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Get the right Keyboard for the job!

Keyboard and Mouse are the main input devices for any PC. In fact, you can control your entire PC with your Keyboard alone. A Keyboard uses buttons, or keys, for inputting data, similar to an old typewriter. Most use mechanical levers or electronic switches. Mechanical Keyboards are especially popular within the Gaming community and offer a great typing experience. As with almost everything related to modern Computer Systems, there are many nuances to consider when shopping for a Keyboard.

Mechanical switches in Gaming Keyboards

Mechanical Gaming Keyboards are immensely popular among Gamers. They typically offer an ergonomic design, are very durable, and have a high build quality. They are also very responsive and you get a tactile feedback. When you press a key on a mechanical Keyboard you are pressing an actual physical switch. Every time a switch is pressed down, the Keyboard sends a signal to the PC. Unlike when pressing a key on a rubber dome switch Keyboard, you actually feel a mechanical resistance.

There are three properties use to categorise Mechanical switches for Keyboards:
  • Pretravel Distance
  • Actuation Force Feeling
  • Sound
The Pretravel Distance is the distance the key has to be pressed down in order to actuate the switch. Actuation Force Feeling is the resistance you feel as you press down the Key. And the Sound is, well, the Sound the switch makes when pressed down. Most Gamers will be looking at switches with a short Pretravel Distance and a low Actuation Force Feeling.

But which is the best switch for me? This question really can’t be answered by anyone other than yourself. The three main manufacturers of mechanical switches are Cherry, Gateron and Kailh. Each uses a different scaling system for their line-ups. And the only way to find the 'right' switch for you is to 'try them all'. However, for most Gamers a Keyboard with Cherry MX RED switches should be a good choice to start with.

Wireless keyboard or USB keyboard

After deciding which type of switches you want, you should then think about whether you want a cable or wireless Keyboard. Of course Keyboards need to be connected to your PC but this can be done either by a cable connection or wirelessly. Both have advantages. A cable connection using an USB port (or older PS/2 ports) is considered to have a more stable connection but a cable is limited by its length.

Wireless Keyboards use either radio frequencies or Bluetooth to connect to your PC. They are much more mobile, you can for example use them from your couch to control your media PC in the living room. On the downside they use batteries which require charging. Also, at times the wireless connection can be interrupted. Even though this is minor inconvenience, lasting just a few split micro-seconds, it still is worth noting. A Bluetooth Keyboard usually requires no USB dongle.

Other terms associated with Keyboards include: 'Key Rollover' and 'Macro Keys'. Key Rollover refers to the number of switches that can be pressed simultaneously and still register. For instance, a 5-Key-Rollover means you can press down five keys at once and they are all recognised. N-Key-Rollover allows every switch to be pressed and registered in one go.

Macro Keys are special Keys that can be programmed. While it is possible to programme any key via software, Macro Keys usually allow more functionality and make it easier access to pre-programmed commands. The software can also be used to control any RGB elements on your Keyboard, if applicable. Some manufacturers include software that can be used to program and synchronise Keyboards with other peripherals like Mice and Headphones.