Gaming is an exciting hobby that can be done on the cheapest of keyboards, but if you want to take your gaming to the next level, is it worth it to invest in a keyboard designed just for gamers?
Gaming keyboards can be worth it if they have the proper features such as mechanical switches, N-key rollover, and a wired connection. Most of the extra features that come with a gaming keyboard don’t make you better in-game, but can be useful and worth it.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into this topic and explain what features make a gaming keyboard worth it.
What is a Gaming Keyboard?
I’m sure you’re wondering, what sets a gaming keyboard apart from a normal keyboard? The honest answer is simply one word, marketing. There are several big companies out there such as Razer, Corsair, and Logitech who make keyboards specifically for the purpose of gaming, but you want to know a secret? Any keyboard can work great for gaming. While there are a few features that can optimize the gaming experience, it’s important to know that you don’t need to buy a gaming keyboard just because you play games.
Gaming keyboard manufacturers will usually take a normal looking keyboard, slap on some RGB, maybe a new font on the keys, and then sell that for a marked-up price. Because now they are selling a gaming keyboard. I want to challenge you to be smarter than that, instead of purchasing a keyboard just because it looks cool, take a few minutes to dig into the features and decide if those will improve your experience the next time you go on a gaming marathon.
Any keyboard (including the one you are using right now) can be good for gaming, but there are some keyboards made for the purpose of gaming. Not all of these gaming keyboards are bad, in fact, a lot are quite nice. The purpose of this article is to help you cut through the noise and help you pick out a keyboard that checks all of the boxes to help improve your gaming experience.
What Features Do You Need for a Gaming Keyboard?
For all of you RGB lighting enthusiasts out there, I’m sorry, but your 50 different specialized lighting effects don’t actually make you any better at video games. There are only a few features that can actually make you more competitive and faster in-game. Many features can make gaming enjoyable, but we’re looking strictly at the features that can make you more competitive.
Features that can improve response time, improve reliability, and make gaming feel really consistent are what will actually make a difference when it comes to edging out the competition.
There are three main items we’re going to look at for boosting your competitive level: getting a mechanical keyboard, a wired connection, and N-key rollover.
When it Comes to a Gaming Keyboard, Mechanical is Better!
If you’re looking for a gaming keyboard, you absolutely need to get a keyboard with mechanical switches. Playing games on a rubber dome keyboard is one of the biggest handicaps you can give yourself. The mushy and inconsistent key actuation is the enemy when you need to press multiple keys in rapid succession and have them all actuate right when you need them to.
A mechanical keyboard will come with a dedicated switch under each key that is totally independent of the neighboring switches. This means each keystroke will be reliable and consistent. Not to mention, the switches on a mechanical keyboard go through rigorous temperature testing and durability tests, so you know the switches will work for years before breaking.
For reference, Cherry MX switches will last for 100 million keystrokes. I have no idea how long that means the keyboard will actually last, but this entire article I’ve typed is probably about 21,000 keystrokes distributed over 80 keys. That means we are about 0.02% of the way to reaching that number.
For a huge improvement in gameplay, just get a mechanical keyboard. There are dozens of benefits including high durability, consistent keystrokes, better typing experience, etc. There are other benefits as well, but for the purpose of this article we won’t go into that right now.
Don’t Use a Wireless Connection for Gaming
The biggest way you can handicap yourself when gaming is using a wireless keyboard. I feel like this is very common-sense advice, but it would surprise you how much of a difference a wired vs wireless makes.
I ran a test a while ago to see how much slower a wireless keyboard is, and a wireless connection is a whopping 80 milliseconds slower than a wired connection. That’s huge, many people would fight tooth and nail for a 2-millisecond advantage, but with a wireless keyboard you’re throwing out way more than that.
Gaming with a wireless keyboard after using a wired connection will immediately feel worse. You can feel the delay in each keystroke, especially when it comes to a competitive game such as League of Legends or Valorant. If you’re playing a casual turn-based game or offline game, you can play on a wireless connection all you want. But when it comes to competitive online games, you should be using strictly a wired connection.
In the heat of the moment, you’re probably mashing every single button you can get your fingers on in a mad rush to beat your opponent. In these tight moments, you need every key to get registered so you can come out on-top.
With most rubber dome keyboards and some mechanical keyboards, pressing more than one key at the same time will result in only one key registering. You can try it out now for yourself, try typing two keys at the same time. If only one of the keys is registered, you probably need a new keyboard.
N-key rollover refers the ability to press multiple keys at the same time and they will all get pressed. Most people don’t realize how important getting a keyboard with N-key rollover is, you want to be able to press as many keys and have all of them register when gaming.
Extra Features to have for a Gaming Keyboard
Now that we’ve gone over everything can actually help with making you more competitive in-game, let’s go over the features that are nice to have and can make gaming more streamlined and enjoyable. These features won’t make you better, but they are can be really nice to have at the ready.
An awesome feature that comes with some mechanical keyboards is the ability to have programmable keys. This will allow you to set commands and shortcuts to keys of your choice. If there is a button that you press consistently when gaming, you can add that key to a macro key to customize the controls and make gaming more efficient to improve your comfort.
Double check when purchasing your keyboard to see if it has programmable keys because not all keyboards will come with this feature. Do a little research before buying to make sure the keyboard software is reliable and a breeze to setup or you may waste more time than you would have liked trying to program the keys.
USB passthrough can be super useful if you like to have an additional USB port at the ready. A keyboard with USB passthrough will have an extra female USB port that you can plug your microphone, mouse, or other devices into without needing to reach for your PC.
There are downsides to USB passthrough, such as a non-detachable and bulkier power cable. It’s up to you to decide if USB passthrough is worth it or not, but I personally try to avoid them because I prefer a detachable power cable.
Dedicated Media Keys
Being able to change your music on the fly and adjust sound levels is extremely useful. If you’re in-game and want to change to a song that hypes you up, you can press a few media keys to change music without have to minimize the game.
Dedicated media keys are super nice to have and I highly recommend them for people who like to listen to music while gaming. Media keys also have other purposes such as fast-forwarding through YouTube videos or increasing/lowering the sound levels. They are just super useful, although they don’t actually make you a better gamer in any way.
One thing you’ll notice is that mechanical keyboards are typically much thicker than the standard rubber-dome or laptop keyboard. While this may seem uncomfortable at first, this is actually by design to improve typing experience and support your fingers better through each keystroke. However, this can be a deal-breaker for some, and for those people I would recommend a low-profile keyboard. A low-profile keyboard will use a different style of switch that is much thinner which will allow for a slimmer design. You can check out our recommendations for best low-profile keyboards here.
Low-profile keyboards are not as comfortable to type on, but they can nice for those who don’t like how thick mechanical keyboards are. They are actually quite popular in the gaming community because the thinner switches have a lower travel distance, and many believe this to improve response time and boost competitiveness. I’ve tested this theory out for myself and saw no improvements in response time with a switch that has a lower travel distance.
A keyboard with proper ergonomics can make long gaming sessions much more comfortable and easier on your body. Ergonomic keyboards have been proven to reduce wrist pain and finger pain, although they can be a little goofy and awkward at first. I would avoid ergonomic keyboards for those who don’t deal with any specific pain, but they can be a good option for those who suffer from wrist or finger pain. You can read more about desk and keyboard ergonomics here.
Nothing makes a new keyboard seem more sparkling and exciting than RGB lighting. Getting a keyboard with dozens of colored lighting effects, sidebar lighting, and pudding keycaps is an excellent way to turn your keyboard into a lightshow. Although some find RGB distracting, there is a big group of people who look for keyboards that specifically have RGB lighting. The lighting effects can make it easier to see the legends on your keycaps with the shining behind them and a double-shot keycap design although in no way does it make you a better gamer.
An important aspect when considering your next mechanical keyboard is the keyboard size. Mechanical keyboards are super cool because they come in a ton of different sizes including full-size, 1800-compact, tenkeyless, 75%, 65%, 60%, and even smaller. Picking out the perfect size can be slightly overwhelming at first, so we’ll link you to our in-depth size guide.
Picking Out a Switch for your Keyboard
Now that we’ve went over why you should get a mechanical keyboard for gaming, it’s important to walk you through the basics of the different switch types so you can get the perfect switch to improve comfort and the gaming experience.
Linear vs Clicky vs Tactile Switches
There are three main switch types: linear, clicky, and tactile. Understanding all of the differences can be a little tricky so we’ll try to cut through the confusion as much as possible.
Linear switches are extremely smooth. Imagine a switch that feels like riding on a cloud. Each keystroke is super consistent and there is no bump or loud noises. Linear switches are pretty quiet when typing.
Tactile switches have a small bump. When entering a keystroke, you will feel some tactile feedback which many find super helpful and satisfying. Tactile switches are a little bit louder than linear but not too bad.
Clicky switches have a small bump followed by a loud click noise. These are the type of switches you probably think of when you imagine mechanical keyboards. Perfect for bugging your coworkers or your spouse.
For the purpose of gaming, linear switches are considered the best due to the super consistent keystroke and clean feel. They are easier to press in rapid succession without getting caught by the tactile bump. Although if you prefer a clicky or tactile switch I would still recommend getting that style of switch because I don’t think it makes that much of a difference when gaming.
Travel distance refers to the total length the switch travel before it bottoms out. A longer keystroke will usually feel more comfortable to type on, but some consider a shorter travel and actuation distance better for gaming. I’ve tested this out on my own in the past with Cherry MX Speed Silver switches and I found no improvement in reaction time with a switch that has a lower travel distance. Low-profile, optical, or speed switches don’t actually improve reaction time at all, from my experience. You can read about some of the testing I did here.
If you prefer the laptop or membrane-style feel of a keyboard, a low-profile switch could be an option for you, although I wouldn’t buy one strictly for the purpose of getting a competitive advantage in-game.
When typing and gaming you use several different fingers to press the keys, including your strong index fingers and weak pinky fingers. When choosing a switch, you want to keep all of your fingers in mind when picking out the actuation force. The actuation force refers to the amount of force required the press the key down until it actuates.
If you are heavy-handed and slam your fingers down onto the keyboard, a heavier actuation force is recommended so you don’t bottom out normal switches and hurt your fingers. If you have a light touch, a lighter actuation force switch is probably better, so you don’t tire your fingers out when gaming. It’s all about finding what is most comfortable and your preference.
While many enjoy typing away on a loud clicky switch, many people game around other people or late at night and don’t want to wake the family up. For these people, a quiet linear or tactile switch will be ideal. It’s possible to get a switch that is made to be silent, such as the Cherry MX Silent Red. These switches are designed differently with small rubber padding inside the switch to reduce the sound level significantly. We found that silent switches reduced the sound level by around 16%.
Recommended Keyboards for Gaming
We’ll walk you through some of our highly recommended keyboards for gaming. We included different options, one is packed with features, another is light on features, and we also included a compact gaming keyboard.
HyperX Alloy Origins Core
The HyperX Alloy Origins Core is one of our favorite mechanical keyboards of all-time and we really can’t recommend this keyboard enough. The keyboard comes with important features such as N-key rollover and anti-ghosting, but also has some of the fun features such as RGB lighting and a cool design. The keyboard is tenkeyless sized, perfect for most gamers, and has excellent build quality.
The Origins Core features and aluminum build with a floating-keycap design and a detachable USB-C cable. The HyperX Red switch is one of the best linear switches on the market and feels much smoother and more stable than the standard Cherry MX Red switch.
The entire keyboard comes in at a steal of a price, making it one of the best value keyboards on the market. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another keyboard with this build quality and features at the same price point. You can find the HyperX Alloy Origins Core on Amazon for a super affordable price.
SteelSeries Apex 7
The SteelSeries Apex 7 is another great choice for those who need a gaming keyboard that is loaded down with features. The Apex 7 comes standard with USB passthrough, dedicated media keys, N-key rollover, a super unique OLED screen, programmable keys, along with a really nice wrist rest. The Apex 7 also has lots of different programmable RGB lighting effects so you can turn your gaming setup into a lightshow.
The number of features that come on this keyboard is insane, if you like your keyboard to do a little bit of everything the SteelSeries Apex 7 will deliver on those expectations. The switches on the Apex 7 are SteelSeries branded, but feel very similar to Cherry MX switches. The Apex 7 comes in either full-sized or a tenkeyless layout.
You can find the SteelSeries Apex 7 on Amazon for a competitive price through this link.
Ducky One 2 Mini
The Ducky One 2 Mini is a compact 60% keyboard that needs no introduction. This keyboard took the mechanical keyboard community by storm and still dominates to this day. The Ducky One 2 Mini features a sleek 60% design with high-durability PBT keycaps and genuine Cherry MX switches.
You have access to the entire Cherry MX switch lineup along with some additional clicky switches from Kailh. The keyboard has 3 adjustable settings, tons of RGB lighting effects, and super unique spacebar design. The Ducky One 2 Mini comes with full N-key rollover, a detachable USB-C cable, and all the bells and whistles.
The One 2 Mini is the perfect size to take on the go or save on precious desk space. 60% keyboards are an excellent choice for gamers nowadays, just beware this keyboard does not have a number pad, function keys, arrow keys, or the navigation cluster, so it may be difficult to adjust to at first.
You can find the Ducky One 2 Mini on mechanicalkeyboards.com for a really good price and with a ton of different switch options.
Gaming keyboards can definitely be worth it, in order to decide for yourself, you need to understand what features to look for in gaming keyboard, and what actually improves your gaming performance. We went over how N-key rollover, mechanical switches, and a wired connection are all you really need to have a keyboard be at peak gaming performance. Other features such as media keys, switch type, USB-passthrough, and programmable keys are all nice to have but don’t really make you a better gamer.
Any keyboard can be a gaming keyboard, so don’t be fooled by companies who try to make you think you need a gaming keyboard to play games. The most important part is to be educated about all of the different features so you can make an informed decision when you pick out your next gaming keyboard.
We highly recommend the HyperX Alloy Origins Core, SteelSeries Apex 7, or the Ducky One 2 Mini if you’re looking for a good gaming keyboard, we’ve tested out dozens of keyboards and these are by far our favorites.
Good luck and happy typing!