Product review: Corsair M65 RGB Elite Gaming Mouse (on Linux)

This is a very early review in that i just purchased this mouse and so i know nothing about its longevity. Rather than critiquing the gaming performance and digging deep into the specs, the focus here will be to inform others as to how well i like this mouse and its usability and compatibility with a Linux based OS. If it's a really great technical review you'd rather read, see the Corsair M65 RGB Elite Review from TechPowerUp.

intro

My Cooler Master Inferno finally gave up the ghost after 11 years. It started clicking the primary button by itself and although i might have been able to resolve the issue, i've had it apart several times to clean crap from the wheel sensor, chipping the case in the process, and its feet were just about worn down to the nub. Oh, and all that nice rubberized coating was worn off and it didn't take long at all for it to start peeling. Time for a new rodent.

The Corsair M65 RGB Elite is a wired, right-handed, 7 button (plus the scroll wheel) gaming mouse with solid specs, like a very accurate 18,000 DPI optical sensor which provides a max resolution that's an order of magnitude higher than any human could ever manage (bigger numbers are more impressive to the kids apparently). With the KDE desktop and the mouse sensitivity set to 50% and acceleration enabled, the M65 is set at around 600 DPI for a 17 in. 1080p laptop display.

looks and feels

I think the M65 is a very nice looking mouse. I'm not entirely sure if it looks more like a weapon or a mouse with its somewhat prominent red 'sniper' button and vented aluminum frame, but i do like its angular yet smooth looks. The one piece top seems to be made of silicone and it feels velvety smooth. The plastic, concave sides have a hard, sandpaper-like texture which i suspect will wear smooth fairly quickly.

The M65 feels good in the hand, but it's not as ergonomic as my Inferno was and because of the way the sides are shaped it's a little harder to lift off the pad, even with the rough textured sides and even though all the rubbery coating was worn off of my Inferno. I removed all the weights to make it lighter and although this surely made a difference, it wasn't one i could readily feel. It also feels narrower between my thumb and pinky fingers, yet it's actually a little wider in that area compared to the Inferno. The M65 is a shorter mouse designed to be 'claw' or 'fingertip' gripped and this is certainly my preferred style of holding a mouse.

As implied, the M65 has three removable weights, each located in a different spot, however the way this feature was implemented wasn't well thought out. The weights are held in place with screws and replacing a screws after removing a weight is a little tricky because the hole in the weight guides the screw into it's threaded socket, though one could just leave them out entirely. Had the engineer(s) had their thinking caps on, they might have used these screws to hold the mouse together as well instead of adding two more which, to their credit, at least aren't located under the damned mouse feet, thus disassembly is very easy requiring only a Phillips driver. Although on the smaller side this mouse is quite heavy, even with the weights removed. It also has a very solid feel thanks to the rigidity of an aluminum frame and there's no detectable rattles when shaking it or squeaks when squeezing it.

Like many wired gaming mice, the M65 uses a braided cord which i find to be a gimmick. These cords are usually rather stiff and unlike the older rubber/plastic/silicone sheathed cords, the slight noise that the nylon braiding might make as it drags across a rough textured mouse pad could be annoying to some, though this can be managed with some creativity.

the buttons

The primary and secondary buttons, apparently rated at 50 million clicks, are *significantly* quieter and lighter feeling than those of most mice and while i personally don't like loud buttons, these are so quiet that there's hardly any audible feedback. Whereas with the Inferno i knew i had clicked something because of the audio and tactile feedback, i now find myself looking at the display for confirmation. Compounding this problem is that the pressure required to click the primary and secondary buttons is very light and this can easily lead to accidental clicks. The throw of the buttons -- how far they move before a click is registered -- is much less than with the Inferno and i'm fine with that part of it. If we were to compare the feel of these buttons with the trigger of a gun, the words 'hair trigger' would certainly be appropriate.

Overall the right and left buttons just don't feel super great with the right button feeling slightly crisper the the left, possibly because its switch is positioned slightly differently than the one for the left button. Not having adjustable click pressure, i'm not sure there's much that can be done about this issue. At one point i removed the cover and placed shims consisting of several layers of masking tape between the paddles that your index and middle fingers rest on, and the plastic support for the paddles. While this increased the pressure required to click, it also seemed to make the buttons feel mushier and so i removed the shims.

The down-click of the wheel button is significantly stiffer and crisper than that of the primary and secondary buttons leaving me with no complaints here. One thing i very much disliked with the Inferno was the barely noticeable notches of the wheel when scrolling. The M65 is better in this regard with more pronounced increments as you scroll while still being completely silent unless the wheel is rotated fast. As with many mice, one can scroll the wheel a half notch and it will stay there instead of rotating to the nearest notch and personally i don't like that. Unfortunately there is no side scroll function, though pushing the wheel to the right results in a middle click because the switch is located on the right side of the wheel shaft.

The M65 has three buttons on its left side and i have minor issues with all of them. The 'sniper' button requires a little too much effort to press, though i'm sure this was intentionally done in order to prevent accidental clicks since the user is likely to rest the tip of their thumb on this button. The back and forward buttons are rather small, poorly shaped, and located too high above the thumb. My thumb rests about an eighth of an inch below these buttons. They are also positioned a little too far forward making it a little difficult to use a rocking motion of the thumb to operate the back button. These are all small issues.

The last two buttons behind the scroll wheel control sensitivity by default and require more pressure to operate than is necessary, though i'm not complaining. Their location is good, making them candidates for binding to other functions for game use.

Missing from the M65 are the 'wing' buttons of the Inferno which were located next to the primary and secondary buttons.

Overall all of the buttons feel OK and there is absolutely *no* noticeable slop in them, the wheel included. I think it's worth highlighting that some people may not like the way the primary and secondary buttons work since the throw is very short, they require very little pressure to operate and they are very quiet. If you're wanting a satisfying and crisp 'click' sound and tactile feel when you actuate these buttons, look elsewhere. On the other hand, these characteristics may be a plus for some, especially if working or gaming in the vicinity of those trying to sleep.

configuration

The M65 will of course work fine as a standard mouse on Linux without any software, however when i first plugged it in, it defaulted to a 'breathing' mode where the LEDs slowly changed colors. This is quite annoying in my view and software is needed to configure the RGB lighting, plus i wanted to reassign the 'sniper' and DPI buttons to keyboard keys.

I'm not super techie with Linux, but my understanding is that there's no kernel driver for this mouse specifically and so only it's primary functions will work out of the box, those being right and left click, scrolling, the wheel button, and the back and forward buttons. This leaves the 'sniper' and DPI adjust buttons which are set to their default functions and cannot be rebound without software. Thanks a lot Corsair for not disclosing the communication protocol so 3rd party developers can work with your mice without having to use your utterly bloated crapware. Luckily a pile of fine folks over at the ckb-next project have been reverse engineering the Corsair firmware and building a really nice graphical program for configuring nearly everything on this and many other Corsair mice and keyboards, including lighting, for us Linux users.

Using the ckb-next utility, any button can be assigned to any other button, a macro, a keyboard key, or it can be used to invoke a program. The biggest drawback of the software at this time is that one needs to run a daemon (a background process) in order to automatically configure the mouse at log-on even though the mouse has on-board profile storage. Again we can thank Corsair for not disclosing the communication protocol so that the ckb-next software could load profiles on the mouses on-board memory.

Another way to configure the mouse is to set it up on a Windows box using Corsair's iCUE crapware. I really tried to avoid that, but i really didn't like having a daemon running in the background either, plus i had my desktop freeze at one point which i suspect was due to the ckb-next software (i was shown a stability warning when i installed it on Manjaro). And so i installed Oracle VirtualBox and grabbed a Windows 8.1 ISO from Microsoft (yuck - it looks like 7 with a pile of added spyware). After that was up and running i installed the Corsair iCUE software... all 400+ MB of it (compressed). Really? I then needed to jump through some hoops to get the mouse working and detectable by the iCUE software in the VM. The steps went something like this:

  1. to get the VM to see the host USB devices, add your user name to the vboxusers group:
    # sudo adduser $USER vboxusers
    if you don't have the adduser command:
    # sudo usermod -aG vboxusers $USER
  2. boot the VM and install the iCUE software
  3. from the VM menu, disable the mouse from the 'Input' menu
  4. make sure the mouses USB pots is available to the VM via the VM 'Device' menu
  5. run the iCUE software

The iCUE software can write only limited profile data to the on-board memory of the mouse, including the DPI settings, macros, RGB colors and bindings. One huge shortcoming of the software is that you cannot assign a button -- and the 'sniper' button would be perfect for this -- to use as a remap button, meaning that while the button is pressed, all of the other buttons could be remapped to different functions thus effectively almost doubling the number of buttons. Not only that, but you can't even assign a button to switch profiles. Such features require running several background processes and so the mouse is less portable than one might be led to believe. Also the calibration function of the iCUE software failed for me 99% of the time, but the mouse seems to track perfectly fine on a hard plastic textured pad. Another thing i noticed is that the ckb-next software allowed me to adjust the lift-off distance of the mouse (how high off the pad it can be lifted before it stops tracking) and this option is not available with the iCUE software.

If you don't want to use any 3rd party software to setup the mouse, there is yet another potential option for configuring input devices with Linux by using Xorg configuration files, though there appears to be limitations.

conclusion

Overall i like the mouse. The M65 RGB Elite seems to be well built and it looks and feels good. I very much like its somewhat compact design that still feels good in my somewhat large hand. I don't care for the soft feel of the left-right buttons, but perhaps i'll get used to this. The M65 is obviously not a great choice for a Linux OS given Corsair's proprietary nature, but with either the iCUE or ckb-next software one can configure its more advanced functions. Some of my cons with this mouse can be applied to most mice:

  • The pressure required to press the most used buttons, as well as the 'clickiness' of the scroll wheel, cannot be adjusted and this is something that i think would be easy to implement.
  • Braided cords are a gimmick and harder to manage in my view.
  • The mouse feet don't have a lot of surface area or thickness so i'm not sure how long they will last.
  • No kernel drivers thus making a software configuration utility necessary to in order to take full advantage of the mouse on Linux.

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