Fast, responsive keys, with uniform pressure. Well-built yet compact. Durable connection cable. Easy to program keys. Comfortable wrist rest.
Keys may be too sensitive for accurate typing.
Simple to program keys. LED lights can be customized without needing to load drivers. Keys are easy to press and make the satisfying clicking sound of a mechanical keyboard.
No numeric keypad, which may affect some gaming. Shorter lifespan than other keyboards, with some failing after a few months of use.
Sturdy build and solid feel despite its plastic material. Keys are springy and instantly responsive. Backlighting is cool, and doesn’t affect vision when playing in dark rooms. Lighting colors can be customized. Keys are easy to program.
Wrist rest can fall off easily or slide around. Chroma colors don’t work unless driver software is installed and active. A few find the key clicking too loud.
Hefty build, a heavier keyboard than many are used to. Connects quickly without driver issues.
Key caps are too small, causing misses and slips. Action is stiff. Doesn’t remember lighting settings, requiring reprogramming on each use. Short lifespan, with keyboard often failing after a year or less.
While most people think of traditional consoles when they think of video games, millions of gamers from around the world play PC games from the comfort of their home computers. In fact, PC gaming is so popular, there’s an entire industry’s worth of peripherals (gaming mice, steering wheels, VR headsets) designed just to give gamers an extra edge. One of the most important weapons in the pro gamer’s arsenal is the gaming keyboard.
Gaming keyboards are just like standard QWERTY keyboards, but they include a host of features that can be customized both for aesthetics and performance. For example, some gamers like to use keyboard backlighting to illuminate the keys. Others set up custom keystrokes to make complicated gaming tasks (like a special combo move) easier.
Read our shopping guide for gaming keyboards to understand which features are essential and which you can live without. Then, review our recommended models.
What’s so special about gaming keyboards? Gaming keyboards are a lot like traditional keyboards, but they have a few key functionality improvements.
As you shop for a gaming keyboard, keep in mind the customizations that would be most helpful for the games you play.
Almost every gaming keyboard is backlit – the keys are lit up from behind by a light that can often be set to custom colors. Backlit keyboards are essential for playing in the dark: they make finding the perfect keystrokes much easier.
Customization is the most common reason gamers opt to buy a gaming keyboard. With a gaming keyboard, you can personalize things like the color of the LED backlighting or even the height of each key.
In PC gaming, response time is the name of the game. Therefore, it’s essential to use a keyboard that doesn’t introduce unnecessary lag. Most gaming keyboards offer key response times that are only a sliver faster than traditional keyboards … but that’s enough to gain a critical advantage.
Some newer gaming keyboards include a feature that’s likely a game-changer: a built-in LCD screen. These mini screens work with certain PC games to provide additional helpful information while you’re playing. For example, you may be able to put a map in the keyboard’s LCD screen that lets you to focus on monitor action while still seeing where you’re going on the keyboard.
If you’re not sure if a gaming keyboard with a built-in LCD screen is right for you, consider the advantages it could bring to your gaming. While you’re playing, your keyboard’s LCD screen could display the following features.
Additional Game-Relevant Details: Whether you’re viewing vital statistics about your character or key information about how your PC is performing, an LCD screen can act as your own personal in-game newsfeed.
Photos: Some gaming keyboard LCD screens can present mini-slideshows of your digital photos, so you can keep images of your friends and loved ones close while you play.
Apps: Many gaming keyboards with LCD screens can display information and video from apps like Twitter and YouTube. Whether you don’t want to miss a tweet or love to have your favorite music video on repeat while you play, an LCD screen has got you covered.
There are two main types of gaming keyboards: traditional and mechanical.
The types are very different from each other, so make sure you know which you’re getting before you buy.
Traditional keyboards have a thin layer between the keyboard keys and the hardware underneath that translates each stroke into a symbol. Normal keyboards are generally quiet, affordable, and durable enough to last several years.
Mechanical keyboards use switch systems for keystrokes, which in turn make the keys more sensitive and easier to use. Mechanical keyboards are popular with gamers who need precise, fine-tuned control or those who want to maximize their comfort during marathon gaming sessions.
As you shop for a gaming keyboard, keep these price ranges in mind.
In the $15 to $30 range, you’ll find options of questionable quality. Gaming keyboards in this price range have only the most basic features. For example, you may see keyboards with backlighting, but the colors can’t be changed. If you want to use a gaming keyboard for actual PC games, plan on spending more. If you’re a casual gamer, you don’t need to spend more than $30.
In the $31 to $50 range, expect to find the best gaming keyboard values. Keyboards in this range offer a high degree of customizability and are durable and dependable enough to be a solid asset for any PC game. If you need all of the latest and greatest features – built-in wrist rest, swappable keys, and a full spectrum of LED backlighting – expect to pay closer to $50.
In the $50 to $100 range, you’ll encounter mouse-and-keyboard bundles as well as a few select luxury gaming keyboards. Bundles are a great way to save money if you’re also in the market for a gaming mouse. Luxury gaming keyboards typically include a few unique high-end features. For example, some gaming keyboards will let you manually set the height of each key. Keyboards in this price range are perfect for hardcore gamers who are ready to move beyond the average gaming keyboard.
If you’re planning to buy a gaming mouse as well as a gaming keyboard, consider buying them as a bundle. Some of the best deals in gaming keyboards can be found as mouse-and-keyboard bundles. When you buy them together, you save money and get a matched set of input devices designed to work together.
If you’re switching to a mechanical keyboard and you’ve never used one before, try one out in person first. Mechanical keyboards are a bit of an acquired taste. Some aficionados love the precision they offer, but others find them too difficult to manipulate. Fortunately, most people who try a mechanical keyboard in person know right away whether they love it or hate it.
Research drivers before you buy. Some, but not all, gaming keyboards require additional software to unlock all of their functionality. As you peruse different gaming keyboards, find out which ones require you to install software. If you buy one that does, make sure ahead of time that your computer meets the software’s minimum technical requirements.
While some keyboards advertise USB 3.0 compatibility as a feature, a USB 2.0 gaming keyboard is still more than adequate for playing most PC games. While USB 3.0 can transfer more information at a time than USB 2.0, keyboard strokes don’t tax the USB 2.0 standard, so there is no benefit to using a USB 3.0 connection.
Many PC games are meant to be played with one hand on your mouse and one hand on the keyboard. Therefore, many of these games are compatible with one-handed gaming keyboards. A one-handed gaming keyboard is a small pad with a grouping of customizable keys.
If you plan to do a lot of online voice chat while you play, a mechanical keyboard may be too loud, and it might make it difficult for others to hear you. If being heard is a key part of your PC gaming, buy a non-mechanical gaming keyboard.
Q. Will a gaming keyboard work with my Mac?
A. The majority of gaming keyboards are universal, meaning they can plug in to any computer and you can start typing. So if you just need to type, any gaming keyboard would work fine on a Mac. However, some advanced features may not be “plug-and-play” on Macs. For instances where advanced functionality doesn’t work by default, you’ll need to manually define things like the function keys in a keyboard-mapping application.
Q. Why are there so few wireless gaming keyboards?
A. Gaming keyboards are designed for pro gamers, and pro gamers need the most responsive controls available. Gaming keyboards have a much lower lag time when it comes to the computer receiving each button press because they are hard-wired to the computer. In contrast, wireless connections, in addition to having a slightly longer lag time, can also get disrupted occasionally, which can be problematic during gameplay.
Q. Do I need to buy a wrist rest with my gaming keyboard?
A. A wrist rest is never a bad idea for any keyboard. It can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and reduce soreness after long gaming sessions. Some gaming keyboards come with built-in wrist rests, but it’s uncommon. While you can use a gaming keyboard without a wrist rest, if you expect to use it for an extended period of time, a wrist rest is a solid optional accessory.
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