The rabbit hole of mechanical keyboards can be deep indeed, with various manufacturers, switches, models, features and software to keep track of. But it's a sector of the PC market that has boomed, as more and more gamers learn to appreciate the value of upgrading from mushy membrane keyboards.
One major beneficiary of the mechanical wave has been Cherry, makers of the keyboard various switches that you see used everywhere. You can even find them in laptops these days. There's an email sitting in my inbox now: $49 Cherry MX Red gaming keyboard. It's not actually a Cherry keyboard, even though the switches are.
That's not the case with the Cherry MX BOARD 6.0, which is very much a Cherry keyboard. And it feels like one.
What is it?
The keyboard, straight out of the box
This is an official peripheral, as opposed to being a keyboard with Cherry's switches. The MX BOARD 6.0 (which is going for anywhere between $280 and $300 according to a Staticice search) uses red switches, which have the equal lowest required actuation force of Cherry's lineup, alongside browns.
- Full N-Key rollover
- 100% anti-ghosting
- Bi-colour status keys (blue backlight)
- Ability to disable the Windows Key
- 13 double function keys
- 200cm USB cable
Cherry has stated this isn't a gaming focused keyboard, as it doesn't come with any special software. It's Cherry's first backlit keyboard as well, with the special characters just as visible at various brightness levels as the primary keys (thanks to the short ABS plastic keycaps).
As can be seen in the first picture, the MX BOARD 6.0 also comes equipped with a sizeable arm rest. Just don't rest external hard drives or SD cards on it, due to the magnet at the front of the keyboard.
The keyboard itself is around 45.4 cm x 14.7 cm x 2.84cm, weighs an impressive 1.35kg (the wrist rest is 257g) and is built in an aluminium housing with a grease resistant coat and a sanded finish.
The keyboard's overall thickness; you can also see the grease resistant coat only applies to the top half of the keyboard
What's It Good At?
I've been using two Leopold keyboards for the last few years. I bought them when I was working midnight shifts summarising financial papers and trying to make my way up the StarCraft ranked ladder, and ended up with two 10-keyless FC700RT boards. The one I'm using at work right now has Cherry MX brown switches, while the spare (that I also used for LANs and various tournaments) has Cherry MX reds. I had a full FILCO brand keyboard prior to that, and hearing that the Leopold boards were created by the FILCO's designer was a huge drawcard for me. But perhaps the biggest appeal? They were only $109 at the time.
The Leopold isn't really stocked in Australia these days. And thanks to the falling Australian dollar and the rising demand for Cherry MX switches in general, picking up a top-of-the-line mechanical keyboard will cost you far more than that. The Cherry MX BOARD 6.0 belongs in that class, and it feels like it from the off; the full packaging weighs around 2.3 kg, more than my fat Canon 7D DSLR with the hefty 24-70mm f/2.8L lens attached.
Opening up the box
The most enjoyable element of the experience has been the typing. My experience with red switches has been punctuated by frequent typos and accidental key presses, since the keys lack the tactile bump of the brown switches. Not just on the keyboards I own, but others I've borrowed and tried (which include the Das line, Steelseries models, Ducky keyboards, various Razer products and a brief dalliance at a LAN with someone's Corsair K65).
I liked to think of myself as an above-average typist, something tests with the Cherry MX 6.0 confirmed. So as someone who uses a keyboard on a frequent basis, keyboard comfort matters. But as much as I love my Leopold mechanical keyboard and the FILCO that it replaced, the Cherry MX 6.0 blows them both out of the water for ease of use.
I've largely been using the Cherry MX 6.0 sans hand rest due to space considerations, though it is a very comfortable addition. Comfortable enough that I've actually been able to resume playing StarCraft 2 again, something I wasn't able to enjoy due to the sheer amount of actions required putting a strain on my wrists and hands.
The MX 6.0 is advertised as the world's fastest keyboard too, helped by Cherry's RealKey technology -- analog controllers that reduce the debounce delay on keystrokes.
Other keyboards have a delay built-in which determines how fast a keystroke can be registered; it's designed to prevent the keyboard from accidentally registering keystrokes from occurring more than once. The process goes like this: a user presses a key, the contacts in that particular switch meet, the key "bounces" and then the keyboard waits for the "bounce" to end. Cherry claimed at CES earlier this year that the average debounce delay in today's keyboards, which use digital controllers, is roughly 20ms on average. Alternatively, using an analogue controller reduces that time to 1ms.
The interesting part of it all is that Cherry hasn't announced plans to license its RealKey technology out to other vendors just yet; the MX 6.0 is the first keyboard to use the technology.
A personal aside: my own typing speed went from 120 words per minute on the Cherry browns to 126 words per minute on the Cherry reds. I'd given up on the idea on typing consistently with Cherry red switches at all, because of how frustrating I was finding the experience, but the MX 6.0 has converted me back.
Another small, but nice, touch: Cherry has included the Linux-centric SYS RQ function as an alternate shortcut here, which penguin users will probably appreciate immensely. (Sure, it's accessible through the ALT + Print Screen buttons anyway, but small touches can make all the difference.)
Cherry's keyboard lined up against my current work setup, a Leopold 10-keyless board with Cherry MX brown switches
What's It Bad At?
Being cost-effective, largely. Most vendors in Australia are selling the Cherry MX 6.0 for between $280 and $300, a high price to pay for something this minimalist.
For the same price, you can get other mechanical keyboards with Cherry MX switches that also have detachable USB cables. Tri-colour backlit keys. RGB colour keys. A variety of switches instead of just reds. USB and sound ports on the keyboard. On-board memory. Dedicated media controls with volume knobs. Hell, some keyboards even offer insanely useful USB 3.0 ports.
That's not to say the keyboard is entirely without user functionality; the dual function keys, which you can toggle between either by hitting the function key or permanently toggling it on with the CTRL + FN shortcut, have options for toggling the keyboard's brightness and the volume. Media controls are also located above the number pad, along with the lock button for the Windows key.
But that's it. It's the same level of functionality you can find on quality mechanical keyboards that are significantly cheaper. And while the Cherry MX 6.0 might be a lot faster -- although your mileage in appreciating, let alone detecting, that will undoubtedly vary -- that might not be enough of a sell when you're spending the same amount of money as a low-to-mid tier GPU.
The arm rest has some quality of life issues too. It's embedded with the MX logo throughout, which is a cool touch that unfortunately doubles as a wonderful receptacle for dust and other bits and pieces. The rubber surface of the rest is just as conducive to attracting things that float throughout the air as well, and you'll have to regularly give it a bath to keep it clean.
Something worth noting: the backlight settings don't actually affect the lighting for any of the keys with blue LEDs (NUM lock, caps lock, function key and the Windows key when enabled). They'll always be set to the highest brightness possible, and for a keyboard that advertises itself as having 100 different brightness settings this seems like an odd (but minor) oversight.
At home, with all the lights on
Should You Buy It?
If you're not a fan of red switches, then it's impossible to recommend Cherry's latest board. Red is the only colour the switches come in; so that's that problem squared off.
If you're the kind of gamer who was already baulking at the idea of spending $200 or $250 on a "proper" mechanical keyboard, like one of the Das lines or the exceptionally pretty RGB Ducky keyboards, then I can't envision an argument that will sell you on the Cherry MX 6.0 either. It's simply too expensive for what it offers, even if the raw materials are very, very good.
The people most likely to consider a Cherry MX board, then, would be long-term fans of mechanical keyboards, people for whom $200 to $250 on a mechanical keyboard is an unquestionable purchase. I know quite a few hardcore, even professional, gamers who would comfortably spend $250 to have a faster response rate from its keyboards, and I haven't tried or tested anything as comfortable or quick as Cherry's latest kit.
But even at its cheapest, $280 is a tough ask. It's $20 or $30 more than Corsair's top-of-the-line mechanical keyboard, and that comes with a range of switches, on-board memory, USB ports, multiple colours, and macros for every key on the keyboard, rather than just the function or specialised macro keys.
If the minimalist, no-software approach is appealing to you, then you've also got the Das, Ducky or older Corsair keyboards to contend with. Some of them are significantly cheaper as well.
I can't fault the speed of the Cherry MX 6.0 though, and it's certainly something I won't be shying away from. I'd love to see them offer at least a variant of the 6.0 in brown switches, or at least silent red/browns when those start to become more widespread over the next year.
In short: it's a lovely keyboard. It's also probably $30 or $40 more expensive than I'd like it to be. There's certainly no doubt that it's fully capable of keeping up with any amount of typing, APM spamming, shoulder peeking or coding you need to do.
But $300 in this day and age is an awful lot of money. That said, if you're in the market for a top-end mechanical keyboard, you're a programmer or hardcore StarCraft/FPS gamer that can benefit from the raw speed and there's a retailer out there willing to let people try before they buy, it'd be remiss to not at least consider Cherry's charms.