Gaming keyboard: Finding the right key
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Gaming keyboard: Finding the right key

Your guide to buying a gaming keyboard in 2020.

To qualify yourself as a legit gamer (read: keyboard warrior), you’ll need a good keyboard to go along with your  hard earned gaming stations . Akin to a beautiful katana remaining sheathed in a rusty scabbard, it would be a shame if your true performance was  hindered by a lacklustre keyboard.

If you’re serious about gaming, getting a decent keyboard is necessary. While many brands do offer a truckload of features, namely mechanical switches, anti-ghosting, metal chassis, illumination etc., your purchase decision should be based on how useful these features are to you. Additionally, gaming keyboards aren’t cheap. So if you’re looking to spend your hard earned moolah, it would be best to consider your feature preferences prior to pulling the trigger.

The essentials

How much are you willing to spend?

There is no metric for the best budget allocation for a gaming keyboard. Normally, entry-level keyboards are below RM 200, followed by mid-tier substitutes that come in at around RM300 while the premium keyboard will cost you at least RM400.

The entry-level keyboards usually have an inferior design, posessingswitches that mimic the true mechanical/optical mechanical experience that is generally found in mid-grade and high-end range of products. Most intermediary keyboards come equipped with genuine mechanical/optical switches that are well-received for their durability and great typing experience.

Premium keyboards tend to not only possess all the aforementioned perks, but also throws in a variety of bells and whistles such as macros customisation, metal chassis, illumination, anti-ghosting, PBT keycaps and more into one package. It goes without saying that it should be a joy to type on this specific range of keyboards no matter what activities you’re doing on the PC.

Major considerations when purchasing a gaming keyboard

To go full-size or go TKL?

1. Size does matter

Although full-size keyboards remain dominant for most gamers, TKL (tenkeyless) iterations are gaining more traction nowadays. As the name suggests, a TKL keyboard doesn’t come with a dedicated numeric pad, making it more compact as a result. The extra space will provide more freedom for your hand to manoeuvre the mouse, especially when you’re a low DPI gamer.

Not only that, the compact nature makes it a great choice if mobility is one of your priorities. A typical TKL only measures around 38cm (L) x 13.5cm (W) x 2.5cm (H), so it will fit in most backpacks. In addition, the price of TKL keyboards (or other smaller alternatives in general) is relatively more affordable than its full-size counterparts.

However, if you need a numeric pad to be more efficient and crunch numbers, by all means, go for it. Just make sure you don’t overspend.

2. Find your preferred switches

There are three types of mainstream gaming keyboards: membrane, mechanical and optical. The membrane keyboard is the most common and economical type that can be found on the market. However, it doesn’t share as long a life-span as mechanical or optical switch keyboards.

Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, should be a familiar term for most gamers (except console and mobile peasants). They are widely recognised as one of the finest keyboards for casual and competitive gaming mainly due to its superior gaming performance.

Aside from evoking an admirable typing experience, there is a wide variation of mechanical switches that make up a mechanical or optical keyboard. This is where these kinds of keyboards stand out; where membrane keyboards tend to have all keys somewhat “lumped” together in the manufacturing process, mechanical and optical keyboards have individual switches dedicated to each character key.. Although brands will name these switch mechanisms differently, they are fundamentally categorised into three breeds- linear, tactile and clicky (we are aware that there are other enthusiast level switches out there, but this should serve as a good starting point for all your gaming keyboard needs).

Linear switches have the simplest movement as they move straight up and down without any tactile feedback or clicking noise, which many gamers appreciate. But its linear operation also increases the chance of misclicks since it only requires somewhat minimal force to register a keystroke.

Tactile switches have often been considered the all-rounder switch of choice for gamers and professionals alike. It’s as responsive as linear switches but provides a satisfying tactile feedback at the same time. When typing on it, you can feel a noticeable bump in the middle of the key travel to know when a keystroke has been registered.

Clicky switches are the complete opposite of linear switches. Just like the tactile ones, the “bump” is more distinct on the type of switch. They are ideal for typing (but not gaming IMO) because you can feel a noticeable indication of the keypress. The biggest downside of the clicky switch is the loud sound (many entry-level keyboards tend to mimic the clicky mechanism).

3. Software

Once you figure out your preferred size and switches, you’ll need to look into the keyboard software. It can make or break the overall user experience in a palpable way. If you plan to customise a set of particular tasks on a specific key (known as a macro), it’s best to get a keyboard with excellent software especially if it involves executing a series of complicated commands.

Keyboards that possess on-board software may sound great, but the lack of a visible and straightforward program to work with can be frustrating. In this case, installing software purely for your gaming keyboard is a necessary evil.

4. Build quality

While a metal chassis feels more premium to the touch, brands do occasionally end up charging users an arm and a leg for it.. If you can afford one, go-ahead but if the budget is tight, please save up for a set of PBT keycaps instead. The keycaps are a more worthwhile investment in our books.

That being said, as long as the frame is rigid, the keyboard should last you a good three to five years of extensive use (and abuse). Some mid-tier keyboards and most premium boards have aluminum chassis. Unfortunately, metal frames are a rare feature on entry-level keyboards.

What’s that?

1. N-key rollover

It’s a feature that registers all keystrokes no matter how many are pressed simultaneously. Imagine yourself spamming random keys on your gaming keyboard, with every key press being fully registered. It can be useful if you can type/perform extremely fast on your keyboard through “anti-ghosting”.

2. Ghosting

A term where keystrokes are “unregistered” due to the inability of a keyboard to process simultaneous signals.

3. PBT keycaps

PBT is the short for polybutylene terephthalate. PBT keycaps are a type of high-class keycap that is more durable than the ordinary ABS keycaps. It’s more sweat-resistant (in theory, the printed character/font on the PBT keycaps are impossible to fade, due to the nature of a second layer of plastic used to form and shape the keyboard characters themselves), making it a top choice for many keyboard enthusiasts.

In a nutshell

There is too much marketing and advertising for gaming keyboards, making it tricky to find the right keyboard. Dare I say, most brands are overcharging all sorts of “gaming-related” products. If you’re patient enough, there are tons of great deals during the sale period. And when that time comes my friend, it’s your best shot to grab a brand new gaming keyboard.

About Dexter "the Heartbreaker"

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