Gigabyte’s latest gaming keyboard, the Aorus K9 Optical, looks like exactly the kind of keyboard I prefer. Sure, I’m more than a little cynical about the RGB lighting fad, but otherwise it’s a classic keyboard design, reassuringly slab-like in both appearance and apparent construction. It sits on your desk, weighty and immobile, and the all-black, relatively unadorned construction goes with any PC setup.
And while I have been warming to the K9’s big selling point – its optical switches - over the last few days, I’m still not entirely sold on them compared to my usual, trusty, Cherry MX-powered keyboard.
The K9’s switches are optical, but they’re also still mechanical, by the way. There’s still a hardware-based switch, but the actuation is based on an optical trigger. The benefit is that, being light activated, key strokes are faster. The switches are also longer wearing. But in use, the in-game benefits feel negligible – pro eSports types might see the benefit of the faster debounce, but for regular gamers the speed difference simply doesn’t seem apparent, and the benefit of longer life similarly seems a touch overwrought. I’ve not had a mechanical keyboard fail on me yet before I’ve decided to upgrade to a newer, cooler model, and I suspect keyboards are probably the most upgraded peripheral in most people’s gaming rigs, aside from mice.
The K9 uses Flaretech switches in either Red or Blue varieties, which equate to similar Cherry switches. We received a Red version for review, and they’re not our favourite switch, even on Cherry-powered keyboards, but on the K9 they feel a little more… watery? The lack of clickiness is the Red’s whole schtick, but the action seems particularly lacking in the Flaretech switches.
The other neat feature of the K9 is that it comes with not only spare keycaps for the WASD, cursor, and Escape keys in orange, but it also comes with spare switches, so you can make those keys offer different tactile experience. On my Red keyboard, the spares are clicky Blue numbers, and while they’re not as responsive as Cherry’s (yeah, okay, I am a fan), the combination of colour and tactile clarity is kinda neat. I think I prefer the difference in contouring that is Corsair’s solution to making those important keys standout, however. Having two different switches on your keyboard while typing at length is a little odd, and it does throw off my rhythm somewhat; if you’re more focused on gaming over writing at length, it’s probably less of an issue, though, and could well deliver the best of both worlds.
And, on top of that, Gigabyte claims that not only is the keyboard splash-proof, but that it will also operate under water. Oddly, no IP (ingress protection) rating is given, so we’ve no idea how that should relate to solids like dust and other particulates. That’s a challenge for longer term testing, but if you’re prone to spillage around your gaming space, this could be a good option.
Unfortunately, the K9 is also on the expensive side for what you’re getting, and it doesn’t feature any dedicated media or volume keys, or a wrist-rest, or even a USB passthrough, all pretty much features you’d expect for a keyboard that retails for nearly $200 (though at time of rating there are some good sales where you can get the K9 for around $150, which is much more reasonable.
As always with any input device, your mileage will vary based on your own tastes, but for me the Aorus K9 Optical just doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t offer quiet enough to justify the price. On special it rates far higher, but it’s not close to making me switch away from current work/home pair of mechanicals.