson based in Indiana, who uses reclaimed wood to handcraft these classy add-ons. Kudos to Cooler Master for doing more than talking the talk here. We hope this wrist rest comes to market soon. Among PC users eager to personalize their PC workstations, they'd likely be a popular choice!
Corsair didn’t actually have any truly new keyboards on display at PAX, but it is announcing a fully fleshed out line of LUX K-series keyboards, which will eventually replace the existing K-series models. The LUX line features a new larger font face for its keycaps, which along with improved LED lights offers much brighter overall lighting.
The most important new “product” Corsair announced in this category isn’t a keyboard at all, but rather Corsair’s new CUE 2 software control suite, now available for download from Corsair.com. It’s been completely revamped from the ground up in order to both look and work better than the original CUE, which we have criticized many times for its unintuitive control scheme. We went hands-on with Corsair’s software developer to test the new CUE, and while we pointed out a few minor issues that could still use cleaning up, believe us when we say it’s way, way better than the original CUE. It has certainly earned its new version number!
As an aside, we should mention that Corsair’s K70 line of mechanical keyboards has long been our top pick among gaming keyboards, so the fact that Corsair is resting on its laurels here doesn’t bother us too much. But Corsair should stay frosty, because the competition is taking aim from all sides to knock out the reigning champ!
Kingston’s HyperX gaming division has a huge following among gamers, which was clear by the crowds flocking to the HyperX booth throughout the show. Best known for its headsets (which we’ll cover later in this article), HyperX is eager to break into the gaming keyboard market. And bucking the trend of established players, which are all rolling out lower-priced membrane-based models, HyperX is going full-on mechanical at a very competitive price. Its new Alloy FPS Gaming Board features Cherry MX Blue switches and red LEDs for $100. That undercuts the competition by a good $20 or so, at least based on MSRP.
To make its mark in this competitive market, HyperX is aiming the Alloy to gamers on the go, as it sports a smaller profile than many mech keyboards, along with a custom-fit travel bag. To make it portable, HyperX left out the wrist rest, so gamers will need to decide whether the trade-off is worth it to them. And once again, we’re going to call out the somewhat odd choice of MX Blue switches, which Cooler Master also chose for its new line. We just don’t think they’re ideal for most users.
Given how dominant Logitech is in the peripherals arena (holding approximately 50% of the worldwide market), it’s been surprisingly quiet when it comes to gaming keyboards. Well, the sleeping giant has risen, and its new G213 Prodigy Gaming Keyboard is likely to turn heads among cost-conscious gamers.
As a long-overdue replacement for the venerable G105, the $70 G213 features five-zone RGB lighting, an integrated wrist rest, and a spill-resistant design. Like most sub-$100 gaming keyboards, this one’s membrane-based, but we think that will be just fine with gamers focused a bit more on comfort and style than all-out performance.
Our one concern about Logitech's new Prodigy line, which carries the tagline "gaming gear made exclusively for everyone," is that it looks a little cheap. The design motif is intended to look stripped down and focused on the essentials, but the matte plastics on display didn't quite wow us. It will be interesting to see whether gamers embrace the G213, or whether Logitech continues to lose market share to its rivals.
Last up is Razer, which had a fervent following at PAX, so much so that we had trouble elbowing our way into the Razer booth. Luckily, we were able to grab a Razer rep for a few minutes to give us the down low on the new Razer Ornata Keyboard, coming in at the $100 pricepoint. Featuring “mecha-membrane” switches “powered by Razer Chroma” (lots of potential trademarks there!), the Ornata has been designed to bring Razer style and functionality to a wider audience. With keys that appear to float above the metal casing and full RGB lighting, this board certainly looks the part. As is par for the course with Razer, however, no wrist rest is included, an issue Razer would do well to address in the future (correction: while not shown on the PAX West demo unit, the Ornata actually includes a magnetically-attached wrist rest - hallelujah!).
We couldn’t spend enough time with the board to judge whether this implementation of a membrane-based mechanical substitute could really pass muster, but we will say that at $100, Razer is going to have its hands full competing with the less-expensive non-mechanical RGB offerings from Cooler Master and Logitech
Best of Show
Given how many new keyboards were showcased at PAX 2016, picking a winner isn’t all that easy. But for offering an innovative and attractive model (bundled with a matching RGB mouse) at the $60 price point, Cooler Master gets the nod for its Masterkeys Lite Combo, which we predict will be quite popular this holiday season.