Is it worth getting a gaming keyboard or should you just use a normal keyboard for gaming?
This is a question that troubles most gamers who are thinking of getting a new keyboard or upgrading their current one.
The intent behind this question is usually to find out whether a gaming keyboard is necessary and if it really makes a difference in gaming performance.
In order to answer this question and decide which one you should get, you need to understand the difference between gaming keyboards and normal keyboards.
Difference Between Gaming Keyboards And Normal Keyboards
Gaming keyboards are built with gamers in mind and come with extra features such as, RGB backlights, media controls, and programmable keys, that are rare in normal keyboards. In addition, they often have mechanical switches that are more durable and responsive than membrane switches.
Let’s dig a little deeper into their differences and how they can benefit you as a gamer.
1. Gaming Keyboards Often Use Mechanical Switches
Most gaming keyboards use mechanical switches instead of membrane switches that are common in regular keyboards. Generally, mechanical keyboards are preferred by most gamers because they offer better performance for both gaming and typing than membrane keyboards.
This doesn’t mean that a mechanical keyboard will automatically make you a better gamer. However, there are a few benefits that make mechanical keyboards better for gaming.
The following are the advantages of using mechanical keyboards for gaming over membrane keyboards in detail:
(a) Fast Response Time
Mechanical keyboards have a slightly lower input lag/latency of roughly 15-25 milliseconds, compared to that of membrane keyboards that averages 30 milliseconds.
While the difference is only a few milliseconds, having a faster response time means you can react quicker than your opponent when gaming. This can make a significant difference especially in competitive esports gaming
(b) N-key Rollover
N-Key Rollover (NKRO), refers to the ability to press any number of keys simultaneously and have them all registered accurately and in the correct order. NKRO is possible with mechanical keyboards because each keypress is scanned independently irrespective of how many other keys are held or pressed down.
Most membrane keyboards are only able to offer a maximum of around 6 Key rollover. 6 KRO means the keyboard can handle a maximum of 6 simultaneous keypresses. You don’t need N-key rollover when performing tasks such as typing since you’ll mostly be pressing one key after another.
But for gaming, NKRO is helpful because, depending on the game, you may need to press and release certain keys simultaneously while holding down others. For instance, when performing boss attacks or combos in fast-paced action games.
(c) Consistency Of Keypresses
With mechanical keyboards, you can expect to get instant feedback without having to bottom out (pressing the key all the way down). This enables you to build up your muscle memory since you can accurately predict when a keystroke has been registered.
The same can not be said about membrane keyboards, they tend to have variable actuation force which makes it difficult to predict how far you need to press down a key before it registers.
Due to the many individual components that make up mechanical keyboards, they generally tend to be more robust and heavier than membrane keyboards. This means they don’t easily slide around even when you get a little aggressive when gaming.
(e) Modularity And Versatility
Most mechanical gaming keyboards are modular in nature. This means you can easily swap the existing type of mechanical switches with a different type that suits your needs without having to replace the entire keyboard. You don’t get this kind of flexibility with membrane keyboards.
The actuation force, travel distance, feedback (linear, tactile, or clicky), and the sound produced by each mechanical switch type differs.
Modularity also allows you to pop off the keycaps using a keycap remover and clean out breadcrumbs and gunk that may have collected in between the keys. Damaged switches can also be replaced without the need for soldering.
If you are not sure what type of mechanical switches to go with, you can get a switch tester to get a feel of how each switch feels before buying the actual keyboard. If you like a particular switch but find it too loud, you can buy o-rings that fit under each key to dampen the noise.
Cherry MX switches are the most popular mechanical switches, others include Logitech Romer-G Switches, Roccat Titan Switches, Kailh, and Razer Switches.
Gaming includes repetitive, and sometimes forceful pressing, of certain keys. A good example of keys that suffer a lot of punishment when playing games are the W, A, S, and D keys which often used to move game characters around.
It is therefore important for the switching mechanism to be durable. Most gaming keyboards use Cherry MX switches that have a lifespan of up to 100 million. It’s hard to get the same lifespan from membrane keyboards.
2. Programmable Keys (Macros)
Another difference between gaming and non-gaming keyboards is that most gaming keyboards have extra programmable keys. Programmable keys, also known as macro keys, allow you to assign a complex command sequence to a single key.
They are especially helpful when playing MMORPG and MOBA games that have lots of skills and abilities such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and DOTA 2.
In such games, you can use programmable keys to set up your own key bindings to perform certain actions in a specific order. This eliminates the need to remember in-game hot-keys or press keys repetitively.
Macros also allow you to set up multiple profiles for different games. This means the keys can be customized to perform different actions depending on the game.
Outside gaming, programmable keys can be used to save time and increase productivity in everyday activities such as copying and pasting, launching programs, and opening and closing windows.
3. Keyboard Backlighting
Another cool feature that gaming keyboards have that’s rare in normal keyboards is backlit keys. Backlights can be single-colored or multi-colored (also known as RGB backlights).
Besides giving keyboards a look that appeals to gamers, backlights allow you to game in all sorts of lighting conditions. Some gamers love to play in low-lit environments because they find the experience more immersive. This is especially true when playing games in the action or horror genre.
With RGB backlights, you can assign different colors to specific keys which makes it easy to place your fingers on the right keys without having to shift your eyes from the screen.
Some manufacturers such as Logitech, Corsair, and Razer also allow you to synchronize the RGB lighting on your keyboard with that of other peripherals, such as gaming mice, from their brand. This allows you to maintain a specific color theme with your PC build and peripherals.
While regular keyboards generally come in a few select colors, usually black and white. Gaming keyboards are available in a wide array of colors, some even have detailed patterns and flashy LED light on their panels.
The shape of normal keyboards is also often kept clean and simple. On the other hand, gaming keyboards come in a variety of shapes, from simple and clean to “space age” designs. It’s also not unusual to see futuristic fonts on the keycaps of gaming keyboards.
5. Proprietary Software
High-end gaming keyboards often come with their own proprietary software that allows you to optimize and customize your keyboard. Logitech G Hub, Razer Synapse, HyperX NGenuity, and Corsair iCUE are a few examples.
The software automatically detects peripherals from the manufacturer and keeps firmware up to date. It also allows you to save multiple character profiles within a game and switch between each of them with the press of a button.
Key binding, assigning macros, and creating color animations and breaks are all done through the software. Other things the software allows you to do include:
- Downloading profiles from popular streamers or fellow players
- Sharing your gamer profiles
- Storing your custom settings in the cloud for easy access from anywhere
- Synchronizing RGB lighting for your keyboard, mouse, speakers, headset, etc.
6. Comfort And Functionality
Gaming keyboards sometimes come with paddings or detachable wrist rests that offer support to your wrists. This improves the keyboard’s ergonomics and comfort, thus allowing gamers to use the computer longer without exhaustion and wrist strain.
Compared to standard keyboards, the keys in gaming keys are well-spaced which not only makes it easier to type but also harder to accidentally press the wrong keys. Other convenience features include dedicated media control buttons, rubberized keys, headphone and microphone jacks, and extra USB ports.
To many, the difference between a gaming keyboard and normal keyboard doesn’t seem that significant. However, a gaming keyboard does offer you more customization options as well as extra features that can give you a slight advantage over your competitor.
Even though a gaming keyboard is designed with gamers in mind, it can be used for regular activities such as everyday typing and work activities.
Compared to normal keyboards gaming keyboards aren’t cheap. But If you are a competitive gamer, it’s definitely worth buying one. It’s not mandatory for gaming but, it can mean the difference between success and failure in the PC gaming world.