Getting a new gaming keyboard (or a new gaming mouse) for the first time is a bit like getting your first HD TV. Once you experience what it has to offer, you’ll never want to go back to what you had before. Gaming keyboards provide a wealth of powerful features purpose-built to improve your game and your whole gaming experience. And some of them could practically type that letter to mom for you.
So if you’re in the market for a good gaming market, here’s a quick breakdown of common features that you 'must' have in a good Gaming Keyboard coupled along with a gew recommendations from my own side:
Anti-Ghosting & Improved Polling Rates for better responsivenessTypical keyboards can't handle more than three (sometimes fewer) keystrokes at a time. Rapid, multiple keystrokes occurring simultaneously can result in a 'missed' key press, resulting in your untimely demise because you zigged instead of zagged (because your zag didn't register).
Gaming keyboards can usually handle a minimum of 5 (and often more) simultaneous keystrokes without ‘dropping’ or losing one. This is typically called Anti-Ghosting, and most if not all gaming keyboards have it. Many bullet point lists will loudly trumpet that a gaming keyboard can handle 14 simultaneous keypress without dropping a single one, which is great if you have 14 fingers!!
Another measurement of responsiveness is Polling Rate. Typical keyboards and mice operate at 125Hz, which means they report input to your computer 125 times per second—plenty fast enough for that letter to mom or Twittering about your cat, but so good for high-speed gaming. Most gaming keyboards offer 500Hz or 1000Hz polling rates, which means improved responsiveness.
Recommendation: Anti-Ghosting and a 1000Hz polling rate are fairly standard on most gaming keyboards, so there’s no real reason to settle for anything less.
Programmable gaming keys to automate beatdowns:A keyboard that can’t record macros can scarcely call itself a gaming keyboard. And most gaming keyboards usually offer anywhere from 5-15 extra keys dedicated to storing macros or any other function you’d care to configure them for. (Some gaming keyboards also allow you to program any and every key on the keyboard.)
Personally, I rarely use more than a handful of short macros, I occasionally use them to help me circumvent button mashing quick time events too, where a game such as Resident Evil 6 or Tomb Raider suddenly demands that you pound the spacebar too death to avoid instant doom. Why pound the spacebar when I can program a macro to do it for me?
I’ve also found macros really useful for RTS (Real Time Strategy) games such as Starcraft 2, which has keyboard shortcuts for virtually everything (hence it’s very macro-friendly). I used to program some keys so I could quickly load up my build queues and pump out units fast.
We gamers like buttons, the more the better no matter if we use them or not so if you consider yourself a ‘power user’ look for keyboards that can handle more keystrokes and customizable timed delays. (Unfortunately, these aren’t always listed on the box.)
Of course, MMO players stand to gain the most from macros. The truly dedicated can create highly optimized strings of keystrokes with perfectly timed delays (to account for ability cooldowns) to deliver a rude beatdown in an MMO or RTS game—all with a single key. Be sure to save a key bind or two for a victory dance and string of obnoxious taunts.
Recommendation: Real-time strategy and MMO gamers stand to gain the most from an extensive array of dedicated macro keys, whereas FPS gamers can probably get by on fewer (or none). Consider 5 a minimum. 10 or more should enough for almost anyone. And if you just like to one-up all your gaming friends in water cooler-rivalry, go for 15 or more. (Also remember that, combined with profiles, even 5 macro keys can store as many as 15 or more different macros.)
Also consider the placement of the macro keys. I typically prefer ones located on the left side (because I’m right handed) of the keyboard near the W-A-S-D keys. Below the space bar and above the or near the function keys is OK as well. Anything that requires me to take my hand off the mouse to use, however, probably won’t be used much (if at all).
Mechanical switches for better responsiveness & durability:
Mechanical keys, on the other hand are designed to register the key stroke way before bottoming out or having you to press it fully, so this way you’re using less energy per key stroke and you can perform rapid key presses a lot easily and effortlessly. This comes in handy in games that require some button mashing.
Standard keyboards generally use a membrane or rubber-dome technology. It’s inexpensive and why some keyboards feel ‘mushy’.
Keyboards made with mechanical switches have actual switches beneath each key. This does tend to make the keys much louder when you press them—the Razer BlackWidow is either a symphony of clickity-clack noises or a severe annoyance depending on who you ask.
Switch-based keyboards offer better precision, responsiveness, and durability than standard keyboards. Mechanical keyboards are rated to last around 50 million keystrokes, vs. 1-5 million for standard keyboards.
Recommendation: If you can afford it, I definitely recommend going with a mechanical keyboard. They are expensive (typically upwards of $100) but you won’t regret it—especially if you also happen to type a lot.
Profiles to store more beatdowns:Similar to gaming mice, most gaming keyboards allow you to store multiple profiles so you can store sets of macros for your favorite games. Even if you don’t need profiles, they are very handy for storing gaming macros as well as frequently used application macros (for all you Photoshop abusers out there). Also like gaming mice, many gaming keyboards can be set to load a specific profile when you run a specific game or application.
Most gaming keyboards support profile storage, though the number of profiles allowed varies from keyboard to keyboard. Some allow as many as 10 different profiles.
Recommendation: You’d almost have to go out of your way to find a gaming keyboard that doesn't support profile storage. I like to have at least 3 available, although I don’t make extensive use of them. And the ability to load up specific settings and macros when you start specific games is handy, particularly when you switch gears from very different games (for example, switching from an FPS to an MMORPG).
Backlighting to light your way:Gamers play in the dark a lot, so backlighting can be as functional as it is pretty. I prefer keyboards with backlighting, ideally with multiple brightness levels so I can adjust it. It can also be nice to have the ability to change the color of the backlight with different profiles.
Recommendation: I prefer and recommend keyboards with some kind of backlighting.
Pass-through connectors—places to stick stuff:Extra places to stick stuff such as thumb drives, gaming mice, USB headsets, etc. are always nice to have. Most gaming keyboards feature extra USB ports and/or audio-pass through connectors (1x stereo/1x microphone).
Recommendation: I recommend and prefer keyboards that provide at least 1 USB port—2 if possible. If you use a standard stereo headset, you may want the Stereo/Mic pass-through connections as well, but they aren’t as useful if you use a USB headset or a 5.1/7.1 (analog) headset.
In addition, I've found some headsets pick up additional line noise when they are connected to pass-through analog connectors on keyboards.
Don’t forget the soft stuff----Software:Virtually all gaming mice and keyboards come with software for programming, customizing, and configuring the device. In my experience, Razer, Roccat, SteelSeries, and Logitech generally make the most richly featured and intuitive driver software. Mad Catz probably ranks next. In addition to better software, you’ll generally get the best technical support from these companies as well.
Trailing the ‘heavyweights’ are brands like Perixx, Corsair, Tt eSports (Thermaltake), Coolermaster, and Raptor-Gaming (now owned by Corsair)—smaller gaming divisions of much larger companies that don’t focus as much on PC accessories and peripherals. I've found their driver software to be a bit of a mixed bag with regards to features and usability.
Recommendation: If intuitive driver software, driver updates, and technical support are extremely important to you, you might want to stick with the heavweights (Razer, Roccat, SteelSeries, Logitech, and Mad Catz). That isn't to say the others aren't good, but you'll need to weigh their feature sets and price with the package.
NOTE: Do Check the List of the Top 5 Best Gaming Keyboards.