LED backlighting, purpose-built switches and ultra-sensitive controls are just a few of the ways gaming keyboards are making their cutting-edge mark.
Today’s keyboards are modern marvels of science compared to the crusty old PS/2 monstrosities of yesteryear. A few purists may argue that current keyboards never managed to better the feel of the clacking beige bricks from the 90s, but they're wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
Still, it’s hard to ignore that mechanical keyboards are making a comeback, with most using Cherry MX switches that have been purpose-built for gaming. These come in a range of flavours that give different sensitivity and feel that ranges from extra tactile to super-firm for aggressive gamers. But while mechanical keys can offer excellent feel and responsiveness, they are louder, taller and for some just too old-school.
Switches are not the keyboard hardware getting a makeover, however; many new releases also include funky LED backlighting for ease of use in dark rooms, media controls and little extras such as USB hubs. Extra hardware such as USB sound cards, LCDs and even fans are sneaking their way in, but really all the gadgets in the world can’t substitute for a solid comfortable feel.
As with mice, you'll struggle to find many wireless gaming keyboards due to lag issues -- both real and unjustly perceived. In our testing we haven’t had any issues with wireless tech, but gamers who demand the most responsive gameplay shy away from potential slowdowns. If wireless is more your style, then you’ll find that many manufacturers offer a wireless version of existing keyboards.
Shopping for a new keyboard can seem deceptively simple, but it’s worth locking down a few basics before you go draining the bank account. Mechanical keyboards might be all the rage, but it’s worth finding a shop where you can play with one in person.
All current gaming keyboards have at least five programmable gaming keys, but more isn’t always better. Sure, they’re potentially handy, but in most games you actually only use a small selection of keys. Decent control software lets you bind unused normal keys to new functions and macros and set profiles for specific games. If you play a lot of RTS or MMOs then going all out on a keyboard packed with gaming keys can be worthwhile. Don’t discount last year’s models either, as they often have almost all the features of newer versions at a fraction of the cost.
It can be tempting to fall for the first super-cheap but pretty no-name keyboard you spot at your local computer store, but it really is worth going for a known brand. Generic keyboards often don’t have features that are taken for granted on better models, such as being able to press a bunch of keys at once without signals getting lost.
Consider your primary purpose before buying a keyboard, as they’re often targeted towards certain games. If you also do a lot of typing, a more general-purpose keyboard might be in order.