What was once considered to be a niche hobby, gaming has become a global phenomenon. And while console gaming – Xbox and PlayStation are the more well-known names – have become more popular than ever, a “true” gamer is considered to have a computer setup.
When it comes to gaming there are some questions as to whether or not investing in a gaming keyboard is worth it.
Gaming keyboards are generally more worthwhile if they have mechanical switches. These tend to be a lot easier to activate compared to the standard rubberized or membrane switches that come on most other keyboards. Gaming keyboards also have features like macros, RGB lighting, and highly customizable features that can drastically increase the price as well.
What is a Gaming Keyboard?
If you are new to the world of PC gaming and considering a setup, then you may know the term “gaming keyboard” but not really know what one is. After all, a keyboard is just a keyboard, right? Well, no, but the differences may not be as great as you think.
The simple fact is that unless you are competitively gaming, you won’t notice the differences offered by a gaming keyboard versus a traditional one. There are some customizations that can be added to a gaming keyboard that can improve it but will likely go unnoticed by the average gamer.
But whether or not the investment is worthwhile can depend on a few factors. Let’s take a deeper look at gaming keyboards to see what the differences are, the cost is, and what you should look for if you plan on buying one.
What are the Main Benefits of Gaming Keyboards?
While they may seem somewhat interchangeable to those who aren’t hardcore gamers, there definitely are benefits to be had from making the switch. If you plan on becoming a serious, competitive gamer, it may be worth making the switch as well. Here are three benefits in particular to making the switch to a gaming keyboard.
You can customize the average gaming keyboard a lot more than you would be able to with a traditional keyboard. Macros are perhaps the best example, providing keyboard shortcuts that allow you to set tasks, run programs, or automate other processes.
There is also the implementation of RGB lighting, which is one of the main reasons why gaming keyboards have become so popular. They don’t really “do” anything but they look a lot cooler than the traditional keyboard.
A really fun thing about gaming keyboards is that you can change key functionality. If you don’t use certain keys almost ever, you can change them to have different functions. You can basically tweak your keyboard to fit your style and use, achieving the ultimate functionality that suits you best.
Perhaps the biggest difference between your average keyboard and one of the gaming variety is their switches. Gaming keyboards offer mechanical switches, though not all of them have them. Be sure to pay attention if you are planning to buy a gaming computer.
There are a couple of benefits to going with mechanical switches. For one, it means requiring less force to compress the key, which means shorter reaction times. In first-person shooters that are all the rage, that reaction time can make a world of difference.
Mechanical switches also mean dictating the sound, the feel, and how long it takes before the key is then registered. They also feel a bit more comfortable typing on for longer periods of time, which reduces fatigue from extended sessions.
One of the more important features to look for in a gaming keyboard is the keystroke lifespan. The average rubber dome switches will last for around 5 million keystrokes (or a year, maybe two). Those who game regularly will probably burn through that 5 million keystroke limit fairly quickly.
But with mechanical switches like those found on gaming keyboards, you are looking at around 50-100 million key presses. It all depends on the type of switch that you choose, some of which can far exceed that number.
Basically, you are looking for something that will garner greater longevity. Because of the heavier usage, you would wear through traditional keyboards far quicker, making it a more costly investment over time. By investing in a gaming keyboard, you may not save a ton in the long run but can at least lengthen the time between having to buy a new one.
Are Gaming Keyboards Really Faster?
This is probably the most important feature to most gamers. When competitively gaming, speed is the name of the game. Gamers are looking for any competitive edge that they can get and that means having the proper gaming keyboard to accommodate.
Generally speaking, most high-end gaming keyboards are anywhere from 20-50 milliseconds faster. The difference is hardly noticeable but in a game of milliseconds, it can make a marginal improvement. Where things get “faster” on a mechanical keyboard is in functions.
Macros and the ability to change the functionality of individual keys are where you can really make a mechanical keyboard “faster”. It means automating certain tasks or programs, not having to spend extra time running them manually.
What Features Should You Look for in a Gaming Keyboard?
It is important to remember that not every gaming keyboard is created the same. There are a few features in particular that can help set your gaming keyboard apart from the rest. We will be looking at N-key rollover, switches, and connections.
Never Use Wireless for Gaming
Wireless everything has risen in popularity in recent years and understandably so. Who wants to contend with cords getting tangled this way and that? But it turns out that having a wireless keyboard is a big risk when you are a gamer.
It is more than possible for your keyboard to lose connection for one reason or another. If you are in the middle of a competition, it could mean the difference between winning and losing. That is why having a wired keyboard is a smart idea if you plan on gaming competitively. Don’t risk it.
Mechanical is Better
We touched upon it a little above, but mechanical switches are superior when choosing a gaming keyboard. Each of the keys has a dedicated switch beneath that is completely independent of any of its neighboring switches. That means each keystroke is completely consistent and reliable.
That’s not even mentioning the vastly improved durability that you get out of mechanical switches. Gamers put a lot more stress on their keyboards, meaning traditional keyboards will wear down far more quickly. With mechanical switches, you can safely get at least 100 million keystrokes of use. That means far less time between having to replace your keyboards.
When it comes to competitive gaming , that consistency in keystrokes can be a gamechanger. It gives you a better, more comfortable feel than traditional keyboards and will last a lot longer, too.
When times get tough, button mashing can feel like the only option. This means that in those desperate moments, you need all of the keys that you mash to register. Most traditional and even some mechanical keyboards limit the number of keys that you can press at once.
N-Key rollover means being able to press multiple keys at once and getting a reaction from each of them. Without it, you may have limitations on how many keys can “register” at one time. Try it on a traditional keyboard; the number is probably two at most.
But with N-Key rollover, you can potentially customize how many keys you can hit at once and have all of them register. When it comes to those heat-of-the-moment battles, you will be glad that you had n-key rollover available to you.
A major benefit to gaming keyboards is the programmable keys. We touched on it briefly above, but you can basically take any of the keys that you want and make them into shortcuts and commands. When you press that button, you can even add in macros that customize the controls to make your gaming experience all the more efficient.
In a world where milliseconds can make a huge difference, being able to customize your gaming keyboard can mean the difference between winning and losing.
How Much Do Gaming Keyboards Cost?
The cost of a gaming keyboard can vary exponentially based on the features and the keys. The cost of a mechanical gaming keyboard can run you an average of $125. It is possible to find them a bit cheaper – the $50-$65 range – or a lot more expensive depending on the customizations that you make.
Corsair is one of the most well-known brands on the market and also tends to be more expensive. They make high-end gaming keyboards that run anywhere from $145-$199 depending on which style and functions are included.
There are some minor differences between the low- and high-end keyboards, too. For example, they may have an estimated keystroke lifespan or come with extra macro keys. These can dramatically impact the price as well.