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How to Buy a Gaming Keyboard

How Do You Game?

If you like to play games on your PC, you could just buy a $20 office keyboard and call it a day. Of course, you could also go to a fancy steakhouse and slather your meal in ketchup, or play the complete works of Beethoven through a smartphone speaker.

The fact is, if you want to get the most out of your gaming rig, you’ll need some quality peripherals to go along with it. A keyboard is absolutely vital for work, play and everything in between. Still, there are dozens of keyboards on the market that claim to enhance your gaming experience. Which ones really will, and which ones are just overpriced digital typewriters?

Whether you’re building your own machine or looking to upgrade over the peripherals that came with a pre-built computer, a good gaming keyboard can streamline your gameplay, increase your effectiveness and make something as routine as typing feel like a real accomplishment. Here’s how to pick the best keyboard for your setup.

Keyboard variations tend to be a bit more restrained than their gaming mouse counterparts, but there are still a few important considerations before you start your search. The first thing you’ll want to do is determine how you spend your PC gaming time. Are you hooked on the eSports scene, or do you prefer single-player adventures? Will a dozen extra buttons help your MMO raid party, or is the extra space required for a numpad cramping your style?

The first thing you should determine is whether you need a gaming keyboard at all. If your PC gaming is restricted to the occasional round of League of Legends or following the episodic Telltale Games releases, a high-end peripheral with expensive switches and fancy lighting is probably not going to enhance your experience that much.

Likewise, if your PC is just a way to play the latest console port titles, you’d be much better off investing in a good controller than a top-of-the-line keyboard. Keyboards tend to work best with first-person shooters, strategy games and MMOs, so if these are your go-to genres, a better keyboard may be in your future.

Membrane vs. Mechanical

Something you’ll learn from even cursory research on gaming keyboards is that some cheaper, lower-end models are “membrane,” whereas the more expensive, ambitious models are “mechanical.” For more on what this all means, you can check out our full breakdown.

Briefly, membrane keyboards work by running an electrical current through two mushy plastic membranes. Mechanical keyboards work, like typewriters of old, by placing a mechanical switch underneath each keycap. Naturally, the latter option feels better and works more reliably, but it’s also considerably more expensive.

 

Nevertheless, unless price is a disproportionate consideration, there is no reason why a gamer should buy a membrane keyboard over a mechanical one. With few exceptions, membrane gaming keyboards tend to feel about as good as a $20 office model, and that won’t do many favors for either your gaming habits or your everyday productivity.

Assuming you’re on the hunt for a mechanical model (and you should be), there are still a few more things you should know. There are dozens of mechanical switch types and manufacturers, and keeping them all straight can be difficult. To keep it brief, familiarize yourself with switch types from the German company Cherry.

Cherry MX keys are industry-standard; if a keyboard manufacturer can’t get Cherry keys, you can be sure it will imitate them instead. They come in a variety of colors, the most common of which are Red, Brown, and Blue. Red keys are quiet and respond to a soft-touch; Brown keys are quiet but resistant; Blue keys are clackety and resistant. If a keyboard manufacturer advertises Red, Blue or Brown keys, even if they’re not authentic Cherrys, it will still aim for that general style.

Other mechanical switch types include Blacks (shallow and stiff) and Greens (louder and more resistant than Blues). Topre switches, of Japanese origin, are relatively uncommon in the West, but provide a quieter, more rubbery feel with a full mechanical system underneath.

Types of Keyboards

As stated before, gaming keyboards don’t really get as granular as their mouse counterparts. Since every keyboard has to be an all-purpose peripheral to some extent or another, the differences between various types are subtle. Still, there are at least three general types of keyboards worth exploring.

The vast majority of gaming keyboards are all-purpose models. This is where you’ll find mechanical models that look more or less like a standard office keyboard, perhaps with a few extra keys or some fancy backlighting to set them apart. All-purpose keyboards usually look unassuming, but (hopefully) pack some gorgeous mechanical switches under the hood. They may or may not have an extra row of macro buttons. Either way, they’re ideal for FPS, RTS, MOBA or any action/adventure holdouts who grew up during the ’80s or ’90s and simply refuse to sully their setups with a console-style controller.

 

For gamers who live and die by cooperative online games, an MMO keyboard may be the way to go. These keyboards have tons of extra macro keys, often in multiple rows. Conservative MMO keyboards start at six extra keys, but can go all the way up to 18 for those who want to truly micromanage every aspect of a character’s skill rotation. These keyboards are often expensive and enormous, though, so make sure you have both the funds and the desk space.

On the other end of the spectrum are tenkeyless models, which eschew the numpad entirely. These devices are small, (relatively) inexpensive and usually light enough to transport. Some of them even allow you to disconnect the wire, or come with a carrying case. If desk space is at a premium in your home, or if you’re constantly on the go for tournaments, a tenkeyless keyboard is well worth investigating — especially in conjunction with a many-buttoned gaming mouse.

Illumination

When it comes to backlighting, gamers generally have three choices in keyboards: none, one color, or full RGB. Backlighting is, overall, not as useful as it may sound; even if you’re not an excellent typist, you’ll probably figure out where you need to put your fingers for game commands easily enough. On the other hand, if you have a blue computer case, a blue mouse and a blue power indicator on your monitor, a blazing red keyboard is going to look pretty silly.

RGB features can increase a keyboard’s price by dozens of dollars, so consider carefully whether it’s really something you need. My recommendation is to buy a monocolored keyboard if you can find one that matches your setup, and to spring for RGB lighting if you can’t. If you’re an all-star touch typist, you can simply eschew lighting entirely.

If you already own other gaming peripherals, like gaming mice or headsets, backlighting can also be a point of synchronicity between them. Brands like Logitech, Razer and SteelSeries have unified gaming software that can link the backlighting across mice, headsets and keyboards. Furthermore, running only one program instead of three produces less of a drain on system resources. If you already have a headset or mouse from a certain brand, consider buying a keyboard from the same manufacturer.

Bottom Line

Choosing a great gaming keyboard is probably easier than choosing a great gaming mouse, but there are still a few important things to keep in mind. Get a mechanical model, be sure it has the right number of extra keys (bearing in mind the right number might be “zero”) and consider whether you really need to spend a lot of extra money for colorful illumination.

It’s worth noting that a mechanical keyboard is not just a great gaming tool; it’s a fantastic addition to any productivity setup as well.

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A Guide to Buying a Gaming Mouse

DPI
Dots Per Inch or DPI is the number of pixels the cursor on the screen moves when you move the mouse by an inch. Simply put, the higher the DPI, the more your cursor moves with minimal mouse movement, and vice versa. A mouse with high DPI (>1600) would be ideal for shoot ’em up games where you’re constantly on the move. These are also useful if you have a large screen or monitor, as you would not need to strain as much navigating from one end of the screen to the other. A lower DPI (<1600) is perfect for games that involve stealth and better control of the mouse. Some high-end gaming mice give you the option to change their DPI setting.
 
Acceleration
Acceleration is the speed at which the cursor moves in proportion to the speed at which the mouse is moved. The lower the acceleration the more control you have over the cursor. Most mice do not let you change the acceleration and have a standard acceleration. This is a parameter that cannot really be verified by the end user and as most gaming mice have a good acceleration value, this isn’t really a decisive factor while buying a mouse.
 
Polling Rate
Polling rate is essentially the response time of the cursor with respect to any action of the mouse. The higher the polling rate, the more often your mouse registers an action. For hardcore gamers, a polling rate in the range of 400 – 1,000 Hz should be just about perfect. For wireless mice, a higher polling rate would mean higher battery consumption.
 
Wired/Wireless
For those who like no hindrance while playing games, even with mouse wires, there’s nothing quite like a wireless mouse. These, however, run out of battery pretty soon, which is never a problem with wired mice. If you prefer a wireless mouse, opt for one with a large in-built rechargeable battery rather than one that uses removable batteries. The weight and range are other factors that you might also want to consider while buying a wireless gaming mouse.
 
Additional Buttons
Most gaming mice come with additional buttons apart from the standard three buttons (left, right and scroll). These buttons can be customized to handle specific functions in a game, and are very useful. Usually, a button on each side of the mouse should suffice for most gaming needs. Some mice feature profile storage options which allow you to save multiple settings on the mouse to use for different gaming needs. This is a feature that is rather handy if you play games across various genres.
 
Comfort
Comfort is probably, one of the most important factors to consider when buying a gaming mouse. Most games keep you occupied for hours together with almost all their in-game actions controlled by the mouse. Get a hands-on feel of the mouse if you can before buying it, as you would be using it for really long periods. This is all the more important if you are looking for a wireless gaming mouse as more often than not, you would not be using it on a level surface. As a rule of thumb, always choose ergonomics over style. Also, while selecting a mouse that best suits you, you may want to consider one that best matches your dominant hand (left or right) and the way you grip the mouse (palm, fingertip, or claw grip).
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TIPS ON BUYING A GAMING LAPTOP

  1. Don’t buy a gaming laptop for low-end titles like World of Warcraft or Candy Crush. These games can easily be supported by an integrated graphics card.
  2. Avoid touch screens. They’re more expensive and drain the battery.
  3. 17- or 18-inch laptops are typically more powerful, but the least portable while 13-, 14- and 15-inchers are easier to carry but often lack higher-end components.
  4. Make sure the keyboard is comfortable. If you can, take a trip to the store and try out the keyboard before you buy.
  5. Ditch the M. Thanks to Nvidia’s 10-series GPUs, mobile chips are a thing of the past. These new GPUs are faster, more powerful and are VR-ready.  
  6. Avoid laptopswith a low-res display (less than 1920 x 1080).
  7. Get solid state storage. Invest in an SSD for faster game installs and load times.
  8. Get a laptop with at least an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU and a HDMI 1.3 port if you want to be able to enjoy virtual reality games with an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.

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  • Within the constraints of your budget and desk space, get the largest monitor you can. You’ll rarely regret buying a monitor that’s too big, but you’ll always regret buying one that’s too small. There are also super-widescreen monitors with 21:9 aspect ratio (2.35:1). Many of these models are curved, and most of them are 34-inch displays with lower-than-4K resolution.
  • If you can afford it go 4K if not, choose one with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is most commonly 1,920×1,080 (FHD, or “full HD”). You can find the aspect ratio by dividing the horizontal resolution by the vertical resolution, and the the result for 16:9 should be 1.77:1.
  • If you run Windows 10 and sit arms-length or closer to your display, get a touchscreen. If you sit farther back, it’s too awkward to use on a regular basis.
  • Make sure the stand can adjust to the appropriate height for you to use comfortably as well as tilt to a usable angle.
  • Go with one that you find attractive, which for many people is synonymous with “thin bezels.” You’ll be staring at it a lot.
  •  If you’re a gamer, you’re going to want a monitor that uses the image-enhancement platform that matches your graphics card — G-Sync for Nvidia or Free Sync for AMD — and that has a latency (also referred to as response time) of 5 milliseconds or less.
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What to look for when

buying a gaming motherboard

Building your own gaming PC is rewarding and often far cheaper than buying a pre-built system.

However, gamers new to the world of PC hardware may be a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of different products and specifications.

This is especially true when buying a motherboard, as there are a number of specifications which will limit your build options based on compatibility.

We’ve listed a few things to look out for when buying a gaming motherboard below:


Socket

The most important part of choosing a motherboard is its socket type and model.

A processor is attached to a motherboard using a built-in socket on the board, meaning that you will need a motherboard with the right socket for your CPU or you will not be able to install your processor.

Sockets numbers are usually related to processor generations, with the LGA 1151 socket being compatible with Intel’s Skylake and Kaby Lake processors.

Another important factor to consider is the model of your motherboard, as some models are not capable of overclocking.

While overclocking is not necessary for gaming, it is always good to have the option of squeezing some more power from your CPU, especially if you have an aftermarket cooling solution.


Memory

One of the first things to check in a motherboard’s specification list is its compatible memory.

Modern gaming motherboards support either DDR4 or DDR3 RAM, and it is important to choose the motherboard model that supports your RAM.

While DDR3 is still perfectly serviceable for any gaming PC, most motherboard manufacturers are phasing it out in favour of DDR4, which is relatively cheap and faster than DDR3.

You should also take note of the maximum amount of memory your motherboard can support. While you won’t need more than about 8GB for modern games, it’s good to have room to expand.


Ports and expansion slots

Now that you’ve picked out a motherboard which supports your processor and memory,  you’ll need to ensure it has enough expansion slots for your additional hardware and a few USB 3.0 ports for fast data transfer.

Smaller motherboards may not support more than graphics card, and if you’re planning on building an SLI gaming rig, you should make sure your motherboard supports both two graphics cards and SLI.

Additional features such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth may also be attractive to some gamers for mobile build connectivity and controller support via Bluetooth.


Form Factor

Size is important to consider, whether you’re cramming a bunch of gaming hardware into a case the size of a shoe box or building a towering custom water-cooled SLI gaming rig.

Smaller motherboards may have less expansion slots and ports, but still can include built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Larger motherboards are a good choice for large builds, as this allows you more slots for future hardware expansion and better heat distribution.


Manufacturers

Perhaps most importantly, do not buy cheap motherboards built by unknown manufacturers, especially not for gaming.

High-end gaming can place strain on your motherboard, which is why you should ideally buy a gaming motherboard from a respected manufacturer such as Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, or AsRock.

These manufacturers also sell high-end gaming motherboards with unique features such as reinforced PCIe expansion slots and programmable RGB lighting.

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How to choose the right graphics card model

Figuring out what the best graphics card is for your budget is no small task, but unfortunately that’s only the beginning. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at an AMD or Nvidia GPU, once you’ve settled on a specific GPU choosing between an RTX 2060 and GTX 1070, for example you’ll be presented with a massive selection of varying card models from at least half a dozen manufacturers. These cards will vary in price, features, clockspeed, warranties and more, so how do you determine which one is actually the best?

There’s no one solution that will work for every individual, as many items come down to personal preference. Going with the least expensive card for example is a perfectly viable option… most of the time. Here are the major things you should look for when looking for your next graphics card. I’ve sorted them roughly in order of importance, though again personal preference will play a role.

Note that GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) refers to the chip that a graphics card uses, eg, a GeForce RTX 2070. The GPU is analogous to the CPU, while your graphics card is similar to a motherboard. Unlike buying a motherboard and CPU where you install the chip into the socket, picking a graphics card is a package deal you get both parts, forever linked together.

Size matters and connectivity

Some people might say that bigger is better, but that’s not always true. While larger cards will often cool better and run quieter than smaller cards, there are plenty of PC cases that simply won’t be able to accommodate the largest graphics cards. Zotac’s Amp Extreme line of GPUs for example are absolutely massive, with triple 90mm fans and a thick heatsink. They take up three expansion slots one for the actual PCIe connection and the next two adjacent slots are blocked by the cooler. If you’re only running a single card and you have a larger ATX case, a bigger card probably isn’t an issue, but for a micro-ATX or mini-ITX build, you’ll need to choose carefully.

Large cards aren’t just about the size, though weight is another factor to consider. All other items being equal (though they rarely are), a heavier cooler will often work better. That’s because the materials will often conduct heat better, allowing for better heat dissipation copper heatsinks are better than aluminum for example, but copper weighs more. The thing is, a heavy card will often put additional strain on the PCIe slot and in extreme cases it could even cause the metal on your case’s expansion slot to sag and bend. This is especially a concern if you move your PC around a lot. Consider buying a graphics card support brace if your GPU weighs more than a couple pounds, or alternatively get a case where the graphics cards ‘hang’ vertically.

On a similar note, check the video outputs on any card you’re considering, especially if you run a dual-monitor setup. Nearly every graphics card will have at least one DisplayPort and one HDMI connector, but everything else is up to the manufacturer. Do you have an older monitor that requires a DVI-D connection? Make sure any card you’re looking at supports this! If you need dual DisplayPort or HDMI outputs, again, make careful note of what the card provides, as well as what revision of the spec is supported.

Related to this is the subject of power requirements. If you’re looking at a graphics card that requires two 8-pin PEG connectors to function and your PSU only has one, you’ll need a new PSU. This usually isn’t a problem as even modest 500W PSUs typically have two 8-pin connectors these days, which should suffice for just about any modern GPU, but it could be a limiting factor if you’re upgrading an older PC and your PSU only has 6-pin connectors. I strongly recommend avoiding Molex to 6-pin adapters and I’d avoid the dual 6-pin to single 8-pin cable adapters as well. I’ve also had issues with older PCs that simply didn’t handle a higher power card without adding some intake fans to cool things down.

Bottom line: You need to make sure your graphics card will fit in your PC, that it supports your desired video connector and that your PSU is sufficient, preferably before the purchase. Or if you’re building a new PC, make sure your case can fit your graphics card and buy a 500W or larger PSU. Even if a card looks like the best deal ever, if it doesn’t fit it’s a non-starter.

Frugally minded

It’s easy to get hung up on all the fancy features and extras that I’ll cover below, but for most people, price is going to be an overriding factor in deciding which card to buy. That’s because most graphics cards with the same GPU perform similarly, within a small range, so your ultra-uberclocked extreme model might only be 10 percent faster than a card with reference clocks. If it’s only a small increase in price. I’ll get into this more in a second, but clockspeeds aren’t the only factor. For enthusiasts, if you’re willing to tweak and tune your card, the gap between the fastest and slowest card models for a specific GPU are often only a few percent.

TLDR: Let your wallet influence your decision in a big way.

Clockspeeds, cooling and noise

A lot of people probably put far more emphasis on clockspeed than I think it warrants. “OMG, you got a card with a massive factory overclock!” That’s fine, but if the added cost could have been better used to upgrade to a faster GPU, you can easily overspend. For example, there are overclocked GTX 1660 Ti cards that cost basically as much as an RTX 2060. The problem is that a 2060, even at reference clock, is almost universally faster than even the highest overclocks you’ll get from a 1660 Ti. That’s because it has 25 percent more cores and 17 percent more memory bandwidth, and most overclocks won’t make up that deficit.

The thing is, higher factory overclocked cards often include better cooling, so it’s still something to think about. As far as cooling goes, there are also liquid cooled cards with an external radiator. These often keep temperatures down compared to more traditional solutions and the weight is less of a factor since the radiator and fan end up being mounted directly on your PC case. They do require more room, however and costs can go way up for such designs. I’d only recommend a hybrid cooling design if you’re getting a top-tier card like an RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti.

Clockspeeds and cooling factor into noise levels as well. This is why a lot of people like the triple-fan coolers: they’re large and can have three quiet fans as opposed to one or two louder fans. Blowers are often the loudest cards on the market, but they also vent heat out of your case, so they’re almost required for cramped ITX builds.

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