Alienware has something of a mixed reputation among PC aficionados. For those who prefer not to build their own machines, Alienware provides powerful hardware in an attractive chassis; for those who do, the company doesn’t have much to offer.
Now that Alienware is producing its own peripherals, its AW568 keyboard ($90) proves both camps right, in a way. The keyboard is a perfectly workable peripheral with a few attractive aesthetic touches. Crack it open, though, and it’s powered by so-so switches and half-baked hardware. For the price, the AW568 isn’t bad, but you can get a much better keyboard if you can spend even a little bit more.
The AW568 is a large, full-size keyboard with a few extra angles thrown in for good measure. The triangular flourishes on either side of the device aren’t really necessary, but they don’t add too much space, and they give the keyboard a little more flair than the average peripheral. At 19.7 x 6.8 inches, it’s almost 2inches bigger than some of the more conservative full-size gaming keyboards, but this is partially to accommodate the extra row of macro keys.
My only qualm about the keyboard is that the lighting might be a bit too subtle. The software makes a big to-do about the AW568’s rainbow lighting, but up until a co-worker pointed it out, I wasn’t even sure where the narrow strip of illumination was located.
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You can make the periphery of the keyboard light up a static color, or in rainbow waves, but it’s almost pointless; unless your room is very dark, you won’t see it — and even then, you’ll never see it directly unless you’re off to the side.
The AW568 uses Kailh brown switches: Cherry MX Brown copycats that do a fairly reliable job of mimicking the genuine article. Whether you consider Kailh to be the poor man’s Cherry, or Cherry to be an overpriced Kailh, will probably determine how you feel about the keyboard overall. I found the keys comfortable, although a bit stiffer than Cherry’s switches. They’re tactile and quiet, and possess a respectable key travel before bottoming out.
They’re also thoroughly decent for typing. On my regular keyboard, a Logitech G810 Orion Spectrum, I scored 108 words per minute with 11 errors on TypingTest.com. The AW568 gave me 105 words per minute with 11 errors, which is a pretty negligible difference.
I’m still on the fence about Kailh keys overall. I say if you can get Cherries, go for Cherries; on the other hand, Cherries aren’t cheap, and Kailh is probably about as good as a direct imitator gets.
The AW568 runs on proprietary Alienware software. The program is OK, as these things go, but it needs some work. For every novel feature it offers, there’s some kind of significant drawback. For example, you can remap every key on the keyboard — if you’re willing to program a macro for each one. Speaking of macros, you can record them and map them to the extra column of buttons, but you can’t record macros on the fly, or set up multiple profiles for different games.
You’re also not able to turn the lighting off on the Alienware logo without disabling the border lighting as well. This seems like a bug, but it further demonstrates that the software still needs some work before it’s ready for prime time.
On the bright side, the keyboard has discrete volume controls (it doesn’t have a full suite of media buttons, but volume is probably the most useful feature anyway), as well as a Game Mode, which can disable the Windows key during gameplay. The AW568 has most of the features a good keyboard needs, and where it falls short is mildly irritating rather than catastrophic.
Like most mechanical keyboards with a half-decent set of switches, the AW568 performs very well in-game. I ran it through both competitive and story-driven games to gauge its performance, and the keyboard delivered in every case.
Running and gunning in Overwatch, building up bases in StarCraft Remastered, slaying hordes of demons in Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and tossing Captain America’s shield in Marvel Heroes Omega were all simple and responsive experiences. My only caveat would be that the keyboard’s lack of on-the-fly macro recording could make it difficult for MMO players who want to make use of the extra row of keys.
Considering that a top-of-the-line mechanical keyboard could set you back as much as $170, a full-size model with decent switches for $90 is not a terrible deal. The AW568 isn’t impressive, but it’s competent, and given the asking price, that’s probably all it has to be.
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You could get the Corsair Strafe or the Logitech G610, each with authentic Cherry MX keys, for $120 apiece. In my estimation, that’s a better deal, since a mechanical keyboard could easily last five or 10 years. But if the extra $30 is simply impossible, the AW568 will do.