The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Gaming Keyboard That Will Take Your Skills to the Next Level

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Gaming Keyboard That Will Take Your Skills to the Next Level

Introduction

A gaming keyboard is a specialized keyboard designed for gameplay and optimized for gamers. While ordinary keyboards work fine for gaming, a dedicated gaming keyboard provides a number of advantages:

  • Mechanical switches designed for fast, precise key presses
  • Ergonomic considerations like wrist rests
  • Advanced anti-ghosting technology to ensure every key press registers
  • Macro and shortcut keys to execute complex in-game commands
  • Programmable keys that can be customized for different games
  • Media controls and volume wheels
  • RGB backlighting for aesthetics and visibility in low light

These features allow gamers to play at a higher level for longer periods of time comfortably. The tactile feel and specialized keys also provide a more immersive and responsive experience. For serious gamers, a dedicated gaming keyboard gives an advantage over typical keyboards designed for productivity.

Key Switch Types

When choosing a gaming keyboard, one of the most important factors to consider is the type of key switch mechanism. There are a few main options:

Mechanical Switches: These use an actual physical switch underneath each key. They provide tactile feedback when actuated, and allow you to choose between different amounts of actuation force and key travel distance. Common mechanical switch types include Cherry MX and clones, Topre, buckling spring, and optical. Mechanical keyboards are popular with gamers due to their responsiveness and customization options.

Membrane Switches: These use a rubber dome or membrane that collapses when you press a key. They allow thinner keyboards but have less tactile feedback. Most budget keyboards use a membrane design. While cheaper, they are less ideal for gaming due to less precision.

Scissor Switches: These use a scissor mechanism under each key to provide smooth, short travel distance. They have a flat keycap setup and are very thin. Scissor switches are common on laptop and slimline keyboards. They offer a compromise between mechanical and membrane switches.

Optical Switches: These detect key presses using an infrared light beam that's interrupted when a key is pressed. They provide extremely fast response times comparable to mechanical switches. However, optical switches are newer and less common than mechanical and membrane options.

For gaming, mechanical switches are generally preferred due to their precision, customization, and tactile feedback. But the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference and budget.

Keycap Material

The material used for keycaps is an important consideration when choosing a gaming keyboard. The two most common materials are ABS plastic and PBT plastic.

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic keycaps are typically found on cheaper keyboards. ABS plastic is smooth, lightweight, and allows more options for colors and patterns. However, ABS keycaps develop a shiny look over time as the material breaks down from friction and oils from your fingers. This is referred to as a keycap becoming "smooth" or "shiny". ABS keycaps can also become brittle and break over time.

PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) plastic keycaps are considered higher quality than ABS. PBT plastic is more durable, resistant to oils, and has a textured matte finish that does not become smooth or shiny with use. PBT keycaps will maintain their look and texture for much longer than ABS keycaps. However, PBT plastic is more expensive and has fewer color options than ABS.

For most gamers, PBT keycaps are the preferred choice due to their durability and longevity. The textured feel of PBT keycaps can also provide better grip for gaming. If custom colors and patterns are important, ABS may be the way to go, just expect to replace them more frequently. When looking at gaming keyboards, pay attention to whether it has ABS or PBT keycaps to determine the overall build quality.

Backlighting

Backlighting refers to keys that are illuminated from underneath to make them more visible, especially when gaming in dim environments. Backlighting comes in different varieties:

  • Single Color - Keys light up in one solid color, usually red, blue, or purple.

  • RGB - Each key can be lit in practically any color via RGB LEDs under each key. This allows for elaborate multi-colored keyboard themes and effects.

  • Per-key RGB - Takes RGB backlighting a step further by allowing each individual key to be lit in its own color for unlimited customization.

Having RGB or per-key RGB backlighting allows you to match your keyboard lighting to other RGB gaming components and accessories. It also provides lighting effects like reactive typing, rainbow wave, ripple, breathing, etc. The downside is RGB keyboards often cost more.

Some gaming keyboards have no backlighting for a more subtle look. But most gaming keyboards today offer at least single color backlighting. RGB and per-key RGB keyboards offer the most customization for those who want vivid, colorful lighting effects.

Form Factors

Gaming keyboards come in different sizes and layouts to suit different needs. The most common form factors are:

Full Size (104 keys)

Full size keyboards maintain the traditional 104 key layout, including a full number pad. This is the most common layout for desktop keyboards. Full size keyboards offer the most flexibility in keybind options for games, as well as dedicated macro and media keys. However, they take up the most desk space.

TKL (Tenkeyless, 80-87 keys)

TKL keyboards remove the number pad for a more compact size. This frees up room while maintaining the main QWERTY layout. TKL keyboards are a good choice for gamers who don't rely on the number pad. They provide more desk space for mouse movement.

60% (60-65 keys)

60% keyboards feature a minimalist layout by removing the F-row and arrow keys. This extremely compact design maximizes desk space for mouse movement. 60% keyboards appeal to gamers who want portability or don't need many macros. However, 60% keyboards require function layers to access some keys.

Other less common form factors include 75% and 65%, which add some keys back while maintaining a streamlined layout compared to full size keyboards. Consider your gaming needs and desk space when choosing a form factor.

Extra Features

Many modern gaming keyboards come with bonus features that go beyond standard typing. Here are some extra features to consider:

Macro Keys

Macro keys allow you to program complex commands or multiple keystrokes into a single key. This lets you quickly execute combos or sequences in games with just one press. Macro keys are useful for MMOs, MOBAs, RTS games, and more.

Media Keys

Dedicated media keys provide convenient controls for playback of music, videos, and volume while gaming. Look for controls like play/pause, skip track, mute, and volume up/down.

Wrist Rest

Some gaming keyboards come with a detachable wrist rest for improved ergonomics and comfort during long gaming sessions. Wrist rests reduce strain and fatigue.

USB Passthrough

A USB passthrough port allows you to plug in a mouse, headset, or other peripheral directly into the keyboard. This reduces cable clutter and makes accessing the port more convenient.

RGB Lighting

RGB backlighting allows you to customize colors and effects for your keyboard keys. This lets you match lighting to your setup or games. RGB options vary across keyboards.

Consider which extra features may be most useful for your gaming needs. Media keys, macro keys, and wrist rests provide the most functional benefits for most gamers.

Top Gaming Keyboard Brands

When shopping for a new gaming keyboard, considering which brand to go with is an important decision. The top brands in gaming keyboards include:

  • Logitech - Logitech is one of the leaders in gaming peripherals. Their gaming keyboards like the Logitech G915 and G513 are premium wireless mechanical keyboards with advanced features.
  • Razer - Razer is synonymous with gaming equipment. They offer a wide range of gaming keyboards with different mechanical switch options and RGB customizable lighting.
  • Corsair - Corsair gaming keyboards like the K70 are known for their durable aluminum construction, Cherry MX mechanical key switches and full RGB backlighting.
  • SteelSeries - SteelSeries provides gaming keyboards focused on quality and performance, like the Apex Pro with adjustable actuation for a customizable feel.
  • HyperX - HyperX makes gaming keyboards that are comfortable, responsive, and durable, like the HyperX Alloy Origins with exposed LEDs on the key switches.

When deciding on a brand, consider aspects like build quality, key switch options, software, price, and reputation. The top brands each have their own strengths and differences to factor in.

Budget

Gaming keyboards can range greatly in price from budget options under $50 to premium keyboards over $200. Consider how much you want to invest in a keyboard based on your needs.

Here are some keyboard suggestions at different price points:

Under $50

These budget gaming keyboards provide decent performance at a low cost. Some good options include: Redragon K552 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard ($40) - Clicky Blue switches, RGB backlight SteelSeries Apex 3 Gaming Keyboard ($50) - Quiet switches, 10-zone RGB illumination Logitech G213 Prodigy Gaming Keyboard ($46) - Mechanical membrane keys, RGB backlight

$50-$100

Mid-range keyboards offer improved quality and more features. Options in this range include: Corsair K55 RGB Gaming Keyboard ($59) - Rubber dome switches, RGB backlight Razer Cynosa Chroma Gaming Keyboard ($60) - Membrane keys, Chroma RGB lighting Logitech G512 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard ($80) - Choice of mechanical switches, RGB backlight

$100-$200

Higher-end keyboards provide premium performance and features like: Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 Gaming Keyboard ($170) - Cherry MX switches, 8MB profile storage SteelSeries Apex Pro Gaming Keyboard ($200) - Adjustable actuation, OLED Smart Display Razer Huntsman Elite Gaming Keyboard ($200) - Opto-mechanical switches, media controls

Weigh the pros and cons at each price tier to choose the right balance of budget and features.

Testing and Reviews

Testing different gaming keyboards in person is the best way to determine which one feels right for your needs. If possible, go to a local electronics store that has mechanical gaming keyboards on display that you can try out. Pay attention to how the keys feel and sound when typing. Notice if you prefer linear, tactile or clicky switches. Check that your fingers can comfortably reach all the keys. See if you like the build quality and branding aesthetics.

If you can't test keyboards in person, reading online reviews can provide valuable insights. Look for reviews from reputable sources that go in-depth on factors like key switch types, ergonomics, software, RGB lighting functionality and durability. Browse forums and Reddit to see real customer experiences over time. Watch YouTube reviews that showcase typing tests and gameplay usage. Comparing multiple reviews can help identify consensus on the pros and cons of specific gaming keyboard models.

Key aspects to look for in gaming keyboard reviews include: key feel and sound profile, key rollover and response time, macro customization, build construction, cable routing and detachability, RGB lighting controls and brightness, included accessories like wrist rests, and overall value for the price. Reviews that compare multiple keyboards side-by-side are especially helpful when making a decision.

Summary

When choosing a new gaming keyboard, the key factors to consider are:

  • Key switch type - this affects the feel and responsiveness. Mechanical switches like Cherry MX are most popular for gaming.
  • Keycap material - ABS vs PBT plastic. PBT is more durable but pricier.
  • Backlighting - options like RGB provide brightness/color customization.
  • Form factor - full size, TKL, 60% etc. Smaller sizes save desk space.
  • Extra features - programmable keys, wrist rests, and more for additional functionality.
  • Brands - leading gaming brands include Corsair, Razer, Logitech.
  • Budget - gaming keyboards range from $50 to $200+.
  • Reviews - hands-on testing and reviews check for responsiveness, build quality, software.

By weighing these factors according to your priorities as a gamer, you can select the ideal gaming keyboard to match your style and budget. Consider testing different switch types and form factors if possible. And don't forget ergonomic factors like wrist rests for long gaming sessions.

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