Whether you are building your first gaming PC or looking to upgrade your current keyboard, choosing the right gaming keyboard can be a struggle.
With so many gaming keyboards types and brands available in the market, deciding which one to buy becomes a very hard decision to make.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case. By knowing what to look for when buying a gaming keyboard, you’ll be able to tell what makes a good gaming keyboard and make an informed decision.
In this guide, we are going to look at everything you need to consider when buying a new gaming keyboard.
Let’s dive right in!
Type Of Keyboard Switches: Mechanical vs Membrane/Rubber Dome
The type of switches used in a gaming keyboard determines performance and how each keystroke feels. Since you’ll be spending lots of hours gaming you want a keyboard that feels great in your hands.
In most gaming keyboards you’ll find either mechanical or membrane switches. Each type offers a different tactile feel, responsiveness, and requires a certain amount of actuation force to register.
Membrane/Rubber Dome Keyboards
The terms rubber dome keyboard and membrane keyboard are often used interchangeably. This is because most non-mechanical keyboards use both. Rubber domes are usually added to membrane keyboards to enhance tactility.
What the video below shows the different parts of a membrane keyboard and how it works:
Membrane keyboards use electrical traces printed on plastic membrane sheets instead of actual Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). Their switches make contact by either flexing a membrane so that it presses against another or by bridging the traces with a conductive material.
To give membrane keyboards a bit of tactility, sometimes a rubber dome is placed on top of the plastic membrane sheet for each key. Most consumer keyboards, including those in laptops, use a membrane switching mechanism.
Membrane keyboards have a low profile, are quiet when typing, and are much cheaper than their mechanical counterparts. The keys usually feel squishy or mushy when pressed and a greater travel distance is needed in order for a keystroke to be registered.
Due to their simple architecture, some membrane keyboards can be designed to be spill-resistant.
Membrane gaming keyboards are the best option for casual gaming or if you are on a tight budget. But for serious or competitive gaming, they are not ideal, they have slower response times, are less durable, and lack consistent feedback with each keystroke.
Switches in mechanical keyboards work a bit differently from those of membrane keyboards. Each key has its own dedicated mechanical switch underneath it. The switch has its own housing, spring, stem, and metal contact leaves.
The mechanical nature of these switches makes it possible to have different switch types: linear (have consistent resistance), tactile (have an audible bump), or clicky (tactile with audible clicks).
In most mechanical gaming keyboards, you will find red, brown, or blue Cherry MX mechanical switches. Other switches you may find include Logitech’s Romer-G switches, Razer switches, Kailh, and Roccat Titan switches.
Which switch type you should get is a matter of personal preference. Each switch type has a different travel distance, noise level, response time, and actuation force.
While one switch type may feel great in one person’s hands it may feel terrible in another’s. To get a feel and noise level of the switches you may have to actually test out the different switches in a store or buy a switch tester.
Mechanical keyboards are preferred for gaming over membrane keyboards for the following reasons:
A notable advantage of mechanical keyboards over membrane ones is precision. While the actuation distance of a membrane keyboard is variable, that of mechanical keyboards is consistent.
This means you can accurately predict when a keystroke registers and perform moves consistently each time. This also improves your muscle memory over time.
Mechanical keyboards are able to record a keystroke halfway before they actually bottom out (get fully pressed). This equates to a faster response time that allows you to react instantly.
This is especially important when playing FPS games such as Doom Eternal, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, and Overwatch. When playing such games you need to be able to react with speed before your enemy destroys you.
Feedback refers to how the switching mechanism lets you know a keystroke has been registered, it can be linear, tactile, or clicky. With mechanical keyboards, you have the option to choose from varying levels of feedback provided by the different switches.
For example, red Cherry MX switches have linear feedback and lack an audible click and a bump to provide tactile feedback. Blue switches, on the other hand, have a bump and switching mechanism that provides both tactile and auditory feedback.
This video explains the difference between Cherry MX switches and gives you an idea of which one to use:
Most gamers find brown switches work well for both gaming and typing. This is because they provide tactile feedback without a loud audible click. If a click is too loud, it can be picked up by your microphone when chatting or recording gameplay.
Generally, mechanical keyboards last longer than membrane keyboards. For instance, Cherry MX switches are typically said to have a lifespan of 50 million key presses compared to 5 million key presses for membrane keyboards.
This means they can last for years even under heavy use. In addition, it is also easy to replace faulty switches if the need arises since each switch operates independently.
This eliminates having to replace the entire keyboard just because a single or a few keys aren’t working.
N key rollover refers to the ability of a keyboard to register each keystroke accurately and in the correct order, irrespective of how many other keys pressed or held down simultaneously.
N-Key rollover is possible with mechanical keyboards because each key operates separately from the other, hence each keypress is recognized by your operating system. Membrane keyboards are only able to achieve a key rollover of between 6 and 10.
Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboards Comparison Table
|Mechanical Keyboard||Membrane Keyboard|
|Precision||Actuation force remains consistent allowing you to be more precise in your keystrokes||The actuation force of membrane keyboards is variable|
|Speed||They have the ability to record a keystroke before they bottom out||They need to be pressed all the way to the bottom for them to register|
|Feedback||Give you the option to choose switches with linear, tactile, or clicky feedback||Very little, if any, tactile feedback|
|Durability||Each key can withstand over 50 million keypresses without failing||Have a lifespan of about 5 million keystrokes per key|
|N-Key Rollover||Can support full N-Key rollover||Supports a key rollover of between 6 and 10|
|Price||Generally, more expensive than membrane keyboards||Usually the cheapest in the market|
Choosing Between Wireless And Wired Gaming Keyboards
Another important consideration to make is whether to get a wired or wireless gaming keyboard. To make the right decision, you need to understand what the pros and cons of each type are.
Wireless Gaming Keyboards
Wireless keyboards use radio frequency signals, such as Bluetooth, to send data from the keyboard to the PC. The keyboard has a built-in transmitter and comes with a separate receiver that plugs into your computer’s USB port.
When the transmitter and receiver are paired, your PC recognizes the keyboard as if it was connected through a cable.
If you plan on using your keyboard while seated farther from your monitor, a wireless gaming keyboard is the best option. It is very portable and gives you the freedom to move freely.
In addition, you don’t have to deal with any cable management. This helps keep your gaming space uncluttered.
The main disadvantage of wireless keyboards is that they experience a bit of input lag/latency due to interference from other devices.
However, this may be hardly noticeable when doing less intensive tasks such as typing or browsing. But for serious or competitive gaming, it can impact your reaction time.
Wireless keyboards are also more expensive than their wired counterparts in terms of both price and maintenance. You need to replace or recharge batteries every once in a while.
Pros and cons of wireless keyboards
|A wireless connection allows for more portability and free movement||Slight input lag due to outside interference|
|No cable management is needed||More expensive than wired keyboards|
|They lack extra features due to power restriction||A bit of maintenance is required; recharging or replacing batteries|
Wired Gaming Keyboards
Wired keyboards, as the name suggests, connect directly to your computer via a wire/cable that plugs into a USB port. The wire is responsible for powering the keyboard as well as sending input to your computer.
Most gamers prefer wired keyboards because they are not only cheaper than wireless keyboards but are also extremely reliable. You don’t have to worry about outside interference.
Furthermore, since no batteries are needed, very little maintenance is required. Also because there are no power restrictions, manufacturers are able to pack extra features such as LCD screens, RGB lights, USB ports, and headphone jacks without worrying about battery life.
On the downside, wired keyboards are less portable as you can only use them within the length of the wire. You also need to do a bit of cable management if you are to keep your gaming desk tidy.
Pros and Cons of Wireless Keyboards
|Fast response time without input lag||Less portable due to the use of wires|
|No charging or replacing batteries is needed||A bit of cable management is needed|
|Are able to pack lots of features due to no power restriction|
Keyboard Cable Type: Braided vs Rubber
If you choose to go with a wired gaming keyboard, two cable types are available, braided and rubber. It should be noted that choosing one or the other will not impact your gaming performance in any way, however, there are a few things worth noting.
Braided cables have an extra layer of a protective sleeve that protects the actual cable inside from wear and tear. The protective sleeve can be made out of nylon, polyester, etc. and can come in different colors.
This is good news if you want your cables to match the color theme of your PC build. The only downside is that the braiding material makes the cable a bit stiff.
Rubber cables are regular cables without a protective coating and are most common. They are slightly less durable than braided cables but provide more flexibility in case you often need to move the keyboard on your desk.
Keyboard Build Quality
Unlike an office keyboard, a gaming keyboard is going to be taking a lot of damage from repeated and forceful presses. This is especially true when playing highly competitive games that can make you a little aggressive when gaming.
It is therefore important that all the parts of the keyboard are built to last. Cheap gaming keyboards built with low-grade plastic covers that bend easily should be avoided.
Covers made out of ABS plastic or metal offer better support and housing for keyboard components and circuitry. The switches should also be mounted on a metal backplate that is more rigid than a PCB backplate to minimize flex when typing or gaming.
Bold ABS vs PBT Plastic
The labels on the keycaps of a keyboard should not rub off easily. Most keycaps are made out of either ABS plastic or PBT plastic. But PBT keycaps are preferred over ABS keycaps for the following reasons:
- They are more resistant to solvents
- PBT keycaps don’t get glossy (rub off) as fast ABS keycaps
- They are physically stronger than ABS keycaps
- They can withstand temperatures as high as 150°C
You may still find ABS plastics being used in some high-end keyboards. This mainly because they have a thinner layer of plastic which allows the keyboard backlight to be more even, vibrant, and crisp.
Bold Type Of Finish On The Keycaps: Glossy vs Textured
The finish and feel of the keyboard and keycaps also matter a lot. For example, if your hands tend to get sweaty after extended use of a keyboard, avoid keyboards with a glossy finish. Instead, go for a keyboard with a more textured or rubbery finish.
Keyboard Size: Full Size vs Tenkeyless
Full-size gaming keyboards are the most common. They have 104 keys which include a number pad, alphanumerics, Function (Fn) keys, and a navigational cluster.
Size has a huge impact on a keyboard’s layout. More compact full-size keyboard designs are known as 1800 Compact keyboards. They feature the same number of keys as full-size keyboards but their keys are more cluttered.
Full-size gaming keyboards are great if you have plenty of desk space or need a dedicated number pad for inputting numbers. Their weight also makes them more sturdy because they are less likely to move around when placed on a desk.
If a full-size keyboard is too big for you then you can get a Tenkeyless (TKL) gaming keyboard, also known as the 80% keyboard. TKL keyboards don’t have a number pad and their total key count is 87 keys. This makes them 80% of a full-sized keyboard.
Other keyboard sizes include 75% and 60%. A 75% keyboard is a more compact version of the 80 % keyboard. Its keys are more cluttered than those of an 80% keyboard to allow for a 5% reduction in size.
A 60% keyboard lacks both the function keys and arrow cluster keys, making it even more compact. They can be a bit challenging to use since you have to use the Function (Fn) key to access most of the missing keys.
The main advantage of TKL keyboards is that their smaller footprint makes them more portable and saves on desk space. You also get a shorter movement distance when going from your keyboard to your mouse.
Appearance: Shape And Color
Gaming keyboard manufacturers design their keyboards in different shapes to appeal to different audiences. Some keyboards have a very simple rectangular design, while others have cool-looking futuristic shapes that stand out.
The shape of a keyboard has no effect on gaming performance. However, it determines if a keyboard fits in well in the environment it is used in.
For example, a gaming keyboard with a futuristic or odd-looking shape would not fit very well in an office environment where things are expected to look professional and clean. But in a gaming room, it can look really cool and wouldn’t seem out of place.
Color is also another thing you need to consider. While the majority of gaming keyboards are black, there are also many other colors such as blue, pink, metallic grey, etc., that you can choose from.
With mechanical keyboards, the keycaps can also be swapped to achieve different color combinations. When deciding on the color, besides your personal preference, you should also consider whether the keyboard color matches the colors on your gaming rig.
Also, keep in mind that bright-colored keyboards will require frequent cleaning than dull-colored ones because they’ll show dirt more easily. Just like odd shapes, flashy colors should also be avoided if the keyboard is intended for use in a professional environment.
Consider Gaming Keyboard Extras
Some gaming keyboards will have some additional features that are included for convenience and making your life a bit easier. Some of the keyboard extras you might find useful include the following:
Macros are programmable keys that can be configured to execute complex command sequences.
For instance, in a first-person shooter game, a macro key can be programmed to perform rapid firing, thus eliminating the need to press the fire button repetitively.
In MMORPG and MOBA games you can use macros to set up your own key bindings. This way, you can perform a series of actions in a particular sequence with the press of a single button.
They can also be used to perform everyday tasks such as launching programs, copying and pasting, etc., thus increasing your productivity and saving you time.
Multimedia keys are usually dedicated buttons designed to control any type of media that may be running in the background when gaming or working.
For instance, if you like to have Spotify running in the background while gaming, you can use multimedia keys to conveniently control volume, mute, pause/play, go to previous/next track, etc. without leaving the game.
Some gaming keyboards come with a detachable wrist rest that improves ergonomics by allowing your hands to rest in a more natural position. This way, you are able to reduce wrist strain when gaming or typing.
While wrist rests aren’t a necessity, having one can make things more comfortable, especially if you have limited desk space and often find your wrists resting on the edge.
Not all gaming keyboards have backlighting, but those that do, come with either single color backlighting or RGB backlighting. Single color backlighting lights up all the keys with a single color while RGB backlighting allows the keys to be lit up in multiple colors.
Keyboards with backlighting are preferred over those without because they allow gamers to play in low-lit environments. Backlights also allow you to assign different colors to specific keys which makes it easy to find the right keys without having to shift your hands from the screen.
Some keyboard features such as RGB backlighting and macros are not complete without accompanying software that helps you optimize and personalize them to suit your needs.
High-end gaming keyboards from brands such as Logitech, Corsair, Razer, and SteelSeries come with their own proprietary software. Logitech’s G-Hub, Corsair’s iCUE, and Razer’s Synapse are examples of such proprietary software.
Each of these software differs in terms of their user-friendliness as well as what you can do with them. Among the many things that software allows you to do include:
- Keeping firmware up to date
- Programing and assigning macro keys
- Creating, sharing, and downloading game profiles
- Configuring RGB lighting and synchronizing it across all devices
- Backing up game profiles in the cloud for easy access from anywhere
The video below shows some of the things you can customize in a Logitech keyboard using Logitech G Hub.
Note that software from one brand is not usually compatible with devices from another brand. You should avoid buying generic gaming keyboards as they lack the supporting software and you’ll be stuck with the original factory settings.
When it comes to accessories, some mechanical gaming keyboards manufacturers include a keycap remover, O-rings, spare keycaps and a carry-case.
Usually, the keycaps are for navigational and W, A, S, D keys and will have a different color and feel. If yours doesn’t come with any keyboard accessories, you can buy them separately online.
Finally, you should consider the price of the keyboard. Gaming Keyboards with lots of extra features will generally cost more than those without. Depending on your budget, you can decide which features are a must-have and those you can do without.
Generally, low-end gaming keyboards from reputable brands will cost between $50 and $100 while high-end keyboards will cost between $100 and $250. The overall price, depends on the brand, build quality, warranty, features, etc.
Some of the most popular gaming keyboard brands include:
- Anne Pro 2
- Ducky one
Conclusion- What To Look For In A Gaming Keyboard
The features listed in this article are all the different things to look for when buying a gaming keyboard. By paying attention to each factor, you’ll be able to make the right decision and choose a gaming keyboard that meets your needs best.
While you can do without most of the extra features, it is important to pay attention to how a gaming keyboard performs and feels, especially if you are buying one for competitive gaming.
Also ensure that the shape, size, and color of your keyboard fit the environment you plan to use it in. Otherwise, it may look out of place with all the extra bells and whistles.