Until recently, it's been difficult to find mechanical keyboards that give you control over backlighting. In fact, it's been difficult to find mechanical keyboards with any backlighting. In the past year or so, there's been a large push for these things, and there are now several good options for a fully mechanical RGB backlit keyboard. We'll look at a couple of those options here.
There are many things to consider when looking at a gaming keyboard or mechanical keyboards in general, but for the purposes of this article I'll talk mostly about the backlighting, because if you don't care for it, then there are better (cheaper) options available to you. The Corsair Vengeance K70 RGB and the Razer BlackWidow Chroma bring different things to the table, so let's see how they compare.
The K70 RGB:
Corsair managed to strike a deal with mechanical switch manufacturer Cherry for limited exclusivity on the latest generation of Cherry MX switches which allow RGB backlighting and have increased electric static discharge (ESD) protection. This means that, currently, Corsair is the only manufacturer that has Cherry MX switches in its mechanical RGB keyboards. That includes the Vengeance K70 RGB.
The increased protection against ESD is important because ESD is the biggest cause of LED failure in keyboards. Few things are more frustrating than buying a premium gaming keyboard and seeing the LEDs die out one after another. The increased protection increases the already impressive durability and lifespan of the K70, which has earned a spot on many PC gamers' desks.
With Corsair's software that accompanies the K70 RGB, you can control the LED backlighting down to each individual key. This level of customization is awesome, but it'll take some time and effort to get past the software's learning curve it isn't exactly straightforward all the time. This is both good and bad. The software's complexity gives you an unprecedented amount of control, but it's not easy to figure out.
I really like the K70's build, with the brushed aluminum sheet and the keys that seem to hover over it. However, I'm not convinced that it's the best design for backlighting. You get a large amount of light bleed from underneath the keycaps. This means that not only the symbols on the keys are illuminated, but anything around the keycap as well. This can be troublesome in low-light conditions because it's just too much light. Of course, you can always dim the LEDs, but I've found that it's difficult to find the right balance.
The K70 RGB has solid keyboard design, but the backlighting design isn't perfect. Corsair's software is impressive but difficult to master. In essence, the K70 RGB is a very capable keyboard, but you'll need to spend some time with it to get the most you can out of it. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but many people don't want to spend time rooting through yet another piece of software.
The BlackWidow Chroma:
I'll start out by stating that the BlackWidow Chroma does not have Cherry MX switches under its keycaps. Instead, they're Razer's own flavor of switch. Razer doesn't manufacture the switches themselves. They're made by a Chinese company named Kaihua and are usually known as Kailh switches. In order to get a mechanical keyboard with RGB backlighting, Razer needed to bypass Cherry, since Corsair has a timed exclusive with the Cherry RGB switches.
This is important because the Kailh switches do not have increased ESD protection. They also feel different from Cherry MX switches. So, if you're used to Cherries, you should definitely try to get a hold of some sample switches from Kailh before you make a purchase decision. Personally, I prefer Cherry switches. Whether that's from more experience with Cherries or something else, I'm not entirely certain, but the Kailh switches just felt a little bit off.
Razer's peripheral management software, Synapse, is a mixed bag for many people. I've found it's excellent software with a few minor annoyances. Let's look at the good stuff first. Once you get Synapse running, it's very easy to customize the backlighting for each key on the BlackWidow Chroma. In fact, it's probably the most user-friendly keyboard software I've used in this regard. Even programming individual keys for other tasks is relatively straightforward.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of annoying things about Synapse. First, you have to create an account with Razer in order to use it, because Synapse stores your information in the cloud. While this sounds reassuring, there's really no reason for it. At least an option to not use the cloud syncing would be appreciated. In essence, it's an unnecessary additional layer between you and your keyboard. It was a minor annoyance for me, but it may not bother you at all. Also, Razer's Synapse peripheral management software is easy to use, but it lacks some of the overall capability that you'll find elsewhere.
Now, on to the backlighting. Razer does a better job here than Corsair. The RGB LEDs in the BlackWidow Chroma really pop. They look fantastic, and there is very little light bleed because the keycaps don't float above the keyboard. The backlighting design here is among the best I've seen. However, the keyboard's design itself isn't particularly impressive. I really disliked the matte plastic that's on everything except the keycaps. It attracts the oils from your fingers and can easily make your keyboard look dirty.
The BlackWidow Chroma really excels in the RGB backlighting category, but the keyboard's design leaves something to be desired. The Synapse customization software is very easy to use, but it doesn't let you dig as deeply as you might want, which places some limits on the keyboard's backlighting options.
The BlackWidow Chroma is a great keyboard, one of the best gaming keyboards on the market. It's particularly user-friendly and makes it easy to control your backlighting profiles and customization, but it sacrifices some options in the name of ease of use. The BlackWidow Chroma just doesn't feel as high-quality as the K70. The Kailh switches feel a little off, and the plastic housing for the keyboard isn't impressive. That said, the RGB backlighting is very impressive.
Corsair's K70 RGB doesn't fare quite as well in backlight design as the BlackWidow Chroma, but with the customization software, you have access to more options and possibilities. Of course, that software is more difficult to use due to its complexity. The RGB Cherry MX switches have built-in ESD protection and the good name of Cherry behind them. Corsair makes the best gaming keyboards you can get (if you want macro keys, go for the K95).
Overall, I'd pick the Corsair Vengeance K70 RGB due to the fact that you get more control over your keyboard, even if it takes more time and energy. I like having more options available to me. The Razer BlackWidow Chroma is a great gaming keyboard, but the K70 edges it out by just a hair.