Keyboards often take a back seat when choosing gaming peripherals. After all, headsets and mice have a drastic impact on your gaming prowess. Often times you can you find a gamer running with a $80 Razer mouse, $120 surround sound 5.1 noise cancelling headset, and an OEM HP keyboard. Many people don't know about, or see the value in a good keyboard. Unlike a mouse or headset where you can envision the upgrade and the benefits they bring, you need to experience a keyboard to know the difference. I die a little inside every time I go to work and I have to use an OEM lenovo keyboard. It is nothing like my mechanical keyboard at home. I would have never known this had I not tried one out.
Keyboard features can be broken down into category. The main categories are:
Membrane keyboards have a rubberized film beneath the keys molded in the shape of keys. When compressed, the rubberized membrane returns to its originally molded shape popping the key back up. Membrane keyboards can withstand spills better than they average mechanical keyboard. The membrane keeps much if not all liquid out of the circuits. The downside is that the response time and clicks per minute take a hit. Waiting for the membrane to retract from compression costs you precious time. In a game where milliseconds can be the difference between winning and losing, you want to be able to respond as fast as possible. Additionally, membrane keyboards can give you a 'false positive' when compressed. There is no indicator (other than the action happening on screen) that you actually compressed the key. I can remember plenty of times on my old Logitech G15 when I died and screamed "I PRESSED THE BUTTON!".
Mechanical keyboards are the new standard for gaming. Unlike membrane keyboards, mechanical keyboards use a spring in each key. Compression of a key gives a distinct 'tink' sounds letting you know that the key was indeed compressed. Additionally you can feel the key give way to the pressure of your fingers. So you have a distinct sound and feel to a key compression. Playing to two senses, this gives the gamer undeniable confirmation that you indeed did 'PRESS THE BUTTON'. Spring loaded keys also retract much faster (in millisecond standards) than membrane keyboards, allowing you to compress the key again in rapid succession.
Ghosting is when you compress so many keys at the same time that some of the pressed keys do not respond. The keys that did not respond are said to have 'ghosted'. Anti-ghosting keyboards are designed to handle a higher number of key compressions at the same time, and gaming keyboards often group many of the keys pressed while playing games into one group (such as A,S,D,F, E, Q, Space, 1,2,3,4) to prevent ghosting from happening.
Back Lit Keys:
Pretty simple. They keys light up, or they don't.
Many gaming keyboards will have additional keys that are meant to be mapped for macro use. If there is a normal combination you use when playing a game you can map it to one key and it will do it for you. Very useful in high click-per-minute games like MMO's, RTS's, and MOBA's.
Keyboards can come with a HUD display you can customize for your own use. MMO players might use it to view their stats, FPS players might use it to monitor their ammo. The choice is ultimately yours.
Like many mice these days, keyboards can swap between different profiles to make going in and out of different games much easier. Pressing one button remaps your keys from one game to the next.
There are other features to certain keyboards, but lets just stick to what we have so far. Let's take a look at a few keyboards of all different shapes, sizes, and prices.
Pros: Mechanical, but quiet. Six programmable macros on the left side with different profile settings. Duel backlit options allowing you to adjust ASDW to different brightness levels than the rest of the keys. Media control features at the top for movies and music. A switch that disables the Windows Key while in game to keep you from tabbing out.
Cons: There are complaints that the keys are 'taller' than the average mechanical keyboard creating more travel time during compression and the reducing your speed. The wrist rest is cheaply made and detaches very easily. Glossy finish makes dust and fingerprints on display.
Pros: Adjustable multicolor back light. LED HUD. Switchblade UI. Thin, light, and durable. Programmable macro keys.
Cons: Complaints about the Touchscreen UI being buggy. Sometimes preventing computers from booting when plugged in. Expensive.
Pros: 18 programmable macro keys. Adjustable back light. USB passthrough to support other devices. Media control keys.
Cons: Hybrid keyboard. Most of the keys are mechanical, but some of the lesser used keys are membrane. Initial macro software was buggy but seems to have been corrected since release. Palm rest is kind of cheap.
Pros: If you are looking at this article and thinking "MOAR CUSTOMIZATION!" than this is your keyboard. Detachable number pad? No problem. Detachable touch screen HUD? Check. Customizable wrist support? We've got you covered. Macro keys all over the place. Integrated Teamspeak HUD with visual identifier.
Cons: Not mechanical. For a keyboard that seems to have thought of everything, this is a glaring shortcoming. Expensive. This is the keyboard you get when you have extra cash to blow, not when you are looking for practicality.
Pros: Back lit. All keys are programmable including the 5 macro keys. 10 profiles for on the fly changing. USB through support for peripheral devices.
Cons: No adjustment for back light. Gloss finish shows dust and finger prints.
There are loads more keyboards to choose from. These 5 have all made a name for themselves in the their own way. As a proud owner of a Razer Black Widow Ultimate, I can confidently say I appreciate the performance difference from my Logitech G15. So, with that I hope I was able to shed a little light on the importance of a high performance keyboard. Ultimately you will decide what is of value. You can play the waiting game and watch for sales on all of these keyboards to make the offer even more enticing. My Black Widow Ultimate was $99 when I picked it up.