Aorus K9 Optical Mechanical Keyboard
Have you ever ruined a nice keyboard thanks to some nearby beer, soda or water facing an unfortunate battle with gravity? While many computer users are resolved to keeping drinks and food away from their PC, many gamers and enthusiasts are at their desks too often to consider this an option. For gamers who want to quench their thirst and come in first, Aorus has released the Aorus K9 Optical mechanical keyboard that will live through a drenching from a beer, energy drink or Faygo Moon Mist. Featuring Flaretech Optical mechanical switches that utilize optical technology for actuation instead of traditional metal contact points, the Aorus K9 Optical isn't just water resistant, Aorus claims that you can wash the keyboard under a sink and use it at the same time.
With prototypes first demonstrated at Computex 2015, Flaretech Optical switches from Adomax are available in two varieties, Red and Blue. The Flaretech Optical switches are different from traditional mechanical switches in that instead of relying on metal contact points and conductivity for actuation, the switch actuates by reading the amount of light let thru during actuation with a sensor. The Red and Blue Flaretech switch branding corresponds with Cherry MX Red and MX Blue switches in that the Flaretech Red is linear, with no audible click or tactile bump, while the Flaretech Blue has a tactile bump and audible click at 1.8mm. The Flaretech Optical switches use an MX-compatible stem, so any Cherry MX-compatible key caps can be used. The Flaretech Optical switches don't need to be soldered to a PCB for operation, so users can swap switches that develop physical issues, like a broken stem, or swap their whole keyboard out to a different type of Flaretech Optical switch. While they haven't been around long enough for me to do an extended assessment of their longevity, Flaretech specifies their switches for 100 Million key strokes and Gigabyte warrants the Aorus K9 for two years, so there seems to be confidence behind the Flaretech switches.
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In terms of performance, the Flaretech Optical switch is close in specifications to the Cherry MX Blue switch in terms of actuation distance (2MM) and travel distance (4MM), with a similar rating for actuation force at 55G +/- 10G. One of the major difference in performance specifications between the Flaretech Optical and Cherry MX switches is the bounce time. A typical Cherry MX has a 5MS bounce time
, while the Flaretech Optical switches are specified at .03ms bounce. Basically, if you need fast, rapid actuation, the Flaretech Optical switches are promising that your key will be back and ready to press a lot faster than it will be if you're using a Cherry MX switch.
Right now, there are only three keyboards that I know of that feature Flaretech Optical switches, the Aorus K9 Optical being one of them. The Wooting One, also featuring Flaretech Optical switches, is an analog keyboard in tenkeyless format that had had a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The Zowie Celeritas II also features Flaretech Optical switches and is the most basic keyboard of the bunch. As it stands, the Aorus K9 Optical is the only waterproof keyboard featuring the Flaretech Optical switch, which is an excellent use of the capabilities of the switch. Despite their color-based names, as you can see in the picture above, the Flaretech Optical switches actually have clear stems.
AORUS K9 Optical Features
- 0.03ms Debounce Time – When Speed Matters
- Ultra Durable – 100 Million Keystrokes
- Splash proof
- Swappable Switches – Custom Gaming Experience
- Exclusive Top-quality Steel Springs
- Full RGB Backlighting
- AORUS Engine – You’re In Control
- N-Key Rollover
- Floating Key Design
- Braided Cable
- Cable Management
AORUS K9 Optical Specifications
Interface: USB 2.0
Activation: Flaretech Optical-Mechanical
Switch Type: Red/Blue
Switch life: 100 Million Strokes
Key Profile: Standard
Travel distance: 4mm
Activation Distance: 2mm
Peak force: Red : 55g +/- 10g, Blue: 55g +/- 10g
Dimension: 439(L) x 140(W) x 37(H) mm/17.3(L) x 5.5(W) x 1.5(H) inch
Weight: 1180g (2.6lb)
Cable length: 2m
Software: AORUS Engine
OS Support: Windows 7/8/10
Simultaneous Key input: N-Key Rollover
Report Rate: 1000Hz Maximum
Backlighting: 16.7M Color Per-Key
- Part Number Reviewed: GK-AORUS K9 BLUE
The $139.99 Aorus K9 Optical
mechanical gaming keyboard is packaged into a sleeved black box with high resolution graphics and text nicely laid out on the sleeve. The Aorus K9 Optical is available with either Blue or Red Flaretech switches and I received the Flaretech Blue switches on my sample, as noted by the sticker on the box. Aorus places a sticker that lets users know the K9 Optical is "Splash Proof," but I would have a bunch of water flowing onto the Aorus K9 Optical on the packaging for dramatic effect and to draw interest, but that's probably why I haven't worked in marketing for several years.
The first impression you get when opening the keyboard and unpacking it is a good one, though I would like to see Aorus put some type of film around the keyboard to protect it from potential scratches during shipment. Everything arrived unscatched and the accessories were firmly in place, with the keyboard surrounded by adequate filler material.
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The Aorus K9 Optical comes with nine extra Flaretech Optical switches that are the opposite of what came on the board, so I got nine Flaretech Red switches. The nine extra switches that come with the Aorus K9 Optical also come with custom Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) key caps already mounted on them. An orange plastic cap and switch puller is included with the Aorus K9 Optical. This puller has two different ends on it, with one end designed for cap removal and the other end designed for switch removal. Aorus put a graphic on each side so that users would know which to use for cap and switch removal, a very nice touch to aid novice users. I like to use metal clip key cap removers because they let you avoid scratching key caps, but the puller included with the Aorus K9 Optical is decent enough and was designed specifically for the Flaretech switches.
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PBT is an excellent material choice for key caps, as it isn't prone to the staining and wear out that ABS key caps are, though some users aren't a fan of the slightly more gritty texture that is native to PBT key caps. I wish that Aorus would have just shipped the Aorus K9 Optical with a full load out of black PBT key caps, as these orange ones, while high quality, stick out like a sore thumb and also highlight the average quality of the stock key caps.
A printed user guide and manual are included with the Aorus K9 Optical. The single page guide has a combination of various FN+ key codes that control lighting modes and multimedia controls.
Overall, Aorus has done a solid job of packaging and presenting the Aorus K9 Optical and the accessories included like the keycap puller, extra switches and key caps are certainly welcome. Let's take a closer look at the Aorus K9 Optical keyboard on the next page.
Aorus K9 Optical Mechanical Keyboard - A Closer Look
The black plastic frame of the Aorus K9 Optical mechanical keyboard is tight and compact, with thin bezels and a low profile rise. The switches are mounted to the surface plate of the Aorus K9 rather than being set within the frame over a backplate, which gives the key caps a floating look while allowing for easier cleaning.
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The K9 Optical keyboard doesn't pick up fingerprints or stain easily due to the coating Aorus has used on the top surface and the unit has a clean overall look, with an RGB Aorus logo to the left of the indicator lights and another light up logo the front bezel. Doing a flex test by grabbing the keyboard at the corners and twisting as hard as I can, the Aorus K9 Optical exhibited minimal flex and demonstrated solid build quality, with no quality concerns coming to light.
The ABS key caps on the Aorus K9 Optical are well made and should last for quite some time. The F-Keys on the Aorus K9 act as media keys, LED adjustment and volume controls when used in conjunction with the FN key. While the font is a bit too large for my liking, it isn't overly obnoxious and looks decent enough. The key caps have a soft feeling to them and are okay to type on, but the corner edges of the key caps are a bit pronounced.
Removing the ABS key caps on the Aorus K9 Optical, we get a closer look at the plate-mounted Flaretech Optical switches with their clear (not actually blue) Cherry MX-compatible stem. The Flaretech switches on the K9 Optical are surface mounted and feel very secure, without any play or tolerance issues apparent across the board. Removing and replacing key caps on the Flaretech Optical switches was a smooth affair and I tried using a couple of Cherry MX keycaps with success.
The back of the Aorus K9 Optical has routing lanes for the USB cable so that it can be optically placed on your desktop. Rubber support feet are found spaced evenly through the bottom of the keyboard and Aorus is using decent quality single-step risers with a rubber base to adjust the rear height of the keyboard, which will help keep the keyboard in place when lifted.
The six foot long braided USB cable on the Aorus K9 isn't removable and the braiding is kind of thick, which means the cable has a few kinks in it and isn't very flexible. While the cable has a quality gold-plated USB connector with the Aorus logo and has a high quality feel, the lack of flexibility may make it a bit hard to route for aesthetic appeal on certain desks.
The Aorus K9 Optical has a solid build quality and features, let's take a closer look at the Aorus Graphics Engine, which is used to set Macros and control lighting.
Aorus K9 Optical and Aorus Graphics Engine
The Aorus K9 Optical uses the Aorus Graphics Engine
and version 1.29 was the version I used for testing of the K9 Optical. The Aorus Graphics Engine supports Aorus motherboard and graphics cards, giving users a single piece of software to control their various Aorus products. Unfortunately, I found the Aorus Graphics Engine to be a bit slow and it crashed on me a couple of times during use. The Aorus Graphics Engine allows users to adjust lighting and set macros on the K9 Optical, but other functions like polling rate adjustment, key repeat and n-key rollover toggle are not available. The lighting modes available to the motherboard under Aorus Graphics Engine are limited and Aorus currently has two pieces of software that control lighting on my motherboard, so installing them both at the same time actually caused conflicts. There are a few basic RGB lighting modes on the Aorus K9, but per-key lighting isn't available. A music reactive mode is available and the Aorus K9 can be synchronized with the motherboard for potential seizure-inducing lighting modes.Buggy software will hurt any good peripheral and the Aorus K9 is no exception.
Aorus K9 Optical Typing and Gaming
The Aorus K9 Optical has a very solid build quality and was fine to type on, though I can't last for long with the clicks of Blue switches filling the air. The Aorus K9 feels really solid while typing and there wasn't any flex or movement. I was able to type at my typical average of 90 WPM on Typeracer with the Aorus K9 out of the box and felt that the keyboard was very responsive. It is pretty cool that an excerpt from Moneyball ended up being the first SpeedTest that I hit on the Aorus K9 Optical, as I am a huge Oakland A's fan. I had no issues with key presses not registering, or double-registering on the Aorus K9 Optical and chatter was not a factor. The Flaretech Red switches, which unfortunately I only have nine of, ended up being really smooth and I will be ordering more to outfit the entire keyboard with them. A lot of typists prefer tactile switches, but I've really fallen in love with linear switches like the Cherry MX Silver and MX Red over the years.
Gaming on the Aorus K9 was a joy, especially once I replaced the WASD keys with the Flaretech Red switch, which offered fast, smooth linear action. The keys felt well spaced and I never had any issues with incorrectly pressing keys during game play. In general, the Aorus K9 Optical was a very solid keyboard to game on.
The Aorus K9 Optical ended up providing a solid typing and gaming experience thanks to its solid build quality and use of Flaretech switches. This is the second time I've used a keyboard with the Flaretech Optical switch and I have to say, I am impressed with how Aorus has implemented them on the K9 Optical, which is stylish and well-built. The RGB lighting effects on the Aorus K9 Optical look good, with even lighting distribtion across the keys. While the Aorus Graphics Engine software needs improvement, it works well enough and isn't so bad that it keeps me from wanting to recommend the Aorus K9 Optical.
Let's see how the Aorus K9 Optical stacks up on the next page.
Aorus K9 Optical Mechanical Keyboard - Conclusion
The Aorus K9 Optical is a sweet keyboard with some unique features, namely the Flaretech Optical switches along with waterproof capability. I am happy to report that the waterproof capabilities touted by Aorus aren't just marketing fluff, the Aorus K9 Optical can drink water like a fish and keep on swimming. Aorus did a great job of making the K9 Optical a quality mechanical keyboard that gamers can take to LAN parties without the worry of suffering a night-ending Mt. Dew bath. The Flaretech Optical Blue switches were nice to type on, with a very distinct click that could be heard from across the hallway, though hearing the click before actuation threw me off a bit. The Flaretech Optical Red is a very smooth linear switch and would be my personal preference out of the two switches for gaming, as the linear action along with very quick bounce time allowed for very quick, smooth actuation during fast paced games. I've never been a fan of Cherry MX Blue switches, so while I can recognize the Flaretech Blue as a good switch for those who like a tactile bump with an audible click, I think the Reds are the way to go if you want the superior Flaretech switch for gaming.
The build quality and overall features of the Aorus K9 Optical are respectable, but the software is where the keyboard suffers a bit. The Aorus Graphics Engine was slow to change settings and often unstable, crashing on me a couple of times. While setting macros worked, I felt as if Aorus could come up with a dedicated solution for keyboard software, as their Graphics Engine is a multi-purpose software that is missing refinement for specific products. I can appreciate unified software, but right now Graphics Engine and RGB Fusion can both control my motherboard and keyboard lighting, but each software is missing settings for specific components. If I want extensive motherboard lighting control, I have to use RGB Fusion. If I want more than two keyboard lighting modes, I have to use Aorus Graphics Engine. The whole Aorus software situation is a mess and it would be nice to see them step their game up in this regard. Besides the software, the only issue I have with the Aorus K9 Optical is that the braided cable isn't terribly flexible, making it prone to kinks and it isn't removable, meaning if it gets broken your keyboard will be out of commission; Even a waterproof keyboard can't be saved from the broken cable demons.
If you find yourself wanting a waterproof keyboard that has style and build quality, the Aorus K9 Optical with Flaretech Optical switches is a solid pick up. The fact that this keyboard is well-built, has solid RGB lighting capabilities and is able to survive a drench will be enough to interest many gamers. I really liked the Flaretech Optical switches and their simple implementation that allows them to be easily swapped. Should Flaretech come out with new switch types in the future, perhaps a Brown type, this keyboard will be ready to accept them. The Aorus K9 Optical is a sweet keyboard, but it isn't cheap, coming in at $140 at Amazon.
Recently, Corsair came out with a water-resistant RGB keyboard, the K68 RGB, which is available for around $120-150
. The Corsair unit features traditional Cherry MX switches and isn't as waterproof as the Aorus K9, as the housing is still subject to water entry. The Corsair unit also doesn't allow for switches to be swapped, which is a great feature to have when you think about the potential it offers. Still, $140 is a lot to ask for an RGB keyboard that doesn't have features like independent macro buttons, independent media controls, USB pass thru or other features seen at this price point. Even considering the price point, if you want a stylish, well-built waterproof keyboard with RGB lighting and like the prospect of being able to tell people that your keyboard uses 'freakin' lasers', the Aorus K9 Optical is an excellent choice.
Legit Bottom Line: The Aorus K9 Optical is a well-built, stylish mechanical RGB keyboard that is waterproof, making it truly ideal for LAN parties and workstations where food and drink are permitted.