Choosing the best peripherals to pair with a gaming PC build can be a difficult decision at the best of times. With so many options on the market, selecting the best mechanical keyboard, gaming mouse or headset is mired in confusion. Arguably, a gaming keyboard is the most important peripheral out there, and an area where manufacturers have been developing different types and styles of keyboards for quite sometime. Many of these keyboards have different USPs, including features like anti-ghosting, RGB, macro keys and more.
In this breakdown we’ll be looking at what a mechanical keyboard actually is, how to determine what switch is right for you and exploring the wide range of layouts available..
Suggested Article: NZXT Function MiniTKL Keyboard Review
The Importance of Keyboard Size & Form Factor
Before looking at switches and keycaps, we should first talk about sizes. Deciding on a keyboard size can be a perplexing decision, because until you’ve experienced how it feels, its difficult to say for certain that’s the layout you’re comfortable with. If we’re going entirely based on trends, the most popular keyboard layouts (aside from a 100%, full size design) are 60% and TKL. TKL keyboards (standing for tenkeyless) are essentially a full sized layout minus the numpad keys. If you’re an MMO player, or perhaps play a lot of Flight Sims on keyboard and mouse, this layout won’t be for you, due to the lack of programmable buttons.
60% keyboards take the compact-nature of TKL designs up a notch. They are incredibly compact, with minimal function keys, stripping the design back to only the keys which are really required. Any size below 75% tends to be geared towards typists or gamers that play FPS titles, this is because the more compact nature of the keyboard keeps you agile, and leaves more desk space for lower DPI mouse sensitivity setups.
On larger form-factor keyboards, the number of available features is more likely to be larger – simply on the grounds that there is enough physical space to facilitate extra features. We have also seen a rise in new form factors that look to provide a hybrid between existing, popular layouts. For example, NZXT recently released a 75% TKL design that squashes in the number pad, but is more akin to a 65% layout in terms of desk-space required.
ISO VS ANSI
A smaller, but equally important point to talk about is physical layout. Essentially, the layout and physical size of certain keys will change based on the standards specific to a country. The main standards are ISO and ANSI. ISO (International Standard for Organisation) keyboards are primarily found in the UK and Europe, whereas ANSI (American National Standards Institute) keyboards are primarily found in the US. There are other standards for physical layouts, but the most popular ones are ISO and ANSI.
Ultimately the reason why its important to look at layouts is down to preference. Both ISO and ANSI are very similar, but the major differences tend to be key sizes and location. On an ISO keyboard (pictured below) the backslash key is next to left shift which is smaller than left shift on an ANSI keyboard. The enter key is also much bigger on an ISO layout compared to ANSI which is just a slightly longer rectangle shape.
Although there isn’t a whole lot of difference between them, you may prefer one layout over the other. I personally prefer an ISO layout because I struggle to hit a smaller enter key, but you might prefer the size and location of keys on an ANSI layout. As a small segue, the layout will also make finding a PCB for a custom keyboard somewhat harder to get a hold of. ANSI tends to be more popular for PCBs so it can be difficult to source and buy an ISO PCB if you’re building your own keyboard.
Switches, Switches and More Switches
The type of mechanical switch you choose will fundamentally change the entire experience of the keyboard. Different switches have varying feels and required force to activate them. There are three main types of switches, and we’ll be covering the primary differences between them below.
Firstly is clicky switches. These switches are quite aptly named due to the ‘click’ sound they make. They are the most common and arguably I would say favourable above other switches. When you press a clicky switch you’ll receive a click sound as soon as you hit the actuation point within the switch. This way you will know exactly when your key press has registered.
|Cherry||MX Blue, MX White, MX Green|
|Kailh||Box White, Box Navy, Box Jade, Box Pale Blue, Blue, Speed Bronze, Speed Gold, ML Choc White|
|NovelKeys||Sherbet, Box Pinks, Box Thick|
One of the big benefits of clicky switches is of course the feedback you receive, but also the lower required actuation force. What this means is that you need to put less weight on the key in order for the press to register. You don’t normally need to press a key with a clicky switch all the way down in order for it to register, either. As soon as your hear the click, you can let go. This is why these switches are commonly used for typing as they provide a faster keystroke experience.
Our Recommended Clicky Keyboard: Corsair K70 RGB MK.2
Utilising Cherry MX Blue switches, this K70 RGB MK.2 is an awesome mechanical keyboard geared towards the high-end market. This particular model sports per-key RGB backlighting, along with 8MB of onboard memory ideal to store customised profiles. The back of the keyboard also features USB pass through perfect for minimising cable management.
Buy the Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 on:
Tacticle switches are somewhat similar to clicky but the resistance is slightly different. Instead of a click, when you hit the actuation of a tactile switch, you’ll feel a bump. These switches again are ideal for typing as they provide a faster keystroke experience due to the switches not needing to bottom out to register.
|Cherry||MX Brown, MX Clear, MX Grey|
|Gateron||Brown, Silent Brown, Milk Brown, Low-Profile Brown|
|Zealios||Purple V2, Crystal, Purple V1 Redux, Blue Zilent V2, Aqua Zilent V2|
Tactile switches aren’t uncommon but I’d say they’re definitely the least favourable out of the three. Most people that want a great typing experience tend to go for clicky switches, and for gaming linear is often best. The biggest benefit to tactile switches is that they’re generally quieter than a clicky switch. So if you’re not a fan of the noise, or you perhaps work or game in a quiet location, tactile is a good option.
Our Recommended Tactile Keyboard: Logitech G512 Carbon
Logitech’s G512 features a brushed steel chassis that gives it a very sleek and sophisticated look. Logitech have manufactured their own tactile switches which are designed to provide the exact feedback that you want. The G512 also sports per-key RGB that can be combined with other Logitech products using their LIGHTSYNC RGB technology.
Buy the Logitech G512 on:
Linear switches are some of the most popular switches you can buy, but they definitely take some getting used to. The switches are smooth all the way to the bottom of the switch. There is no tactile or clicky feedback mid-way through, the switches will bottom out, and that’s how you know the key has registered.
|Cherry||MX Red, MX Black, Speed Silver, Silent Red, Low-Profile Speed,|
|Kailh||Box Red, Box Black, Box Silent Pink,|
|Gateron||Pro Silver, Pro Red, Pro Yellow, Milky Clear, Milky Yellow, Milky Red,|
|Zealios||Tealios V2, Sakurios, Roselios,|
Keyboards with linear switches are extremely popular for PC gaming. This is because of the smoothness and consistency of the switch and the fact there’s no feedback. This means pressing keys in rapid succession won’t make loads of noise, nor provide too much force. With a smoother keystroke, this can make a big difference – especially in a game like League of Legends where you’re constantly pressing different hotkeys to activate abilities. Linear switches can be preferable for typing in some instances where a consumer prefers a smoother experience, but due to the lack of feedback it can take some getting used to and won’t quite be for everyone.
Our Recommended Linear Keyboard: NZXT Function MiniTKL
NZXT’s Function MiniTKL is an excellent keyboard that we’ve taken a look at in more depth with a full review. This model is one of the first OEM keyboards to feature fully hot-swappable switches and keycaps allowing you to customise to your heart’s content. Along with the customisable switches, the Function MiniTKL has a fully detachable cable, dedicated media keys, and every key is able to be reprogrammed as you wish!
Buy the NZXT Function MiniTKL on:
Deciding on your preference of keycaps is important because it will determine how the keyboard feels and some other important factors too. When choosing keycaps, it can be worth looking at your finger shape to figure out what will fit best. This is also known as your keycap profile. Keycaps have several different profiles and these will change based on the manufacturer.
|SAF||Taller height with a curved or angled top|
|OEM||Most common keycaps you’ll find. Angled top.|
|Cherry||Somewhat similar to OEM in terms of being angular, very popular overall.|
|XDA||Medium height with a spherical top.|
|DSA||Shorter profile with spherical top.|
Choosing a profile is all down to personal preference, and can be a hard area in which to advice. Most keyboards still use OEM and Cherry style profiles, so you’re likely to find one of these above others. XDA and SA tend to the more commonly used of the curved variations. They compliment the shape and curvature of your fingers quite well, especially XDA which have more space overall. DSA keycaps are more niche overall. These keycaps have a very straight edge until you get to the top of the keycap which has a smaller curvature than XDA and SA. All of these points are entirely down to preference, but it is worth getting a set of demo keycaps so you know how they feel.
Another factor to consider is material. The type of material will affect the keyboard quality, and also determines the sound and overall look.
|ABS Keycaps||PBT Keycaps|
|Can be quieter when typing||Can be louder when typing|
|Wears over time||More durable|
ABS vs PBT is quite a big point of contention when picking keycaps. As a general rule ABS keycaps are very cheap, both in quality and feel. However, because a set of keycaps can be quite expensive to buy, you might opt for ABS to put some cost elsewhere. Many modern keyboards don’t tend to use ABS, but its worth being aware of as this will save you some money.
PBT keycaps are much better in terms of quality and will last much longer. A subsect of PBT is ‘doubleshot PBT’, these particular keycaps have the plastic moulded in a certain way with separate plastics. This is done to increase durability but also for backlighting as doubleshot keycaps allow for light to seep through the legend on the keys. Doubleshot is also available in ABS but this tends to be less common. PBT, although expensive, is more commonly used as the overall feel is generally better. Although you’re paying more, you get what you pay for in terms of quality.
If you boil it down, the main makeup of a keyboard are the switches and the keycaps. Although these are pivotal to choosing a great keyboard, many OEM manufacturers provide extra features that might sway your decision. Below we’ve broken down some of the extra features to look out for when deciding on which keyboard you should buy.
We all love RGB, this can be said with certainty and it does make up some of my decision when buying a keyboard. RGB adds some nice flair and aesthetic. OEM keyboards aren’t particularly special to look at at times, so RGB can really make something that bit more unique.
Its relatively common nowadays for a manufacturer to provide RGB backlighting to their keyboards. The likes of Razer have their ‘chroma’ variants that feature fully programmable RGB lighting. Other manufacturers like Corsair and Logitech now include RGB essentially as standard, especially on their peripheral products. Plus, with software suites ever-evolving, you can now synchronise the lighting of
A manufacturer may decide to include some macro keys to make your life easier when gaming or while using work-based applications. These macro keys can effectively do anything. If you want to run a complicated script you can do that with a click of a button. Or if you want to turn off certain keys on your keyboard, you might be able to do that too.
Having these keys are a nice bonus feature that provide consumers with some extra options during games or other applications. They also tend to be out of the way on an extra section on your keyboard minimising any potential mis-inputs.
Around five years ago wireless peripherals were not by any means popular. They had latency issues or problems with general connectivity. But nowadays wireless keyboards are actually very popular and worth considering to minimise cable clutter. If you’re like me and hate cables coming up from your desk, then picking up a wireless keyboard is a must.
Generally speaking, wireless gaming keyboards will cost you more, but in exchange you get access to modern, wireless tech that has made great strives in performance. A major player in the wireless space is Logitech, with their ‘LIGHTSPEED’ designs virtually indistinguishable from wired models when looking at latency.
Included Wrist Rest
A frustrating part of any long gaming or typing session is strain. Not having the right support for your wrists can tire out your fingers and there is research associated which shows this as a cause of RSI (repetitive strain injury). A wrist rest will help to mitigate some of this risk.
I absolutely adore when manufacturers provide a wrist rest, because it saves you having to go out and buy one yourself. Not only that, aftermarket wrist rests might not necessarily line up with your keyboard correctly, potentially having caused you to waste your money. For me, having a wrist rest is a deal breaker as it will cost the manufacturer very little to throw on some plastic at the edge of the keyboard. Even if the wrist rest is just plastic, that is much preferable to nothing at all. It isn’t uncommon for manufacturers not to provide one, but if you plan on using your keyboard for a long amount of time, you’ll definitely want to look at buying one.
Quality of Life & Extras
We don’t want to make this piece huge, so we’ve made some brief mentions of some extras of quality of life features that are nice to see and can make a keyboard go from a 5/10 to a 10/10! First off is a detachable cable. These are useful for portable setups and provides an option if your cable breaks or wears. A detachable cable also allows you to swap it out for one of a shorter or longer length for better cable management.
A more niche feature are LCD displays. Although these aren’t particularly common and definitely drive up the price, it can be cool to have GIFs, system thermals, or anything else on a display on your keyboard! I haven’t seen a keyboard with an LCD display in quite some time, but they add some more aesthetic to your keyboard. Some keyboards also include media control keys – a mix of volume wheels, play/pause controls, skip/prev track buttons and more. When playing casual games I like having some music in the background, and the ability to control this without leaving my game is a major must-have.
The Custom Market & Pricing
The custom market in the world of PC gaming as a whole has become extremely popular as of recent. More and more consumers are learning to build their own custom PCs, with some going to the extremes of full liquid loops. This pattern has spread into custom keyboard, with some enthusiasts going even further to build their own keyboard.
Although OEM prebuilt keyboards are brilliant, the only way to get a keyboard that truly fits what you want is to build one. While this might sound relatively daunting, it is actually a relatively simple process. It will be more expensive compared to picking up one that’s already built for you, but you get the added benefit of choosing everything including the size, switches, keycaps, sound dampening and more. Although we wouldn’t recommend jumping straight into this without research, custom keyboards are very popular and provide you with some more options by building one.
In terms of pricing (both for OEM and custom keyboards), the amount you spend on a keyboard will hugely differ. There are incredible options out there on the budget end, such as MSI’s GK50 Elite which provides a well rounded gaming and typing experience with the Kailh clicky switches. On the other end of the scale you could buy Logitech’s G915 which is both wireless with RGB and uses their renowned ‘GL’ range of mechanical switches. Better yet you could buy a custom keyboard which could cost you around $200 as a minimum for the individual parts.
Each of these options will provide different experiences for both gaming and typing, so we would recommend doing some research beforehand on the kind of features you’d like, coupled with switches and keycap choices so you can pickup an awesome peripheral!