April 15 2012
The keyboard is a vital part of your PC, but it's a component we frequently take for granted. A keyboard designed for gaming can offer a variety of desireable features, such as very precise mechanical keys and small integrated LCDs. Earlier we went into detail about what to look for in a keyboard for gaming. These are some suggestions for people in the market for a gaming keyboard.
At first glance the 7G from SteelSeries looks like a fairly standard keyboard; no integrated screen, no separate media controls, and not a single extra hotkey. Instead of extraneous niceties, the 7G is a testimony to extremely solid construction and high reliability. It uses gold-plated Cherry MX Black switches, which are generally considered ideal for gaming, but less than ideal for typing. The MX Blacks must be fully pressed to actuate and require slightly more force than the Brown and Blue varieties. The 7G has some other appealing features, including an improved PS/2 buffer-system that allows it to recognize as many simultaneous key presses as there are keys on the keyboard. It comes with a large removable wrist rest and has USB and audio ports onboard.
The BlackWidow is a mechanical switch keyboard from Razer, a company known for their gaming peripherals. The standard version uses Cherry MX Blue switches, which have an actuation point about half way through the keystroke and make an unmistakable tapping sound. Some gamers prefer MX Blacks, but it's really a matter of personal preference. The BlackWidow has 5 programmable buttons on the left side as well as on-the-fly macro recording. Razor has steadily added new versions to their BlackWidow family of keyboards, which now includes Ultimate and Stealth versions. The Ultimate versions are the most expensive, with backlighting and additional ports. Stealth versions use the quieter, but still tactile, Cherry MX Brown switches.
If mechanical switches aren't particularly important to you, Logitech has several gaming keyboards with other unique features. The G510 has a Logitech GamePanel LCD onboard, which is handy for following voice chat or monitoring system information without sacrificing screen space in your game. If extra keys appeal to you, the G510 comes through with no less than 18, along with 3 mode settings that provide for as many as 54 different assignments. The backlighting makes it easy to game in the dark and the lighting color can be customized. While quite a few keyboards have audio ports that connect to your existing sound card, the G510 actually has an integrated USB sound card. It's not something I would normally look for in a keyboard, but it could be convenient if you do a lot of gaming with a headset on.
Designed with MMO gamers in mind, the Anansi keyboard from Razer aims to put more buttons at your fingertips. Some games call for more buttons than are available within easy reach of the WASD keys, resulting in the need for modifiers like Shift and Ctrl for some keybinds. While this works, stretching around for different keys while holding down a modifier with your little finger can get quite uncomfortable. The Anansi addresses this by placing 7 additional modifier keys under the space bar for use with your thumb. These apply to the 12 number keys typically used for abilities in RPGs, giving you up to 84 possible assignments. On top of that, it has 5 dedicated macro keys on the left side. If you use a Razer Naga mouse, the modifiers on the keyboard can be applied to the keypad on the mouse, making it pretty much impossible to run out of buttons.
The Merc combines a conventional keyboard with a gaming keypad, providing over 30 dedicated gaming keys on the left side of the device. The pad has an ergonomic layout, with large movement keys and 11 very convenient shortcut buttons. It will register up to 7 simultaneous keystrokes, and while it takes up a significant chunk of desk space, it's a nice addition to your arsenal at a reasonable price. They also sell a more expensive backlit version called the Merc Stealth.