For most users, choosing a keyboard is straightforward. You walk into BestBuy, slap your fingers down on the display models, and pick the one that feels the best without blowing your budget. In doing so, you’re missing out on a whole world of options that a DIY custom keyboard can offer. If you’re looking for the quality of a DIY keyboard without all the hassle and extreme price tag of building it yourself, then a pre-assembled custom keyboard may be a perfect fit. And that’s why we are taking a look at Drop’s latest offering, the Drop CSTM80 tenkeyless keyboard.
Drop CSTM80 – Specifications
- Price: Fully Assembled $149, Barebones $99
- Layout: Tenkeyless (TKL)
- 88 keys
- Case Material: Polycarbonate
- Plate Material: Polycarbonate
- Case and Switch Foam: PORON case foam, PORON plate foam, IXPE switch foam, silicone bottom case patch and gasket layer
- Gasket-mounted with removable gaskets
- Hot-swappable switch sockets
- 5-pin switch support
- PCBA- and plate-mounted stabilizer support
- Per-key RGB LED lighting
- South-facing RGB LEDs
- QMK, VIA, and Vial compatible
Drop CSTM80 – Barebones Or Fully Assembled
One of the key benefits of a DIY keyboard is being able to customize every facet of the board to fit your personal preferences. While almost everyone associates the sound of a mechanical keyboard with their favorite switch type – tactile, clicky, silent, etc – a keyboard’s case and plate material can also drastically change the feel and sound produced while typing. And it doesn’t end there. Stabilizers along with additional layers of foam and silicone dampening pads can further alter your keyboard’s stiffness, stability, and sound.
Drop knows that not everyone is a keyboard novice. For those already entrenched in the DIY keyboard scene, Drop offers a barebones option. Shipping without switches, stabilizers, or keycaps, the barebones kit allows you to outfit the CSTM80 with your favorites. The barebones kit is priced at $50 cheaper than the fully assembled unit, but it doesn’t come with the decorative top case. You can expect to shell out an additional $25 for a polycarbonate cover in a variety of colorways or go premium with a $59 black or silver aluminum option.
The number of customization options available to do-it-yourselfers can be overwhelming to someone experiencing a custom keyboard for the first time. And with so many options, it’s easy to end up with a keyboard that costs hundreds of dollars and still doesn’t feel or sound “right.” That’s where keyboards like the Drop CSTM80 come into play.
Although the CSTM80 is a customizable keyboard, Drop has prepared a fully assembled keyboard for purchase. The $149 CSTM80 ships with a polycarbonate inner case and plate that provide a pretty stiff typing base. The keyboard rests on four rubber pads, and the solid base with its inset aluminum weight adds to the sturdy feel of the CSTM80. The lack of adjustable feet is surprising on a keyboard so full of customization options, and it could be a potential issue if the natural slope of the keyboard isn’t to your liking.
The CSTM80 comes with a set of ABS keycaps that sit atop your choice of Gateron Brown (Tactile) or Yellow (Linear) switches. I found the keycaps to provide a decent base for typing, but I am turned off by how slick they are; I prefer the grainy feel of a PBT keycap. After only a couple of weeks of use, I am already starting to see oil buildup on the keys, and although I like the look of the side-facing legends, the RGB per-key lighting does nothing to hide the oily look.
I prefer linear switches over tactile options, so I chose the Gateron Yellows for the review sample. I have a habit of heavily resting my fingers on my keycaps, and one downside to linear switches is I sometimes apply too much pressure and activate them accidentally. The Gateron Yellows have an actuation force of 50g, giving them a slight but noticeably stiffer feel than other keyboards I have that use Cherry MX Silent Reds with a 45g actuation force.
The silent switches really allow the natural sound of the keyboard to shine, and the CSTM80 takes full advantage of this. The CSTM80’s inner case is packed with multiple layers of dampening materials, including a PORON plate foam, IXPE switch foam, PORON socket foam, and a silicone dampening pad on the base of the case.
As configured, the CSTM80 is equipped with decent, entry-level components that provide a good value proposition and a starting point into the world of customizable keyboards. Drop doesn’t stop at basic with the CSTM80, though. There are a variety of switch plate upgrades, including aluminum, POM, carbon fiber, FR4, and brass, that range from $25 to $45 each. Each plate adds a different weight and flexibility to the keyboard, allowing users to modify the feel of their. The aluminum base weight can also be swapped out with other weights, including stainless steel chroma or black mirror, carbon fiber, and brass.
Drop CSTM80 – Covering It All Up
The CSTM80 adds one more layer that other custom keyboards fail to offer – a decorative top case. Held on by four magnets, the removable top case serves as an outer shell to give you more flexibility with the keyboard’s color scheme. A black polycarbonate cover is included with the CSTM80, giving it a minimalist aesthetic. Other polycarbonate covers are available in a variety of colorways: white, purple, green, and orange. There are two additional polycarbonate covers, Overgrowth and Neighbors, that add some accents to their green and blue base color, and a premium aluminum cover is available in black or silver.
I had some initial concerns about Drop adding a top cover to the CSTM80. The last thing I want while using a keyboard is to have a loose shell that affects my typing. Fortunately, the cover fits well and four magnets built into the upper case ensure the cover remains snug during use. The cover also helps hide the screws that hold the main case together, adding to the sleep aesthetic of the CSTM80.
I’ve used dozens of keyboards throughout my time as a gamer, some paid for and some provided for a review, and although many people may disagree, there is a difference between a cheap $30 keyboard and an expensive “gaming” board. At $149, Drop has priced the CSTM80 similar to a mid to high tier mass-produced board while throwing in some of the extra luxuries found in DIY boards. I’m not fond of the choice of ABS keycaps, but it is hard to deny the smooth feel and quality sound you get when typing on the CSTM80. Swapping out for a set of PBT caps I had lying around has made the CSTM80 even better, and that’s the whole point of a customizable keyboard. Drop has provided a base kit that will feel better than most users will get with their current keyboard, but the sky is the limit, whether you are good with upgrading the cover or plate with one of Drop’s offerings, or going all out with new switches, foam, and other internal components, the CSTM80 has you covered. Pun intended.