While Leopold keyboards have quickly gained their fans in the international community, they’re still relative newcomers to the mechanical keyboard scene, having been founded in Korea in 2005. They now have an English language website thanks to their Japanese division, and have started distributing their keyboards internationally, directly from their Japanese branch and from the US through EliteKeyboards.
Their latest releases are two mechanical keyboards featuring Cherry MX switches, the full size FC500RR/EB and the smaller FC200RT. These keyboards are similar to Filco’s Majestouch series and were developed by the same designer, but have been re-made from the ground up to include oft-requested customer features like a removable USB cable and more durable keycaps.
Today I’ll be looking at the FC500RR/EB, which features rather uncommon Cherry MX Red switches.
These switches are linear action, meaning that there is no ‘bump’ near the actuation point of the key; instead it just depresses smoothly. While you lack some of the aural and tactile feedback with this kind of switch, it is easier to double tap as the release and actuation points are at the same place. The Red switch is essentially a lighter variant of the Black switch: the Reds require only 45g of force compared to the 60g of the stiffer Blacks.
I’ll go into more detail about the practical consequences of this switch choice later in the review. For now, let’s have a closer look at the design and construction of the FC500.
Looks & Construction
The practical design of the FC500 is typical of high-end mechanical keyboards, only differing in the details. The matte black chassis looks very similar to Filco’s popular Majestouch series, with the same rounded corners and no-nonsense construction. If you look a little closer, you’ll notice some differences. For starters, if you examine the keycaps you’ll notice they are grainier than the Majestouch’s completely smooth keys, and reputedly withstand wear much better.
Another difference is the font, which seems more readable. One minor mistake I noticed on the Majestouch-2 was the printing of the Windows key; it was slightly mis-aligned to the right. On the FC500R, this mistake has been corrected with a larger and properly centered logo, although elsewhere there’s an unnecessary gap between ‘Back’ and ‘space’.
Flipping the keyboard over, you’ll notice the FC500’s most obvious innovation: The removable USB cable. While this might not seem like a big deal, having to replace your beloved keyboard because the cable has been broken through frequent wrapping can be frustrating. It’s nice to see that this minor feature has been added. Another cord-trapping avoidance mechanism can be found here too, in the choice of three ‘channels’ along which your cable can run. This allows you to have the cable come out the left or right sides of the keyboard instead of just the top, meaning that you can keep it out the way more easily. The other main feature of the bottom is the feet; thankfully these seem as sturdy as any.
The FC500’s construction is overall top-notch, feeling like a true competitor to the Majestouch instead of a cheap imitation. Its spartan design and high-quality materials provide excellent strength and will suit professionals, although some gamers might prefer additional gaming features like macro keys and flashy lights.
For most games though, macro keys and disco lighting don’t do much to improve your performance. Let’s have a look at what advantages this keyboard can provide.
As with other Eastern mechanicals, there are no gaming-specific features present in the FC500 beyond those provided by the choice of switches. For this reason, the results of this section will differ depending on the switch that is provided. While the FC500 has only been released with red switches thus far, the standard array of Blue, Brown and Black are set to be released soon; you can look at my reviews for the Razer BlackWidow (Blue), Filco Majestouch-2 (Brown) and FC200R (Black) to get a feel for their performance.
As mentioned earlier, Red switches are well-suited for gaming as they are essentially lighter versions of the popular Black linear action switch, actuating at 45g instead of 60g. This means you can type more quickly and with less effort, which makes all the difference in long gaming sessions. The point that the key registers (the actuation point) and the release point are the same, meaning that it’s easier to perform double-taps with a linear switch like the Red.
In my testing of the FC500, I found that performance was often dictated by the type of game that I was playing. In FPS and racing titles, which rely on quick presses of a relatively small key set (e.g. WASD + grenade, crouch, etc.), the FC500R was brilliant. The Cherry Red switches were in their element, allowing me to tap and double tap quickly and efficiently.
For RTS games like StarCraft which require utilisation of a relatively large key set (e.g. each unit’s build command has its own hotkey), the results were slightly mixed. While I enjoyed the rapid response of the keys, I found that due to the low weighting that I was making mistakes and hitting the wrong key more than normal. While this effect diminished gradually over the weeks, I still find that my accuracy is slightly handicapped. If you’re an RTS gamer who often makes mistakes then, the Red switches might not be ideal; you might consider looking at the stiffer Black switches. For FPS, racing, and accurate RTS gamers though, the Red switches of the FC500R worked superbly.
One last feature that can affect gaming performance is key rollover (KRO). This figure just reflects the maximum number of keypresses that can be registered simultaneously, so 2KRO would mean that two keypresses could be registered at once. For all good mechanical keyboards, 6KRO over USB and NKRO (meaning unlimited key rollover) the standard over PS/2, and the FC500 is no exception. I never suffered key blocking problems in my testing, as expected.
So while the the FC500 doesn’t provide any gaming-specific features, its core construction still permits it to be a great gaming keyboard, and one that I would recommend above others for FPS enthusiasts.
How’s it for keen typists though?
Again, the typing performance of most mechanical keyboards is down to their choice of switches, and the FC500’s Red mechanical switches define its typing characteristics.
One advantage of the Red switch for typing is that like the Brown it is very light, meaning that typing for hours on end is a relatively comfortable experience. This can also be a downside for sloppy writers though, as light switches will pick up typos more readily than stiffer switches. The red switches also don’t provide as much feedback as clicky and tactile switches do (there’s no ‘bump’ feeling or ‘click’ sound), meaning that it’s more difficult to determine when a key has actually actuated.
While the Cherry Red switches provide a good typing experience, certainly miles better than rubber domes, the lack of tactile and aural feedback leads me to believe that many typists would prefer a keyboard with a Blue (tactile and clicky) or Brown (tacticle and not clicky) switch instead.
The Leopold FC500RR/EB combines tank-like construction with light linear switches that are perfect for gaming, particularly FPS titles. This mechanical keyboard is expertly designed, from the hardy laser printed keycaps down to the clever cable management channels and removable USB cable.
The 500R has few obvious flaws, with a small exception of the light Cherry Red switches that can make it easy to mistype. It’s also worth mentioning that some prefer the key stabilisers of the competing Filco brand, but this is much more a matter of preference than a weakness per se.
Overall, the Leopold 500R is an excellent mechanical keyboard and easily the equal of Filco’s Majestouch, with a couple of small touches put it over the top. If you’re looking for a strong full-size keyboard with hard-to-find Cherry red switches, the FC500RR is the obvious choice. If you’d like a smaller Leopold, be sure to check out my upcoming review of the Leopold FC200RT Tenkeyless.
The FC500R is currently unavailable. The FC200, the Tenkeyless Leopold model, is available on EliteKeyboards.com from July 14th.
As with all mechanical keyboards, there are a bevy of switches and formats available so do your research to find your perfect keyboard. You can find a quick explanation of the options available here. If you have any questions about the FC500R or other mechanical/gaming keyboards, please leave them in the comments below!
The Leopold 500RR/EB review sample was provided by Leopold Japan Corporation. This keyboard was tested over four weeks in StarCraft 2, Brink and Dawn of War II, and was also used for writing a few reviews.