The CK series from Cooler Master is a kind of attempt to make mechanical keyboards more affordable while maintaining all their other advantages. To date, only two generally identical models are presented in the series – CK550 and CK552, which differ only in color (gray and black, respectively) and distribution region (the first will go on sale everywhere, and the second – only in the USA and Australia). What is the cost savings? According to the manufacturer, by getting rid of “meaningless functions”. And also because it uses Gateron mechanical switches, instead of traditional Cherry or Kailh. Well, let’s see what happened as a result.
|Model||Cooler Master CK550|
|Polling frequency, Hz||1000|
|Number of keys||104|
|Keystroke resource, mln.||50|
|Switch type||Gateron MX Red RGB|
|Changing the angle of the body||+|
|Built-in memory, KB||512|
|Ability to record macros||+|
|USB cable length, m||1,8|
|Braid material||No tangles|
|Material||Plastic / Aluminum|
|Removable palm rest||–|
|Dimensions (L x W x H), mm||460 x 135x 42|
|OS Compatibility||Windows 7 / 8.1 / 10|
|Peculiarities||Built-in 32bit ARM Cortex M3 processor, Keycap removal key.|
|Average cost, $||90|
Contents of delivery
The keyboard box is made in the corporate style of Cooler Master and is painted in a combination of purple and black. The front side shows a device with the backlight turned on, its name, the type of switches and the presence of RGB backlight. In addition, there is a cutout above the arrow keys, through which the buyer can try out the nature of the switches without opening the box. On the reverse side, the product image is accompanied by a description of all its advantages in nine languages.
There is practically no internal protection against damage, but there is a transparent plastic cover, which makes sense to save for the future to cover the device from dust during periods of extended inactivity.
The package includes instructions for use and a good wire wrench for dismantling the keycaps.
The appearance of the Cooler Master CK550 at first glance strongly reminds me of the refined “skeleton” design of Cougar keyboards from the Attack series, and this is by and large a plus, because this version of the wedge-shaped design is strong and practical. The top panel and both sides are made from a single piece of cross-brushed aluminium, painted in gunmetal grey. In general, the keyboard looks nice and concise. The manufacturer even resisted the temptation to put his logo somewhere in a conspicuous place, except for the hexagonal logo printed on the Fn key.
The printed block of keys is made according to the ANSI standard. Both Shift buttons are long, Enter is single-row, the F1 button is located exactly above the number “2”. The Fn key has been moved to the right Ctrl. It executes alternative commands with other buttons. Latin engraving of medium thickness is applied by laser at the top center of the keys. There is no Cyrillic alphabet in our copy, so it is not possible to assess the quality of its execution. The keycaps have a grippy finish, there are cylindrical recesses in the middle of the buttons and tactile notches on the “F” and “J” keys. Long keys are relatively well stabilized vertically and horizontally, backlash when pressed is small.
Numeric, arrow and editor block of keys in this keyboard is completely standard. At the top right there are three square indicators Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock. They are not bright and change their color in direct proportion to what color is set on the nearest buttons.
As mentioned earlier, the keyboard has Gateron MX Red line switches in a transparent case, which are a fairly accurate and less expensive copy of Cherry MX Red. Like the original brothers, the actuation force is 45 grams, with 2mm of actuation and a full travel of 4mm. However, they feel lighter, it is possible that this is a peak load. The RGB LEDs are large and built into the top of the switches. They have a rectangular body with a semicircular flask on top. Internal stabilizers, all keys can be easily removed for cleaning. The caps are made of translucent ABS plastic, painted black on the outside.
The keyboard case has a slight forward slope. With folded legs, thanks to the even profile of the keys, the difference between the first and last row is small. When the legs are deployed, the height of the back of the case increases to 54 mm, that is, the legs raise the keyboard 12 mm up.
The keyboard has no additional external ports. The cable enters the case exactly in the middle at the back, the bend protection is soft and rubber.
The USB cable does without a braid. It has a length of 1.8 meters and is quite soft in bending. The given form does not remember. Not far from the connector, a ferrite ring is put on it to eliminate interference. The contact pad in the connector is painted purple, and the tracks are gold-plated.
The reverse side of the keyboard is made of rough plastic. It is completely flat, there are no holes for mounting screws or for draining liquid. There are two small rubber feet near the front corners, while the rear dampers are square rubberized folding feet.
Folding legs plastic, have one level of height. Rubber is glued to them both at the back and on the contact bottom edge.
The RGB backlighting in this keyboard looks very juicy. All colors except white look correct. White color traditionally casts blue. The Latin alphabet is read very well, but it’s hard to say what the Cyrillic alphabet will look like here. Most key color settings can be made directly without using software.
Cooler Master CK550 has on-board memory for four customizable separate profiles, and has extensive hardware customization of its functions using key combinations. Below we have made a summary table of all the additional features that we were able to reproduce.
|Fn+Esc||Switching to a basic unchangeable profile|
|Fn+E||Resetting the keyboard to factory settings|
|Fn+R||Reset the current profile to default settings|
|Fn+F1||Fast cycling of colors and lighting modes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, cyan, purple, backlight off|
|Fn+F2||Cycle through the level of red in the current hue (10 gradations available)|
|Fn+F3,||Cycle through the level of green in the current hue (10 gradations available)|
|Fn+F4,||Cycle through the level of blue in the current hue (10 gradations available)|
|Fn+F5||Cycle through color effects: 1) static, 2) color wave, 3) crosshair, 4) change key color when pressed, 5) customizable button color, 6) star effect, 7) raindrops, 8) color cycle, 9) flicker . water, 21) snake, 22) backlight off|
|Fn+F6||front light effect|
|Fn+F7||background light effect|
|Fn+F8||Backlight demo mode|
|Fn+F9||Locking the Win key with one press of this combination, locking the keyboard with a second press, unlocking everything with a third press|
|Fn+F10||Setting individual key colors|
|Fn+F12||Deleting a macro|
|Fn+1, 2, 3, 4||Activate one of four backlight profiles and macros|
|Fn+PrtScr, ScrLk, Pause||In macro recording mode – select the option to play it: once, repeat the macro until the key is pressed again, repeat continuously while holding the button|
|Fn+Ins||Start playback / pause|
|Fn+PgUp||Turn up the volume|
|Fn+PgDn||Turn down the volume|
|Fn+↓/↑||Increase or decrease the speed of the light effect|
|Fn+←/→||Change light effect directions|
To adjust color in any mode: hold down Fn and successively pressing the F2, F3 and F4 buttons select the appropriate hue by adjusting the saturation of the red, green and blue channels.
To customize the key color: press the Fn + F10 combination, then, while holding Fn, press the F2, F3 and F4 buttons in sequence, which selects the appropriate hue by adjusting the saturation of the red, green and blue channels. The Fn key will change its color according to the adjusted tint. We release the Fn button and click on those buttons that you want to give the selected color, one press lights up the key’s LED, the second one turns it off. To end the recording, press the combination Fn + 1, 2, 3 or 4 to write an individual LED configuration to the desired profile.
Macro recording procedure: press the combination Fn + F11. The printed block of the keyboard starts to glow blue. We press any illuminated button, it starts blinking red. We type a combination of keyboard commands, then press the combination Fn + PrtScr, ScrLk or Pause to select the macro playback mode and end the recording. To exit the macro recording mode or cancel a macro during recording, press Fn + Esc.
To delete a macro: press the combination Fn + F12. On the printed block of the keyboard, the keys with the macro recorded on them are highlighted in red. Click on them once. The key LED dims to indicate that the macro has been deleted and the button is executing the default commands. To exit macro deletion mode, press Fn+Esc.
Cooler Master CK550 uses the Cooler Master Portal version 1.00 integrative shell as software, on top of which the keyboard driver itself is installed. From the shell, you can find out the current version of the software, update or register it, visit the company’s website or online store. After the device is detected by Portal, it offers the option to install the driver, run it, update, remove, or update the device firmware.
The keyboard driver is not always active, it can be launched either from the Portal shell or directly through its own shortcut. The driver works with the memory and keyboard processor directly, in real time, therefore, when executing some settings, short-term freezes are possible while recording is in progress. The first tab that greets the user is the highlight section. Here you can individually adjust the color of all buttons using the RGB palette, or choose one of the multiple effects for them by setting the playback speed for it. All this is stored separately in four on-board memory profiles.
In the “Macros” tab, you can create and edit macros by giving them a name, changing the delay time, the playback method, and the keys assigned to them.
In the “Key Assignments” section, the entire keyboard layout is visible to the user. Green indicates default buttons, purple indicates remapped keys, and red indicates disabled keys.
In the Profiles section, each of the four side profiles can be imported, exported, or reset to default values.
By clicking on the question mark in the upper right corner, you can view the driver version, the current firmware version, and the keyboard firmware version available for updating. And also forced to update it.
Ergonomics and testing
In everyday use, the Cooler Master CK550 is not much different from classic mechanical keyboards. The large height of the keys is partly offset by the minimal dimensions of the device and the hands do not get tired as much as they could. However, prolonged use of this keyboard without a palm rest, or at least without a soft padding pad, can noticeably tire after a few hours. What is really nice here is the monolithic body structure, which has a high rigidity, which improves the tactile sensations from pressing the keys. A completely standard layout will not take time to get used to, and even despite the absence of Cyrillic here, after an hour I was freely typing text without typos blindly. Since the sides of the case are sloping, grasping them with folded legs to rearrange the keyboard will not work so easily. But thanks to the narrow case, you can easily grab your fingers on the top and bottom edges. Rubber feet provide good grip on the surface, both in the folded and unfolded state, the keyboard does not move spontaneously. It is also important that skeleton keyboards are much easier to clean from dust than their conventional counterparts with keys recessed into the case.
Since Gateron is far from the most popular switch manufacturer, I initially expected “surprises” from them in operation. However, there was no significant difference for the worse from Cherry MX Red in a couple of weeks of use. They work more gently than the originals, but, interestingly, without phantom clicks, that is, they do not sag under the weight of the fingers. In terms of tactile responsiveness, everything is also not bad, the moment of activation is felt quite predictably. Button travel is quiet and linear. There are no extraneous noises (like the ringing of springs or the creak of plastic) during printing. In other words, only users who are very experienced in mechanical switches will be able to feel the tactile difference between Gateron and Cherry, even if keyboards with these two types of mechanisms are placed side by side and tested at the same time.
The background lighting is implemented perfectly, it is bright and juicy. The only drawback is the incorrect reproduction of white, which has a blue tint. In addition, there is no way to quickly adjust the brightness of the LEDs without software. The use of RGB Lock-indicators seems to me a little controversial. Not only do they change their color along with the rest of the layout, but they also glow only if the general button illumination is turned on.
One of the advantages of this keyboard is the possibility of its quick hardware configuration “on the fly” and, in fact, it is really very convenient. With simple and memorable keyboard shortcuts, you can quickly switch profiles, adjust the backlight, control media and record macros. At the same time, the driver here is also well done – simple, convenient and understandable.
Anti-ghosting in this keyboard is a permanently active NKRO mode for all keys. The product description mentions the combination of NKRO and 6KRO and their automatic switching. One can only guess how it is implemented. Alternatively, the 6KRO mode is constantly active to eliminate incompatibility with older motherboards at startup, and NKRO is activated if seven or more buttons are pressed simultaneously. There is no manual mode switching option.
From my point of view, in the Cooler Master CK550, the company managed to realize what they promised in the product advertisement – a mechanical keyboard without “nonsense” and without compromise at a fairly humane cost. In terms of design and workmanship, there are really no compromises. Everything is done soundly, firmly and decently. I have no complaints about the filling either – Gateron switches are in no way inferior to Cherry in terms of tactile sensations, the only question is whether they are really just as reliable in the long run. But only time will tell. The RGB lighting looks and works well, and the amount of effects and customization options is amazing. The system of hardware control of keyboard functions is also well implemented here, including fast recording of macro commands. And the software is made comfortable and simple. Plus, it is worth adding the convenience of cleaning the keyboard, thanks to its skeleton-type design.
The keyboard has no critical flaws in its design or comfort of use. However, I would really like to see its version with a complete palm rest, for example, the same one as in the Cooler Master MasterKeys MK750. This design would also be great for adapting Kailh’s newfangled optical switches. Although in the current version, provided that the sellers comply with the recommended prices, it is quite good.