Aimpad’s Analog Keyboard Tech Lands On Cooler Master MK851

LAS VEGAS, NV -- After spending time with Aimpad’s R5 mechanical keyboard prototype, we wondered aloud why no keyboard makers had yet implemented the company’s analog input technology. Almost exactly one year hence, Cooler Master announced that it’s coming to market in one of its new keyboards, the MK851.

Analog, You Say?

Analog input on mechanical keyboards is a remarkable evolution in PC gaming. Cooler Master’s press release actually describes the technology in a nutshell fairly well:

Traditional keyboards act like an on/off switch where keys are actuated then released. With Aimpad activated, the MK851 keys function like a gas pedal. The result is more control, especially when driving vehicles, making slight adjustments, or course corrections without having to continuously tap keys. Instead, press down slightly for smooth control.

Simply put, instead of binary digital input (on/off), analog input gives you gradations of pressure and thus lots of control throughout a keypress.

To be clear, Aimpad holds it own IP around analog input technology, and the company’s strategy all along was not to be acquired by a keyboard maker, but to license the tech. Therefore, unless Cooler Master signed an exclusivity deal, you could see Aimpad’s analog tech show up on keyboards from a host of other makers. Such exclusivity is not exactly uncommon in the gaming peripherals world; from mouse sensors to switch availability, such deals abound. They do, however, expire.

The Competition

Along with the Wooting One and Roccat Isku+ Force X, the Cooler Master MK851 makes for a grand total of three analog keyboards on the market. There are key differences, though.

The MK851 offers just eight analog keys (it’s unclear which ones, but the WASD cluster is included), and the Isku+ Force X has six (QWEASD). However, all of the Wooting One’s keys are analog. Further, the Isku+ Force X is actually a membrane keyboard, not a mechanical one, and it uses a completely different type of analog sensing technology.

Although Aimpad and Wooting use different analog input IP to accomplish the same goal, the two solutions function in distinctly similar ways. They do, however, use different switch technologies. Wooting uses Flaretech optical switches whereas the MK851 offers Cherry MX Red.

It’s further worth noting that we’re going to get to see how some business decisions play out. Whereas Wooting build a proprietary keyboard, Aimpad developed IP that can be built into any number of keyboards. It’s that classic Apple/Android or Oculus/HTC sort of paradigm--that is, unless Wooting decides to license its analog IP as well. We think that’s unlikely, though, given how intensely Wooting vetted the Adomax Flaretech switches it uses. (That doesn’t preclude a Wooting/Adomax Flaretech package deal, though.)

About The MK851

As we mentioned, the MK851 comes with Cherry MX Red switches. It has a sibling, the MK850, that will give you the option of Cherry MX Brown or Blue switches, but no Aimpad tech. Both keyboards feature cobalt aluminum top plates, dedicated media and macro keys, a wrist rest, and “two precision wheels that work in tandem with the rest of the series.”

There’s presently no word on pricing, but Cooler Master said in a release that they’ll launch in Q2 or Q3. We’ll press Cooler Master for more details when we visit the company’s suite later this week at CES.