Date: August 19, 2011
Author(s): Jamie Fletcher
As most of our staff consists of avid PC gamers, we tend to review a fair number of peripherals to suit that style. But with a look at Enermax’s Aurora Lite keyboard, we’re pretty well going in the opposite direction. It doesn’t feature a bunch of gimmicks, but rather focuses on delivering a good typing experience and clean design.
Enermax would probably not be the first company that comes to mind when in the market for a new keyboard; it is better known for its power supplies than input peripherals – but since when did that stop anyone? Corsair, OCZ, GIGABYTE, all branching out to create a brand identity and not just singular products.
The Aurora Lite Keyboard is a little different from many of the other reviews we tend to do. It has no real special features, no half-baked software to contend with, no media keys, no flashy lights, and gaming is an afterthought. This is a rather minimalist piece of equipment designed to do one thing (maybe two). It’s designed for typing and looking stylish while you’re doing it, and sometimes that’s all you need (and want).
It’s not a cheap keyboard by any stretch, considering what it offers. Why spend $60-$70 on a keyboard when one can be obtained that does the same thing for $10? That is for readers to decide, with a gentle prod from this here review.
Style and function were at the forefront of the Aurora Lite – a slimmed down version of the Aurora keyboard released in 2006. It’s a very thin, low slant, very heavy, brushed aluminum keyboard with a glossy black ABS plastic back. It uses scissor action supported rubber dome keys with a low travel, very similar to the keys used in notebooks.
Black and silver versions are available with various localizations, with the black version under review here. There is nothing immediately outstanding about the design or layout – it’s a keyboard. No media keys litter the edges, no complex macro key modifiers and no funny tricks with keys being moved around to accommodate various functions. This is in effect a full-sized laptop keyboard with a dedicated numpad.
The edges are milled to expose the silvery accent of the aluminum (although a little difficult to see in the photos) and the face plate looks anodized in black to show off the brushed effect. The left side makes use of a full-size extended backspace, enter and shift keys with delete home/end and page up/down in their predictable places. ( I make note of this for the simple reason that many higher-end keyboards like to fiddle around with the key placements). Three blue LEDs are used as indicators for Caps, Scroll and Num locks. The LEDs are bright, but not the blinding super-bright type.
I found the choice of glossy black ABS plastic on the back rather strange. Glossiness tends to be on the front, and since this is on the back, there is little need for it as you’ll never see it.
The only extra that you will find in the box is the inclusion of a purple, non-lint cloth. This can also be used as a keyboard cover should you so desire. The material of the cloth is actually one of my favorites as it’s extremely good at removing fingerprints without scratching the surface.
There are USB 2.0 ports on either side, providing easy access for flash drives and mice (it supports high bandwidth 1000Hz poll rate mice too, unlike a lot of passive hubs).
Feedback from key presses is the typical soft rubber dome response with a subtle muted click from the scissor switch. The keys are soft, as expected from laptop style keyboards, with minimal travel. The scissor switch actually increases the lifespan of the keys, as well as evening out pressure. Key life is estimated at around 10 million presses, compared to the standard 2-5 million of regular rubber dome keys.
With no dedicated software or drivers required, the Aurora Lite is just ‘plug and play’. It also means there isn’t the headache of dealing with more crazy software solutions. So with the feature set being rather minimal, where does the $60+ price come from? It’s hard to tell; there are no gold plated, hyper-response keys, no anti-ghosting, which is actually kind of a good thing – less to go wrong.
Testing keyboards doesn’t have much of the glamor associated with frame rates and high numbers in benchmarks to clearly differentiate products, but there are a number of very important tests that need to be done. The most important of which is key grouping and response.
Keyboards are usually laid out in a grid, with the pressing of a key corresponding with a row and column number. The combined action determines the key pressed. Ghosting is the result of pressing a key with no response; the key press being lost to the ether.
For typists, this is not a huge issue, as you are typically only pressing 1 key after another with the odd modifier key thrown in (Ctrl, Shift, Alt). Gamers on the other hand require multiple simultaneous key presses to be registered, often 3-4 at the same time.
In an effort to be more constructive and objective with our peripheral reviews, we thought it would be of benefit to introduce a key map for our keyboard testing, since a large part of our target audience are gamers. This involves pressing certain key combinations simultaneously to see if any ghosting occurs. The tables below will show common, generic actions from games, with the keys listed to the side; the third column will show the result with any faults shown in red.
For the most part, this may seem a little over the top, especially with the more uncommon combinations, but there is a good reason for it. If you have ever played a game and certain actions are not being performed as you’d expect, it might not actually be the game’s fault, but your keyboard. Running for your life, strafing randomly, crouching and trying to open a door, only to have the door not open… you may have just been hit by a ghost-key.
Key order in the results is not that important as this is often human error (it’s nearly impossible to press multiple keys at the exact same time). Each combination is repeated several times to make sure that there is a genuine error. When ghosting occurs, one of two things can happen; one or more of the keys will fail to register, or none of the keys will register. If a result is left blank, then it will most likely mean that none of the keys worked.
Modifier keys (Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Win), Tab, Caps Lock, Enter, Backspace and the Space Bar are not included in testing as these are often on a separate circuit to the rest of the board.
Testing the Aurora Lite with gaming in mind is not an entirely fair test, as it is not aimed at gamers, but it will most likely pull double duty as sometimes it’s nice to vent in a game at the end of the day. With this in mind, there are a number of weak-spots that arise with certain key combos.
|Common Gaming Keys|
Because we like to give things a little bit of workout, we’ve also introduced some uncommon key combinations, just in case you have 6 fingers or are trying to play a badly done console port – or both. If you have any suggestions for more key combinations, drop by our forum and we’ll consider including them. Examples may include things like Z, X and V while moving.
|Uncommon Gaming Keys|
There are a few problems regarding the E key, as 4/5 of the problems make use of E. A number of games still use this key as the main interaction key, so it may be wise to remap it to something else. Again, the issues above should not be taken as a failure. This is not a gaming keyboard, but then again, it’s not a cheap keyboard either.
If you enjoy laptop style keyboards and want something more desktop orientated, then you can’t go wrong with the Aurora Lite. The lightness of the keys and low travel really reduce wrist and finger fatigue (at least for me). This a style of keyboard I’ve grown accustomed to over the years and have used a variety models and price ranges.
Is this keyboard really worth the $60+ price tag? That’s really hard to say. It’s solid, well planted and heavy, the keys are light and responsive and have a decent amount of feedback. The style is very clean as well, with subtle silvery accents, although poorly captured with the photos on the previous page. The ‘less is more’ approach has done well here and a serious attention to detail taken.
The Aurora Lite by Enermax is a keyboard of subtlety and function, avoiding the use of gimmicks to pull people in, but the price does come across as a little high. If you enjoy laptop style keyboards, but want something a little more serious for the desktop, this is a worthy consideration.
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