Cooler Master CK351 gaming keyboard review

Cooler Master has left a lot to be desired with the CK351 gaming keyboard

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Cooler Master might not be the first name you think of when considering a new gaming keyboard, but they’ve been making them for years, and have produced well over 30 keyboards. So, how does their new offering, the CK351 stack up in this increasingly competitive and feature-rich market?

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Cooler Master CK351 mechanical gaming keyboard

Layout

Full-size 104 keys

Connectivity

Wired, USB 2.0

Software

Yes, Cooler Master MasterPlus+ supported

Pros

Nice industrial design

Cons

Proprietary switch type

Key cap material feels cheap

Unergonomic wrist rest

Overall build quality is unimpressive

Tech Specs

Layout

Full-size 104 keys

Connectivity

Wired, USB 2.0

Software

Yes, Cooler Master MasterPlus+ supported

Switch type

Optical mechanical. Linear, tactile, and clicky variants available.

Cable length

1.8m

Polling rate

1000Hz

Response rate

1ms

What’s in the box & setup?

  • Cooler Master CK351 keyboard
  • Wrist rest
  • User manual
  • Keycap puller

The packaging of the CK351 is unimpressive, it offers the absolute minimum of protection and has no padding whatsoever. The board is merely covered by a thin plastic shell which allows access to the arrow keys via a corresponding cut out on the box itself. This is good fun for some in-store testing, but when the majority will buy this keyboard online, it can become a risk to the safety of the product in transit.

The rest of the accessories and paperwork are located beneath the board, but there’s not much to say about these in terms of setup. The wrist rest sits under the chin of the CK351 and the board itself plugs into a vacant USB port on your PC.

Cooler Master’s MasterPlus+ software is recommended to make the most of this keyboard but as with most competing brands, it’s only necessary for making use of macros and lighting controls.

Design

The visuals of the CK351 are fairly uninspired. The light-grey brushed aluminum top plate contrasts with the deep black keycaps and results in a distinct two-tone look that we find to have a sense of industrial elegance. Aside from this, there’s nothing else notable about this board. The font of the caps is inoffensive and unremarkable.

Cooler Master hasn’t taken any risks with the design of the CK351, which throws it into rather sharp relief when compared to keyboards from competing manufactures like ASUS ROG and Razer, who offer creative and visually striking designs which almost appear to jump off of your desk. Comparatively, the CK351 is relatively tame.

The per-key RGB works well with the brushed aluminum, as it diffuses off of the surface. The included wrist rest is standard matte black with a small Cooler Master logo in the corner, it doesn’t really fit with the board though, we suspect it’s essentially a pack-in item and wasn’t designed in tandem with the board itself.

Build quality

Despite the aluminum top plate, there is a fair amount of flex to this keyboard and it’s disconcertingly light too, which is never a good sign when considering longevity. The ABS keycaps are also some of the worst we’ve felt, they are super smooth and already feel worn in, they also have a tendency to squeak as you rub your fingers across them which is pretty unpleasant. PBT would have been a nice addition here as the feel is more textured and makes for a more enjoyable user experience.

The CK351 offers cable routing on the underside, which is always handy. But, the cable itself is bog-standard. This is unfortunate, as budget keyboards come with braided cables these days.

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The included wrist rest is also fairly odd. Most wrist rests tend to be plastic bases with a padded layer on top. The one included with the CK351 is just a mousepad on steroids. It has the same texture and same non-slip coating on the underside. It’s a truly perplexing add-in, and we aren’t sure why Cooler Master has gone down this route. It’s also far too thick for this board This is more evidence of the wrist rest merely being thrown in with the board, instead of being designed for it.

Other than the truly confusing wrist rest the build quality here is fairly average, but we expected better material choices from Cooler Master, and overall the construction falls short of par for the $70-$80 price point.

Gaming & typing experience

We were provided with the linear switch type, and the actuation is nice and smooth. There’s no stabilization which results in some pretty loud keyboard chatter. The actuation makes this keyboard responsive and there are no real drawbacks in terms of gaming. But, like the design and build quality, it remains unremarkable but serviceable. Again, given the price, there are far superior options out there for you. Additionally, it’s difficult to recommend this for general typing as the caps are unpleasant to the touch, and we noticed the lack of tactile feedback, however, both brown and blue switch types are available.

The keyboard is technically hot-swappable but uses a very non-standard socket, meaning that standard three or five stem switches are not compatible with this board. Additionally, removing the switch required far more force than is reasonable and we were scared of breaking it in the process. We ended up scratching the top plate with a metal switch puller. Using a plastic one is recommended, but it’ll have to be a strong one due to the aforementioned difficulty.

Cooler Master uses the LK DarGo brand of switches, they are optical so there’s almost zero input delay. However, it’s a strange choice to go with, as a traditional 3 or 5 pin switch would have made the swapping process easier and allowed for a far broader keyboard upgrading experience. We googled for aftermarket switches compatible with this switch type and couldn’t find any. So yes, the CK351 is technically hot-swappable, but realistically you’re stuck with the default switches until the LK DarGo switches become commercially available to consumers

The CK351 is a full-size keyboard layout with a full complement of function keys and a Numpad. The keycaps have what appears to be a standard ASA profile, which is convenient as there is a vast amount of aftermarket keycaps available. If you do buy this board, you’ll want to swap out the keycaps due to the aforementioned cheap materials used, which are very disappointing.

Final verdict

We end this review in the unfortunate position of being unable to recommend the Cooler Master CK351. The build quality leaves much to be desired, the keycaps are some of the worst we’ve felt. The gaming experience is serviceable, and while it’s technically hot-swappable, the relative rarity of the LK DarGo switch type means that it’s really difficult to find replacements that will fit into the PCB. Cooler Master is coming out with replacements in the future, but as it stands you can’t change the switches which makes the entire hotswap function redundant.

The included wrist rest is also disappointing, it’s far too thick to leave your hands at a comfortable height and clearly wasn’t designed to work specifically with the CK351. It’s relatively cheap at $70-$80, but your money is better spent elsewhere. There are far better boards for the price, with similar features, and they don’t have the same shortfalls as the Cooler Master CK351.

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Cooler Master CK351 mechanical gaming keyboard

Layout

Full-size 104 keys

Connectivity

Wired, USB 2.0

Software

Yes, Cooler Master MasterPlus+ supported

0 /5
Editor's Rating
2/5

The Cooler Master CK351 is let down by disappointing build quality, proprietary switches, and a badly designed wrist rest. The included keycaps feel cheap and unpleasant too. The design is nice enough but uninspired when compared to the competition. It is technically hot-swappable but the proprietary switches mean that realistically, you’re stuck with the default switches. We are unable to recommend the CK351.