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Roccat Vulcan 120 AIMO Gaming Keyboard: AI Inside

By Christopher Coke on July 31, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Roccat Vulcan 120 AIMO Gaming Keyboard: AI Inside

Mechanical keyboards have become a staple gaming peripheral but, after all this time, how do you push them forward? Roccat thinks they have the answer with their brand new flagship, the Vulcan 120 AIMO. It features a brand new in-house switch, AI-powered lighting, and a distinctive thin half-cap to show off its unique look. Is beauty only skin deep? Let’s find out in our review of the Roccat Vulcan 120 AIMO

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Specifications

  • MSRP: $159.99
  • Key Switches: Roccat Titan Switches
  • Actuation Distance: 1.8mm actuation point (tactile, silent)
  • Actuation Force: 45g
  • Key Travel: 3.6mm switch travel distance
  • Onboard Memory: Yes, 512kb integrated macro & settings memory
  • Programmability: Macros, Lighting, All keys remappable
  • ROCCAT® Easy-Shift[+]™ technology
  • 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 based processor
  • Cable: Braided 1.8m USB cable
  • Response Rate: 1000Hz polling rate
  • Software: ROCCAT® Swarm software suite
  • Illumination: AIMO-enabled, RGB per-key illumination with 16.8m colors
  • Accessories: Removable ergonomic palm rest
  • Dimensions: 462mm x 235mm x 32mm dimensions
  • Weight: 1150g

The Vulcan line is Roccat’s latest flagship, unseating the Suora FX we reviewed in 2016. Like its predecessor, it features fully programmable RGB lighting and mechanical key switches across the board. Unlike the Suora, the Vulcan comes in three different models, the 80, 100 AIMO, and 120 AIMO. While the 80 features single-color illumination and drops the volume wheel, the main difference between the 100 and 120 is that 120 is a Best Buy exclusive and features a magnetic wrist rest.

Regardless of the model you choose, you can expect the same high quality build. The top plate is a brushed aluminum. The rear and sides are plastic with long rubber pads to keep it from sliding around on your desk. Surprisingly for its thin profile, the Vulcan is rigid, offering very little flex even when really pressed on. The keyboard also feels solid to type on, offering up none of the hollow feel or spring sounds we hear on cheaper keyboards.

The overall look, without considering RGB quite yet, is super stylish. The face feels industrial with its exposed screws but also futuristic thanks to the half-height keycaps. The Vulcan uses the “floating key” design which allows you to see the switch underneath and really shows off the RGB lighting. Trimming down the key switches makes the Vulcan 120 AIMO one of the most unique looking keyboards I’ve used - and my personal collection includes more than two dozen mechanical keyboards. While I usually ding companies on using ABS caps, it’s nice to see Roccat doing something unique here and using keycaps to give their keyboard so much character. Frankly, the Vulcan looks pretty darn cool.

Roccat’s also trimmed the edges with a glossy black before shifting to the textured matte on the rear. It makes for a nice accent that catches the light as well as your eye. The indicator lights have been shifted below the number pad and in their place we now have our volume mute, volume up, and lighting effects switch, as well as one of the more vertical volume knobs we’ve seen. The volume knob is nice and is one of the most easily useable we’ve had in for testing. Including volume buttons feels a bit redundant, though, and it would have been nice to see those used for something more meaningful instead.

At this price point, I also would have liked to have seen a USB passthrough to easily wire a mouse or headset. It’s not a make or break feature, especially since the braided cable only features a single head, but its absence stands out when it’s become so much of an expectation in the competition.

At the end of the day, the most important part of any keyboard is how it types and responds in games. The Vulcan series is the first to feature Roccat’s new in-house developed Titan key switches. The Titans are a tactile key switch similar to a Cherry MX Brown, meaning that you can feel a “bump” when the key has activated. Unlike Cherries, however, the bump is much more pronounced giving you much better tactility.

Key feel comes down to much more than the switch itself. The construction of the board and keycaps also make a difference. I’ve always found Roccat keyboards to be particularly good, but the Titans are a real winner. That added tactility, shorter actuation and travel distances of 1.8mm and 3.6mm make for a switch that feels fast without the steep learning curve of switches like Cherry MX Speeds.

The Vulcan 100 and 120 also use Roccat’s new intelligent lighting system, AIMO. AIMO promises to be a “Living Light” that harnesses the power of AI to adapt and change based on what you’re doing. It’s a unique mode that weaves and pulses through colors in a way you can’t really put your finger on. Out of the box, you’re limited to three choices that shift in shades of green, blue, and red/orange that can be a bit mesmerizing as you try to wrap your head around exactly how they’re moving.

When you download the Roccat Swarm software suite, you have access to the full AIMO lighting mode, which is almost completely different. Here, a ball of color shifts around your keyboard like some kind of cyclopic eye, scanning the room. Behind it, the colors of the other keys shift and change, seemingly at random. When you type, light expands out from your fingers, eventually overtaking the keyboard. It’s neat and more than a little different.

I’m honestly not sure if it’s AI or just a clever lighting mode. Roccat says it adapts to the programs you’re using and maybe it does…  But here’s the thing - AI needs time to learn and adapt to what you’re doing and in the two weeks I used it, I’m still not entirely clear if that’s what was taking place. It looks really neat and is the keyboard equivalent of a those visualizers we used to stare at back in the WinAmp days, but when it comes to identifying repeated patterns based on the programs I used? The jury’s still out on that one.

Swarm also gives you the option of dropping AIMO entirely and opting for your standard rainbow wave or other standard lighting options. You can also set custom lighting schemes, although it’s a bit more straightforward than what Razer and Corsair currently offer, putting it more in line with Logitech’s customization options.

It’s also here that you can remap your keys and record macros, which, as always, is quick and easy. Thanks to 512kb of onboard memory, you can store custom lighting schemes, macros, and key layouts right on-board, so you won’t need to reload your software if you take it on the go.

Final Thoughts

The Vulcan 120 is easily the best keyboard Roccat has ever made. Considering that the Ryos TKL Pro is still one of my all time favorite keyboards to type on, that’s saying something. For $159.99, it’s a premium keyboard competing in a busy market. Unlike the majority of new keyboards these days, it’s not content to just be more of the same. It has a unique look and a more unique lighting mode through the AIMO intelligent lighting system. The jury may still be out on how meaningful the “AI” really is but stay tuned as I update this review in the future with a comment down below.

Regardless of how that shakes out, you can consider this keyboard with confidence. It’s built well, feels great, delivers what the other guys have, and then adds on it to make something all its own. Like the Suora, Ryos FX and TKL Pro before it, the Vulcan 120 receives out recommendation.

Pros

  • Titan switches are very tactile and feel great
  • Unique look with “half-cap” floating keys
  • AIMO lighting is mesmerizing

Cons

  • Redundant volume buttons
  • No USB pass-through
  • Still unclear of the impact of AI in AIMO

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.