Mechanical keyboards are all the rage these days. Every PC gamer worth their salt should consider picking one up. The problem is, there’s just so many of them out there. Available in varying prices, features, and looks, picking the right keyboard for you can be a daunting task. Given that these keyboards can cost upwards of a hundred dollars, going mechanical is an investment.
We’ve reviewed some of the more expensive offerings in the mechanical keyboard market over the past couple years, with keyboards that light up in a multitude of colors and offer features that would have been unheard of in gaming peripherals a decade ago. For gamers on a budget, some of these more expensive offerings might be well out of their range. Given that it would be unfair to restrict hardcore PC gaming to only gamers with the deepest wallets, SteelSeries has ventured to produce a pro-performance gaming keyboard that’ll cater to any gamer on a budget and still offer them the features they need to up their game.
Enter the SteelSeries Apex M500, the company’s latest mechanical keyboard. It’s built for simplicity and doesn’t offer all the flourishes—the bells and whistles—that you might find on a Ducky Shine 5 or a Razer Blackadder Chroma. However, what it does offer is a gaming keyboard that’s built to perform. If you don’t care about how your keyboard looks and aren’t exactly looking to impress anyone at a LAN event outside of your gaming skills, the Apex M500 might just be the driver you’re looking for.
The Apex M500 comes equipped with German-manufactured Cherry MX Red switches that are designed to offer a soft touch. Unlike Cherry MX Brown switches, they offer no tactile feedback, and unlike the Blues, they don’t have the distinctive “clicky” sound that usually ends up annoying everyone around you. In terms of performance, the Reds, Blues and Browns offer no discernable difference. They’re equally good keys, produced by Cherry.
If you ask mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, they’ll tell you that Cherry keys are better than any of the Chinese-made knockoffs you might find. The jury’s still out on whether they’re objectively better, but more expensive manufacturing processes and quality assurance goes a long way towards guaranteeing the production of a good product—and mechanical keyboards go through plenty of testing to ensure that each individual switch lives up to the 50 million operations rating. Needless to say, a good mech will last for a very long time.
In terms of performance, the Apex M500 is a workhorse. It was as responsive as any Cherry MX-based keyboard would be. The fact that it costs less than the competition works in its favor. SteelSeries made no sacrifices in terms of quality in its production.
In terms of design and appearance, the Apex M500 is nothing special. It’s black, simple, and takes up very little space on your desktop despite offering the full 109 keys. The only way it could be smaller is if it were designed in a tenkeyless layout—meaning no numpad. The keys have a sculptured profile and the keyboard offers a standard bottom row, allowing you to replace the caps with customs. Many mechanical keyboards, including most, if not all of Razer’s offerings have non-standard bottom rows that are incompatible with any of the keycap sets you can purchase online.
In addition to its small profile (It measures 17.3 x 5.4 inches), the Apex M500 comes with good cable management that lets you track your cables directly through the back or through the left or right sides.
The backlighting is a solid blue that can be switched between four different levels of brightness. There’s no fancy RGB lighting on this one, so if you want something fancier, you’ll have to pay for it.
The Apex M500 can run with or without software. The media keys on the F5 to F12 keys will allow you to control your volume, pause, play, rewind and forward tracks, and raise and lower the brightness of the blue backlighting. They’ll work even if you don’t have the SteelSeries Engine 3 software installed. Installing the software will allow you to assign and record macros, and reassign the function of any key. It’ll also allow you to change the polling rate, but you’ll probably want to keep it on 1000.
If you’re in the market for a solid mechanical keyboard and you’re only willing to spend as much as you need to, the SteelSeries Apex M500 will be up to the task. For $100, there’s nothing better.