The gaming keyboard market is flush with product these days (which can make it a challenge to find the best gaming keyboards), and a lot of these decks come bundled with some flashy gimmick that's designed to move units. The sad reality, however, is that the majority of these gimmicks end up either not working as intended / advertised or are a silly idea from the outset, and either add zero value to the plank or actually detract from it.
Rarely, however, these unique add-ons actually justify the additional figures they add to a price point, and such is the case for the Cooler Master MK850 with its analog Aimpad tech. A selection of keys use IR sensors paired with the board's Cherry MX Red switches to detect exactly how far down you've pushed a key, so fine control is possible in stealth, racing, or flying games, or any other situation where the range of control provided by an analog stick is preferable to the hard binary normal keyboard keys provide. The MK850 takes steps towards eliminating the gamepad as a necessary peripheral for a lot of PC games, and I fully support any effort to help declutter my desk.
The MK850 is a full width, tenkeys keyboard with an anodized aluminum chassis. While I'm not normally a fan of rounded edges and lots of diagonal edges on keyboards, the MK850 executes them well enough that they don't detract from the visual appeal, at least. The shine of that aluminum plate is emphasized by raised keycaps that lets 16.7 million RGB lighting beam out brilliantly from the stems, giving the unit a pleasant (and fully customizable) glow.
The magnetic wrist rest snaps to the bottom of the deck and provides much needed lift to the wrists to reach those elevated keycaps. Unfortunately, the macro keys crowded onto the left side of the board, while a welcome addition, are close enough to the primary keys that I found myself frequently hitting them instead of Ctrl or Caps Lock. With practice and some adjustment this became less of an issue, but I wish there was a slightly wider gulf between the primary keys and the macros.
Like some of the best mechanical keyboards, the MK850 takes advantage of Cherry's MX Red switches to great effect, providing a largely pleasant (and quiet) typing experience. However, perhaps because of the inclusion of the Aimpad tech, the keys feel like they've got significantly higher resistance than some other decks I've tested. The result is that during marathon typing sessions I started to feel some pretty significant hand fatigue. This was really only an issue when running typing tests back to back, though, and certainly never came up while gaming. As long as you're not hammering away at the keys for extended sessions without breaks, the increased resistance probably won't be noticeable.
The Aimpad keys work very well, particularly in games that emphasize analog functionality. The ability of four Aimpad keys to effectively mimic an analog joystick is surprising, and make a mouse and keyboard control scheme viable for a number of genres that they were previously very clumsy or unsuited for. The default configuration of the macro keys lets you toggle through a number of settings that adjust the Aimpad keys for different genres, including driving, flying, and first-person shooters.
Luckily, the MK850 doesn't rest its laurels on the Aimpad implementation, but is actually bristling with other handy features. There are the aforementioned macro keys, as well as a full row of dedicated media controls that live on the top of the board. These include a welcome pair of precision wheels that by default let you scroll to change system volume and the brightness of the RGB backlighting. There's also a trio of keys above the tenkeys that function to toggle the Aimpad on and off and adjust the sensitivity of the analog keys.
While you can download custom software from Cooler Master's site (called Portal) to more precisely and deeply configure the board, there's a remarkable level of customization possible on the board itself. On top of all the Aimpad and macro controls, you can also adjust the pattern, brightness, and color of the RGB backlighting to a remarkable level without ever diving into software.
The MK850 was a very pleasant surprise; initially I was really skeptical of the advertised Aimpad support and wondered if its inclusion would mean the rest of the board suffered or felt like an afterthought. But the Aimpad tech feels more like an evolution than a gimmick, and I wouldn't be surprised to see wider adoption coming in the gaming keyboard space. It takes a well featured, thoughtfully designed board and elevates it to a truly excellent gaming keyboard.