Redragon S101 wired gaming keyboard
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If you’re serious about PC gaming, you’ll want to consider upgrading to a dedicated gaming keyboard. It shouldn’t be the first component you level up — that honor goes to either your graphics card or your monitor. But as your primary input device, your gaming performance could improve with the right keyboard.
Gaming keyboards are designed to have faster response times and extra gaming-specific features like customizable hotkeys. Plus they usually come packed with enough pulsing colorful lights to deck out a nightclub.
There are two main technologies in the gaming keyboard space, each with different tactile qualities.
Membrane keyboards tend to be found in cheaper standalone gaming keyboards or built into most laptops. Inputs are registered when an electrical current is passed between the rubber membrane attached to the underside of a key and the larger rubber membrane that sits beneath the entire keyboard. Keystrokes are logged slightly slower than on mechanical keyboards. Keys also don’t spring back up as quickly. So at an elite level of play, your potential actions per minute (APM) is lower. The upside, though, is that membrane keyboards are far quieter.
Mechanical keyboards function essentially like old typewriters, with springs and levers being depressed. They’re faster and more responsive. But the loud, constant clicking sound they make is borderline inconsiderate for office environments. However, if you’re at home and are more concerned about in-game performance, mechanical keyboards are arguably the better option.
If you’re after a top-of-the-line gaming keyboard, you could spend up to $250 on one. Premium models typically include ultra-responsive mechanical switches, ergonomic features that help with long play sessions by minimizing hand and finger cramps, and all the neon-drenched aesthetic bells and whistles you could ask for.
Most premium keyboards also allow for a high degree of customization, like optional textured keycaps for the all-important WASD keys. Some can even customize different actuation points — the amount of pressure that registers a keystroke — for each key. At lower price points, you lose many of these premium features, but you can still find a quality keyboard for less than $100.
Let’s be honest: much of the appeal of a gaming keyboard is in the fancy backlighting that illuminates the keys and surrounding room. The cheapest keyboards probably won’t have this feature. But as soon as you move away from the budget tier, you’ll get single-color varieties (most often red), then RGB (red, green, blue), and then, at the top end, keyboards capable of displaying 16.8 billion colors. If this sounds ridiculously excessive, it is.
While it can look fantastic, make sure you can control the strobe pattern and turn lights off/down. Otherwise, the glare can be distracting in dark rooms.
If you’re mostly an MMO or MOBA player, consider a keyboard with easy-to-access programmable hotkeys, especially if you don’t own a gaming mouse with this feature. To program the commands assigned to each key (called macros), you’ll need to use the driver software that comes with your keyboard. It’s worth researching which of these programs people find easiest to use.
Comfort is determined by the size of your hands compared to the size of the keyboard, your playstyle, any medical conditions you may have and ergonomic features like palm ramps and special key configurations. Although user and critic reviews are useful guides, what you find comfortable will come down to personal preference. So we’d simply recommend heading into a computer store and getting hands-on if you can.
Gaming keyboards generally have larger footprints than standard keyboards because they’ve crammed in up to 15 extra keys and have ergonomic features like palm ramps. As a result, your desk real estate will be at a premium. If you know you don’t need those extra macro keys, or even the number pad that typically sits on the right side of a keyboard, leaner models are available.
You can usually find a keyboard’s dimensions on the manufacturer’s website. So measure your desk space and see what you can get away with.
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