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It isn’t too often that I come across an item that makes me think, ” This is a crazy good value”. The GK61 Optical Mechanical keyboard is one such item. I’ll admit that I’ve had a limited time with the keyboard so far, but there is nothing that gives me pause on the long term durability or that would stop me from recommending this keyboard. It’s this reason that I’ve chosen this keyboard to be the bases of our Budget Custom Keyboard build.
Let’s get into it. Inside the box, you’ll get the GK61 keyboard, a key cap removal tool a key switch removal tool, a braided USB-C to USB-A cable and a Mode cheat sheet.
The braided USB cable provided is fantastic, the key puller is functional but I’ve used better.
The keyboard is a 60% layout that means you don’t get the number pad or arrow keys although you can access the arrow keys by using the function key. If that’s something that you can’t live without then this keyboard probably isn’t for you. If you need or want more space on your desk or a keyboard that is more portable then this keyboard is for you. If you’re used to typing on a full-size keyboard there may be a slight learning curve. I was typing 5 to 7 words more per minute with the GK61 after about an hour of use compared to the Corsair K70 MK.2 Rapidfire that we reviewed here… That’s likely do to the Gateron brown switches in the GK61 vs the low profile Cherry Speed switches found in the K70 Rapid fire.
On the subject of switches, the GK61 comes with your choice of Gateron Blue, Red or Brown optical switches that are hot-swappable. You can find a GK61 that uses the traditional nonoptical switches which are easier to come by and provides a larger variety of switches to choose from if you’re going to be swapping them.
The Gateron Brown Optical Switch was easily removed and replaced.
(Carefully read the description of and GK61 you buy as the version that uses the traditional switches is listed by various names. iGK61, iGk61p and possibly the GK61)
The version that I’m reviewing here and the one that will be used in our budget mechanical keyboard build is the optical version that cost significantly less.
There are many reasons to choose the optical version of the GK61 over the traditional switch version. The first is the cost, the version with the optical switch can be purchased here for around $50 U.S. For $50 you get the choice of Gateron Blue, Brown or Red switches, the GK61 that uses the traditional electrical switch cost $50 and comes with NO SWITCHES.
Reason number 2 buying the optical version, durability! Optical switches are rated for twice the amount of clicks when compared to their electrical brothers. The reason optical switches are more durable is that they lack the electrical components that are needed to activate a keystroke. Optical switches only need to contain a metal spring in the linear version and may contain a spring and click mechanism in the tactile browns and the tactile and clicky blues.
Reason number 3 for the optical GK61 is again the switches. Because optical switches have less material and moving parts they cost significantly less. Traditional Cherry MX electrical switches normally cost $10 for 10 switches, or about a dollar each. Gateron traditional switch normally cost about the same. If you’re building a 60% keyboard using traditional switches you’ll end up paying $70 for the switches of your choice. A full set of Gateron optical switch will cost you around $20… That is $50 dollars less than a comparable less durable traditional electrical switch. If you choose to order your optical switches from China and choose the standard shipping method you could get (2) sets of different switches, cover the shipping and still have enough to buy a meal from your favorite fast food spot. Remember the non-optical version of the GK61 cost $50 and will require you spend another $70 on switches… So that’s $120 and you still have to buy keycaps… Yep with the traditional version, you need keycaps too. The optical version uses a higher quality ABS double injected keycap that should last a long time for most people, thought the font used might not appeal to everyone.
The font chosen won’t appeal to everyone, it reminds me of Logitech’s font. I like it.
Now I don’t want to come across as knocking the iGk61 that uses the traditional electrical switches. It’s the same keyboard, same software and you do have more choices when it comes to choosing the switch that you want to use. So there is a place for it.
Before we move on let’s talk about the switch options that exist for the optical GK61. As I stated before you can purchase the GK61 with your choice of three switches Red, Blue, or Brown.
The Red switches are comparable to Cherry Mx reds they are a linear switch which means they have a smooth linear stroke when pressed. Just like the Cherry Reds they have a travel of 4.0mm and actuate at 2.0mm… So the same as Cherry Reds, however, most people argue the Gateron optical Reds are the smoothest Red switch you can buy as there is no friction from the metal contacts needed to actuate a traditional key switch.
The Blues are the same as Cherry MX Blues, that means they are clicky and tactile. When pressed you will feel a slight tactile bump and get an audible click from the switch. (If you’re new to key switches this is the super clicky switches that you’ve probably seen on youtube) The Gateron optical Blues has a trave of 4.0mm the same as the Reds but require 10 more grams of force to actuate. The Blue switch does, however, take longer to actuate at a distance of 2.3mm vs the 2.0mm of the Red. I doubt the subtle 0.3mm of additional distance the Blues need to be pressed before activation will be noticed by most people, so don’t let that scare you away if you want that sweet clicky sound.
The Browns are the switch that I chose and are becoming a popular choice for many people because you get the best features of the Reds and the Blues. The Browns give you the tactile feel of the Blues so you get that small bump when the switch pressed but you don’t get the loud click. This makes the Browns a much better choice if you share a room or office with someone else as clicks from the Blues can get annoying to others. Another situation where the Browns shine is for streamers where you want the tactile feel when the switch is activated but don’t want your viewers to hear Click, Click, Click, Click all stream. The Brown key switches have the same 4.0mm of total travel, they require the same 55g of force to press as the Blues, but actuate at the same 2.0mm of the Reds. You can clearly see how the Browns are defiantly a mix of the Blue and Red switches.
So you are probably asking yourself what if I don’t want any of those I know Cherry makes White, Yellow, Clear, Green, Black and Silver switches. Well… My friend you are in luck, you can get optical equivalents to almost every version of a Cherry switch.
This leads me to one of the very few downsides to the optical version of the GK61. In my research, I’ve only found a few sources to buy replacement optical switches and those places are in China. I did tell you the switch selection was the advantage of the non-optical version.
Shipping from China aside, as I said before you can order 2 sets of switches from China with faster shipping and it would cost about the same as buying 1 set of the traditional switches locally. If you go for the normal shipping it would cost you about $10 less depending on where in the world you live.
Now back to the switches, you can get the Gateron optical switches in many more flavors, I’d advise clicking the link at the end of the next paragraph to read more for yourself. I’ll highlight a few that I’d like to try and will be using in our budget custom keyboard build.
The Gateron optical Silver are comparable to Cherry’s silver/ speed switch. They have less overall travel at 3.2mm vs the 4.0mm of the Reds, Blues, and Browns. They also actuate much faster at 1.0mm that’s half the 2.0mm distance of the Browns and Red and 1.3mm faster compared to the Blues. Typing or gaming on the silver switch will be a noticeable difference. When you need that spell or strafe to go off faster than your opponent the Silver are the keys for you. Typing on the Silvers is a different story, you really need to be accurate due to the hair-trigger like nature of the Silvers.
You can buy optical switches here.
Let’s talk about functions
Onto the functions. The Gk61 packs most of the features that you would expect. It has RGB lighting which is always a cool to have option IMO. The GK61 comes with a ton of built-in lighting effects out of the box. They are preloaded onto the keyboards hardware, this means you can unplug it and take it with you or not install the software at all and likely still find an RGB lighting effect that you like. A combination of keypress not only allows you to change the full RGB pattern but allows you to change the speed of the lighting effect. Another set of keypress swaps to an RGB section that comes alive when any key is pressed and even one that allows the microphone under the space bar to change the RGB to the beat of any music being played.
If you don’t find a preset light show that tickles your fancy you can download the GK61 software… The second negative of the GK series of keyboards. The software is in English and Chinese and can take a few minutes to understand. However, once you do you can set up any number of profiles with per key lightening and macros. The keyboard like the $160 Corsair provides enough onboard memory to store 3 profiles that can be accessed without the need for the software, that’s great news if you’re a person on the go. While scrolling through the software I did find preset lightening color schemes for League of Legends, DOTA, CS:Go and a few other games. I uploaded the LOL scheme and changed the colors to a color code that I’ve been using for years. It only took me about a literal minute once I figured out the software. Corsair’s I-CUE and Logitech’s new software are some of the best that I’ve used to modify peripherals. The software for the GK61 is by far the worst, that’s not because the software isn’t strong, because it is. It allows just as many features and functions as the mainstream mega keyboard brands. It just feels like it was written by some software engineer in a back alley that doesn’t know how to really communicate with people… LOL
The Build Quality
Again this is another area where the GK61 shines. Not because its the best but because for the price the quality punches well above it’s weight. First, you get Gateron optical switches, these are on par or better than OEM Cherry switch so they didn’t skimp in the switch area.
The keycaps are ABS, not the preferred PBT material that’s more premium and is the preferred material for the keyboard elite. However, that doesn’t mean the keycaps are bad. It’s actually quite the opposite, the ABS caps are double shot meaning the white of the letters and symbol is its own layer of plastic so the legend (letters) will never wear off. Double shot keycaps aren’t the norm even on $100 plus keyboards.
Below the keycaps and mechanical switches, you’ll find a painted metal base plate. The base plate serves a few functions. The first function to mount the switches and hold them firmly in place which it does. The second it strengthens the entire keyboard structure, that means there is little to no flex when twisted… Again something that can’t be said for keyboards that cost twice as much. The last function is the white painted coating reflects the RGB lighting which leads to a brighter and fuller glow.
Under the metal baseplate, you’ll find the PCB (circuit board) that contains all the RGB led and various electronics that allow the GK61 to function. There isn’t too much to say here. Each switch has an RGB led that is surface mounted which allows the switches to be swapped on the fly as the RGB led stays put. Other items that you’ll spy on the PCB is the IR (infrared) Transmitter and receiver (the digital eye) that sees the IR light from the transmitter… Now you know where the title of optical switch and keyboard come from. Once something breaks the IR beam the keyboard register a keystroke.
The last layer is the case, this surrounds the keys and provides a place for the baseplate and PCB to mount. This is another item that can be modified and or replaced with other color plastics, painted, replaced with wooden or anodized aluminum units. (Side note: for some reason, some 60% cases are said to not work with the GK61 PCB. These can work with minor mods or you may not be able to replace all the screws that you removed) It is possible to find plastic, wooden and aluminum case that will fit the GK61 without modification if you look long enough.
The last item worth mentioning is the cable, the GK61 uses USB -C at the keyboard (Thank you!) the keyboard is with the times and doesn’t supply the mini USB connection that again is found with keyboards that cost much more. What’s more, is the GK61 comes with a braided USB-C to USB-A cable and that’s something that you’d expect from a high-end keyboard… just remember this thing is only $50.
I’ve listed tons of reasons why you should choose the GK61 as the next keyboard for your custom project. The positive benefits far out weight what are really 2 sorta negatives. Ordering optical switches from China and the half baked but frequently updated (this is a good thing) capable software.
Here is the thing though, I’d recommend this keyboard the GK61 even in the stock form. It’s just a fantastic overall keyboard at what’s basically straight from the manufacturer pricing. You don’t get a fancy box, you don’t get a massive instruction book or the super easy to use software, and I’m completely fine with that. What you do get is simply one of the best 60% keyboards on the market.
The Box is rather plain, but it’s a cost-saving measure.
Some of the hardcore keyboard enthusiast hearts just skipped a beat, and some of them know I’m speaking the truth. I myself still plan of buying the new Ducky One 2 Mini SF year of the pig edition because I like the way it looks and the thought and symbolism behind it. I am also looking forward to getting an Anna pro 2 for the wireless function specifically for typing on my iPad Pro.
In the end all the keyboards I just listed have pros and cons and I view them as equal. The Ducky one 2 mini isn’t hot-swappable and has more chassis flex, the Anna pro 2 Bluetooth can have issues, isn’t hot-swappable and the software isn’t great either. The GK61 has harder to get switches (as of this review) and the software takes a while to figure out. The difference here is the GK61 cost half the price and if I spend wisely, I can replace the keycaps, get a second set of key switches and likely a custom braided USB-C cable for the cost of the Anna Pro 2 or Ducky one 2 mini.
The end result is if I took all 3 keyboards with the same type of switches and keycaps and let people try them I’d get a bunch of different answers on which felt best or a bunch of they all feel kind of the same and for that reason, I can’t recommend the GK61 enough.
If you told me I had to choose one keyboard out of the 3 that are in the room with me right now, the Logitech g810 RGB, Corsair K70 MK.2 low profile Rapid Fire and the GK61. I’m honestly choosing the GK61 and that’s nuts when you consider the other 2 keyboards cost 3 times as much.