Introducing Rosewill's RK-9000 Mechanical Keyboard

As enthusiasts and professionals we spend a lot of time checking out what's under the hood of the computers and devices we use, but thankfully more and more we're paying attention to how we actually interact with hardware, what the user experience is like. User experience has been a major selling point of Apple's products, but there's one place where even Apple has been a bit neglectful: the keyboard. On notebooks your options are limited, but on the desktop you have access to mechanical keyboards. Today we'll take a quick look at Rosewill's RK-9000 mechanical keyboard and see if it's worth the price premium.

Before we get started with breaking down the RK-9000, a brief explanation of what we mean by "mechanical keyboard." There are several different types of switches used in modern keyboards, but the most common is the "membrane" switch. At its most basic, there's a "bubble" under each key, and when you press down the bubble makes contact with a circuit board beneath and registers the keypress. The attraction to this design is simple enough: it's cheap and easy to make. The problem is that as far as tactile response goes, it sucks out loud.

Enter mechanical switches. If you're old enough to remember what keyboards were like in the eighties and prior, you'll remember big, heavy keyboards with loud springs and plenty of feedback. Obviously it's a hell of a lot more expensive to equip a bunch of keys with springs, and that's why mechanical keyboards remain a bit of a niche product. That's a shame, too.

Rosewill offers four different mechanical keyboards, each based on the four different types of Cherry MX mechanical switches available. The Cherry MX Blue is the clickiest, the loudest, and the most tactile of the four; we have Corsair's Vengeance keyboards with the Cherry MX Red switches due in house soon, and we'll be able to compare and contrast then.

Aesthetically, the RK-9000 series isn't much to look at and you wouldn't be faulted for thinking they at least appear cheap. These look like generic black keyboards; no shortcut keys, not even so much as a fancy design. Black keys, black frame, but man is the RK-9000 heavy. With a $99 price tag it's hard not to fault anyone for taking one look at the keyboard and thinking, "Seriously?" Even the package is pretty bare; the keyboard itself has a mini-USB port in the back, and the keyboard comes with two cables, one mini-USB-to-PS2, and one mini-USB-to-USB. That's it.

Of course, once you've actually typed on the RK-9000, your impression will change in a hurry. 

The Rosewill RK-9000 in Action
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  • kepstin - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    Your keyboard probably wasn't manufactured in 1984 - that's a mistake a lot of people make. The design was copyright 1984, and that date is printed on the bottom of all the keyboards - but there's another date (usually dot-matrix printed on the label) which corresponds to the manufacturing date. Mine's from Feb. 17, 1990; still nearly 21 years old :) Reply
  • kepstin - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    I’ve got an IBM Model M as well, and I love it, despite the noise. The Model M actually has an advantage over the Cherry switches that some people don’t know about:

    On a Model M, you get a click on key press, and another click on key release. At the same time as the click, there's actually a pressure change that you can feel. And the 'click' exactly corresponds with when the key press or release is registered by the computer.

    The Cherry switches have a similar click sound and pressure change, but unlike the Model M the click does /not/ correspond with the point where the key press is registered - I find this really annoying.

    Would be cool if Anandtech would review one of these old-fashioned “buckling spring” keyboards, you can pick up new ones from Unicomp at http://pckeyboard.com/
    Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    Seconded! I have my eye on the EnduraPro PS2 and I would love it if you would give us your opinion on it. Reply
  • Metaluna - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    If you don't like the sound the Cherry blues make, you might find a Model M or Unicomp preferable. The Cherrys have a very high pitched click, followed by a second loud noise when the key bottoms out (at least on my DAS). I find that constant clickCLACK clickCLACK very annoying. With my Unicomps, the sound is lower frequency and the two noises kind of blend together, though since they are coil springs, you do get occasional ringing sounds which is a little wierd.

    As for Unicomp vs Model M:
    - My 2 Unicomps feel slightly more plasticky, but also a bit more crisp and clicky than my refurbed Model M. The Model M is more solid and substantial. Feels more refined overall.
    - Unicomps have Windows keys (they may have a Mac model also, and a few other layouts), and are available in USB or PS/2
    - Buying a Unicomp vs a used Model M means you are supporting the only company that still manufactures buckling spring switches (they literally bought the machines and tooling from Lexmark), and they almost went out of business a few years ago so we're not talking about some huge faceless company. That's the problem with making stuff that lasts virtually forever I guess.

    If you want a board that is both really quiet *and* tactile, Topre is pretty much the only choice.
    Reply
  • halfflat - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    I splurged on a Topre Realforce 87U SE170S last year while in Tokyo. It is by far the best keyboard I have ever used.

    Key advantages:
    - Great tactile response, without being hard work or jarring like the clicky Model Ms
    - Quiet. The Realforce is fairly quiet to begin with, but the SE170S variant is quieter still.
    - N-key roll over. I have a mechanical keyboard at home which is not too bad (though it is noisy and more jarring), but less than 4-key roll over makes for many missing characters in words, lots of back editing, and general frustration.
    - Configurable control/caps lock with swappable keys. I can place control near my left pinky, have it look like a control key, and have the operating system be none the wiser.

    It definitely was expensive, yet it is a true pleasure to type on. I would claim that the keyboard and monitor are the most important part of any desktop PC — these are the components whose strengths and weaknesses will be with you every time you use the machine, and if they are of any decent quality, will long outlast the usefulness of the PC itself.
    Reply
  • Jaybus - Friday, January 27, 2012 - link

    Being old, my first keyboard was a IBM 3278 model 4 terminal, a couple of years prior to the launch of the IBM PC. Back then, everyone, (by "everyone" I mean far less than 1% of the population), was used to that type of mechanical switch keyboard. The keyboard on the 3278 series terminals was VERY good. Had IBM come out with a cheapo keyboard for the first PC, "everyone" would have thought it a joke. It is no surprise to me that they used a very high quality keyboard for the first PC.

    Years ago, I managed to acquired an entire IBM model 5150 PC built, complete with CGA video adapter, and IBM 5153 RGB color monitor. The 5150 PC used the 83 key model F keyboard, which was almost identical to the System/38 5253 Display Station terminals. IMO, this was the best keyboard ever made. The model M's were a redesign of the model F to reduce cost. Not that the model M was not an excellent and nearly as good keyboard. As it stands, the model M is more useful, since the model F cannot be made to work with a modern PC AFAIK.
    Reply
  • hansmuff - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    Well written, the important aspects of using mechanical keyboards are explained well.

    Regarding lettering, there are 3 common choices for a manufacturer:
    (1) Printed lettering. Flat layer on the keys that's cheap to do. Wears off rather quickly and unevenly.
    (2) Lasered. The letters are lasered into the plastic keys, then filled in with.. filler paint. This will last much longer than printed, but will dirty and wear out over time, but not nearly as quickly as printed.
    (3) Double-Shot: The letters are cut out of the top key plastic. inside the top key is a smaller key with the same letter but raised. The keys mold together such that you end up with one thick key cap, but the raised plastic lettering raises into the cut-out of the top layer. This lasts (essentially) forever but is very expensive.

    It would have been nice to mention what Rosewill says their lettering is; laser or print. It is not double-shot for sure.
    Also would be nice to mention that keycaps are exchangeable. You could potentially buy a set of double-shot key caps and replace the print/laser ones.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    Rosewill claims the lettering is lasered, but the wear and tear after a month... :| Reply
  • hansmuff - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    If they don't use enough filler, dirt will set in quickly and look ugly. However, the filler underneath will not disappear for a good long time.

    I have a Leopold Cherry keyboard with similar symptoms. Lasered keys are not optimal, but the next best (double-shot) is very expensive.
    Reply
  • ssj4Gogeta - Thursday, January 26, 2012 - link

    Why even care about lettering when you're going to be touch-typing anyway? Reply

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