How important is it to you that Roccat Vulcan II Mini keyboard is shiny? I mean really, truth bright, like, used as a backup desk lamp, or a warning light for rocky beaches, or a navigation aid for holiday-themed flying sleds? If you want a keyboard so incredibly bright it can outshine your monitor, the Vulcan II Mini is for you.
This keyboard not only has two LED lights under each transparent key, for a smooth and super bright lighting effect. Not only does it have keys that cut most of the bottom, so you can better see the twinkling lights. No, this keyboard is literally powered by light, or at least its operating mechanism is: Each of its 67 keys uses a super-fast optical switch.
Frankly, all the lighting tricks in the world wouldn’t make a keyboard worth $150, even with sophisticated switch technology. It’s a terrible value…but it’s not so far removed from the competition that it’s off limits. So the Vulcan II Mini gets it right enough and makes few enough mistakes, it’s worth considering if you care more about brightness than money.
at a glance
Incredibly bright and smooth LED lighting
Software does not take advantage of lighting
smooth ABS keys
If you must have the most stunning keyboard around, the Vulcan II Mini is it. But those looking for extra customization or software features should look elsewhere.
Price When Revised
Best prices today: Vulcan II Mini
The colors, Duke! The colors!
The Vulcan II Mini is a 65% wired gaming keyboard with linear “red” optical switches, a primarily plastic construction, and a smart, compact layout. But we’ll get to all of that in a minute. If you’re reading this review after casually spotting the keyboard’s marketing blurbs, you want to know about the lights. Well here they are.
The keyboard uses various tricks to make it the absolutely brightest and brightest picture in the neighborhood. Perhaps the most obvious is their custom keycaps. The “floating” backlit covers literally cut through most of the plastic sidewalls you see on similar mechanical keyboard designs. To Roccat’s credit, this doesn’t seem to affect its stability or tactile feel, an impressive feat. On the downside, they’re fairly cheap ABS plastics with a slick finish, which really isn’t acceptable on such an expensive keyboard.
Then the switches themselves are completely transparent: the only opaque element is their red rods. This is something we’ve seen in some similar projects. Lastly and most importantly, each switch sits on top of two – count them, TWO! – LEDs, top and bottom. This doesn’t just mean twice the brightness of most mechanical keyboards (even before transparent switches and fancy keys), it means the lighting animation you can configure in the software is twice as fluid. Transitions from one color to another, or reactive bits of flicker under your fingers, are doubly smooth.
Does this help you in any practical way? Absolutely not! But it sure is beautiful. All of these design decisions also have essentially zero downsides, so while I’m not a fan of RGB, I’m inclined to forgive them. The only problem I encountered was the tendency for the spacebar to get stuck on my thumb, forcing me to push it back down occasionally. The Vulcan II Mini uses a semi-standard layout (just the right Shift key is a non-standard size, and even that is easy to find these days), so you can add your own keys if needed.
Slick software that doesn’t do enough
Of course, for the true RGB connoisseur, the lights themselves are only half the equation. You need a driver package that can customize them to your heart’s content. The Swarm system includes the usual per-key programming and a handful of pre-built animations, with access to per-game profiles to boot.
But it also includes compatibility with the older Alienware AlienFX system if you have a Dell gaming sub-brand mouse or monitor to pair it with. But wait, as the salesman says, that’s not all. Swarm can also synchronize keyboard lights with the colors that appear on the screen, creating a dazzling, reactive light show that actually changes based on your game play. He calls this tool TalkFX.
There’s only one problem. Neither AlienFX nor TalkFX are actually compatible with the Vulcan II Mini, despite being heavily featured in the latest version of the Roccat Swarm software. In fact, looking at the list of compatible keyboards, it seems None of the cards currently sold by Roccat are compatible with either one. That leaves the Vulcan II Mini with a nice but rather stale collection of animations and lighting tricks, and bereft of the latest custom game lighting profiles and smart home sync seen in some competitors.
It also means that I wasted two paragraphs of my review describing features this keyboard lacks. oops Normally, just the basic lighting options aren’t enough to sway me when judging a keyboard, but one so well focused on the light show should have given the user more options.
typing and games
I’m pretty picky when it comes to my keyboards, and the ultra-light and ultra-fast switches favored by gamers often don’t agree with me. That’s why I was surprised to find that the Vulcan II Mini’s linear switches are actually pretty good! They’re stiffer and more stretchy than normal, which helps make up for the fact that you can’t swap them out for alternative Cherry MX-based designs.
But the reason you can’t swap the switches is that they’re Roccat’s semi-proprietary Titan II optical design. (I bet they’re borrowed from Gateron, but I can’t prove it.) Red is the only choice, though Roccat makes them a tactile brown for some other recent keyboards.
That’s okay: those 45-gram keys are surprisingly smooth and satisfying, letting me get used to it instantly, even with the slick keys. They seem to have achieved hall effect smoothness (see Kailh’s BOX series for an example) with just a standard cross shank. The 1000Hz polling rate isn’t adjustable, but with a wired design there’s no reason to. The card is capable of 100% key rollover, for fans of APM counting strategy games.
The layout is the usual 65% – that is, a tiny body that adds an extra column of keys to the right to better accommodate a full arrow cluster. This takes care of most of the learning curve, along with a dedicated Delete key in the right place.
The software doesn’t let you move the Fn key, which is one of my concerns, but it matters a lot less here than in a more restrictive 60% layout. All other keys are available for reprogramming, macros and five automatic profiles for different programs or games, with the option of storing some in the keyboard’s own memory. Swarm is less intuitive, opting for a gray-on-black “gamer” look that’s hard on my eyes, but it’s easy to figure out if you’re used to these flashy driver packages.
Construction and portability
The Vulcan II Mini is incredibly light at just 17.6 ounces, light enough to forget you’re carrying it in a backpack. While it’s not the lightest straightener on the market, it’s so easy to move around that you’re unlikely to part your hair. Despite its light weight, it still manages to use an aluminum primary deck and includes dual-stage keyboard feet for added comfort, a nice touch.
I’m less thrilled with the center-mounted USB-C port. While it’s always nice to have a detachable option, there’s no way to route the cable to the right or left, and its deeply recessed cavity means some USB-C cables won’t fit. Don’t miss what’s in the box.
I wish I had seen a wrist rest option, especially considering the Aurora Borealis-style rest included in the full-size Vulcan II Max design. Again, this is an unfortunate omission in the price, but I suppose it’s one less thing to miss on your LAN party trip.
The Vulcan II Mini is a compact, comfortable, and super-portable gaming keyboard with a smart layout and bearable, if not enjoyable software. The impressive light show of its dual LED setup, complete with specific optical keys and switches, would have been much more impressive if it could have connected to the Wi-Fi connected lamps in my office.
At $150, you’re paying a lot for those lights that only sync to other Roccat hardware. Razer’s Huntsman Mini with similar optical power is $20 cheaper, albeit without the much more usable 65% layout, and Corsair’s K65 RGB Mini is $40 cheaper, ditto. Similar offerings from Glorious and Keychron offer better programming and customization for less.
So the Vulcan II Mini, despite some high points in build and design, is hard to recommend on pure function at its price. But if you’re willing to pay extra for these admittedly beautiful lights and don’t mind the lack of flexibility in how you display them, it might be worth it.