There’s no doubt about it: mechanical keyboards elevate your gaming experience. They feel better, last longer, and are more responsive than any rubber dome. Add in fancy programmable lighting and you have a fantastic contraption, but one that comes at a hefty price. Until now. Introducing the Cooler Master CK552. At $79.99, it may just be the best value in RGB keyboards today. This is our official review.
- MSRP: $79.99 (CK550: $89.99)
- Product Name: CK552
- Model Number: CK-552-KKGR1-US
- Switch Type: Gateron Red (CK550: Red, Brown, Blue)
- Material: Plastic / Aluminum
- Color: Midnight Black Brushed Aluminum
- LED Color: RGB, 16.7 million colors
- Polling Rate/Response Rate: 1000 Hz/1ms
- MCU: 32bit ARM Cortex M3
- On board Memory: 512KB
- On-the-fly system: Yes, for Multi-media, Macro Recording and Lighting Control
- Multi-media Keys: Through FN
- Cable: Fixed Rubberized 1.8m
- Software Support: Yes, through Portal
- Cable Length: 1.8m
- Dimensions: 460*135*41 mm (L*W*H)
- Product Weight (without cable): 850 g
- Warranty: 2 years
In the world of mechanical keyboards, the sky's the limit when it comes to pricing. Depending on what you want, you can pick up anything from the cheap and chintzy knock-offs from Amazon to the boutique custom-builds tailor-made for enthusiasts. For gamers, it’s not common to see pricing over $120 if you want full RGB lighting and macro programming. Cooler Master saw this and saw an opportunity to do better.
They delivered. When I received the CK552 - a Best Buy exclusive model - and saw the $79.99 price tag, I fully expected the usual compromises: cheap build, no-name switches, no programming, and barely-there lighting. Instead, what they’ve delivered is a fully featured keyboard that feels like it should cost far more. It has every single one of those features and more, making it competitive with boards into the triple digits. That it offers so much for so little is an accomplishment, easily making it the best major brand RGB mech out there at this price.
Taking it out of the box, you’ll find that the keyboard has a nice weight to it. The top plate isn’t the plastic usually seen on sub-$100 keyboards and is instead brushed aluminum for a nice finish and clack when bottoming out the keys. I did note that the cable isn’t braided like some gaming keyboards, but if a braided cable is the reason we’ve been paying twice the price for all these years, throw it in the trash. It’s also reasonably sized, making it much easier to route than the dragon-tails on the back of the likes of Corsair.
Under the caps, Cooler Master opted for linear Gateron red switches. Gaterons function near identically to Cherry MX switches and even a bit smoother if the folks at GeekHack are to be believed, though I couldn’t tell the difference myself. Purists may complain about the lack of Cherries, but the reality is alt-brand switches have gained an incredible traction, leaving many of the old worries about consistency and quality in the past. I’ve used high-end custom keyboards with Gaterons and terrible, lightweight keyboards with Cherries. At this point, it’s about taste and how they feel in the keyboard as a whole.
Thankfully, typing and gaming on the CK552 feels great. Cooler Master opted for the same ABS keycaps found on most gaming keyboards, with a fairly standard office-friendly font. Against the aluminum top plate and solid internal construction, they have a solid clack without the hollow sound found on cheap keyboards. At the end of the day, how a keyboard feels and functions is most important and Cooler Master did a great job of making it feel like a more expensive board than it is.
The real standout feature at this price is the lighting and programmability of the keyboard. The CK552 features full per-key RGB backlighting. This means that every key can individually be set to display its own color, allowing you to create custom layouts. What’s more, you get the choice to do this on any computer using just the keyboard’s on-board controls or with a full software suite (which is advisable for intricate custom schemes due to the quick selection options).
Sub-$100, that’s just not common. If you do find that kind of programmability, it’s usually boxed into presets or “key zones” where you’re forced to set groups of keys rather than individuals.
If you’d rather, you can also choose from a large selection of presets. All told, Cooler Master has packed in 16 preset animations that can be customized with or without software. Want your Fireball to be blue instead of orange? Turn down a color channel and you’re there. Want that slow rainbow to race? Hit the arrow keys to speed it up.
When it comes to macros, the options are the same: right on the keyboard, stored on on-board memory, or through software where you can cut delays. Recording a macro on the board is easy with a couple of quick key combinations and can be saved or deleted from any key when you’re done.
Functionally, the CK552 is a versatile little keyboard that packs options far above its price class.
As I’m sure is obvious, I’m extremely impressed with the CK552. I rarely ever label something “the best,” but in this case it’s just warranted. For the money, it’s just an incredible value and challenges why we’ve been paying so much for so long. For $79.99, it’s simply the best value RGB mechanical keyboard we’ve ever tested. If you have a Best Buy nearby and are in the market for an affordable mechanical keyboard, the CK552 should be at the top of your list.
Note: The CK550 is now available for $89.99, is not a Best Buy exclusive, and offers blue and brown switch types.
- Excellent value for the dollar
- Per-key RGB backlighting
- Onboard and software lighting/macro control
- Solid construction
- Store exclusive at $79.99 price
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.