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ANSI vs ISO layout: Everything explained

There is a difference, and it can be a deal breaker

Updated: Apr 11, 2022 3:59 pm
ANSI vs ISO layout: Everything explained

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If you ever bought a new gaming keyboard, particularly a mechanical keyboard you might have been surprised that not everything has been in the same position as the previous keyboard, this is due to the ANSI vs ISO layout issue. Annoyingly, this is another result of the relentless creation of new so-called standards, which only end up confusing the general population and making cross-compatibility more difficult. With the ever-increasing number of PS5 games that support mouse and keyboard, this issue continues to confuse more and more people. Even the Xbox has games that support keyboard and mouse too, making this confusion even more annoying.

ANSI layout vs ISO layout: What does it mean?

So, what’s the difference between ANSI and ISO? Firstly we have to dig a little deeper. ANSI stands for the American National Standard Institute and ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization. These thrillingly named institutions govern many different aspects of technology and products, of course, the existence of both kind of makes their purpose a little bit redundant, but that’s a conversation for another time.

In terms of keyboards, the ANSI layout vs ISO layout defines the position and shape of certain keys on a computer keyboard. This has been known to cause a significant amount of confusion among PC users as many types of mechanical gaming keyboards are available in only one of these layouts. Anyone who’s been searching for specific keycaps, be they PBT or ABS, will be acutely aware of these irritating issues. Particularly those who are based in either Britain, Russia, or France as these places use the less-common ISO layout.

There are a few ways of differentiating between ANSI and ISO layouts, but the quickest and easiest way is to just look at the return/enter key. If it’s a broad rectangle, you’re using an ANSI layout, if it’s a chunky upside-down L shape, then you’re using an ISO layout. Additionally, a full-sized ANSI keyboard has 104 keys, whereas ISO has 105.

ANSI layout vs ISO layout 1
This diagram illustrates the easiest way to tell what keyboard layout you’re using.

These layouts both have benefits and drawbacks but won’t make too much difference in terms of gaming or normal PC user experience. Here at WePC we have many boards of both layouts and can say with relative surety that it really doesn’t make much difference, however, there are a few things you should consider when making the choice between an ISO and an ANSI layout.

Other differences between ANSI and ISO

While the Enter key is the easiest and quickest way to differentiate between the two, there are a few other differences that could influence your decision to with ANSI or ISO. We’ve highlighted the key keys for your convenience.

ANSI vs ISO alt and backslash big

The Alt Gr key

Those of you from the North-American continent are probably unfamiliar with this key, but it’s invaluable to Europe, specifically, mainland Europe. Alt Gr or ‘Alt Graph’ allows for easy implementation of accents over various letters, mostly vowels. Technically, these are known as diacritics and change the sound of the letter in question, for example, ‘e’ can be changed to ‘é’.

The Backslash key

On an ISO board, the position of the backslash key is on the other side of the bottom letter row from the forward-slash key. While this may seem inconsequential initially for the majority of use cases, it can be a dealbreaker if you’re partial to programming as ANSI keyboards position the backslash key closer to the forward-slash. This can be invaluable to people who develop websites or write code. It’s a difference worth considering if you’re one of these people.

Left shift key

Now, this could be a true dealbreaker, especially for the gamers out there. ANSI boards have a far wider left shift, equally as wide as the right shift, whereas ISO boards feature a left shit key which is roughly half the width of the right shift.

Which is better for gaming? ANSI or ISO?

Those of you who have used both will probably already have a preference between ANSI and ISO for gaming. It’s typically whichever one you used the most growing up as the muscle memory can be very difficult to unlearn. But if you’ve found yourself on this page wondering ‘ANSI vs ISO – which is better for gaming?’, we have an answer for you. It won’t be unequivocal, but we are confident it could sway the opinions of a lot of you.

We chose the ANSI layout to be better for gaming as the left shift is wider, which makes it easier to locate without looking. left shift is a key used in almost every PC game we can think of, and for this reason, we have decided that ANSI is best for gaming.

ANSI vs ISO: final word

Like most things in life, ultimately it’s your choice. For the majority of people, it won’t make any difference whatsoever, and many might not even notice the differences between the two. However, we strongly recommend an ANSI layout keyboard if you’re a PC gamer or programmer as the combination of key size and key location make it considerably more ergonomic for both of these applications. Hopefully, this page has helped you clarify what side you stand on in terms of ANSI vs ISO. IF this page has got you looking at your keyboard, wishing it would look less drab, why not have a look at our choice of the best custom keycaps to get a visual upgrade?

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