Gigabyte Aivia K8100 Gaming Keyboard Review
The idea behind specialized “gaming keyboards” has been around for many years and there have been quite a few very successful designs introduced throughout this time. However, in the vast majority of cases these specialized products are usually nothing more than slightly modified standard keyboards with some extra “gaming” features tacked on. To us this always seemed counter intuitive as the needs of a hardcore PC gaming enthusiast tend to greatly differ from that of a typical end user.
To this end Gigabyte has created a new concept dubbed the “Advanced, Intuitive, and Versatile Interface Archetype” or AIVIA which has been designed from the ground up to focus primarily upon the distinct needs of gamers. Today we will be looking at the first AIVIA peripheral: the K8100, a keyboard with a unique set of features and specifications.
Packaging & Software
Unlike most other keyboards, the K8100 comes in an absolutely gigantic box. This isn’t due to an abundance of padding but rather because Gigabyte has designed an absolutely immense peripheral.
Before we look at the software on the accompanying installation CD we would like to make special note of the fact that Gigabyte has also included a water-proof silicone key protector, spare W, A, S, D keys and a even a key puller tool.
To be honest, we were absolutely in love with the improved Gigabyte GHOST software which accompanied our GM8000 Xtreme mouse, as it was as easy on the eyes as it was to use. A literal carbon copy of this software is used for the K8100 with a few modifications included for easier macro key programming.
The software interface consists of only one main screen and one secondary screen which simplifies things quite a bit when compared to other peripheral software. The main screen allows drag and drop “pre-built” macros into one of the 25 available slots. Each horizontal slot represents one of the five macro keys (and is labelled 1 through 5 at the top of this grid), with vertical rows representing each of the colour coded macro modes. This makes for an intuitive and easy to use visual setup as you just drag and drop the commands into areas which are the most convenient for your playing style. Meanwhile, the upper left hand corner not only tells you which mode you are in and customizing but it also uses a simple graph to represent how much onboard memory is left.
If the pre-built macros are not to your liking and something beyond the admittedly basic included macros is needed, the secondary screen is where that perfect custom macro can be built from the ground up. Simply pressing the big red “easy button” key in the upper right hand side of the main screen (aptly called Macro Editor) opens up a large secondary screen for this custom macro building. Inputting custom key settings meanwhile is a thing of beauty since a few clicks is all that’s needed to start defining scripts.
This really is one of the best software suites we have ever seen accompanying a gaming keyboard since both prebuilt along with some extremely heavy handed custom macro designs can be implemented with absolute ease. As an added bonus, a single installation of the GHOST software is compatible with any supporting peripherals so both keyboards and mice can be controlled through the same interface.
Let’s preface things by saying that we have a special place in our hearts for all things red. With that being said, red peripherals do take a bit of getting used to but Gigabyte does offer the Aivia in a number of different colours from a standard black finish to screaming yellow. This is definitely a safe move on their part since the K8100 is a near-perfect keyboard which would have been ruined in some eyes if Gigabyte stuck to Lego-like primary colours.
Gigabyte has obviously put a ton of engineering time into this product but there is one small issue from the get-go: its depth with the pre-installed wrist. It may only be about the same width as a normal keyboard but the K8100 will take up copious amounts of desk real estate and may cause you to position it out of your normal typing comfort zone. This is mainly because the gently slopping wrist rest is designed with gaming in mind above all else. On a “normal” keyboard, this ergonomic addition is simply designed as a time out area for your wrists when not typing. However, Gigabyte has engineered their wrist rest for constant comfort while using the typical gaming keys.
Because of its wrist rest design, the K8100 easily has one of the most comfortable designs around for gaming. Even after long sessions wrists won’t become sore in the least thanks to that wonderfully shaped and perfectly sized addition.
This distinctive triangular shaped wrist rest also gives the K8100 a very unique wedge shape appearance. Luckily, it is completely removable via three tongue and groove slots and four screws if you find it takes up too much space. With it removed the Aivia looks much like a typical keyboard…albeit one with very sharp and sexy angles.
The next big change over a typical keyboard is the keys. Sadly, Gigabyte opted for “long life” mushroom dome keys and not mechanical type but they have given different keys variable resistance levels. The keys people tend to pound on during hot and heavy gaming sessions require 70 grams of pressure (e.g. W, A, S, D, control and space keys) whereas most others need 60grams. In addition, the ones you press with your pinky like the shift keys requiring only 50 grams of pressure. For gaming this does make things quite intuitive and when you swap out the standard W, A, S, D keys for the brilliant rubberized ones Gigabyte included, things are taken to a whole new level. Unfortunately, from a typing perspective this setup does take a while to get used to. After a couple days of usage you will get used to it and basically find yourself happily switching between typing and gaming.
On the positive side, you can press twenty keys simultaneously and have it accurately recognize ALL of them as a legit combination. This certainly is impressive considering most gaming keyboards only recognize up to 6 simultaneous key combinations. Of course the chances of you actually needing this level of accuracy are slim, but more is always better in the gaming realm.
One thing that does need a bit of improvement is the macro keys (though we do wonder if Logitech’s lawyers will have anything to say about them being labelled “G Keys”). With a mere five of them we felt ourselves always wishing for more. Nonetheless, all five are easy to use and the raised indent on the middle one did make sightless key pressing accurate. The ability to switch modes on the fly was also intuitively done.
More importantly, while each macro mode is a different colour profile the mode you are in doesn’t change the LED backlighting of the keyboard. It only changes the small macro key in the left hand corner. For backlighting you get red and off as Gigabyte didn’t include a variable intensity adjustment but we found the muted light to be decent for most situations.
On the positive side, the touch sensitive (with LED bar) volume controller truly is a sight to behold and works extremely well. Not only does this make it very easy to precisely adjust the volume (as each of the six sensors equals a very small increase/decrease in volume) but it acts as a perfect conversation piece if you are attending a LAN party.
Overall, we really like the Gigabyte Aivia K8100 gaming keyboard. It combines an aggressive styling with some down right impressive engineering. This keyboard really has been designed from the ground up with gaming in mind and everything besides gaming comfort and gaming enhancement is of secondary concern.
Sadly, while Gigabyte has gifted the Aivia with near-perfect software, 20 simultaneous key press combinations and five different modes, they only gave it five customizable macro keys. This is simply not enough for today’s demanding PC gaming enthusiasts.
The other issue we experienced lies in the variable pressure keys. They may make gaming a dream come true but having to press slightly harder in some locations when typing can quickly become a lesson in utter frustration. Basically, the K8100 has been so keenly optimized for gaming that every other task does tend to suffer. Its oversized footprint, to its angular looks, to its quirky keys just don’t work all that well for non-gaming scenarios.
While the Aivia may have some issues with more mundane tasks, this shouldn’t detract one’s attention from the real purpose of this peripheral: to deliver the best possible gaming experience. In this sense it really is the keyboard version of a supercar: in its own intended environment, it can keep up with the best this industry has to offer but stepping outside its comfort zone leads to mixed results. You really wouldn’t want to use a Ferrari for hauling around a brace of kids and the K8100 shouldn’t be your first choice for “day to day” tasks. On the flip side, Gigabyte has created a product that should be considered an exceptional non-mechanical keyboard that rightfully puts gaming above all else. The K8100 absolutely excels in the market niche it was designed to target and as such wins our Dam Good Award.
|Latest Reviews in Peripherals|