Gaming Keyboard Guide - Rubber Dome vs. Mechanical
Not all keyboards are made alike and today I’m going to talk about the different keyboards, specifically in relation to gamers. Gaming peripherals is a huge market of waste, where tons and tons and tons of subpar products are created with the intention of giving people an “edge” that are faulty and poorly constructed, or with such a niche intention that they try to market them out beyond their original intended function. The Power Glove anyone?
Anyway, keyboards come in about four flavors. Chiclet, rubber dome, mechanical, and spring action. Chiclet and rubber dome keyboards are essentially one in the same, using drastically similar methods of completing a circuit to send the signal to the computer that you’ve pressed down on a key. However, we’re going to go through and demystfy the different kinds of keyboards and how they relate to gaming.
Rubber Dome & Chiclet Keyboards
Rubber dome keyboards are the most common form of keyboard out there and most gaming keyboards are rubber dome keyboards. The key sits on top of a rubber dome, when pushed down it activates a circuit that says that this key has been pressed. When released, the circuit is broken and the keyboard continues. The rubber dome keyboards are considered by most to be the de facto modern keyboard, for lots of reasons. First is that they’re very quiet. The only moving parts is the rubber that the keyboard sits on.
I find that rubber dome keyboards are realistically the one most gaming consumers should go for because of the price, feature set, and availability. I’m going to talk endlessly on the value of mechanical keyboards, how awesome they are, and how I use them exclusively but that’s because I have a need and desire for it. For most users, rubber dome is the way to go.
Now, you’ll hear otherwise and rightfully so. Mechanical keyboards, above all else, have one solid thing going for them that other keyboards don’t: fatigue. If nothing else, mechanical keyboards do not “bottom out” which means that to get the letter to appear you do not have to press the button all the way down. With a rubber dome keyboard you must press the key all the way down and against the bottom of the keyboard in order to activate the circuit, thus causing strain and fatigue.
However, if you’re not a super power user, you probably will never notice and spending $20 to $80 on a feature rich regular keyboard is perfectly fine for you.
A special note, chiclet keys or flat keys, like the Apple keyboard are the same as rubber dome keys, except that they have to only be depressed a little bit to activate and much more portable. Some people prefer this style of keyboard.
Mechanical keyboards come in two flavors: cherry switches and springs. I can write (and will do so) an entire article on the various switches, but for now let’s discuss the different options available to you. Cherry switches decide the tactile feel (the bump when you press down), the noise (the clicky sound), and the amount of pressure required to press a key down and have the circuit complete. Different set of cherry switches determine different combinations of the above, with the most popular typing switch being blue (activates very easily, loud click) and reds (quiet, great for gaming).
The entire point though is that the mechanical switch is far superior to the rubber domes in durability (the solder will usually break on the circuits before the actual switches die). There are a ton of manufactures of the keyboards, but only a few of the actual boards inside, meaning that you have to do a lot of heavy duty research.
Not all mechanical keyboards are boring, Ducky makes ones that you could host a rave with.
They’re also pricey. The best mechanical keyboards are around $200 to be imported into America and of very, very limited supply. You an get them sometimes for $150, but that’s of an even smaller selection, because they are imported from Japan to the United Kingdom and then to America. Which is why I say rubber dome keyboards are absolutely alright, considering you can get a super cool LCD screen keyboard with tons of features for $50 to $80, but $80 gets you the most absolute bare bones mechanical keyboard that may or may not even be a decent one.
Oh and features, most mechanical keyboards have no features. There is no LCD screens, no media buttons, there is just a keyboard. Most of the time they are “tenkeyless” which means they’re missing the numpad. This is great for a lot of enthusiasts, but it can take the fun out for someone who wants something shiny and cool (although let’s be honest, most of the extra keys on a keyboard we all don’t use).
Oh and spring keyboards are like the Model M. They're great to type on and game on for a lot of people, but they don't have as many options as your standard mechanical keyboard as far as switches.
Oh boy, this is a thing. Basically, some keyboards put some keys on the same circuit, meaning that if you press one, you can’t press the others at the same time. This is critical for people who do like ctrl, W, then R (crouch, walk forward, reload) and other key combos that don’t work. A lot of USB keyboards, even high end gaming ones, have “ghosting” or fail to recognize a lot of 3-key combos. Mechanical keyboards almost universally have “n-key rollover” meaning that each key is its own circuit. With a USB connection, you can hold down six keys at once, with a PS/2 connection you can hold down all of them. Actually, a lot of times, if you do use a rubber dome keyboard, you’ll need a gaming keyboard to avoid ghosting and have the ability to press up to six keys at once.
That’s pretty much the difference between all the keyboard types. In summary, buy any keyboard that has the features you want, unless you want a keyboard to type a lot on or are into really hardcore gaming.