Now that you know what to look for in a gaming mouse, it only makes sense to consider the finer aspects of its companion—the gaming keyboard. This exercise is all the more important because although gamers are generally more aware about mice, keyboards invariably tend to get ignored even by those serious about gaming. Their biggest folly, I believe, is buying a membrane-based gaming keyboard.
What's wrong with membrane keyboards, you ask? For starters, they are cheaply constructed, but the main issue lies with the switches themselves. These type of input devices employ polydome switches, which aren't exactly chosen for their exquisite quality or excellent performance. No, the only reason why they exist in keyboards costing little more than a McDonalds value meal is solely because they are cheap.
Mechanical keyboards are superior to membrane based keyboards in all aspects
Unlike sophisticated spring-actuated switches found in mechanical keyboards, polydome switches have to contend with plastic-on-plastic friction. That's why your average membrane keyboard tends to jam up in a few months time. This can be prevented by using self-lubricating engineering plastics such as Delrin, but these are too expensive for regular keyboards. Despite their premium pricing, membrane-based gaming keyboards don't employ Delrin. Therefore, I personally don't see any point in spending a small fortune on a keyboard that will become as hard as a typewriter in a few months time. Mechanical keyboards, however, do not face such issues.
The main reason why you should opt for a mechanical one instead, however, is because it requires an actuation force of only 40-55g to register an input. Polydome switches, contrastingly, are much harder to press, with an actuation force as high as 150g. Moreover, due to their design, the only way to register an input is by completely bottoming out the key. On the other hand, mechanical switches require just 2mm of travel to do that. In effect, not only do they cause considerably less amount of fatigue while operation, but they are also significantly faster than membrane keyboards.
What's more, all switches tend to bounce about when pressed. Manufacturers prevent unwanted keystroke duplication by adding a delay between consecutive inputs on the same key. Membrane-based keyboards tend to have a much higher delay than mechanical ones. While this may not hinder regular typing, it does make a big difference in video games. In short, it's downright criminal to waste big bucks on a membrane keyboard. Now that we have established how mechanical keyboards are faster, more comfortable and durable than their membrane-based counterparts, let's explore how to select the one that's best suited to your gaming needs.
The BlackWidow has a typically Russian overbuilt feel to it
Build quality matters
Most mechanical keyboards (apart from those using very expensive Topre keys) use switches from Cherry MX Corporation. The only thing differentiating them is the overall build quality, fit and finish levels, extra keys, driver suite and other random bells and whistles. Weight, in fact, is the best way to gauge a keyboard's build quality. Any good mechanical keyboard will be reasonably heavy due to factors such as the thickness and density of the plastics used, whereas some keyboards such as the Razer BlackWidow also include a metal stiffening plate, which prevents trampolining—the tendency of the keyboard to flex at its centre under stress.
The sound generated by the keycaps (not to be confused with the sound of the mechanical switches) is another good measure of quality. Well-built keyboards possess keycaps that aren't wobbly and emit a dead mechanical tap when bottomed out. These keyboards have thicker keycaps that sound and feel better than the cheaper ones. Virtually no gaming keyboards use low-cost printing method such as laser etching and pad printing, so you can rest assured that the keys will look good for a long time. Extras such as tangle-free braided cables, sturdy rubberised feet and optimum adjustable rake go a long way in ensuring longevity and ease of use. Make sure you make a note of these things.
Types of mechanical switches
Mechanical keyboards are differentiated in two broad categories based on the type of switches they employ—tactile or linear. Cherry MX switches have a total travel of 4mm, but they register an input at around the 2mm mark. Tactile switches produce a pronounced audio or tactile feedback when you reach the point of actuation. This proves excellent for those who want to save time and effort by typing/gaming without having to bottom out keys.
The Cherry MX Red switches are the most sought-after amongst gamers
However, the sound and/or tactile bump generated by such switches can prove annoying for some. The linear Cherry MX switches, then, are exactly what they need. These provide no audible or tactile feedback when you hit the actuation point. Unfortunately, that makes one press keys harder and further than what's usually required. While some may say that linear switches are better than the tactile ones for gaming, it's best that you try them for size and decide for yourself. I personally prefer the tactile ones, despite their rather sharp clicky note.
Linear or tactile?
The Cherry MX switches come in four main and widespread flavours—blue, brown, black and red. The blue and brown switches are tactile, whereas the black and red ones are linear. Both blue and brown switches generate a tactile bump at the actuation point, but the blue one additionally generates an even more pronounced audible clicking sound. The actuation and release points on the brown switch are very close, which makes it easier to double-tap. This can't be said for the Cherry MX blue switches, in which the actuation point is a bit lower than the release point. This makes double-tapping a tad more time consuming.
The blues have an actuation force of 55g as opposed to the 45g figure of the brown switches. The red switches are the most sought after due to their low 45g actuation force and a very linear feel, devoid of audible and tactile feedback. The black switches are exactly like the reds, but their actuation force is considerably higher at 60g. Choosing the right switch, then, is a matter of striking a balance between the double-tap speed offered by the linear switches and the ability of the tactile switches to communicate when the actuation point has been reached.