Tom's Hardware Verdict
The Mode Designs Mode Eighty has a lot of neat features that separate it from other enthusiast-grade mechanical keyboards on the market, like its isolated top-mount and stack-mount configurations, but it’s too costly for anyone not already bought into enthusiast grade quality.
+ Incredible quality
+ The best typing experience I’ve ever had
Silicone plate caps are clumsy
Doesn’t come with keycaps
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In recent years, keyboards have become more than just rectangles with 108 keys and maybe some RGB on them. The best mechanical keyboards have taken off in popularity and discerning consumers are starting to look for more than just a hot-swap PCB, with enthusiasts opting for premium features like gasket-mount designs that give some spring to their keystrokes. Thankfully, that can be found in many enthusiast boards, like the Meletrix Zoom65 for $185. However, at the next level up, there’s the Mode Eighty by Mode Designs, which has top-tier build quality, a unique mounting mechanism . . . and a starting price of $494.
Mode Eighty Keyboard Specs
|Mode Reflex linear or Signal tactile
|Can be programmed
|6 feet, braided
|355 x 152 x 25.4mm
Design of the Mode Eighty
The Mode Eighty is a tenkeyless (TKL) mechanical keyboard kit that features exquisite craftsmanship and unique mounting methods, but with a price that’s going to be beyond the budget of many.
The top plate of the case is black anodized aluminum and it is built like a tank. I haven’t seen a case this chunky since the Cyberboard R3, and that one has a screen built into it. The bottom of the case has the same beefy aluminum construction, but in gold.
This board looks premium even on the inside, too. The company’s logo is planted amongst the PCB's solder points (don't worry, there's a hot swap option, too) and just reads “Mode” in all caps, but it’s a nice touch. The big stunners here are the PCB and half plate, though, which are made of the same material (FR4 for my unit) and come together to help the entire design look uniform and gorgeous.
However, with this design configuration, plus the FR4 half plate, you’re already looking at a grand total of $494 and an ETA of July at the time of this review. You'll also need to provide your own switches and stabilizers. And that’s not speaking to the ability to add on poron foam or upgrade to a hot swappable PCB. So, if you’re looking to configure your own Eighty, be ready to drop the big bucks.
My review sample arrived preassembled with the FR4 half plate and Mode Reflex linear switches (sold separately) soldered into the PCB. You'll need to put yours together, though.
Mode installed Durock V2 PCB screw-in stabilizers on this board (also sold separately), which I loved to see because they avoid the ping you’ll find in cheaper solutions. Also included was a syringe of krytox 205g0 (sold separately, again), which allowed me to inject the lubricant right into the stab housing. While the housings of the stabilizers were lubed already, I did need to use the syringe to fill in the housings just a little more. Of course, you won't get these bonuses with your units, but it's good to know this board plays well with add-ons.
This is the first time that I’ve used a mechanical keyboard with a half plate design. The idea of having a switch plate on your board is to stabilize your switches and, depending on the material, enhance or dampen sound. However, if you decide to go plateless, you will get more flex in exchange for way less switch stability (unless you solder using 5-pin switches with wider than usual pins).
The half-plate design compromises between the two, as it provides just enough structure by utilizing a plate around all of the switches except for the alphas. The reason half-plates aren’t popularized is due to the fact that switch plates have become light enough to flex, and plateless or half plate designs can cause PCB issues (like switches popping out) if not done right. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my time with this half plate build and didn’t notice any issues. Still, you can get a regular switch plate if you prefer.
The Mode Eighty arrived with the isolated top-mount layout, which is simple enough– there are screws that go from underneath the PCB to the top frame of the case. Top-mount boards typically don’t come with silicone plate caps like the Eighty has.
The silicone caps help dampen excess noise and provide more bounce than a normal top-mount. I will elaborate on how it feels to type with this mounting mechanism later on, but I lost a couple of the silicone plate caps when taking the board apart. So, be careful. Besides the issue with the plate caps coming off, top-mount layouts always require a custom plate. Though I will say that there aren’t really a lot of bad things about top-plate builds and I wish I saw them more often on the mainstream mechanical keyboard market.
Mode also sent me a stack-mount build with hot-swap sockets and a carbon fiber switch plate. The carbon fiber plate is extremely cool and is something you rarely see on mechanical keyboards. The reason this build is called stack-mount is due to its design: PCB, poron foam, switch plate and another layer of poron foam. The last layer of foam is optional if you plan on screwing the PCB to the top frame. If you don’t intend on screwing the PCB to the frame, then the last layer of foam is needed because it compresses to keep the PCB in place.
Both mounting methods have their pros and cons; the isolated top-mount has a bouncier feel to it, but isn’t hot-swap. The stack-mount is hot-swap, but doesn’t feel as satisfying to type with compared to the isolated top-mount.
The good thing here is that either PCB (hot swap or solder) can be used with either mounting method. This review just covers what Mode sent me. You can also choose any of the available materials for either PCB, including FR4, aluminum, brass, copper and carbon fiber.
Using the Mode Eighty reminded me of when I reviewed the Cyberboard R3, because it isn’t for everyone. While the Eighty is more practical, the price makes me nauseous. For the exact specs of the stack-mount I received, you’re looking at $529. $494 for the isolated top-mount variant. And that's not including switches or stabilizers. The finish of the Mode Eighty is impeccable– easily the best that I’ve ever seen on a pre-built board, but does the typing experience justify that price?
Typing Experience on the Mode Eighty
The Mode Eighty introduced me to the two layouts included: isolated top-mount and stack-mount, so I was keen on typing with them.
I’m going to be straight-up, the isolated top-mount configuration felt the best out of any mechanical keyboard that I have ever typed on. When I started typing, I thought this board was a gasket-mount (which uses foam or rubber around the PCB to achieve a springy feel) because of the silicone tabs and flex. Soldered into the PCB (on my unit) are Mode’s Reflex linear switches. Like many enthusiast switches, the Reflex linears are manufactured by Durock. I really like these switches– they feature a spring weight of 63.5g, a polycarbonate top and a nylon lower body. Typing with these switches felt amazing thanks to the lack of spring ping, and the springs' weight was perfect for me.
The stack-mount layout felt less impressive but not bad in any way. I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the lack of bounce on this layout because the poron foam layer squashed the PCB. Instead, the Eighty’s stack-mount layout felt more soft than bouncy when I would bottom-out, like on the GMMK Pro.
Mode also sent along the Signal tactile switches for my review, which feature the same materials and spring weight found on its linear sibling, but also have a tactile stem. According to Mode’s website, these switches are a great alternative to Cherry MX Ergo Clear switches. I’ve never used Ergo Clears, so I cannot comment on that. I can say that these switches feel very similar to Durock Medium switches, which makes sense because these switches are also manufactured by Durock.
I lean towards linear switches because they’re more relaxing to type with thanks to their light weight and they tend to sound better (re: quieter). This still applies here, but the Signal tactiles are still great if that’s your speed.
The carbon fiber plate was one of the features on the Eighty that stood out to me the most. Carbon fiber is a fascinating material– it’s commonly found in the fastest supercars because it’s both durable and light. When it comes to feel, I’d say that the feeling and sound of the carbon fiber plate is very similar to FR4 because they’re both lightweight materials. So, if you’re deciding whether or not you want carbon fiber or FR4, it’s mostly an aesthetic choice here. I’d go with carbon fiber because it’s less common and looks epic when removing switches, but keep in mind that it costs extra and you’re not going to see it most of the time.
The Eighty doesn’t include any keycaps, so I opted to use a set of GMK Laser because they’re the highest quality caps I have at the moment.
So, as you can tell, both builds felt great to type with, but they have trade-offs, like the lack of hot-swap sockets on the isolated top-mount and a stiffer typing experience on the stack-mount.
Gaming experience on the Mode Eighty
It’s been too long since I beat up some zombies in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, so to test the Mode Eighty in a game, I jumped back in to play 25 rounds on Firebase Z, which is my favorite map. I opted to use the isolated top-mount configuration here because I wanted to see if the bounce would affect my ability and it didn’t. The weight of the Reflex linear springs (63.5g) isn’t ideal for making those fast dolphin dives or weapon swaps either. The isolated top-mount configuration isn’t something you’d see on most gaming keyboards because those planks utilize tray-mounts, which are much more stiff.
While this board performs well on the battlefield, I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for just a gaming keyboard. It’s far too pricey. Instead, I’d point you towards something like the HyperX Alloy Origins for a more entry level option and the Razer BlackWidow V3 Pro for a premium gaming board.
Since the Mode Eighty is a TKL, you’re getting almost every key you need except for a numpad. However, an enthusiast mechanical keyboard wouldn’t be complete without QMK or VIA. Fortunately, the Mode Eighty supports both. QMK is dated but potentially more powerful, and it requires you to flash your keyboard, go to the online configurator, compile the configuration, and program it to your board. If that sounds convoluted to you, there’s also VIA, which comes with all of the features that QMK has but in the form of more user-friendly software that doesn’t need you to flash.
There wasn’t a lot of remapping necessary when it came to the Mode Eighty since it’s a TKL board, but if you’re like me and you don’t use the PgUp or PgDn keys, VIA allows you to remap them to something more convenient like copy and paste. If you don’t want to mess with the stock keymapping layer on the Eighty, you can tinker with three others which allows you to get as creative as you want.
Another neat feature within VIA is its key tester feature. Key tester has been extremely useful when I finish installing new switches because the last thing I want is to start typing without knowing that one of my pins is bent.
The Mode Eighty is without a doubt the highest quality pre-built mechanical keyboard that I have ever used. However, even with its awe-inspiring mounting configurations and customization, the price is too high for even the great functionality on display here. Aesthetics and build quality are a major selling point here, so you’ll need to keep in mind how important they are to you.
I looked back at the review I wrote for the Angry Miao Cyberboard R3 when writing this one, and when I think about the price of that board ($570 barebones) you’re getting a piece of art first and a keyboard second. The Mode Eighty is in a similar boat, but thanks to its mounting mechanisms and feel, it should at least appeal to enthusiasts who want to make a statement. The question is whether the type of audience who’s interested in those features would prefer building a keyboard, one that’s potentially cheaper and has some personal attachment, themselves.
Myles Goldman is a freelance writer for Tom's Hardware US. He reviews keyboards and cases.
Horrible buy...;) One thing anyone will ask about at that price point is the warranty--I'd expect at least ten years--and to think $500 for a keyboard that doesn't include the parts required to make it useful and usable...;)Reply
Okay, good review with the odd realization that... there's a lot of people that don't use the arrow keys!?Reply
Absolutely wild if you use Linux/Mac to be honest.
I also can't believe that this cost doesn't give you key caps, that's just absolutely crazy.