The Cherry MX Low Profile Difference
A slim keyboard featuring Cherry MX Low Profile switches
The market for mechanical gaming keyboards is exploding. Everyone, even companies you would never expect (I’m looking at you Creative Labs!), seems to have their own line of PC gaming accessories. But what really sets them apart? The answer is, sadly, not much; the existence of media keys or a volume roller, how good the software is, the occasional quirky layout.
Then there are the unique keyboards. We’ve looked at a few of them here. Today we’re adding another one to the list with the Cooler Master SK630 Low Profile Gaming Keyboard.
The SK630 features a flat, slimmed down design that could make any Apple fan feel right at home. Add to that full RGB backlighting, brand new Cherry MX RGB Low Profile Red switches, and massive amounts of software-free programmability and you can begin to see why this might catch more than a few eyes. With a list price of $119.99 this is not exactly a budget option, so let’s dive in and see if it’s worth the cost of entry.
- Switch Type: Cherry MX RGB Low Profile Switch
- Actuation Point: 1.2mm
- Travel Distance: 3.2mm
- Switch Lifespan: 50M actuations
- Material: Aluminum/Plastic
- Color: Gunmetal Black
- LED Color: RGB
- Polling Rate: 1000 Hz
- Response Rate: 1ms / 1000Hz
- MCU: 32-bit ARM Cortex M3
- Onboard Memory: 512KB
- On-the-fly System: Yes, for multimedia, Macro recording, and lighting control
- Multimedia Keys: Through Function Key (FN)
- Cable: 1.8m, USB Type-C Detachable & Braided
- Software Support: Yes, through Portal
- Dimensions: 353.5 x 125.5 x 29.8 mm (L*W*H)
- Product Weight (without cable): 552g
- Weight: 593g
- Warranty: 2 years
- List Price: $119.99
Beginning with the packaging, Cooler Master is adopting a new style that I rather like. The white background does a good job of showcasing the large product shot. On the rear, we have the usual callout of features.
Inside the box the keyboard is well packaged, further protected inside a nice velvet bag that not only gives a nice boost to the unboxing experience, but doubles as a storage or travel bag that actually feels very nice. It’s definitely better than the usual plastic tray or styrofoam slip we often see. The cable and a nice wire-style keycap puller are included under the box, as well as some documentation.
First impressions are mostly positive. The SK630 really is a slight keyboard and is not only thin but lightweight. It’s just about half the weight of a normal TKL keyboard and about 80 grams lighter than the full-size SK650. At the foot of the keyboard, by the space bar, it measures just shy of a half-inch shorter than something like the Razer Huntsman keyboard. The body of the board is angled upward and the function row is only modestly shorter than a normal keyboard. The flat keycaps mak the keyboard feel thin the whole way up, just like you’d find on a Mac keyboard.
Cooler Master probably could have gotten away with using plastic all the way around, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an aluminum top plate similar to their CK552. The few screws are visible but tucked away under the keys which gives it an overall clean look to accent the RGB backlighting. The SK630 is a gorgeous keyboard in motion. It adopts the “floating key” design that exposes the transparent switch housing the beautiful flowing lights beneath. The gunmetal finish on the aluminum discourages the “light bed” effect a silver tone might encourage but it looks great nonetheless.
The bottom of the keyboard is plastic with four rubber feet to keep it from sliding around on your desk (there are no tilt feet with this design). These feet are only moderately effective. I’m not the kind of gamer that pushes my keyboard around in normal use, but with a total weight of 593 grams there’s only so much a set of rubber feet can do. This light weight is great for taking the SK630 on the go but does result in some flex during normal use. Pressing down in the middle produced enough flex to be apparent when you’re looking for it, but wasn't a problem in actual use.
On the rear of the keyboard is a USB Type-C port for connecting the cable, and I’m happy to see Cooler Master make the jump to Type-C for long-term durability. It’s less likely to break than micro or mini-USB and if it ever does, you’ll be able to replace just the cable instead of the whole keyboard. That’s the kind of pro-consumer feature I love to see in every kind of keyboard.
Low-Profile Cherry MX Switches
The real star of the show are the new Cherry MX RGB Low Profile Red switches. These are a huge improvement over Cherry’s last attempt at low-profile switches, the Cherry ML. These new switches adopt the smooth, linear travel of normal Cherry MX Reds and pair it with a narrower housing, allowing the stem to sit much closer to the top plate. Remarkably, they don’t lose a ton of travel: 3.2mm instead of the standard 4mm on Cherry Reds. They do actuate faster, though, triggering at 1.2mm instead of 2mm, which definitely feels more sensitive in gaming and typing.
On paper, these new switches seem to have a lot in common with Cherry MX Silver switches, or, as Corsair calls them, Cherry MX Speeds. They share the same 45g actuation force, trigger at the same shallow 1.2mm, and actually have a shorter overall travel at 3.2mm (down from 3.4mm on the speeds). In practice, however, I found them to be a much more reliable and easy to use switch.
Speed switches are, frankly, hard to get used to. I’ve used numerous keyboards with Cherry MX Silvers and have found the notorious for typos. Your typing needs to be spot on and even resting your fingers on the keys can give you long strings of repeating letters. The new Low Profile Reds should be the same but due to the flatter angle they are not. Take this with a grain of salt since I suspect it depends on your typing style, but, for me, the angle of the SK630 made me much less likely to press these keys by accident. The switches are sensitive, but not annoyingly so. That said, if you’re making the jump from a full-height keyboard to the SK630, you should be prepared for a learning curve.
I made lots of typos over my first couple of days and it had nothing to do with the switches, but rather the spacing of the keys themselves, which are much closer together than a normal keyboard. Twice as close, in fact, when measured. If you’re like me and tend to hit some of your keys at and angle, you’re going to need to invest some time to get used to the new spacing. After a day, it was like second nature. Through that first day, I was second guessing whether I even liked low-profile at all.
Lighting, Programming, and Software
One of Cooler Master’s most defining features is their onboard programming. The SK630 is impressive for the price. Without every downloading a piece of software, you can set your RGB backlight to any static color you can think of an customize 17 presets. This is done through a built-in palette mixer that can be set in ten levels for red, green, and blue. This won’t get you the full 16.7M colors that the software can but, let’s be real here, most of those are such slight differences you would be hard pressed to notice them anyway. I was able to dial in any color I wanted with the mixer without any issues whatsoever, even on my work PC that’s completely locked down for software.
The sheer amount of presets blows away most other competitors in the market. While the Corsair, Razer, and Logitech boards have 3-5 built in without software, the 17 found on the SK630 are stored right in memory along with any customization you make. You have your standard assortment of breathing effects, ripples, rainbows, and reactive typing, but also some rarer options, like a rain effect or another that sends streamers from each key you press. One preset disables typing and allows you to play a Snake-like game across the rows of keys. Eight of the presets allow you to set the primary and secondary hue and the arrow keys allow you to set the direction and speed of those than animate.
If macros are more your thing, you’ll be happy to hear that on-the-fly macro recording also makes its return here. Using a quick Fn-key combination, you can enter macro mode and begin recording to any key. After that, you select whether you’d like to fire off once, just while you’re holding the button, or to loop continuously. There’s no editing the delays between keystrokes, however, which I would love to see in a future revision.
Up to four profiles can be stored on the keyboard, each saving your lighting customizations and up to twenty macros each. That’s a hefty helping of on-the-go customizations, particularly at this price.
If you’re not interested in the admittedly more cumbersome key combo-programming, Cooler Master’s Portal software is ready to help. You can easily click and drag to select keys for color customization and even unlock a handful of additional lighting effects. Don’t go expecting the limitless layers of something like Corsair’s iCUE software but you can program up to four, which should be enough for most gamers. There’s also an equalizer effect, multi-zone lighting (rainbow numpad, reactive letters, for example), and system status lighting.
For key programming, you can record macros and remap keys. The benefit to using the software here is that you can change the delays so you inputs are sent out faster than your own typing speed. Alternatively, you can change only certain delays, so if you’re using macros for a repetitive task, you can make the macro wait a certain amount of time before sending the next output. I found this very useful when creating macros for web forms when a 500ms delay gave enough time for pages to reload.
I do wish Cooler Master went a little further with key remapping. After using software like Logitech’s G Hub and the plethora of Windows shortcuts you can select from a dropdown menu, basic remaps feel a bit simple.
After a good two weeks with the SK630, I’ve actually come to really enjoy the low profile design. It took a disappointing day where I had to second-guess whether or not I’d made a mistake in being excited for this release, but after my fingers were retrained for the closer keys, I found a lot to enjoy.
For gaming, the higher actuation point definitely made me feel more agile. I’m not a pro gamer, so I doubt it truly made a difference in my K:D ratio in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 but it did feel good and not too sensitive, which is what’s most important.
For typing, the switches also felt good, though I did continue to make more typos than with a normal keyboard. Even writing essays on a daily basis wasn’t enough for me to completely overcome those closer keycaps, so I found myself typing slower to make up for it. In time, I’m sure this would do away entirely, but I found myself leaning on the SK630 more for gaming than typing.
At the same time, the SK630 is a remarkably quiet mechanical keyboard. The new switch design is quieter even than my o-ring damped full-height keyboards by a good margin. If you share a space with someone else, the SK630 is one of the most considerate mechanical keyboards you could purchase.
I also have to say, even though this is the same onboard programming we’ve seen on other Cooler Master keyboards, I still find it impressive. If Cooler Master is able to pack so much programmability into the keyboard’s firmware and also allow you to save so much, why are other companies so insistent on locking it behind software? The answer is likely related to cost (and adoption of software ecosystems for other reasons), so it’s great to see Cooler Master offer this even on their mid-range keyboards.
The biggest downside to the SK630 is that the keycaps show fingers oils like few others I’ve seen. I live in the blustery tundra known as Western New York and there aren't many people up here with oily skin this time of year. After a few days I had to wipe the keyboard down to get rid of the oil-shine, but after it started it was a losing battle. That’s a shame because the keyboard stopped looking new the first week I used it.
The SK630 is a solid buy for fans of the low-profile form factor. The new Cherry MX RGB Low Profile switches are a dramatic improvement from the old ML switches, and their implementation here feels great for gaming (though these can be hard to adjust to when typing), and the onboard programming is simply some of the best in the business. While I would like see a few things in a a future release (a keycap coating, more weight and rigidity to the design, and the option for tilt feet), what’s here is solid and this is a great first entry into what I hope is a long line of new Cooler Master keyboards.