You have to hand it to MSI for cramming so many keys onto its new Vigor GK80 mechanical keyboard. Glance down at its streamlined aluminium base and you’ll see at least sixteen keys with extra function symbols peeking out of the tiny crevasses between each row.
That’s in addition to four dedicated media keys in the top right corner and a further eight function buttons along the usual string of Fn keys. For a keyboard measuring just 445x141x42mm, that’s pretty impressive. Whether you’ll end up using all of those is another matter of course, but (lack of volume slider aside) the main thing here is that you’re not having to compromise on style over substance.
Indeed, compared to the rather giant HyperX Alloy Elite I’ve just tested, the extra desk space I’ve gained back is pretty sizable, making the GK80 a better fit for those with smaller desks. It’s not quite as small as the Asus ROG Claymore, but at least the GK80 doesn’t make you pay extra for a number pad.
Admittedly, most of the GK80’s extra function buttons relate to its RGB lighting system, which is just as well, really, because MSI’s two (yes, two) dedicated bits of configuration software are so utterly useless that you’ll want to avoid using them as much as possible. You’ll probably still need to consult MSI’s bundled instruction manual to find out what they all actually do (because there’s a lot of them), but it sure beats having to deal with its confusing Mystic Light tool.
There are 14 different RGB modes in total, including three special game modes for Overwatch, League of Legends and CS:GO, but you can also use the GK80 to change the performance profiles on your compatible MSI Gaming motherboard and MSI Gaming graphics card, allowing you to switch between silent, gaming and overclocked modes without disrupting your game. Handy if you’re decked out in MSI kit, less so if you’re not.
Instead, much more useful is MSI’s own gaming mode for the GK80, which can be turned on by pressing the Fn and Windows keys. This disables all system notifications and ensures each key press gets registered no matter how many keys you’re pressing at once.
Now I’ve been sent the Cherry MX red version of the GK80, but it’s also available with Cherry MX silver switches as well. These have a shorter actuation distance than red switches, so you don’t need to press them down quite so hard in order for each keystroke to register. This should, in theory, make them a bit faster than red switches, but it’s hard to say whether they’re actually any better when I’ve only got the red version in for testing.
You’ll also probably have noticed the GK80 comes with metal WASD caps (pictured above) rather than rubber ones like the rest of the it. Personally, I found these caps far too smooth and slippery for my liking, and they made playing fast-paced games like Doom more of a chore. Thankfully, MSI have had the foresight to include a full set of textured rubber WASD replacements (along with a spare space bar, back space, eight regular caps and two Ctrl/Alt-sized caps) if you don’t like them. There’s even space to pop all of them inside its bundled wrist rest, too, which is a nice touch if you’re travelling or just want somewhere to store them for later.
Bizarrely, the wrist rest doesn’t actually attach to the rest of the GK80, so you can place it where you like to get the comfiest position. In one sense, this is brilliant, as pushing it right up to the edge of the keyboard made everything feel just a tad too high and cramped. On the other hand, it’s a right pain in the backside, as it’s yet another thing to move and re-position if you ever want to adjust where your keyboard sits on your desk. This is more me being lazy than anything else, so I probably shouldn’t complain too much, as I really quite liked the feel of its soft-touch rubbery finish under my palms and it genuinely made typing a lot more comfortable over long periods of time.
Having come straight from the blue Cherry switches of the HyperX Alloy Elite, however, I must admit that the red switches on the GK80 do in fact feel a fraction softer and less forceful during everyday use, which, depending on your personal switch preference, might make them less suited to reams and reams of typing.
There’s not much in it, in all fairness, as the GK80 still provided more than enough tactile feedback and overall comfort while I was writing these very words, for instance, and I rarely made any mistakes or had to slow down my typing speed in order to accommodate its different typing style. Overall, though, I think my personal preference lies with the sharper, cleaner keystrokes of the blue Alloy Elite – but that’s not to say you’ll also like them better as well.
In terms of noise, they’re just as rattly as each other to my ears. The GK80’s clacks are slightly lower in tone than the high-pitched Alloy, but neither of them are any less family-friendly than the other. As a result, you’ll still need to use them out of human earshot, unless of course you particularly enjoy having your respective housemates or family members use your head as target practice in a bid to get you to type more quietly.
My only real concern with the GK80 is the positioning, or rather labelling, of its media keys. From a normal seated position, I can barely make out the symbols on each of its four dedicated buttons, and it’s not until I lean right over them that I can actually see what I’m pressing.
That’s not very convenient when you’re mid game and want to whack up the volume or mute it altogether, as you’ve still got to make a conscious effort to look away from the screen to make sure you’re not about to burst your own ear drums by pressing the wrong key. Given the amount of free space just below them, too, it makes little sense to a) make them so small and b) have them hanging half-way off the upper edge.
Overall, though, the MSI GK80 is a fine mechanical keyboard. At £160 / just over $150, it’s a touch more expensive than other mechanical RGB boards like the Corsair K70 Lux and number pad-less Asus ROG Claymore, but in many ways it’s much better value for money, as you not only get several extra key caps in the box, but the movable wrist rest gives it a lot more flexibility than its rivals. Yes, I know £160 is still a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a keyboard, but if customising your LEDs down to the nth degree without having to deal with any software is important to you, then it’s probably worth the extra tenner over the Corsair and the Asus. If you’re not fussed about the RGB lights, though, and just want something nice for typing and playing games alike, then the HyperX Alloy Elite is still my top recommendation.