The Cooler Master Mk850 is mechanical gaming keyboard with a whole bunch of really great features, some of which I honestly did not even know that I wanted until now. The build quality is top-notch and the keyboard feels solid in hand as you unbox it, with a brushed aluminum top cover and a plastic backing. The keyboard design looks neat with sharp curves and bright per-key LED lighting, and there’s a row of five M-keys on the left-hand side of the keyboard while two programmable precision wheels are situated above the F1 to F5 keys. There’s even a set of multimedia keys to control your audio or video playback.
For extra comfort, a soft wrist pad can be snapped to the bottom of the keyboard using a hidden magnetic strip built-into the wrist pad. When the wrist pad is not connected, a cleverly placed LED light-strip will light up the bottom-end of your keyboard.
While most of the MK850’s features seem stock, there’s a few things that make it stand out from the competition. Top of the list is CoolerMaster’s clever idea to combine Aimpad technology with a few of the Cherry MX switches that are used on this keyboard. Aimpad is an analogue switch technology that was developed by a gamer who wanted more control out of his keyboard’s gaming keys, and uses infrared technology to sense how far down a key has been pressed offering far greater control than the on/off nature of traditional keys. The experience is akin to that of the controllers on a gamepad where precise movements correlate to precise action in-game.
This is handy for a number of reasons. Offering analogue capabilities to a key allows you to control the speed and direction of any action, and you can even set the activation point anywhere on the keystroke – something that is handy for applications outside of gaming too, like audio creation and 3D design.
The MK850 includes eight Aimpad-enabled keys (Q, W, E, R, A, S, D, F). Considering the high-end price tag on this keyboard, I can only imagine it was a cost consideration not to make each of the keys Aimpad compatible. To enable Aimpad, you select one of the M-keys to choose a profile. The reason why you activate a profile is because it mimics a game controller to interface with your PC. This also means that while an Aimpad profile is selected, your gaming keys won’t operate as normal typing keys.
Where M1 is your “normal” keyboard profile, the other four keys enable FPS Mode, Driving Mode, Advanced Flight Mode, and a MOBA mode. I also like that as you change these profiles, your active keys glow white while the other keys turn purple. The idea with these profiles is to be able to quickly switch to the one you need while you game. The switch happens near instantly, and I didn’t experience any lag in doing so.
Aimpad is supported in any game that offers controller support, so no additional developer support is required. In GTA V, for example, you can switch to the Driving Mode profile as you get into a car, and doing so will turn the W and S keys to the RT and LT respectively while A and D will become your left and right thumbsticks – as you’d find on your game controller. Just like the triggers, the harder you press on the key the faster your car will go, the same as squeezing the trigger switch on a game controller.
It’s impressive tech that makes for an interesting learning curve if you’ve been a keyboard gamer all your life. It’s not difficult to get used to, but given the right game, Aimpad gives keyboard gamers a lot more control over throttle/movement sensitivity in vehicles, aircraft, or even a horse. I can see some opportunity here for flight sim players too, but sadly the custom options aren’t yet as advanced as I’d like to see. For now, you can set the actuation point and deadzone sensitivity for each Aimpad key, but that’s about it. I hope we’ll see more open API support from Cooler Master in the future, as there’s loads we can do with pressure-sensitive keys.
To ensure you never forget which keys are Aimpad compatible, and to add a bit more flair to this keyboard, the keyboard also bundles with replaceable purple keycaps that you can clip on should you choose to. There are also purple keycaps included for the five function buttons, along with a key removal tool.
Looking at the back of the keyboard you’ll notice the 1.8m USB Type-C cable is removable, while a neatly placed built-in USB hub gives you two more USB ports. I would not count on true USB 3.0 type speeds on these ports, but for quick data transfers or to connect peripherals, these ports work well.
Situated above the keypad on the right-hand side of the keyboard you’ll find a set of on-the-fly buttons that give you full control of lighting, macros, and keyboard profiles without the need for Cooler Master’s MasterPlus driver software. Installing the drivers will make it easy to access and configure the customisable features of this keyboard. These include creating keyboard profiles, setting macro keys, mapping keys, and configuring your lighting profiles. One of these profiles also turns your keyboard into a light-up snake game, where some of the keys light up to mimic the snake and the pellets it eats. It’s a really nice feature to show friends what this piece of kit can do.
As far as keyboards go, the Cooler Master MK850 is one impressive piece of kit – but it comes with at a price. At around R3,500, it’s clear that Aimpad is not cheap tech, but I really hope we see future iterations of Aimpad with broader industry support and more Aimpad-enabled keys.
Cooler Master MK850 mechanical gaming keyboard
Gaming with Aimpad technology on the MK850 is an enjoyable experience, especially when revisiting my Rockstar game collection. As a keyboard gamer, I didn't mind so much having to switch profiles on the go, but it was remembering what the key configuration was that got me at first. Once my fingers got used to the new layout, though, I started to appreciate the additional pressure sensitivity on each of the keys.