For the average computer user, the keyboard isn’t a significant component of their setup. For a gamer, it’s an entirely different story, however. Gaming keyboards have been designed and reimagined over the past many years to achieve a tool that can help gamers excel in their game of choice.
Not every gaming keyboard is made equal, though, and some are considered definitively better by a longshot. For a newcomer into the gaming scene, it can be challenging to spot the core differences between your average QWERTY keyboard, and its beefier little brother, the gaming keyboard.
That is why today we will show you what to look for in a gaming keyboard so you can make a more educated choice when looking for that perfect tool to help you win games.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Gaming Keyboard
The keyboard size is an essential factor as the size determines the number of keys a keyboard has. A full-size QWERTY keyboard possesses 104 keys, including the full QWERTY alphanumeric system, the number pad, function (Fn) keys, and the four direction arrow keys.
As you might imagine, these keyboards are among the widest, as you will have a large array of keys to keep at your disposal. However, not everyone has the room to keep these massive keyboards on their desks or table, so having all these different keys can be quite cumbersome, and some might say, unnecessary. Depending on your needs as a gamer, as well as the space available with your setup, you’ll have to look for a keyboard that is comfortably large enough to cater to your needs.
Many gamers get what is known as the “tenkeyless” keyboard, which contains everything else but the number pad. By dropping the number pad, you relieve a massive block of space while retaining everything else that could be important.
Membrane vs. Mechanical Keyboards
If you’ve spent any amount of time looking at keyboards or speaking to gamers who have gaming keyboards, you’ll likely have heard of the terms “membrane” and “mechanical” keyboards. These are two different styles of keyboards that gamers often choose between based on personal preference.
That being said, many feel that mechanical keyboards are the way to go for gaming keyboards for a few reasons. But first, let’s quickly discuss some of the differences between these two keyboards.
Membrane keyboards are comparatively cheaper and thinner and are more akin to your standard office keyboards. They work off a rubber or silicone layer beneath the keys, which acts as both a spring and the electrical contact that sends your input into the computer. These keyboards are quite versatile, but they lack many of the features gamers find alluring in mechanical keyboards.
Mechanical keyboards are much taller, bulkier keyboards that use mechanical switches beneath each key to transmit messages. Because each key has its switch and housing, each keypress has a distinct *click* that provides both audio and tactile feedback. This feedback is not only satisfying but also ensures that the keypress has been transmitted successfully. Mechanical keyboards also tend to have faster response times and are much more durable with a longer lifespan.
Mechanical keyboards are much preferred because they are more precise, provide more satisfying feedback with each click of a key, and because they will serve you for a much longer time.
Customizing Your Keys and Macros
One of the key characteristics of gaming keyboards and mouses is their ability to be customized with macros and their use of additional programmable keys. The purpose of these functions is to allow a gamer to customize their keyboard with a personal touch to give themselves an edge where needed.
Most of the time, you’ll see a column of keys on the left-hand side of the keyboard, which are your designated programmable keys. These can be programmed with macros to perform predefined actions upon their activation. As you can imagine, this helps many gamers who require many different keypresses to perform specific actions, especially in games that are very action-economy-based.
These are mostly used for the sake of convenience. Still, it helps out in the long run by minimizing the downtime between your actions so you can be a lot more responsive and quicker with what you do in-game – which is especially important in games where your reaction speed can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Mechanical keyboards, in particular, are pretty customizable, too, in other ways. Because they work off mechanical switches, you can pop your keys out and change the switches for those that meet your personal needs. Should you prefer a firmer feel to your WASD keys but a softer feel to your interaction buttons in-game, then mechanical keyboards offer you the opportunity to change it as such. It’s also entirely possible to change your keyboard’s keys to add a personal touch to your keyboard aesthetics. More so, you can include keys with specific textures so that you can quickly identify and get a feel for them.
Keyboard Ghosting and Key Rollover
Keyboard ghosting is not an altogether common problem that the average keyboard user will encounter. However, gamers are always an exception, and keyboard ghosting can become a serious issue.
Keyboard ghosting occurs when using a keyboard and you press multiple keys in at the same time to the desired effect. The keyboard can only register a certain number of keystrokes at a time, so once you reach that limit and go beyond, the last few keystrokes don’t transmit or become mixed up, or even transmit an entirely different keystroke that wasn’t involved.
Pressing multiple keys at once isn’t an altogether common occurrence outside of gaming. But when gaming, you might find yourself needing to press and hold down multiple keys at once more often than not. This is why gaming keyboards are built to prevent key ghosting using key rollover. This effectively allows you to press multiple keys at once without losing the desired effect and can be useful outside of gaming, too, such as in musical composition. Different keyboard wiring also helps in preventing keyboard ghosting from occurring.
There are more aspects of the gaming keyboard that you might want to look out for, but the above characteristics are what we felt were the most important in defining the gaming keyboard’s capabilities. Ideally, you’ll want a mechanical keyboard with programmable keys and macros that will comfortably fit your desk while providing you all the functionality you need, including key rollover and anti-ghosting.