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Cooler Master’s new CK550 line of mechanical gaming keyboards deliver ample bang for your gaming buck. I am reviewing the retail-only CK552 model (See it at Best Buy), which features Gateron Red switches, full RGB per-key lighting, and a brushed aluminum chassis. It also supplies convenient on-the-fly controls for lighting and macros in addition to a well-designed, easy-to-use software app that lets you customize your lighting, set macros, map keys, and create profiles. Good luck finding all of this in another keyboard that costs less than $100. At $79.99, the Cooler Master CK552 is a steal.
Cooler Master CK552 – Design & Features
The Cooler Master CK552 is a full-size keyboard with a small footprint; the keys go right up to the edges of the keyboard deck with little to no wasted space around the sides. Despite this compact design, the keyboard has a pleasing heft to it. At 1.8 pounds, this is no lightweight, cheap-feeling keyboard. The metal keyboard body is black with a brushed aluminum finish for a sporting look.
The only Cooler Master logo you’ll find is on the bottom of the optional wrist rest, giving the CK552 an unstated yet sophisticated appearance. Also on the bottom are two wide, sturdy flip-out feet that let you raise the back edge of the keyboard for a better typing angle. Whether flipped open or kept closed, the feet have a rubber surface that, along with two rubber pads in the front corners of the bottom of the keyboard kept it planted on my desk.
The CK552 features floating keycaps with Gateron Red Switches, which are linear switches with an actuation force of 45g, the same as the venerable Cherry MX Red switches. Gamers have strong preferences for certain switches, and unless you are a Cherry MX man (or woman), I think you’ll find the Gateron Red switches to be very similar. They feel smooth and responsive. Despite being labeled as a silent linear switch, the keys do emit some noise but they aren’t nearly as loud as some switches found on other mechanical keyboards.
The keyboard’s RGB lighting is fantastic. The lights shine brightly and crisply through the characters on the keys, and the clear switches below the keys also illuminate to add to the overall effect. There are no dedicated keys for macros or multimedia controls but the keys that are double mapped – including the Function keys along the top, the arrow keys and the group of nine keys above the arrow keys that sit between the number pad and the regular keys – are clearly labeled with their primary and secondary functions to help you keep things straight. In addition, the booklet in the box helpfully includes a diagram of the various Function key commands at your disposal.
Despite its lack of macro keys, the keyboard offers on-the-fly macro controls. You must rely on the Function key to record or use macros. Unless you are creating a simple macro, you’ll likely use the Cooler Master Portal software (below) to record and assign macros. The function key is more helpful in changing up your lighting selection or using the multimedia controls, which are neatly mapped in the group of six keys above the four arrow keys. It’s helpful to have them all in one spot. And, again, the fact that the keys have small icons for the secondary function is very much appreciated.
So, what got left on the cutting room floor on this affordably priced gaming keyboard? Not much, unless you must have genuine Cherry MX switches. The USB cable isn’t braided, so it doesn’t hang as gently as a braided cable and is more likely to get tangled on the other cables you have running behind your PC. The keyboard also lacks a USB passthrough port, which means you must connect your mouse to your PC for greater cable tangling potential. Lastly, you’ll need to supply your own wrist rest, should you require such an item. Wrist rests are included in some pricier keyboards, but not here. Cooler Master threw in a WR530 wrist pad with my review unit, but again, it’s not included. The wrist pad doesn’t attach to the keyboard; it just sits in front of it but the rubberized, textured bottom surface keeps it from sliding around. The wrist pad is thick and comfortable.
Cooler Master CK552 – Software
You can download the Portal peripheral software from Cooler Master’s site to customize the CK552 keyboard. It is well-designed and easy to use. It’s divided into four sections. The LED section lets you select and tweak the lighting effects. The Macro section is where you can record macros, and the process is straightforward and easily lets you add delays between key presses. The Key Map section lets you remap individual keys, and the Profile section lets you save up to four different keyboard configurations. The keyboard has 512KB of onboard memory so you can take your profiles with you too.
Cooler Master CK552 – Gaming
The Cooler Master CK552’s Gateron Red switches felt fast and super responsive during CS:GO and Overwatch sessions. For a mechanical keyboard, key presses are fairly quiet. If you are looking for “clickier” feel with more tactile feedback, the CK550 models give you a choice of Gateron Red, Blue, or Brown switches. The Blue switches are the clackiest of the three, with an actuation force of 55g and you’ll feel a tactile bump with each key press.
The Brown switches offer a compromise between Red and Blue: they have an actuation force of 45g offer the tactile feedback of the Blue switches but without the loud click. The CK552’s Red switches felt buttery smooth during gaming, and they weren’t so loud to make typing sound like a herd of wild animals tap dancing across my desk.
The Cooler Master CK552 is only available at Best Buy for $79.99.