If you mention Gigabyte to the majority of people they'll think of Motherboards. In actuality they produce a whole range of products as one would expect from such a large company, such as keyboards, mice, speakers and graphics cards. Indeed our North American readers might even be familiar with a range of Smart Phones.
Today we're looking at the K8100 Keyboard, part of the new Aivia range that also has a matching mouse which we'll be looking at later. Considering how rarely we see manufacturers branching out into surprising new areas, the Corsair Obsidian was the last that springs to mind, there is a lot of expectations about this new Gigabyte offering.
Gaming keyboards have flooded the market to such an extent that it's harder to find a pure keyboard than it is one with bells and whistles, but has the latest Gigabyte offering got enough to stand out?
With a fairly short travel distance the K8100 sits somewhere between a full mechanical switch keyboard and the laptop "scissor" style. The only other thing that instantly stands out is the size. However all will become clear on the next page, so let's get cracking.
|Support OS||Windows 98/2000/ME/XP 32bit Vista/Win7 32/64bit|
|Switch life||10 million times|
|Travel to peak||1.0+/-0.05mm|
|Operating humidity||10% to 90 %|
|Dimension||490(L)* 263(W)*32.8(H) mm|
|Certification||CE, FCC, BSMI, KCC|
|Color||Black, Yellow (USI Layout only) , Red (USI Layout only)|
|Peak force||50gr, 60gr, 70gr +/- 10%|
|Operating temperature||-5oC to 40oC|
As ever it seems my lot to have to photograph very shiny things lately, so apologies as ever for some mad reflections. However we much prefer to show you the actual packaging than rely upon a manufacturer render. Especially as, in this case, the picture on the Gigabyte site implies that the box is two-tone, when it's got a fantastic array of chromatic hues. Certainly initial impressions are good.
Within the outer box is a much sturdier number that contains the K8100 itself. Stiff cardboard and a large amount of foam ensure that the K8100 is very well protected. One unique addon that we've not found before is the inclusion of an alternative WASD set with a much gripper coating than the main keyboard keys. Certainly if you're someone who lives in a FPS world, this could be very handy.
Here is the Aivia K8100 itself, complete with screw fixed wrist rest (try saying that fast). We'll look at the features a little closer on the next page, but for now the main points are full-sized shift keys, a short return key, macros in the top left, and the media volume slider at the top.
If you're one of those people who are, like us, glued to your desk then the inclusion of a form-fitting key cover is very welcome indeed. We've tested some seriously expensive keyboards here at OC3D and this is the first that has come into the office complete with something to keep those crumbs and coffee drips away from your precious keys.
The cable is braided with a fairly stiff braid that will take a little time to straighten out after it's journey wrapped up in the box. Gold-plated USB connectors are de rigueur.
Up Close cont
Despite the size of the lock indicators, they're very subtly lit. Anyone who's owned a keyboard with what seem to be spare lighthouses on them will appreciate that. Above those are the indicating lights for the touch-sensitive volume control. In case you can't see how far your finger is along.
The top left of the keyboard is where the main parts are found. The Aivia K8100 has five programmable macro keys, and five different profiles, switchable by the mode button on the very top left.
The cable can be routed out the back in two ways, either to the middle-left, or right in the centre. One very handy key is a Win Lock. We have lost count of the amount of times we've gone to crouch and found ourselves staring at the start menu.
Nestled at the back is the toggle for the backlighting on your keys which, as you can see glow a gentle red colour when in action.
Handily the mode key lights up in 5 different colours which all correspond to the profiles that you can set in the Gigabyte Ghost software. Which we'll look at on the next page.
The K8100 comes with Gigabytes 'Ghost' Software which allows you to program the various functions of the five macro keys on the top left hand side. It certainly looks very nice with a decent skin and thankfully comes with a fair few options built in.
Assigning an action is as simple as dragging it from either the left hand pane, in the case of presets, or the right hand one, for user-created macros, and dropping it in the slot you desire. The Ghost software doesn't run in the background, and there is no on-screen display to indicate the function of the button you've pressed, so hopefully you've either a pen and paper handy or a good memory.
The macro editing section is powerful, but by no means the most user-friendly we've ever come across. There aren't any tooltips, and the solely icon-based nature of the GUI leads to lots of swapping back and forth between the program and the PDF manual until you get to grips with it.
It's very powerful once you do get to grips with it and it's possible to record very complex actions, including moving the mouse pointer to specific areas of the screen. With enough time and effort it would be possible in, for this example C&C3, to select, place and build most of your initial base with just a single macro, including delays to allow your money to build up.
Of course that's just a single example, but if you're willing to cope with an almost willfully difficult interface then there is a lot of power beneath your fingertips.
Testing and Conclusion
So having spent the last couple of weeks with the K8100 attached to our main system, how good is it? Frustrating is the word that springs to mind. It's so very close to being brilliant, but some poor design choices keep cropping up. When something is woeful, that's easy because it's all bad. With the Aivia K8100 every time we started to forget it was there, which is the benchmark for all keyboards as they should be a subconscious thing to use, something reminded us that it was only a few alterations away from genuine greatness. It gives with one hand and takes with the other.
Let's start with the software. It's very powerful and capable of performing an array of keystrokes, file loads, delays, mouse movement etc. If you can think of it, it's very probable that you can achieve it. But my goodness the program almost goes out of its way to be awkward. All of the buttons are icons, without tooltips or text. The "Clean All" button is catastrophically missing a confirmation dialogue. Just spent three hours setting it to your liking? With one misguided mouse click it's all gone.
As for the keyboard itself it is first, and most importantly, a joy to type on. We've tested previous keyboards that have varied the weight of certain keys and it's always felt odd. With the Gigabyte Aivia K8100 however it's been nailed so that the most heavily used keys in standard FPS configurations have a nice robust feel to them but this doesn't lead to an unpleasant typing experience. The macro keys have quite a pointed end to them which in theory should make it easy to 'feel' which is which, but in actuality what happens is you nearly always press the pointed bit because time is of the essence, and this isn't very comfortable. The layout is okay although we're more familiar with the backslash key being at the bottom left rather than above the return key, but it's all about what you're used to.
The volume controls at the top have a similar issue. It's nice to be able to touch them, but the box and manual all indicate this is a smooth sliding affair. Certainly if you touch positions 2,3,4 or 5 out of the six it lights up to indicate something is happening, but that's all that is. It lights up. Only in position 1 does it lower the volume, and only in position 6 does it increase it. So it looks great, but really only a third of it is of any practical use. The mute indicator lights up only when you touch the button, rather than indicating if you're muted or not. Which is fine, but I know I've pressed the mute button because if I can see the light, I can see my finger.
Lighting is nice. We've seen some keyboards that seemingly have ex-WW2 searchlights as their lock indicators, but the K8100 is very subtle and easy on the eye. Indeed the key back-lighting too is a lovely soft red glow and not distracting. The same can't be said of the mode button which, for reasons best known the themselves, Gigabyte have seen fit to have a permanent breathing effect upon. So it's always just at the bottom of your eye-line, pulsating away. Also although the mode indicator has five colours for the five profiles, the back-lighting is only available in red. With so much effort spent on having a harmonious colour scheme on our desks, it does mean that you're much more likely to use profile 1, the red one, just because it matches the rest of the keyboard. It would be nice if the back-lighting also switched when you changed profile.
Finally the cable at the rear has two possible routing points, exactly in the middle or off to the left. As most of us have our keyboards directly in front of the monitor and, because the cable isn't the most flexible we've ever seen and monitors tend to have stands, it always bumps up against the stand. You could move the keyboard nearer you, but it's the size of an ocean liner and desk space is at a premium. So you are almost forced to route the cable a little further along to avoid this. But the gap between the two options is about 3 inches, so it is not that much further across to solve the problem. A more flexible cable, a much nearer-the-end routing option, or a wrist rest so big that you can nearly put your elbows on would all be a help.
So all in all the K8100 is frustrating. For every brilliant thing (the subtle lighting, the power of the macros, the lovely typing feel, the inclusion of a spill/crumb/dust cover) there is something awkward (pointy macro buttons, pointless volume controls, glowing profile indicator, sheer size, cable placement).
If you're willing to refer to the manual a lot when learning the software, accept that although it looks a million bucks in places you can tell why it's available for around £40, then you'll definitely be pleased. Certainly if all you want is a keyboard that feels great to type on and glows a nice red, then you can't go far wrong at all.
For us we'd love to see these niggles ironed out because then Gigabyte would have something truly exceptional on their hands. However as it's very good value, and does the main things very well, we're happy to award it our OC3D Bronze award.
Thanks to Gigabyte for supplying the Aivia K8100 Keyboard for review. Discuss in our forums.