For most of us, a computer is the primary piece of hardware we use to play games, access social media, and do general work on. One of the most important accessories that a PC user needs is the keyboard. Now, most people who delve into the gaming world have probably been barraged with Razer and Corsair commercials, advertising their “latest mechanical keyboards with the best mechanical switches out there.” To keep you readers safe from the barrage of “GAMER” and “SPEED” oriented mass-marketed keyboards, we’ve made this WTT Weekend Feature about what mechanical keyboard you should buy.
WTT Weekend Feature – What’s a Mechanical Keyboard?
When people think of keyboards, they’re probably thinking of the ones they get for five bucks from their local office supply store or free from a pre-built system. Or even worse, expensive ones on laptops and Surfaces. These are membrane keyboards that will make your wrists snap, crackle and pop like your morning cereal if you type a lot. As suggested, membrane keyboards use a rubber dome that, when pressed down, acts as a switch.
Mechanical keyboards use proper mechanical switches, with springs and stems. Different switches can give you tactile feedback or even click like a type writer of yesteryear. Of course, for that hipster feel, you could go with a fully mechanical typewriter. Good luck with pressing Ctrl+Z when you make a mistake though. And mobility.
There are many types of mechanical keyboard switches. The most well known and common are MX style switches. Originally manufactured by Cherry (not to be confused with Chery, which are Chinese cars), other companies have also joined in the fun, such as Gateron (awesome), Kailh (meh) and Outemu (at least they’re cheap). All of these switches have a stem that looks like a plus (+) symbol from the top, and allows the user to take the keycaps themselves off for maintenance or customization.
There are now also a bunch of more esoteric switches, like Zealios (which are our favourites here), MOD, and a new rash of optical switches.
But we can’t emphasise the following enough: you can game on any keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are more comfortable than membrane keyboards, but the comfort comes in most useful when typing, and the longevity of the keys.
WTT Weekend Feature – Best Value Keyboard
The Magic Force 68 is an incredible deal, featuring genuine Cherry MX switches in blue, brown, white, and red for US$69.99 and even better value Outemu equivalents for US$39.99. Our Luke has bought himself a white switched MF68 and immensely enjoyed the keyboard. Its compact layout provided ample space for his mouse, which was a huge plus over typical full-size keyboards. Having my mouse hand closer to my WASD hand was very comfortable and ergonomically, was the smarter choice than springing for a full-size layout. This is, without a doubt, the best keyboard for the user on a tight budget.
WTT Weekend Feature – Best Full-Size Gaming Oriented Keyboard
Now, we wouldn’t recommend grabbing a full-size keyboard for gaming. The gamer simply does not need all those buttons. However, there are some users that require a number pad for purposes other than gaming. Accounting purposes perhaps, or just a lot of Excel work. For users who fall into this demographic, we would recommend the Corsair Strafe Series. These come in black on black, with a choice of Cherry MX Blue, Brown and Red switches.
Alternatively, you can’t really go wrong with a Coolermaster CM Storm series. These have the added advantage of a standard sized bottom row, which allows for easy changeovers of keycaps if so desired. And, believe us when we say that you will want to change them.
WTT Weekend Feature – Best Tenkey-less (TKL) Keyboard
The Tenkey-less or TKL keyboard removes the numberpad on the right, while keeping the rest of the keyboard intact. This has the added advantage of giving you more desk space, without sacrificing as many buttons as possible. A good keyboard to start in this category is the Coolermaster Novatouch TKL.
Similarly, you could consider a 96-key layout. This layout removes the arrow cluster and the Inset/Delete cluster. The functionality of those buttons are subsequently moved into the number pad. Best of both worlds. Coolermaster also make keyboards in this format, specifically the Masterkeys Pro M.
The other option is to go with a 68-key layout like the aforementioned Magicforce 68, or the more expensive Varmilo VA68M. This layout loses the function row keys and a right Ctrl (who actually uses this?!) but keep the useful arrow cluster plus Insert, Delete and the Page Up/Down buttons. The function buttons are replicated with an additional key layer.
WTT Weekend Feature – Rubber Domes
Yeah…nah. Unless you go with Topre. And those are really expensive.
WTT Weekend Feature – Exotic keyboards
No, we don’t mean a blue eyed, ginger Chinese bloke with chocolatey skin when we say exotics. We mean keyboards with strange layouts. And there exist many. Whatever you do, don’t browse the internet for this stuff. It will make you take out a second mortgage quicker than you can say “bankruptcy”.
Now, if you really do have a death wish for your credit score, this class of mechanical keyboards can not be classified into gaming, typing, or work oriented keyboard. Indeed, keyboards in this price range (from US$150 to US$800) are made up of split keyboards, Planck keyboards (ortholinear), custom keyboards sourced from Korea, and more.