Author Topic: [Review] Cooler Master QuickFire TK (Cherry MX Brown) (SGK-4020-GKCM1)  (Read 841 times)

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Offline alexanderino

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Introduction
Welcome to my review of Cooler Master’s QuickFire TK. This mechanical board with illuminated keys, introduced in 2013, was purchased some months ago for my workplace. There, a numeric pad is indispensable, while the space saved by removing the navigation keys makes the TK almost as small as a TKL (tenkeyless). At just 1.8 cm (0.8 inches) wider than an equivalent tenkeyless model, the QuickFire TK retains the functionality of a full-sized keyboard while adding a few ingenious touches of its own, thanks to its clever integration of the num pad and navigation keys. In fact, a co-worker was so charmed by the TK that she immediately ordered one, and it now accompanies her all the time.

Overview
The SGK-4020-GKCM1 is the QuickFire TK variant with Cherry MX Brown switches. With its tactile, luxurious feedback, low actuation force, and relatively quiet operation, it helps avoid fatigue over long typing sessions while blending in well into my office environment — not a single co-worker has complained to date. Personally, I also find it the fastest board on which to type, having owned others with MX Blues/Blacks/Reds and Topre 45cN switches.

The TK is 377.5 mm wide — a mere 18.5 mm more than CM’s tenkeyless Rapid-i. Included in the box are a detachable USB cable, plastic ring keycap puller and a CD-sized user guide (with missing documentation and some incorrect information — for instance, the board weighs 800 gm, not 544 gm). An embedded steel plate delivers a rock-solid typing experience. The ABS keycaps do the job without fuss and are topped with an anti-slip coating, which does reduce the incidence of skidding fingertips; the case itself sports a velvety rubberised coat that reassures the user when carrying the TK. The USB cable is of the mini-USB variety, and can be routed underneath in three ways that should take care of most scenarios.

Features
Illuminated keys
The QuickFire TK features backlit keys. The MX Blue and MX Red variants come with blue and red backlighting respectively; thankfully, the Brown has a more neutral white backlighting with a brown background under the keycaps. The two combine to form a purple underglow. The lighting is nice and even, and none of the LEDs has failed so far. Five brightness levels cover a versatile range for a wide variety of situations, and there are three modes (constant/breathing/WASD). Of course, the backlighting can be turned off, but not entirely (see the entry in ‘Cons’).

Discreet looks
The QuickFire TK takes a low-key approach to its appearance; its all-black finish with dark grey logos fits right into any office. The only element that could raise an eyebrow would be the futuristic Gamecuben typeface used for the keys. Still, most of the letters and numerals are not over-the-top. To me, it is not an issue and does not seem jarringly out of place with the overall design ethos.

Multimedia shortcuts
The F5F11 keys double as multimedia shortcuts for play, pause, skip, mute, and volume up/down. This can be performed with the Fn key either depressed or locked (by holding down Fn for 2 seconds until its LED illuminates).

Ability to switch between 6KRO and NKRO
The TK defaults to 6KRO (6-key rollover, which registers a maximum of six keys at once, even when more are depressed) for maximum compatibility with most PCs and Macs. Should the machine play nice with NKRO (N-key rollover, so that more than 6 keys can be pressed with all of them registering), it can be enabled. However, the printed user guide I received did not tell me how to do this. The PDF user guide, however, does. Here are the steps:

  • Turn on Fn lock by pressing down Fn for 2 seconds. Its LED will then turn on. It pays to ensure no important windows are in focus when the next steps are performed!
  • Press Esc and N together to switch to NKRO mode.
  • To switch to 6KRO mode, press Esc and 6 together (with Fn lock on).

To determine the current operating mode, check Windows’ Devices and Printers. The keyboard will appear as ‘Quickfire TKL 6Keys’ or ‘Quickfire TKL NKeys’ (TKL, not TK — a typo).

Combined navigation & numeric pad — the best of both worlds
Many users find the numeric keypad indispensable, since it allows for entering special characters in Windows (while holding down ‘Alt’) and also makes numeric data entry less painful. In order to retain the functionality of a full-sized board, the QuickFire TK combines the navigation keys with the num pad while splitting the ‘0’ key into ‘0’ and ‘00’ (reminiscent of financial calculators). This is unlike standard num pads with different navigation mapping, and it may seem strange to some users — indeed, it has been a source of frustration for those who use num pads to navigate with the num lock off; however, there is a cheat that solves this issue! I stumbled upon it by accident, and have not seen it documented or discussed anywhere else. Without further ado, here is the trick:

To navigate while the num lock is on, use either shift key. The num pad will then behave like a normal num pad with the num lock off. To wit, the key mapping changes to:

7 / Home8 / Up arrow9 / Pg Up
4 / Left arrow56 / Right arrow
1 / End2 / Down arrow3 / Pg Dn
0 / Insert00. / Delete

Holding down the second shift key works as one would expect.

With num lock off, the key mapping mimics the navigation key layout:

/ / Prt Sc* / Scr Lk- / Pause
7 / Del8 / End9 / Pg Dn
4 / Left arrow56 / Right arrow
12 / Up arrow3
0 / Left arrow00 / Down arrow. / Right arrow

Knowing this gives the user the best of both worlds, as it can be annoying to turn the num lock off and on, simply to navigate a tad.

Cons
As versatile as it is, the QuickFire TK is not without its shortcomings. Some of the issues I observed are:

Non-firmware upgradeable
Since its 2013 launch, there has not been a single firmware upgrade offered on Cooler Master’s website. It is a bit remiss, for there are some issues that could have been addressed by this method.

Non-standard bottom row
The QuickFire TK's bottom row of keys is unusual. From left to right, their relative dimensions are: 1.25x – 1x – 1.25x – 6.5x – 1.2x – 1x – 1x – 1.25x (credit to CPTBadAss and kmiller8, GeekHack). The implication is that most replacement keycaps will not fit the bottom row. This is often a deal-breaker for those who like to customise their keyboards, and could be an issue if those keycaps were to be damaged, so be aware.

Poor/misleading documentation
Both the included user guide and website do not contain some important information and instructions (such as the 6KRO/NKRO switch (though the downloadable user guide includes this), and using the num pad with the shift key). I regard this as a major oversight and cause of needless frustration for many users. On a lesser note, some of the specifications (such as width) are wrong.

No right-click mouse equivalent
Featuring a mouse context menu would reduce the need to use the mouse. Even a key combo (addressed in a firmware update) would go a long way to addressing this usability issue.

No way to turn off/on all LEDs
The TK does not feature the ability to turn off all LEDs. Even in the ‘Off’ mode, the four arrow keys remain illuminated. The only way to turn off those is to turn on Num Lock (which then illuminates that indicator!). A firmware update could add another mode to turn off every LED.

Likewise, all LEDs cannot be lit at once. The 2, 0, 00 and . keys have their LEDs positioned underneath; only the arrow symbols will light up. This is a design limitation, and nothing can be done about it. Also, F12 stays off unless Winkey lock is turned on. Both are more observations than niggles.

Micro-USB may have been a better choice
The popular consensus is that micro-USB connectors are harder to insert and easier to damage. However, my understanding is that should the connector be damaged, it will be confined to the cable end, not the part inside the keyboard. If this is true, then micro-USB is worth the added annoyance for the sake of longer keyboard life.

No Velcro cable tie included
More a niggle than a con, the TK does not come with a Velcro cable tie, which would significantly help when carting the board and cable. Still, it’s easy enough to buy and retrofit one.

Conclusion
Cooler Master’s QuickFire TK fills a very relevant niche: it provides the functionality of a full-sized keyboard while coming very close to the dimensions of a tenkeyless. The trade-off of an added 2 cm is definitely worth it to many users (especially those in the office), and the ability to navigate using the num pad (with num lock on) enhances its usability and addresses one of its bigger criticisms. The excellent build, reassuring heft and usable backlighting go a long way in instilling a sense of deep satisfaction within the user. Despite the lack of firmware updates (possibly my biggest gripe), the QuickFire TK will definitely remain in my list of actively used keyboards.

Overall verdict: 8.5/10
« Last Edit: Mon, 20 July 2015, 04:16:56 by alexanderino »