Gaming Keyboard Buyer’s Guide
Most gaming keyboards worth their weight in gold use mechanical switches. A mechanical switch is simply one where each key is matched up to its own spring loaded switch. These switches are preferred for their great tactile and audio feedback. Now, when it comes to switches, the leading company is Cherry, which makes the MX line of switches. These switches are identified by their color and include the MX Black, MX Brown, MX Blue, and MX Red switches, among others. Each switch is designed slightly differently to give a different sound and feel when typing or gaming
Now, the kind of switch you might want depends on what you use your keyboard for (primarily gaming or gaming and typing as well?), or, if you only use it for gaming, what kind of games you play. Take the Cherry MX Black switches, for example. They need the highest amount of force for activation. This makes them a great a great choice for when you’re playing a game where you don’t want to accidentally press a key. For that reason, they can feel quite stiff, which would make them unideal for games that need you to act fast.
For hair trigger responses, you are better off going for the Cherry MX Red switches. If you feel that the MX Black and Red are both a little too much, you can find some middle ground in the MX Brown switches. These have the same activation force as the MX Red but also include a tactile bump that makes them more comfortable for typing. This makes MX Brown great for switching back and forth between typing for work and gaming.
While Cherry is the most popular company in the space, it isn’t the only one. There are others, like Kaihua, which make decent imitations of Cherry MX switches. You will often find these on budget mechanical keyboards. Mass manufacturers of mechanical keyboards also make their own proprietary switches in a bid to find the sweet spots not covered by the Cherry MX line of switches.
Logitech has the Romer-G switch, which it has now adopted for a majority of its keyboards. According to Logitech, these switches will last up to 70 million keystrokes, which is longer than what you would expect from a Cherry MX switch. They also boast shorter travel distances than Cherry.
Razer has their own proprietary switches as well. There is the Green switch, which is clicky and tactile, the Orange, which is silent and tactile, and the Yellow, which is silent and linear. But Razer’s greatest innovation yet is their opto-mechanical switch, which uses lasers instead of gold contact points to detect a keypress.
Rubber Dome Switches
These are bottom tier switches, which you will find only among the cheapest gaming keyboards, or among keyboards that weren’t built for gaming in the first place. Rubber dome switches use silicone membranes with little bubbles in them. It is these membranes that act as the springs behind the switches. The end result is a mushy feel when pressing the keys, as well as the requirement of a full keystroke in order to properly register the key. This slows down keystroke speed and gaming performance overall.
Sometimes a variation is employed called a scissor switch. In a scissor switch, the silicone still plays the role of the spring but it is typically slimmer in profile. Moreover, there is an “X” mechanism added to stabilize the whole thing. Scissor switches are pretty common in laptops, but they are sometimes used on budget gaming keyboards as well.
Customization and Backlighting
Things get interesting here because keyboard backlighting and customization would be irrelevant features on a regular keyboard. However, on a gaming keyboard, they bear a lot of meaning. Backlighting is pretty important when you’re in a dark room and you need to see the keys you’re pressing. Features that add a twist to backlighting include separate lighting zones, adjustable colors, and the highlighting of the most used keys. Some keyboards will even allow you to customize the lighting behind each individual key instead of entire zones.
Another feature keyboards allow you to customize is the keycap. Sometimes these are swappable. Mechanical switches have the advantage that they don’t have to be permanently attached to the keycaps, which lets you swap out keycaps for those that have preferable texturing, sculpting, and colors according to your preference. Some keyboards will only let you swap out the keycaps on the WASD keys while others will let you do the same for number and arrow keys.
There are even more features that a gaming keyboard may let you customize. Two of the most popular of these are macro-commands, also known as macros, and dedicated shortcut keys. Others will go the extra mile and introduce in-game statistics, text communication, and touchscreen displays built right into the keyboard. Others include dedicated profile keys for toggling specific sets of keyboard functions for particular games as well as dedicated media keys. Some of them also have USB passthroughs which allow you to connect other USB peripherals to the keyboard rather than the PC.
Wired and Wireless Keyboards
You may want to pick between a wired and wireless keyboard. Most of the gaming keyboards on the market are wired. Wired keyboards are faster overall, with much lower input latency than wireless keyboards. If you use a regular wireless keyboard, then you can expect there to be a delay between when you press a key and when the computer registers it.
This can be a huge problem when you’re playing competitive games, since you want to keep the lag to a minimum in such situations. Competitive gamers therefore prefer wired keyboards. There are, of course, lots of wireless keyboards on the market that have very low latency and provide snappy responses, but these are the exception, rather than the norm.
This is another area you might want to consider when picking the right gaming keyboard for you. Almost every premium gaming keyboard on the market today has some kind of software that enables you to create profiles for your game, customize lighting setups, and assign functions to keys.
Corsair has the Corsair Utility Engine, or iCUE (formerly CUE). This is one of the most comprehensive such softwares on the market, though it may require more than a bit of technical expertise to unleash its full potential. With the iCUE software, you can record custom macros and stack different effects for the lighting.
Logitech also has its own software, which are the G Hub and the Logitech Gaming Software (LGS). LGS is the more established one while G Hub is relatively new. G Hub is expected to slowly replace LGS for keyboards made in 2019 and beyond as it has a better interface and customization features.
Razer too has its own software: the Synapse. Synapse was one of the best interfaces on the market for the longest time, and has only recently begun to face competition from G Hub. It’s very easy to learn and allows you to create profiles, modify lighting setups, assign and record macros, and integrate your own hardware.
There are other software on the market as well, such as Engine by SteelSeries and Swarm by Roccat. They look different but the functionality is the same for the most part. These days, software is one of the main selling points for most keyboards since it allows you to tweak the performance of your keyboard to make it truly your own. The best software on the market will allow you to get the most out of your keyboard, which is why gaming keyboard makers are investing so much in them.
And with that we come to the end of our gaming keyboard review. The keyboards on this list are bound to give you performance like no other, no matter what your budget is. However, if you want to have even more information so you can pick your own keyboard from the market, then we hope our comprehensive buyer’s guide will help you get there. Until next time, happy gaming!