Keyboard Buying Guide

Staff Writer By Staff Writer - updated January 19th, 2023
Share This Article

In this Keyboard Buying Guide, we’ll explain some of the keywords you’re likely to see when shopping for a new keyboard and include tips on what to look out for, and what makes each keyboard type best in specific situations whether it be for the home or office, for work or play.

Find the right size for your desk

Choosing a keyboard based on your working space is the best place to start. Buying a keyboard for the small workspace has a very different set of needs vs. a large workspace vs. a keyboard for use in the lounge or meeting room. The keywords to look out for in terms of size are as below.

Keyboard Sizes at PB Tech

Full-Sized Keyboard

This keyboard puts 100+ keys at your command including an integrated number pad (typically on the right side but you can get left-handed number pad keyboards). This is great for if you're inputting numbers frequently, need the maximum number of keys at your disposal, or you simply find having numbers to the side more convenient and efficient.

Popular Full-Sized Keyboards

Shop all full-sized keyboards >

TKL (TenKeyLess) Keyboard

Tenkeyless or TKL is the most common compact keyboard layout. TKL keyboards are a full-sized layout, simply without the number pad. This results in 87 or 88 keys with about 80% of the width of a full-size keyboard, alluding to the alternate names for TKL being percentage values like 87%, 80%, 75% and 60%.

Tenkeyless keyboards are a popular choice for smaller work spaces as they take up less space; and they're also popular for meeting rooms and media rooms, as the additional number pad on the right isn't essential or as likely to be used. The reduction in size also means a reduction in weight, making it easier to pass the keyboard around.

With a 75% keyboard, most of the space saving is a result of reducing the gap between different areas of the keyboard and placing keys like Insert, Delete and Home in a single column on the right side of the keyboard. 60%, on the other hand, removes the F-key row at the top and the arrow keys on the right. These missing keys are still accessible thanks to the Function (Fn) key, which is usually near the bottom right side of the keyboard. Generally, the F keys are accessible by pressing the corresponding number key (e.g. Fn + 1 = F1), arrow keys are accessible via WASD (Fn + W = Up).

Popular Tenkeyless Keyboards

Shop all Tenkeyless Keyboards >

Wired vs. Wireless

Wired keyboards have the advantage of being powered by the device it’s plugged into. This is great for devices that don't have Bluetooth support, or if you don't want to worry about needing to re-charge your keyboard or replace the battery when it's flat. To shop for wired keyboards, you can use our filter options and select 'N/A' under wireless technology. Wired keyboards often has a USB connection interface. 

Popular Wired Keyboards

Shop all wired keyboards >

Wireless keyboards, on the other hand, have the advantage of no cables. This can help to create a clean, uncluttered workspace and also makes it perfect for the lounge or boardroom. There are often two types of wireless keyboards. Wireless/USB is the first type, which includes a dongle that needs to be plugged into your PC for the wireless signal. Bluetooth is the second type, which connects they keyboard wirelessly only if the PC has bluetooth functionality. 

Popular Wireless Keyboards

Shop all wireless keyboards >

Special Keys for Windows or Apple

Now is a good time to think about any special keys you might need. If you’re using a Mac, you will want a keyboard with an option or command key. If this is the case, you'll need an iOS keyboard. The options here are far more limited than Windows users and this is where you'll find the best options for Apple Keyboards

Shop Apple Keyboards

How do you want the Keyboard to feel? What sounds will it make?

Mechanical vs. Membrane

Mechanical and membrane keyboards differ is in the way keystrokes are registered.

Membrane keyboards are very basic; all keys are connected with what are essentially pressure pads. You have a keycap and a spring under there that makes it go up and down, and when you push down on a key, it pushes down on a rubber dome that will flatten out and make a connection with a circuit board, telling the computer that a key has been pressed. The only way for your computer to know you have pressed a key is when the key cap has been pushed all the way to the bottom.

Mechanical switches, on the other hand, have individual mechanical mechanisms under every key that moves up and down to make a connection with its own circuitry. The actuation point, or the point where the computer knows the key has been pressed, is made inside the switch itself. So in most cases, you don't have to fully press the key all the way down, and also is most cases the key doesn’t even have to come all the way back up before you can make another keypress and have it register inside your computer.

Now, we say in most cases because the beauty of mechanical switches, is that the consumer is given many options when it comes to various levels of resistance, tactile feedback and audible noise. These are all differentiated by colour to make things easier.

Click vs. Tactile vs. Linear

Although there are a few companies making their own switches and colours out there, we are mostly going to be focusing on Cherry MX switches. However, as long as you understand the 3 categories the switches fall into (clicky, tactile and linear), you will have a good idea of what the different types of switches will feel like.

The three most common mechanical switches you will find are Cherry MX Blue, Brown and Red.

  • The Cherry MX Blues are clicky, and require only 50grams of force to actuate. It has an audible click and a tactile bump. So when you push the key down you will feel a little bump and hear the switch click, this is where the key actuates.
  • Cherry MX Browns are similar, they still have that same tactile bump you can feel but don’t have the audible click, making the switch feel similar but much quieter.
  • Finally, the Cherry MX Reds have a smooth or linear switch, which means the key travels smoothly from top to bottom and you can't feel the actuation point of the switch like you can with the other two.

The Cherry MX Green, White, and Black are similar to the switches above, only with different levels of stiffness.

  • The Cherry MX Green, like the blue, is clicky and audible with a tactile bump, but instead takes 80grams of force to hit the actuation point. Which makes the key feel stiffer.
  • The Cherry MX White is the same as the brown, tactile with no click but takes 85grams of force, which is considerably more
  • The Cherry MX Black is linear like the red but requires 60grams of force to actuate.

Someone who wants to focus mainly on typing will most likely prefer blues or greens due to the tactile feel and the satisfaction of the click letting you know your key has been registered. Once you get used to it, you can swiftly glide your fingers over the keys and use the audible click to let you know when to move on to the next. This can help you to improve speed and accuracy with your typing. Just note that these switches are quite loud, so if you're in an office environment, the brown or white switches might be a little more courteous.

For gaming, most people tend to lean towards the browns or the reds depending on whether or not you want that tactile bump. The Cherry MX Reds actuation point and release are a lot closer together so you can bounce your finger in the middle of the switch for much faster key presses.

As we mentioned earlier, there are a few companies making their own switches and colours out there. As long as you understand the three categories the switches fall into (Clicky, Tactile and Linear), you will know what they should feel like. If you head over to our Mechanical Keyboards and Switch Colours Explained article, we give a brief rundown on a couple of other brands and their switches.

In the end it all comes down to the feel you prefer the most, as well as the environment you'll be using it in (for example, if you're working in a quiet office setting, you might not want a super audible keyboard).

Backlighting and RGB LED

Having LED lights on a keyboard first came about as a way to see the keys in the dark, and while that's still it's primary reason for use, aesthetics now play a big part in it. Many gaming keyboards now offer an excessive array of RGB lighting options both on the keys and onboard, with patterns and effects that can dance to music or react in specific ways when programs are run. One of the most common uses is setting up the RGB lighting to light up the keys you're using in a special way so you can find them easily.  

There are some exceptionally good software packages included with some brands like Logitech, Razer, SteelSeries & Cooler Master which has the ability to automatically highlight the keys you can use automatically when a game is run. And to make it even better, now you can even set the keyboard LEDs to react to events happening in the game, such as being chased by the Police in GTA V.

We hope this guide helps you to choose the best keyboard for your needs! We'll continue adding more information to it as new keyboard designs and technology becomes available to us all.


Written By

Staff Writer

For the words, not the glory!

Share This Article

Write a Comment

Log In to post a comment

1 comment

CliveO4

Would you have any recommendations for a full size mechanical keyboard with tactile switches? Hopefully one that is wireless?

Read more
1 year ago Reply Report