For those of us serious about our e-sports, building our own battlestation is a rite of passage. Picking the perfect graphics cards and motherboard, liquid cooling versus fans, amount of ram, the best monitors and peripherals. The optimal choice for each piece depends on the game you’re going to play and the competition you’re facing. Building your own rig is a rewarding experience and you control the final output. It’s yours, your creation. On top of that, building your own PC can be significantly less expensive for achieving high performance. In our last post, we talked about why a gaming mouse is a great first step in upgrading your computer experience. But a second purchase you should seriously consider is a mechanical keyboard!
What’s a Mechanical Keyboard?
In the early days of consumer computers, most would ship with what was called a mechanical keyboard. They were built with individual switches beneath each key, creating a satisfying pressure when pushed down fully. Over time, however, these keyboards were deemed by industry to simply be too expensive to manufacture. Instead, the standard was shifted to using plastic molding to rapidly print single piece monoblocks of keys with a membrane sheet underneath. The membrane, or actually a number of membrane layers, are connected to an electric circuit that detects key strokes pushed with less pressure.
But as developers and gamers began to return to the nostalgia of the mechanical keyboard, manufacturers started production once again. Just like their predecessors, the new era of mechanical keyboards relies on the user pressing down on a keycap, which activates a spring and switch underneath it. The result is a tactile feedback for each keystroke, but without the potential for bottoming out when using full force. Mechanical switches will often last up to 50 million clicks per key and can easily be replaced thereafter. Membrane keyboards have to be replaced wholesale after a mere 10 million presses.
Backlighting, Backlighting Everywhere!
Like gaming mice, mechanical keyboards will often ship with nifty, embedded LED backlighting. Especially in new models, the LEDs can be programmed to perform a number of routines and functions. Have your keys light up only when you type. Only brighten keys most used during your gaming sessions. Programme the keyboard to “breath” with its lights in sync with your mouse and tower. Initialize color cycles or waves to come on at regular intervals. Record your own effect and color preferences through companion apps and save them to the gaming keyboard’s internal memory. It is important to keep in mind how the LED system is built into your mechanical keyboard: poor design can cause light to seep out and around the keycap, while proper installation would have the light shine up through the key itself. As well, single color LEDs could become tiresome over time, especially if it’s a shade that you don’t particularly enjoy.
Think Tactile Blue!
When building your battlestation, even the switches inside your mechanical keyboard can make a serious difference in your gaming effectiveness. Generally speaking, switches come in four main types:
- Black – The stiffest of the primary categories, making them great for point of sale use but not particularly effective for typing or gaming. There’s no tactile bump and the additional pressure required to push them down reduces response time, which could be the difference between victory and defeat;
- Red – In physical design, these switches are very similar to black, but require far less force to press. There’s still no tactile bump, but these are pretty popular amongst gamers;
- Brown – These have a tactile bump that can be achieved will less pressure then black but they have no satisfying clicking sound;
- Blue – The cream of the crop. With a clicking sound and a strong tactile response, the blue switches offer the user that perfect responsive sensation, whether controlling a character online or writing your latest novel.
Beyond the above, you can find different combinations of these features in a host of other colored switches, from pink and silver, to clear and grey.
They Feel Great to Use!
Keyboards were never actually built for comfort. The creators of the QWERTY arrangement did so because alphabetical layouts tended to jam too often on type writers – QWERTY encouraged slow and deliberate typing. Rectangular designs were also used because they were far easier and cheaper to manufacture than other shapes. To solve this problem, gaming keyboard companies have tried to introduce a whole range of features: split keyboards; inclined; reduced keyboard width; low pressure requirements; and symmetrical design, among others. In each, the principles remain the same. You want the user to hold their arms and hands in a relaxed, natural angle, reducing strain on the wrists and fingers. There’s some evidence to suggest that ergonomic gaming keyboards can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive stress injuries.
They Help with Ghosting!
Ghosting is a hazard for any gamer. On some keyboards, if multiple keys are pressed simultaneously, some of those strokes won’t show up or be actualized. It normally happens due to three issues: first, the keyboard hardware itself can’t read the combination of keys; second, your computer’s software is unable to support combination keystrokes; or three, the connection between your keyboard and computer limits the number of keys that will be registered at any given time. Because mechanical keyboards have individual switches and newer models run internal optimizing software, most have outstanding anti-ghosting reliability. Taking a look at your favorite brand, mechanical gaming keyboards will support as many combinations of simultaneous key presses as there are keys. Never worry about losing that all essential key stroke at the height of your current game session.
If you’re serious about gaming, you need to get your hands on the mechanical keyboard. With higher performance, improved sensitivity, and longer lifespan, this particular purchase to your existing battlestation, whether custom built or out of the box, is a quick and easy upgrade!
Tell us in the comments below whether you prefer mechanical or membrane keyboards.