When it comes to a gamer’s arsenal, the gaming PC and other peripherals seem to take precedent over the gaming keyboard. A gaming keyboard is a vital piece of equipment so knowing how to buy a gaming keyboard is a crucial thing to know. When we say how to buy a gaming keyboard, what we are really talking about is the key factors to consider before you make that all-important purchase.
Modern gaming keyboards come in a variety of sizes, feature a wide range of switch types, and nice little extras such as RGB lighting or even included wrist rests. Before buying any type of keyboard you need to assess what you are going to be using it for, whether it’s just for gaming or for some work too.
At this point, you may be starting to feel a little overwhelmed but don’t panic we are going to go over everything you need to know in this article.
Gaming Keyboard Sizes
Gaming keyboards come in a wide variety of sizes, catering to people with different working environments and needs. When buying a new keyboard it is important to know the form factor you are going to need. A keyboard's form factor basically comes in fully-sized options, also known as 100% boards. You can also get a TKL board, which stands for Tenkeyless. TKL keyboards have no keypad and in many cases, no dedicated arrows or function buttons too. Boards vary in size from a full-sized keyboard you are most likely used to, all the way down to as little as 40%!
A full-sized keyboard is the most common and it is exactly as it sounds. These types of keyboards feature the full amount of keys, including a number pad, arrow keys, and dedicated function keys. Full-sized gaming keyboards also have the room for dedicated media controls and occasionally macro keys too. Whether you need macro keys really depends on your specific needs as a gamer but these types of boards ar ethe most convenient if you have the space on your desk.
It is also worth pointing out that if you work from home or use your keyboard for more than just gaming, you may want to consider going for a full-sized keyboard as smaller TKL options can be a little fiddly when doing trivial tasks like editing a word document.
Tenkeyless boards vary in size from 40% up to 80%, giving us all a nice array of size options to go with for our personal setups. 80% boards are comparative to full-sized boards only they have had the number pad chopped off. If you drop lower to 65%, the arrows keys will be squashed onto the end in a different format than you are used to and some of the function keys will have been integrated with other keys.
Going down to 60% sized keyboards we see the arrow keys being integrated with letter keys and if you want to perform any additional function you will need to press the Fn key + another key to perform basic functions like “print screen”.
Which you go for depends on what you are going to use it for but if you are tight on space it could be well worth your investment to go for a TKL option. TKL boards are also easier to transport, so if you are going to a lot of events or playing at a friend’s house, the wide variety of TKL options could be your best bet.
A switch refers to the technology beneath each key. There are two main types that we will discuss a little further down - mechanical and membrane. The technology behind each type varies quite dramatically but the general rule of thumb is, mechanical is the better type overall. Now if you are reading this and love membrane keyboards, don’t worry, membrane switches still have plenty to offer.
Switches are only usually talked about when referencing a mechanical gaming keyboard and there is a wide range of types. Mechanical switches come in three main varieties; linear, clicky, and tactile. They are all considered good for gaming, with some being better than others but the main thing is they each have different characteristics- including feel, actuation pressure, and responsiveness.
Mechanical switches tend to be quite loud, so if you are on the hunt for a quiet gaming keyboard then knowing the different types of mechanical switches will ensure you don’t end up with a product you hate.
The most common type of switch manufacturer that you will see in a wide range of keyboards is Cherry MX. Cherry MX is considered one of the oldest and greatest switch manufacturers and they have been for years. Cherry MX switches have been around for ages and, until recently, dominated the market. Now there are a whole bunch of Cherry MX clones that may be cheaper but perform similarly, meaning it has never been easier to find a good gaming keyboard.
Some keyboard manufacturers have also started to produce their own switch technology, most notably Razer and Logitech.
Mehcnical Vs. Membrane
Mechanical switches utilize a stem and moving contacts, actuating a keypress when the current is broken between the metal contacts. Traditional membrane/ rubber dome switches actuate or register a keypress when the dome is fully compressed and reaches the bottom (bottoms out), where the contacts finally meet. On a mechanical keyboard, switches actuate prior to bottoming out, allowing for shorter key travel and a more responsive actuation.
The main benefit of mechanical switches is the typing feel and responsiveness. Membrane keyboards are known to feel “mushy”, which many find unpleasant. Mechanical switches feel snappy, with a smooth, consistent keystroke. Membrane keyboards tend to be cheaper and spill-resistant but they will wear quicker, with the rubber dome switches all being one layer that can flatten out over time, leaving you with a less responsive product. Of course, some still prefer membrane over mechanical as they tend to be a quieter keyboard, so it really comes down to your preferences again.
Aesthetics, Comfort, And Macros
Little extras have nothing to do with performance but they can go a long way for comfort and style. A lot of modern gaming keyboards will feature RGB backlighting, with single LED backlighting being left behind. If you hate RGB, there are some models that will do without this feature but your best bet is to just turn the lighting off in the settings.
Aside from lighting, there are extras that can make a big difference to your personal comfort and safety plus bring you some ease of life from the keyboard too. Wrist rests are a common feature among the top gaming keyboards on the market, usually coming with keyboards that are very expensive. These wrist rests can aid with repetitive strain and alleviate some of that pressure your wrists can sustain from a lengthy typing secession.
Of course, comfort isn’t everyone’s main concern and you can always grab an ergonomic gaming keyboard to try and alleviate some of these stresses your joints are facing, whether it’s from specially designed keyboards or split gaming keyboards.
Other nice to have extras come in the form of dedicated media controls and macro buttons. Media controls make your life easier in general whether you are listening to music or gaming. A volume wheel may seem like something you don’t need but that is probably because you haven’t experienced a keyboard with one yet; they are great.
Not all gaming keyboards come with macro keys, so if this is a requirement of yours, be sure to double-check the model you are looking to buy actually has them. However, if a board hasn’t and you are particularly fond of it, some modern gaming keyboards will allow you to reprogram keys for the exact same function, so keep an eye out.
Like with most hardware, the more features, the more expensive it is probably going to be, so bear in mind the extra costs these additional features can bring and be ready for a hefty price tag.
If you are buying a mechanical keyboard you may not know you can upgrade/ change the keycaps for it. A lot of keyboards, unless specified, will come with ABS plastic keycaps. These types of keycaps are fine but they will wear out over time when compared to the more durable PBT option. That this means is over time your key will wear down to a point where it becomes shiny and in some cases, the icon is no longer visible.
Custom keycaps are more than just a durability thing for keyboard enthusiasts though, they come in exciting color schemes and feature different style fonts to really make your keyboard stand out on your desk.
If you are considering grabbing a keycap set, you are going to want to ensure they are compatible with your keyboards layout and switch type. The compatibility will often be in the specifications so just double-check this before buying any old keycap set.
Wired Vs. Wireless Gaming Keyboards
Wireless gaming keyboards, like most gaming peripherals, are less common and are generally avoided at the top level of gaming. This is always down to the reliability of wireless technology as many gamers want the fastest responsiveness they can get.
Wireless technology is always advancing though and we see that with gaming mice today, with some competing at a top level with their wired counterparts. If you're after the cleanest of setups and a few milliseconds don’t bother you, a wireless gaming keyboard can really make a difference.
It is worth noting that anything wireless is going to need to be charged so be prepared to have it plugged in at some point.
Price varies, as it does with everything. Most manufacturers have gaming keyboards that cater to a wide variety of budget needs. Your budget can dictate what keyboard you eventually end up buying, so this is a huge consideration in the whole process.
Obviously, if money is no object, then buying the best gaming keyboard is actually rather simple. That being said, if you have a strict budget you may need to compromise and sacrifice certain features in order to get a product you can afford.
Gaming keyboards vary in price from over $200 down to $100, with there even some brilliant options for under $50. The lower the price, in some cases, means lower quality, fewer features, and more often than not, membrane switch types.
Reputable Brands For Gaming Keyboards
There are many brands out there on the market and the choice could give you a bit of headache. In our best-of guides, we ensure the best quality products are chosen and we usually recommend products from the main manufacturers of gaming keyboards.
It is true that you don’t strictly need a “gaming” keyboard to get the same results but below we have outlined some of the most common reputable brands that can trust to deliver a quality gaming option.
Corsair offers a wide variety of peripherals ranging from PC components to mice but they are particularly known for gaming keyboards
Corsair keyboards we have reviewed:
Ducky keyboards are a widely respected brand, known for high-end mechanical keyboards
Ducky keyboards we have reviewed:
Logitech is another hugely respected brand for being high performing gaming peripherals to the masses at fair prices.
SteelSeries is another top brand when it comes to gaming keyboards. This brand specializes in peripherals but their keyboards are some of the best on the market.
Razer is a brand some love and some love to hate but their gaming keyboards are actually some of the best out there.
Razer keyboards we have reviewed:
A gaming keyboard is an investment so knowing how to buy a gaming keyboard is vitality important. First-time gamers may want to start off with a relatively cheap option, moving on to more serious kit as their skills and needs develop.
The top boards can come with a top price but if you have gone through this guide you are already in a better place to ensure you waste no cash.
Are you looking to upgrade your current keyboard? What gaming keyboard do you currently own? Head over to the WePC community forum and share with other keyboard enthusiasts in our ever-growing online community