Zalman ZM-K700M Mechanical Keyboard Review

Introduction And Specifications

With the ZM-K700M, Zalman's top-of-the-line mechanical keyboard, the company is heavily targeting gamers, but the keyboard still has a reserved-enough look that it wouldn't look entirely out of place in a professional setting.

Although the keyboard boasts a nice list of features including white backlighting with multiple modes, Cherry MX switches, and dedicated macro keys, it still doesn't quite have all the bells and whistles one would expect from the $139 price tag—a price that puts it in direct competition with industry juggernauts like the Corsair Strafe RGB.

Of greater note is the fact that the ZM-K700M is one of the first products Zalman has released after its restructuring. Over a year ago, the company almost went under after its parent company, Moneual, was found to have committed a staggering $3 billion fraud. After dropping two-thirds of its workforce and surviving a South Korean-supervised restructuring, Zalman is re-emerging.

Specifications

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Product Tour

Build Quality

The Zalman ZM-K700M is a surprisingly sturdy keyboard. The outer shell is constructed of thick plastic, and there is a steel plate holding all of the switches in place over the PCB, both of which add to the keyboard's overall heft. The chassis will bend slightly if you pick it up and twist it, but not a worrisome amount. The cable is braided and non-removable, with three tracks on the underside of the keyboard allowing you to route it out of the left, right or center.

The rubber feet on the back of the keyboard are thick, and firmly ground the keyboard even during the most vigorous gaming sessions. There are actually two sets of flip-down feet to allow users to customize the tilt of the keyboard, each with heavy rubber bottoms. These rubber feet on the ZM-K700M are in fact some of the best I've seen.

The ZM-K700M also has a standard ANSI layout, meaning that aftermarket keycap sets should fit without any issue. Keep in mind many of these sets don't come with extra caps for the macro keys. Many popular gaming boards like the Corsair Strafe and Razer Blackwidow Chroma have uncommon bottom row layouts, making replacing their keycaps next to impossible. For many people, changing and upgrading keycap sets is a must, and having a standard layout is an essential feature.

Switches

The ZM-K700M uses Cherry MX Red mechanical switches, which are rated for 50 million keypresses. Cherry MX Reds are linear, non-clicky switches that have an actuation force of 45g, making them one of the lighter switches on the market. The light spring and linear construction make extended gaming sessions comfortable and help reduce finger and hand fatigue.

The MX Red switches are plate-mounted in the ZM-K700M, giving the switches a crisp, smooth feel. The larger keys use Cherry stabilizers, making removing and swapping keys a breeze. The common complaint about Cherry stabilizers is that they can feel mushy or inconsistent, but they felt just fine on the Zalman. The spacebar and larger keys smoothly actuated regardless of where they were pressed.

Currently, the keyboard is available only with Cherry MX Red switches, another sign that this keyboard is really being geared towards gamers. Many typists prefer some sort of tactile feedback in a switch, although switch preference really comes down to personal taste.

The manual was surprisingly helpful and clearly written, for the most part, although it's worth pointing out that there were a few features that I never managed to get to work. FN+H was supposed to open an online user manual, but I could never get any results. FN+G did in fact open Google as stated in the manual, though, so some of the factory defined shortcuts worked without a hitch.

Key Caps

The key caps are ABS plastic and have laser-etched legends to allow the backlight to shine though. The function layer shortcuts appear to be laser-etched as well, but they're filled with red printing that does not allow as much light to shine through. This is mainly due to the fact that the LEDs are mounted at the top of the switch, and the function shortcuts are etched on the bottoms of the keycaps.

There are three LEDs behind the spacebar to evenly light the Zalman logo etched into the center of the spacebar, though keys like Caps Lock and Enter look slightly uneven due to the fact that they have only a single LED lighting the key. The lighting on the numpad Enter is especially uneven because the LED is mounted on the left side of the switch.                                                

The five macro keys are unique and have a shorter profile with angular cutouts in the sides. These don't make the keys any easier or harder to press—they're for aesthetics only. The shorter uniform profile does make it slightly easier to quickly and accurately hit the macro keys with a pinky when you're homed on WASD during gaming sessions.

Lighting

The ZM-K700M features white per-key lighting. There is a single RGB LED behind the Zalman logo above the speed meter that is on only when Z-Key mode is active (which we'll discus in the Key Rollover section). For many people, the lack of RGB backlighting will be a huge blow to the overall appeal of this keyboard, but for others the classy white lighting may be sufficient.

A unique feature that I haven't seen on a keyboard before is the ability to set a base level of backlighting, separate from the lighting modes. This means, for example, that you could have a low light setting on the entire keyboard but turn on Key LED mode and have WASD light up to maximum brightness. All other modes function on top of this base level, as well.

Other modes include Key Wave mode, Key Touch mode, "Breath" mode and Equalizer Mode. Equalizer mode actually reacts to ambient room noise, so the louder the background music or the louder you scream in a game, the more lighting you get on the three selectable patterns.

Key Mask uses the key selected by the user (FN+F9 in Define mode) and makes them the only functioning keys on the keyboard. This would be ideal as a gaming mode where you would want to prevent any accidental key presses of unused keys. You can use mask mode with Key LED mode as well, allowing you to have just the active keys glowing on the keyboard.

A feature unique to the ZM-K700M is the speed meter LED cluster on the right side of the keyboard. Along with the macro keys on the left side, this is one of the only visual features that makes the ZM-K700M immediately recognizable as a gaming-oriented keyboard. However, I found the speed meter to be pretty useless. It visually reacts to typing speed, volume changes, LED brightness, and macro running speed.

For most of these modes, the lights just blink but don't actually visually give you any real data. In volume mode, for example, the lights simply blink from top to bottom or bottom to top, depending on the volume changes, but they have no correspondence to minimum and maximum volume levels. Anytime you are typing on the keyboard, the LEDs bounce up and down depending on speed, although I was never able to find any correlation between WPM and the number of lights illuminated on the meter. This was arbitrary feedback that I felt was more of a distraction than anything. Unless I was really banging on the keyboard, no more than the bottom three LEDs were ever lit. Overall, the speed meter LED is little more than a gimmick.

ZKeyFormation Software

There is also downloadable software from the Zalman website called ZKeyFormation. This is extremely basic software that allows you to change key locations on the keyboard. To change the location of a key you just click the two keys you want to swap. Outside of the FN, WIN, and four key cluster above the numpad, all other keys can be moved, including the macro keys. After setting up a new profile within the software, you apply the changes in the software menu and then hit FN+WIN on the keyboard to activate the changes. Pressing FN+WIN a second time will change back to the default layout.

Teardown

The first step in the teardown process was removing the four Phillips screws on the underside of the keyboard. Something to note is that one of the screws is hidden behind the QC sticker, and breaking this sticker will void your warranty. Once the four screws are out, you can flip the keyboard back over and pop out the plastic clips holding the case halves together. To do this, I simply used a tiny flathead screwdriver and a little patience. There are two clips on either side and four clips at the back of the case.

After the two case halves are separated, you must remove two more Phillips screws, between the F-Row and Number row, as well as the larger Phillips screw holding the grounding cable in place above the arrow cluster.

With all of these screws safely removed, you will be able to lift the plate and PCB out of the bottom half of the chassis. This should be done carefully, because the attached cable is still connected to the bottom of the PCB. With the PCB out of the way, you can unclip the cable, freeing up all parts of the keyboard.

The switch and component soldering on the PCB are nice and clean. The braided cable is clamped down to the bottom case where it enters. Having the cable clamped to the case will help prevent any tugging on the exterior cable from pulling on the fragile clip where the cable connects to the PCB. After closely inspecting the internal build of the keyboard, I saw no red flags that would lead me to worry about the keyboard's lifespan.

Tests And Performance

Key Rollover

The ZM-K700M has two modes of key rollover: Z-key and N-key. Modes can be switched at anytime, although there is a one to three-second period when the keyboard will be unresponsive, so changing during the heat of battle is not recommended. When Z-key mode is activated, the RGB LED behind the Zalman logo on the right side of the keyboard will turn on, giving users an easy visual to determine what mode the keyboard is currently in.

Z-key mode is mainly for gaming, and it makes use of all the keyboard's features, whereas N-key mode is the standard mode for general purpose use. N-key mode via USB supports only the standard key repeat speed, and the function keys are unusable.

When I tested the keyboard in Windows 10, I was able to get N-key rollover via PS/2 in both N-key and Z-key modes, though over USB I was able to achieve 6KRO only while in N-Key mode.

I also tested the ZM-K700M on my Asus laptop with Ubuntu 14.04 and was able to achieve N-key rollover with Z-key mode active. Just as in Windows, I achieved 6KRO only when the keyboard was set to N-key mode. I was unable to test the keyboard on Ubuntu via PS/2.

When I plugged the ZM-K700M into my mid-2010 MacBook Pro with Yosemite 10.10.4 to test compatibility and rollover, I was not able to get the keyboard to work at all. The entire keyboard would slowly flash, and I was prompted with a window to determine what keyboard was plugged in. The end result was always the same "Keyboard not recognized" message. This was the only OS X-based computer I was able to test the keyboard on, but in the very least I will not recommend the ZM-K700M to Apple users at this time.

Audio

As you can hear in the test, there is still a noticeable "clack" when the switch bottoms out and the bottom of the keycap hits the top of the switch, even though the switch isn't clicky. The noise seems comparable in volume to the average rubber dome or laptop keyboard and shouldn't be an issue, even in quiet settings.

Should the noise of the MX Red switches bottoming out still be too noisy, you can put o-rings on the underside of the keycaps to prevent the plastic-on-plastic contact that results in the "clack" when you press a switch. 


Conclusion

The conservative looks make the Zalman a great choice for anyone looking for a keyboard geared towards gaming without the flashy lights and angled cases so many other gaming keyboards have. On the other hand, there's no RGB lighting, which will disappoint many users.

Programing macros and lighting modes are not a hassle in any way, which is important due to the fact that the keyboard's limited software doesn't support editing either. The Cherry MX switches performed as expected with no issues, although not having an option for any other switches will certainly limit the interest in the keyboard.

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