I’ll admit, I was originally a little puzzled when I heard about the release of Corsair’s newest gaming mechanical keyboard. A few of the press releases and announcement articles I checked out described the Corsair STRAFE as a cheaper alternative to the solid standby that is the K70. And granted, this is true. The STRAFE retails for $110, clocking in at $20 cheaper than the K70, though it isn’t hard to find either keyboard for an additional $10 off. Still, the cheaper price of the STRAFE does come with its own caveats.
For the reduced price, the STRAFE gives up the comfortable wrist pad, and swaps out an aluminum casing for a plastic one. Dedicated media control buttons and a volume scrollbar are now gone, though they still exist as shortcuts on the function keys. An interesting addition is the USB passthrough which rests at the back of the keyboard, allowing you to plug in a mouse or memory stick rather than having to plug it into the computer itself. Personally, I found this extra USB port to be quite useful, especially considering I tend to forgo keyboard and mouse controls (in certain games) for a good old Xbox 360 controller, which is easier than ever to hook up. It’s a great addition, and a premium one that’s absent on some of Corsair’s premium (and more expensive) line of keyboards.
Despite the switch to a plastic housing, the STRAFE still feels solidly constructed all around. While it’s only available with red LEDs (a jump to the full RGB spectrum would undoubtedly raise the price), the lighting does look great, with the red plastic under the keys meshing well with the color from the keys themselves. Dedicated lights for caps and num lock are a nice touch, and there’s a dedicated button to disable the Windows key, a useful addition that gamers should take advantage of to prevent any unnecessary keystrokes. A lighting key also allows you to scroll through three preset brightness levels for the LEDs, and you can completely turn off the LED lighting, which should appease those who don’t like the red lighting to begin with.
These additions strike a great balance between price and features, though I imagine those who play MOBAs or MMOs will make the most of the STRAFE in general (that’s not to say everyone else won’t). Along with a key remover (for those who like to customize), the keyboard comes with textured and gripped key caps, with a set designed for first-person shooters (with WASD caps) and one for MOBAs and MMOs (with caps for Q,W,E,R,D and F). Granted, one of the most important features are not the key caps, but the key switches themselves. The STRAFE is available with Cherry MX Red and Brown switches (the unit we received for review came with Red switches), which work well both when gaming and general typing. And for those with USB 3.0, you can simply plug in the keyboard with one of the two USB cables (those using USB 2.0 need to use both cables).
Granted, while the STRAFE is a great piece of hardware on its own, a lot of the customization comes in the form of the Corsair Utility Engine (CUE), a free program that allows you to control various lighting patterns, along with a handful of keystroke functions. There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to designing your own lighting patterns, I got a lot of mileage from the preset ones, with the rain pattern (which is pretty much what it sounds like), and the reactive typing mode (which lights up individual keys as you press them) being my favorite of the bunch. While I did try my hand at creating some custom lighting patterns, I have a feeling I will be content with the ones included, or better yet, downloading other people’s lighting patterns that are posted online, which you can import into CUE.
For those who like to delve into the deeper metrics, you can adjust things like the keyboard’s polling rate, and you can easily record your keystrokes should you feel the need. Setting up mouse macros, key combinations, and program shortcuts is also fairly intuitive, thanks in part to the CUE receiving a few updates since its launch late last year. As someone who doesn’t play many MOBAs or MMOs, I personally didn’t find these tools necessary, though I imagine there’s a growing number of people who will, especially since those two genres have become popular over the last couple of years.
Still, it’s not hard to recommend the Corsair STRAFE to just about anyone who is in the market for a mechanical gaming keyboard, or anyone who wants to add a little flash to their gaming rig. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that some of the more expensive keyboards offer, Corsair has offered up a well-rounded keyboard, especially considering the price.
This review is based on the Cherry MX Red version of the Corsair STRAFE, which we were provided with for review.
If you can get over the lack of a wrist pad and a few dedicated media buttons, the Corsair STRAFE stands as one of the better bang for your buck gaming keyboards out there.