Why even bother picking a gaming keyboard today? You could just make do with a $20 office keyboard and still have the same amount of fun, right? Unfortunately not – using a cheap keyboard for gaming is like listening to Beethoven on smartphone speakers instead of live at an orchestra hall. For avid gamers, casual gamers and the professional gamers, nothing comes close to your selected set of hardware and accessories. To get that millisecond of advantage over your nemesis, what would you not give? Most gamers instantly gravitate towards a high end gaming mouse and maybe that’s why there are so many options and variations in the mouse department.
Granted, the choices in gaming keyboards from a functional or design aspect are quite limited but there are plenty of things that can help you be the gamer you always dreamt of being or rob you your one chance at virtual glory. It really does not matter if you are into MMO, FPS or any of the other acronyms. Until you have experienced a true gaming keyboard you have not gamed at all. Speaking of genres of gaming, did you know specific keyboards were designed for specific genres too? Of course there are those generic gaming keyboards that will satisfy the most ardent of gamers but for folks solely into MMO and the sorts, there are those that have macro settings – keys that can record multiple keystrokes and sequences for that minutest of advantage on the electronic battlefield.
There are audiophiles who believe nothing but the best headphones, the best music players and speakers will do. And then there are gamers who also believe that the best will do but many cringe at spending those big bucks when it comes to accessories like keyboards, mouse and the likes. Well that’s why we rounded up some of the hottest and most talked about gaming keyboards in the market just so we could provide you with all the nerdy knowledge needed to get one of these glowing beasts. Remember, as long as you don’t think of them as glorified overpriced digital typewriters, you might just actually start enjoying them. We sure loved our test lot of keyboards and trust us – they all felt different.
Top 5 Gaming Keyboards of 2017
If you’re looking for our top 5 keyboard picks of 2017, here you go! We know you might not have the time to read through our extensive buying guide – you can’t go wrong with one of these 5 amazing gaming keyboards:
Gaming Keyboard Buying Guide
If you are convinced that you need a brand new keyboard, then it is time to get started selecting one. That’s why we have spent weeks preparing this exhaustive guide on anything to do with gaming keyboards. Right, off you go now…
Higher Polling Rates & Anti-Ghosting
Ever typed so fast only to realize a few letters were missing but you swear you typed everything correctly? What’s happening? Let us tell you, the fault is not yours but with your keyboard. Typical keyboards are not designed to handle anything above three keystrokes pressed all at once. When you type or press keys rapidly, at times this results in more than three keystrokes at the same time – this is especially true for those who type rather rapidly and for games where the quicker you press your keys the better your chances of surviving against another human!
The only problem with gamers is that a few missed keystrokes does not result in a poorly spelt sentence but rather a zing than a zag. Imagine a move required a delicate sequence of keystrokes and the quicker this sequence is reached the quicker an action happens in the game. What happens when one keystroke is missed? The sequence changes and that can result in no action at all, if you are lucky. More often than not, this results in an entirely different action and you are caught off guard, bewildered as your character suddenly starts getting pounded from all sides because your keyboard just let all your defensive spells disappear in a matter of a millisecond. Okay, maybe that happened with me once but it could happen to you too and that’s why anti-ghosting is so necessary.
A gaming keyboard can handle more than 5 simultaneous keystrokes without ever losing or dropping one. This anti-ghosting phenomenon is probably what distinguishes gaming keyboards from general keyboards. By the way there are few gaming keyboards that can register a whopping 14 keys at the same time! I lost count of how many fingers I have trying to digest this information.
Alright, enough of Anti-ghosting because that alone is nothing. Next up is the Polling Rate. This is basically the speed at which the keyboard can transmit information to the computer. Most cheap standard keyboards maintain a polling rate of 125Hz. Not bad but for gamers already aware of high end mouse with high DPIs, greater the numbers better the gaming experience. Basically, look for anything more than 125Hz polling rate. Gaming keyboards can offer anywhere from 400Hz to 1000Hz!
In short, anti-ghosting and superior polling rates equals a zing and never a mistaken zap move.
Macros And Programmable Keys
Speaking of multiple keystrokes, would it not be nice if you could record your keystrokes, the most commonly used sequences and distil it down to a single key? I mean imagine the time you would save and not to mention the wicked moves you could pull off. Most gaming keyboards actually come with the ability to record macros. A macro is basically a long sequence of key strokes triggered by a single user programmed key. Usually, there are anywhere from 5 to 15 macro keys per gaming keyboard but it could be more. Then there are keyboards where the entire keyboard can be remapped and any key can become a macro.
Personally speaking, I prefer having no more than 5 macro keys but that is because I am not that huge into games that depend on a lot of keystrokes. However, with macros there are a lot of other things you could program. You can for instance, program voice commands or emotes. Or maybe even quicken up timed events and build up queues for RTS games. Likewise, with MMO games you can pack in a rude combination into a single button with timed delays to allow for ability cooldowns. Basically, with much practice Macros can turn you from an enthusiastic gamer to a professional gamer who is respected and hated at the virtual playground. Don’t forget to string together some obnoxious taunts or a victory dance to a macro or two!
With programmable keys another important consideration is the placement of these macro keys. The best location is either to the left of the W-A-S-D keys or beneath the Spacebar. This allows for quick access and it is easier if you are left handed with the keyboard. For those right handed prefer the exact same placement but towards the number pad. Some keyboards allow number pad keys to act as macros too. Remember that the macros should not require your hand coming off the mouse at any time.
Player Profiles For Settings and Macros
Profiles let you manage a set of macros together. In one profile you can store macros for a particular game and in another profile you can store macros for another application or game. This is quite similar to how gaming mice work. With multiple profiles, each having a set of gaming macros or frequently used keys, you need not reprogram macros keys every now and then. Typically, gaming keyboards allow 3 to 5 profiles but some may even have over 10 profiles or unlimited even.
Mechanical Action Vs Membrane
Almost always, the cheapest gaming keyboards are membrane models where as expensive units operate using mechanical action. What are the two broad categories of keyboards and how do they influence your gameplay?
Basically, a membrane keyboard has no moving components and rather depends on electrical current between two mushy plastic membranes to register a keystroke. Mechanical on the other hand refers to the way typewriters of the past functioned, using a switch beneath every keycap. Obviously the latter option is more reliable and works better but it is also expensive to build and operate.
Unless price is a major bottleneck, you should always consider purchasing a mechanical keyboard over a membrane type. Thing is, a membrane keyboard is your average office keyboard with only a few bells and whistles but it won’t do anything for your gaming experience.
Basically, mechanical is what you should get in gaming keyboards but then there are several variations available in mechanical type keyboards such as manufacturers, switch types and the sort. A popular choice of key switches used by majority of keyboard makers is the Cherry switches (A German company’s product).
Considered the industry standard, Cherry MX keys are what you should aim for. However, if a company does not use Cherry keys then it will use an alternative that operates similar to them. Speaking of Cherry MX keys, they come in several versions and are named after colors. Cherry MX Red keys are the quietest of the lot and will respond to the softest of touches. Brown keys are the most resistant of the lot but don’t make a huge ruckus. Blue keys are resistant and noisy. Some keyboard makers will advertise that they carry Red, Brown or Blue keys even if they aren’t authentic Cherry MX keys. This is basically to tell you the kind of feel and noise levels to anticipate from their keyboards. There are other switches too from Cherry such as the Greens that are way more resistant than the Blues and even louder plus the Black that are stiff and shallow. Another switch type is the Topre switch that is common throughout Japan but not yet popular in the West. They have a rubbery feel and are quieter with a complete mechanical system.
For an avid gamer, mechanical keyboards regardless of the type of keys is a must have. They have a tactile response, superior feel and are great for gaming with the correct polling rate and anti-ghosting feature. After a while, you will develop a liking for a specific kind of key switch but until you do, just prefer any mechanical keyboard and get used to the click and clank of the keyboards.
Another point to keep in mind with mechanical keyboards is the subtle variations that keyboard manufacturers have begun introducing to differentiate their ware from the rest of the competition. They call these keyboards game optimized and while they use Cherry MX switches, these switches are slightly modified to reduce travel or ensure better triggering. Not that there is much difference between the traditional Cherry MX keys and these modified gaming keyboards, but try them before choosing.
Backlight and Illumination
An absolute must have, any keyboard you plan on getting should have illumination. The type of illumination can vary. You will find keyboards that have the full color gamut with separate sections across the keyboard that can light up in a different color. You will also find a single tone backlighting that has only a few brightness levels. It typically depends on the cost of the keyboard. For those who type a lot, just having a backlight is a good idea. Remember that without light, gaming can be difficult especially since majority of games are best experienced in dim lighting. This can make keys hard to find especially with the number of key strokes necessary in certain games. One final consideration with illumination is to check for brightness levels. The least you can find is three levels including the off state but try and get something with at least six different levels of brightness.
Remember that the more illumination options your keyboard has, the more it will cost you. Mono-color keyboards are just as ergonomic and useful as full RGB keyboards but if you can spend that kind of money then why not!
Brand Specific Illumination Matching
Do you already have other accessories with backlighting from the same manufacturer? Brands like SteelSeries, Razer, Logitech and the sorts offer all kinds of gaming accessories that have lighting on them and if you get a keyboard to match the brand you use, you can even control the backlighting of all the accessories together rather than running multiple programs for each accessory.
Genre Specific Keyboards
Don’t take this as a serious consideration and spend few sleepless nights deciding whether you need a keyboard that is genre specific. Yes, there are keyboards that do well over a large section of game titles because they are built for hardcore gaming. However, there are still some keyboards that are specifically designed for a particular genre.
First you have the all-purpose keyboards, which is where 90% of all gaming keyboards make their stand. Mechanical models, backlighting and the other features all make an appearance in these keyboards. Some look gorgeous, others hideous but all are designed for the average gamer and professional gamer alike. They may or may not pack in additional set of macro buttons or extra rows of keys however these keyboards are just as good for MOBA, RTS, FPS and any sort of adventure action game. If you do not prefer playing with a controller, then these keyboards are a godsend.
For those who rely mostly on online cooperative games you may want to consider exclusive MMO keyboards. Such keyboards pack in a lot more macro keys, many more profiles and separate rows for these keys. The most conservative of MMO keyboards can have just six additional keys but the most flamboyant keyboard can end up packing 18 such extra keys. The more keys, the more expensive your MMO keyboard. In our experience ten or less is usually sufficient for even the most hardcore of gamers.
Then there is the minified gaming keyboard that gobbles up the entire numpad area. These devices are compact and easy to carry. They tend to cost less than their fuller sized counterparts. Some might come with detachable cables and a carrying case too. If you travel a lot and game on your laptop or space is difficult to manage at your home, these are good keyboards to have. Besides, those who travel regularly for tournaments tend to purchase tenkeyless keyboards, making up for the lost keys with a multiple buttoned gaming mouse.
Pass Through Connectors
A recently new feature seen on some high-end keyboards is the connection ports. Mostly USB in nature, these ports will accept different devices such as storage devices, USB gaming mice, headsets and the likes. You can even find some that offer audio-pass through connectors with dual connections for a microphone and a stereo headset.
While we don’t particularly recommend any pass-through connectors, having at least 1 is useful as it lets you charge your phone as you play or even connect a USB headset without having to stretch all the way to your gaming unit. However, because they are pass-through connections, in some models this can lead to poor quality of signal and interference.
The Accessories And Softer Stuffs
Probably the final consideration but some of the accessories you get with keyboards can make your gaming experience all the more better. Take for instance detachable wrist rests. Many gaming keyboards offer wrist rests but few offer detachable plastic wrist rests. They provide a smooth gradient to your wrist as they hang off the keyboard and thus reduce the stress felt on the wrists when typing or playing games. In our books, this is not a major consideration. Better option is to get a gel wrist rest, available separately and then pair it with your chosen keyboard.
Remember that almost all gaming keyboards and mice have their own software that you can use to customize, program and rebuild your device. Software from reputed brands are reliable and easy to operate. Some companies whose peripheral software is top notch include Roccat, Razer, Logitech, Mad Catz and SteelSeries. Not that the rest do not have a driver software with plenty of customizations, and besides customization may not be necessary depending on the kind of gamer you are. Some other noteworthy gaming brands include Raptor-Gaming, Corsair, Tt eSports, Perixx, CoolerMaster, and HyperX. Then there are the lower priced entrants such as Red Dragon, DragonWars and the sorts which depend on third party customization software rather than their own.
In our opinion, the software isn’t much of a bother unless you are into heavy duty macro key programming and need quick profile switching. Basically if you are into online MMO and online gaming then get a gaming keyboard from a brand with a reputable programming driver software. Otherwise a Red Dragon with third party software will do just as well.
Gaming Keyboard Wrapup
Unlike a gaming mouse where your options and choices are complicated, gaming keyboards are much simpler. There are only a few important points to keep in mind and once you have them sorted, finding a good gaming keyboard in your budget becomes easy. If you have the money, go mechanical and get the right number of keys depending on whether you travel a lot or game MMO style. As for lighting, as long as the keyboard has one color with multiple brightness levels, you should not change your choice.
By the way, a good mechanical gaming keyboard is not just an excellent gaming tool but it increases your productivity too. Those who design, code, type and write – a good mechanical keyboard reduces the effort necessary to type, increases speed and accuracy too.