When we hear or read the phrase “mechanical gaming keyboard” today, our minds form a series of expectations.
We think: mechanical switches. Sturdy metal frames. A headphone port, maybe a microphone one, as well. A “game mode” command, to prevent an accidentally pressed key, usually the Windows key, from pulling you suddenly out of a game. And configuration software. What gamer, after all, doesn’t want to create macros and reassign keys, then save changes so they load automatically when you play a specific game?
In fact, configuration software seems synonymous these days with dedicated computer gaming. For most hard-core gamers, it’s impossible not to think of a fast-paced title in which you don’t use presets of some kind for swapping weapons, readying spells, drinking potions, or engaging in gymnastics that would thrill the heart and mind of even a stolid Romanian Olympic judge. But this raises the question: Can a mechanical keyboard intended for gaming build a niche for itself, if configuration software isn’t part of the package?
HyperX, the gaming brand spun off from memory maker Kingston Technology, apparently believes so with its HyperX Alloy FPS model. The company even thinks it works well for first-person shooter titles (the “FPS” in the name), games that possess some of the most frenetic game play out there today. We’re not wholly convinced on that last count, but we’re also surprised and pleased by the fine keyboard that the company has crafted.
First off, let’s take a glance at the Alloy FPS…
It’s an attractive unit with black keys on a matte-black background, and red LED backlighting. All the traditional keys are here in a standard QWERTY setup, plus a few keys that we’ve gotten used to in recent years: the Windows key, a right-menu pop-up key, and an Fn key that’s used in conjunction with other keys to change the latter’s functionality. In the top right are three LEDs for Caps Lock, Num Lock, and Game Mode, but curiously, no LED for Scroll Lock. (One could have fit in there were the HyperX logo smaller, or the footprint slightly larger.)
But HyperX clearly wants that small footprint. At just under 17.4 inches wide by 1.4 inches deep by a very slim 5.1 inches long, this keyboard’s frame really has no wasted space. It’s not a tenkeyless keyboard (see our guide The Best Tenkeyless Keyboards), but it clearly shares with the Corsair Gaming K65 RGBThermaltake Poseidon ZX an efficient design intended for cramped quarters.
There’s another minor compromise for the footprint, too. Let’s get a bit closer…
Check out the bottom row. It’s minor, but the Ctrl keys have been reduced considerably. In fact, if you have a keyboard that’s generous in the size of its real estate, such as the Cherry MX Board 6.0, you’ll find all the keys on the Alloy FPS’s bottom row narrower than those on their counterparts.
At 2.5 pounds, this keyboard is not just compact, but reasonably light, too. Clearly HyperX intended its size and weight to make the Alloy FPS a semi-portable keyboard, which becomes still more apparent when you take into account the durable (but soft) mesh bag that comes with it…
All of this makes this keyboard far easier to pack or carry than just shoving it between a few pairs of folded underwear. It helps that the Alloy FPS supplies one feature we at Computer Shopper rarely see, but greatly appreciate when we do: a moderately thin but tough, braided cord that’s detachable from the keyboard. The downside is that if this 70-inch cord’s attached and removed often, the socket might over time lose its tight connection. But with reasonable care that shouldn’t be an issue.
The frame of the Alloy FPS is solid steel, and it feels like it. It can be broken, to be sure, but that would require a lot more effort than with a plastic-framed unit, such as the G.Skill Ripjaws KM570 MX we tested not long before this one. Note, too, the way the keys sit above the frame…
This is our preferred design for mechanical keyboards. It makes removing the dust and dirt that invariably accumulates with time much easier than the alternative design, recessing the keys down within a frame. With the latter, anything that gets in around the keys simply can’t get out again, unless you shake the keyboard vigorously upside down and sometimes employ canned air or a scrub brush.
You can also get a sense from the picture below just how thin, at 1.4 inches thick, the Alloy FPS is. That’s with its pair of feet extended at the back of the keyboard where, by design, the frame is always thickest. At the front, counting the keys and the frame itself, its depth is barely 1.1 inch. Again, think support of solid steel. That makes all the difference.
The back of the unit has a few points of interest…
We’re not fond of cords that come out of the right side of keyboards. We prefer the center back, because after all, some people will have their computers sitting off to the left. That said, one of the Alloy FPS’s less common features is a USB charging port for smartphones—something that we’ve seen in the Cooler Master CM Storm Quickfire Rapid-I, a tenkeyless model. It’s not a full-featured pass-through USB port, but it’s handy. Headphone and microphone ports, however, are notable omissions given that this is advertised as a gaming keyboard.
Red backlighting, as you can see above, is under each key with the Alloy FPS. Problems with the amount of LED brightness shining through the keycaps have spurred some keyboard makers to reverse the decades-old convention of placing a sign key’s lowercase function on the bottom half of the keycap, with the “shifted” version on the upper half. We know why it’s done: the top halves of the keys light up better, and more people use that lowercase function, so why not switch these symbols around so the lowercase symbols get most of the backlit glow? In practice, though, it can lead to some confusion. HyperX’s smart solution is to place the symbols for lowercase and shifted functions side-by-side on a single line, with the lowercase one to the left. It looks odd at first, but the nice thing is that all the symbols are lit with the same intensity, and thus easy to read.
One thing we don’t care for in the Alloy FPS, however, is its shared keys, though we acknowledge each option has it’s own trade off. First, if you want compactness, you can double up key functionality. Second, you can add on dedicated media keys, macro keys, and keys to control backlight-brightness intensity—but then you significantly increase your keyboard’s acreage. Or third, you leave off all that extra functionality: a small footprint in exchange for a lesser feature set. HyperX’s approach is a cocktail of #1 and #3. The Alloy FPS has no macro keys, but elsewhere, it doubles up…
Here you can see some of the media keys, with the entire series linked to F6 through F11. (F12, shown above, doubles as the Game Mode key.) To swap functions, you press the key combo of Fn key…
…and the Function (“FN”) key you see above.
If you don’t mind shared keys, HyperX’s choice of function keys to share is sensible. That’s not always the case with keyboards: the Cherry MX Board 6.0, for instance, linked three of its media keys to F1 to F3, the most frequently used function keys on most keyboards, what with Help being invoked through F1, File/Folder Renaming to F2, and Search on F3.
But the FPS Alloy doubles up functionality on still more keys. You raise and lower LED brightness by pressing Fn and the Up or Down arrow keys, respectively, while the left and right arrow keys double with Fn to move through backlit modes. We’ll discuss those modes under Features, as well as how to customize backlighting.
No configuration software comes with the Alloy FPS. When you plug the cord into a USB port, it takes a short while for the proper drivers to download and install, in our experience not more than a minute. The backlighting comes on, and you’re good to go.
That backlighting is by default red and very bright. However, it can be controlled by the Fn key plus arrow up or arrow down for four levels of intensity (plus off). You can also invoke a series of modes or lighting effects, controlled through Fn plus arrow left and right: Breathing, Trigger, Explosion, Wave, and our personal favorite, Solid.
Customizing the lighting layout is possible in a basic hardware-bound fashion. You press the key combination Fn+right Ctrl until the backlighting turns off, then each of the keys you want backlit. Finally, pressing Fn+right Ctrl again closes down the backlighting configuration. If you prefer just a few, identically backlit keys in every game you’ve got, this is fine. Otherwise, it’s an awkward implementation. You can’t save and autoload game-specific, customized backlighting profiles as you can in the mainstream keyboard-configuration software packages (such as Logitech Gaming System (LGS), Corsair Utility Engine (CUE), and Razer’s Synapse) so you’ll need to reset the lighting every time you play a different title. That proved about as interesting as endless grinding in some less imaginative JRPGs.
Currently, the Alloy FPS is offered with three Cherry MX mechanical switch types, Red, Brown and Blue. (We were sampled the Cherry MX Brown to try for this review.) For many years, Cherry MX mechanical switches were the standard, and that meant every keyboard felt identical to the touch if it used one of Cherry’s color-specific switch types. If you’re familiar with the three we’ve listed, you’ll know what that means: a very linear, light (45cN) touch for Red, a light (45cN) touch with tactile pushback for Brown, and a heavier (50cN) touch with still greater pushback and marked clickiness for Blue. All three are rated for 50 million keystrokes—and while we’ve seen claims of up to 80 million keystrokes from some manufacturers sporting newer mechanical switch designs, we can’t honestly state that we’ve yet worn out the Cherry MX switches on any mechanical keyboard we use regularly.
Speaking of keys, the Alloy FPS takes its cue from Corsair’s mechanical keyboards by offering both a keypuller and a series of additional keycaps: red, rough-textured ones for WASD, red untextured ones for the keys numbered 1 to 4. You can see them here…
Here they are in use. The photo makes them appear red-and-black, though they aren’t…
Textured keycaps are always a good alternative to have around, but the shiny red color scheme of these will understandably be superseded when HyperX releases its RGB version of this keyboard this fall. We’ll bet you a good Hungarian dinner (and dessert), however, that the price will be higher because of the additional electronics.
One other feature bears mentioning. HyperX states that the Alloy FPS supports N-key rollover (in other words, registering all of the keys you could possibly push at the same time), but our use of the online test provided by the Microsoft Applied Science Group found that it topped out reliably at six keys in practice. Mind you, few applications or games require the entry of even six keys at once (plus any combination of modifiers: Ctrl, Shift, Alt, Windows, Right Menu) at once. This could be an issue if you play a racing or flight simulator, or use the keyboard as a virtual piano. Otherwise, this shouldn’t prove a problem.
Read a keyboard’s name, and you can sometimes see what its manufacturer regards as its intended market. In the case of the Alloy FPS, it’s aimed at…ah, but you’re way ahead of us. That’s right, it’s meant for FPS titles, though any action title could be generously figured into that claim. And we might extend this to RTS games, and turn-based titles of all sorts.
The reason we expand the field of coverage as we do above is because first, it seems to us unnecessarily narrow, and second, the keyboard’s actually not really a perfect fit, to our eyes, for the FPS market. We played Far Cry 4 on the Alloy FPS, and what we missed immediately was good configuration software. This would have let us not just reassign keys but build macros that simplified the entry of command chains. Quickly swapping out particular weapons, jumping, rolling, crouching, and reloading are all important aspects of FPS titles. Automating these makes life a lot easier for your seasoned merc. Or warrior, or whatever; it matters even in fantasy settings such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where you can macro a key to quick-summon a skeleton to attack the enemy, then heal up that arrow in your knee. Some of this holds true as well for the more manic RTS games out there, such as Divinity: Dragon Commander.
This is less of an issue with turn- or pause-based strategic and RPG titles. The Alloy FPS is perfectly suited to such games as Tyranny, Hearts of Iron IV, and Dead Age. Some come with their own in-game key-reconfiguration options—and, in any case, none them put you within a time crunch where having that special pair of weapons in place now means the difference between a meal of fried dragon or one of curry-human stew.
Pushing the Alloy FPS for FPS titles wouldn’t be that big a deal if HyperX weren’t up against keyboards of roughly the same price or lower that offered comparable physical value, such as the Corsair Strafe. It, too, has red backlighting, a sturdy metal frame, and Cherry MX switches. It also lacks dedicated media keys and macro keys. But it’s selling for around $85 from reputable third-party vendors, and it comes with the elaborate CUE software utility, which we mentioned earlier. That’s the best configuration-software package we’ve yet encountered, allowing full key reassignment, macro creation, and infinite game-specific profile storage and autoloading. You can even create a macros in CUE that have one effect when a key is pressed, and a second when it’s released. That has all sorts of useful applications in action-based scenarios.
But the HyperX Alloy FPS is new on the market, and we suspect its MSRP of just under $100 (which also matched the prevalent street price) will drop heavily over time, as most keyboard prices do. If your gaming doesn’t involve a lot of fast-paced, real-time moves, then this fine mechanical will be well worth your investigation at that future time with lower pricing. And if HyperX decides to go into the business of growing its own configuration software, that appeal could reasonably expand to include other game types—including FPS players.
ComputerShopper may earn affiliate commissions from shopping links included on this page. To find out more, read our complete Terms of Service.