Keyboards: Find the one that clicks for you in 2021

If you're a gamer, then you know how important it is to have the best gaming keyboard to compliment your setup. A great gaming keyboard can make all the difference in-game, giving you an edge over your opponents.

Choosing one may seem like a daunting task, but we've got you covered!

In this guide, we'll be going through some of the most important factors and breaking down features so when choosing between them, there'll be no question about which one is right for you!

Let's get started...

 

Table of Contents

  1. Best keyboard layout for gaming
    1. Full Size
    2. TenKeyLess (TKL)
    3. Compact (75% and less)
  2. Best keyboard type for gaming
    1. Mechanical Switches
    2. Optical Switches
    3. Membrane Switches
  3. Key switch types
    1. Linear
    2. Tactile
    3. Clicky
  4. What are the best keycaps?
    1. Material
    2. Profile
    3. Compatibility
  5. Most important features of a gaming keyboard
    1. Macro Keys
    2. Anti-Ghosting
    3. Key Rollover
    4. Nice-to-haves
  6. Wired or Wireless gaming keyboard?
  7. Gaming keyboard ergonomics
  8. Appearance
  9. Which gaming keyboard brand is best?
    1. Full Size
    2. TenKeyLess (TKL)
    3. Compact (75% and less)
  10. How much do gaming keyboards cost?
  11. Conclusion

1. Best keyboard layout for gaming

This area can be tricky, as it generally comes down to personal preference, particularly on the smaller compact layouts. However, it's worth considering what the primary use of the keyboard will be, with regards to game genre, portability for LAN events, and any other less important aspects of your life, such as work. 🤪

a. Full Size

There are two types of full size keyboards, the standard with around 104 keys in total, offering arrow keys, function keys and number pad. Next, there's the plus-size (a.k.a. Full Size Premium), which provides everything in the standard version but also has dedicated macro and media keys.

There's no denying having the additional keys available in full size layouts help with productivity so this could be the go-to layout for gamers who also utilise their keyboard for work and have plenty of desk space available.

b. TenKeyLess (TKL)

TenKeyLess layouts are very popular with gamers due to the ergonomic benefits they provide with their shorter width. The narrow style enables your mouse and keyboard to be closer together, aligning your arms and shoulders which promotes a healthier posture. They consist of around 88 keys with the number pad being sacrificed.

c. 75% and less

Compact layouts within these ranges are often seen as made for the enthusiasts, however, the 60% layout is one of our most popular layouts that gamers gravitate towards. Depending on your game genre, losing the additional keys may not be an issue and the extra desk space can prove invaluable. However, if you're like me and have a strong relationship to those arrow keys, some of these layouts might not be an easy transition.

Recommendation: Although each layout has benefits depending on game genre, we would recommend starting with a TKL keyboard as it's the best of both worlds, without sacrificing too much functionality whilst benefiting from a compact design.

View TKL Keyboards


2. Best keyboard type for gaming

When gamers refer to the type of keyboard they use, they're more often than not, talking about the type of key switches located beneath the keycaps. Below are the most talked about and most used in gaming keyboards. We'll just run over the basics with their pros and cons, and leave the in-depth details for our 'Key Switches: A Comprehensive Breakdown' article, coming soon. 😉

a. Mechanical Switches

This is the most popular choice amongst gamers due to its mechanical feel, sound, and responsiveness. They're also preferred over other types due to their quality and durability

However, a disadvantage is the noise that accompanies these type of switches, which is worth keeping in mind if you're also in an office environment or have your PC parked in the earshot of the parents. Another con would be price, as they're at the higher end of the scale due to the mechanics and materials used.

b. Optical Switches

Relatively new on the scene (in the last couple of years) are optical keyboards. Opticals also use mechanical parts like typical mechanical switches but they utilise infrared light to register the keypress which eliminates the physical contact, resulting in increased durability and no debounce delay.

Boasting faster response times than mechanical, they do, unfortunately, suffer from the same cons as mechanical, being more expensive and louder than your typical keyboard.

c. Membrane Switches

Membrane keyboards are an extremely common type to come across, although, they've always been considered a less desirable type for gaming due to the mushy feel and performance. Recently, they've made strides to become a more viable option with some very significant improvements to quality and performance, which makes them an interesting contender with a lower price tag.

 

There are other types available but they just don't provide the effectiveness required for gaming, so we've cut the fat to save your time.

Recommendation: If you're a serious gamer or just a casual gamer who doesn't like to be at a disadvantage, then Mechanical or Optical are definitely the types to buy. They offer the fastest response times and greatest durability, which is essential as we all know, and although they may be a bit pricier, the additional cost is worth the benefits.


3. Key switch types

Key Switches Image

It's no secret that keyboard key switches are one of the most important components of a keyboard, especially for gamers. They dictate how your keyboard feels and actuates when you type, and with so many different types in production today, they can be confusing to understand to say the least!

Again, without getting into the finer details of every switch (and there's many), we'll run over the main three styles.

a. Linear

Linear switches operate in a straight up and down motion and don't provide any feedback or clicking when actuated. Due to the lack of feedback, linear switches are sometimes seen as a poor typing experience, however, the rapid actuation makes them a very good choice for gaming.

Common Linear Switches:

  • Cherry MX Red
  • Cherry MX Black
  • Cherry MX Silent Reds
  • Razer Yellow
  • Kailh Cream
  • Kailh Pink
  • Outemu Red
  • Gateron Red
  • Gateron Yellow

b. Tactile

Tactile switches offer a noticeable bump and a slight audible click when actuated which is very useful when gaming as well as typing as it acts as a subtle indication that the keypress has registered. Tactiles are the best selling switch type here at Esports Gear, and a personal favourite.

Common Tactile Switches:

  • Cherry MX Brown
  • Cherry MX Clear
  • Razer Orange
  • Kailh Brown
  • Outemu Brown
  • Gateron Brown

c. Clicky

Just like Tactile, a Clicky switch gives feedback on each keypress but with a significantly louder noise. The feedback can be extremely satisfying but it can also be picked up by your microphone which could be problematic when gaming.

This type is less popular but still has a significant following.

Common Clicky Switches:

  • Cherry MX Blue
  • Razer Green
  • Kailh BOX White
  • Kailh BOX Jade

Recommendation: You can't go wrong with Linear or Tactile switches for gaming but due to the feedback from the tactile style, we would champion this above linear (only just though).

View Tactile Keyboards


4. What are the best keycaps?

Keycaps

a. Material

The type of material used in making keycaps can make a huge difference between an ordinary and extraordinary keyboard. When it comes to gaming, there are three types of materials to consider:

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
This is the cheaper type of plastic used in keycaps, and is really the 'day one' of keycap material, being introduced by IBM in the 1960s. One of the main drawbacks is the greasy shine which develops on the surface once the keycap is worn down, although some people find this appealing. 🤨

PBT (Polybutylene terephthalate)
Generally considered to be the more premium option due to their high durability and stability. They have a textured finish and age better than ABS.

TPR (Thermoplastic Rubber)
A synthetic form of rubber, primarily offered as replacement keycaps for the main gaming keys (1 to 6, Q,W,E,R,A,S,D,F, and arrow keys).  They are less durable than the other materials so they need replacing more frequently but they offer a significant improvement to grip than PBT and ABS.

b. Profile

There are many different choices of key profiles but for gaming, aim for comfort! Cherry profiles have long been seen as the best available and the safest option.

c. Compatibility

If purchasing custom or replacement keycaps, always check out their compatibility with your key switch type to ensure they fit. Also, some keyboard brands, such as Corsair, have different keycap widths on the bottom row of the boards.

Lastly, the key profile should also be taken into consideration if you're updating your main game keys with some custom keycaps as they may differ from your original set.

Recommendation: PBT take pole position for us due to their long-lasting nature and quality but if you want to spice up your keyboard design with some custom caps, we also recommend experimenting with TPR.

View PBT KeycapsTPR Keycaps


5. Most important features of a gaming keyboard

Features

a. Macro Keys

Macro keys are used to perform various tasks in-game without having to take your hands off the movement controls. These can be programmed with separate key commands, which makes them extremely useful for things like resource and item management, especially when playing more difficult games that require fast reactions. For example, a macro might let you control your inventory while still being able to jump or crouch at any time.

b. Anti-Ghosting

Ghosting occurs when one or more keys are pressed but the corresponding action does not happen on screen. The keyboard will only register as many simultaneous keystrokes that it can handle, so if you're playing a game where you need fast reactions and lots of different skills to use simultaneously (think 'League of Legends'), then anti-ghosting becomes particularly important.

Most keyboards come with this feature already built-in - however, it's worth checking before buying just in case!

c. Key Rollover

Usually described as N-Key Rollover (NKRO) meaning it can register multiple key presses at once. The N can be replaced with a number to represent a certain limit of simultaneous key presses. Most gaming keyboards have a minimum of 6 Key Rollover, which is what we would recommend as the minimum.

d. Nice-to-haves

The following features can be advantageous but not essential for gaming:

USB Passthrough
Keyboard with USB port(s) for other devices to be plugged into. Often requires more than one USB port in order to pass the USB through to the PC.

Dedicated Media Keys
Designed for media playback, they are great for quick and easy control, mostly found in Full Size Premium keyboards.


6. Wired or Wireless gaming keyboard?

Wireless technology has made numerous advances over the last few years with all kinds of devices, but how well does that translate to gaming keyboards?

The obvious advantage of wireless is the greater flexibility and clearing your desk of those irritating cables. However, performance (latency) is still a concern regardless of the advances, as well as battery life and the added expense.

Recommendation: Wired all day. In the not so distant future, this may change but for now, wired gaming keyboards just offer better performance, an abundance of choice at reasonable prices, and with the custom cables available these days, the cable can become a sleek addition to your setup, giving it a unique look like no other.


7. Gaming keyboard ergonomics

Wrist Rest

Ergonomics shouldn't be overlooked, even when it comes to your keyboard. Some of the main factors are covered by the keyboard layout mentioned in 'section 1' but wrist rests and the keyboard feet also play their part.

Wrist rests provide support for your wrists by keeping them inline with your forearm, preventing them from bending up or down and causing strain.

Keyboard feet can be a double-edged sword as having them flicked out can help visually but also cause your wrist strain by forcing your wrist to bend. As most of us have spent an 'adequate' amount of time on a keyboard, we can type with our eyes closed and two hands tied behind our back, so laying the keyboard flat is no issue at all, but if you're like me, you may prefer a slight angle when typing. Luckily, some brands have started to incorporate feet that can adjust for two height levels.


8. Appearance

Appearance

Show me someone who says 'Looks don't matter' and I'll show you a liar. Performance is king, of course, but there's no reason performance can't look god damn stylish too.

Gamers have dived into the world of customisation and accessories head first, and brands know this.

Backlighting was one of the first signals of this, with RGB being splashed onto anything and everything you can imagine. Let's not sell RGB lighting short though, it's a very popular option for gamers because it lets them see the keys in darker conditions during those late-night sessions.

When we look to accessories, keycaps and custom cables have exploded in popularity, and with good reason too. Introducing a custom coiled cable or keycaps to your setup can set your keyboard apart from the rest of the crowd and make the plainest looking keyboards one of the most bad-a$$.


9. Which gaming keyboard brand is best?

As there are so many brands attempting to crack the mechanical gaming keyboard market, it can be time-consuming and stressful to find the best in your chosen layout. If you want to buy a keyboard that's tried and tested by the masses, then look no further than the following brands.

Full Size

The listed brands supply models with premium software, dedicated media panels and macro keys and are known for their high quality:

TenKeyLess (TKL)

Competition is tough when it comes to TKL but the below provide professional grade with an abundance of choices available:

Compact

More brands are venturing into compact keyboards but these are the top contenders to take note of:


10. How much do gaming keyboards cost?

The short answer… it depends. If you're just looking for an entry-level gaming keyboard to start with, then you can certainly find one between the £60-75 mark.

However, if you want something to take you to the next level with a premium feel, without breaking the bank and splashing out on 'Nice-to-haves', you're looking at the £120-150 level.

Of course, you can go for the all singing and all dancing models, which can be anywhere up to and over £200.


11. Conclusion

When it boils down to it, it's impossible to say that there is a single perfect gaming keyboard for everyone because it largely depends on the intended use, game genres and your personal preference.

There are so many different styles and features, but our recommendations are based on feedback from our community, sale stats and our own personal favourites moulded over decades of chasing (and missing) the top spot on the leader boards.

With that said, we suggest exploring gaming keyboards with the following characteristics:

  • Wired gaming keyboard
  • TenKeyLess (TKL) layout
  • Tactile or linear switches
  • PBT keycaps (with the addition of TPR if you want to experiment with the main game keys)
  • Anti-ghosting, 6KRO (Minimum) and macro capabilities.

 

For more information on gaming keyboards and relevant terminology, check out our 'Tech Explained: Gaming Keyboards' section.


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