There are a ton of considerations when buying a new PC or creating the perfect desktop setup. But one that should never be overlooked is the keyboard—especially since a cheap or poorly designed keyboard that’s difficult to type on can result in injury.
Some Keyboard Features Are More Important Than Others
The keyboard is one of the two primary ways in which we interact with our computer. For that reason, investing in a good one with awesome features is an excellent idea. But not all keyboard features are must-haves. It depends largely on personal taste, such as wired or wireless, number pad or not (tenkeyless), and size.
Other features, however, can make a world of difference to your typing experience. Below are our recommendations on the five keyboard features everyone should want.
Stop using that cheap keyboard with the squishy domed switches you got for free with your new PC. It’s not doing your hands any favors. Mechanical switches typically require less force to register a keypress. Once you get used to them, you generally put less stress on your fingers and wrists while typing.
The leading brand in mechanical switches is Cherry, a company based in Germany. Its switches are called Cherry MX, and they’re color-coded in brown, blue, red, and black. Most people are happy with the general use options, like MX Blue, which offers a nice “clickety-clack” sound, or the quieter MX Browns.
There are also homegrown mechanical switch options from companies like Logitech and Razer; however, almost all of these are trying to imitate Cherry MX products.
Mechanical switches can also be found on laptops, but they’re generally reserved for gaming models.
The HyperX Alloy FPS Pro ($70 at the time of writing) is a great example of a solid gaming keyboard with mechanical switches. It’s available with either Cherry MX Blue or Cherry MX Red switches.
A USB Passthrough
USB-powered peripherals for desktops present two annoying problems: they create a tangle of cords, and it can be a pain to plug them into the back of your PC. A USB passthrough allows you to connect an important peripheral to a USB port on the keyboard.
The ability to plug in a peripheral, or even a thumb drive, via USB passthrough is incredibly convenient. Plus, it’s easier to manage a cable or use something with a shorter cable.
Just because a keyboard has a USB port doesn’t mean it supports passthrough, however—some ports are just for charging. If you’re looking for a passthrough port, make sure it says on the box or in the product description that this is supported.
For example, the ASUS Strix Flare ($109 at the time of writing) offers USB passthrough.
Per-key backlighting is a very handy feature for lap- and desktops. If you’re using a laptop in a dark location—whether it’s your own living room, an airplane, or outdoors—a lighted keyboard is a clear advantage.
On desktops, it’s handy for the same reasons, but if you get a keyboard with RGB lighting, it’s even more useful. For example, you can create color-coded keyboard areas to make it easier to find a specific set of keys when gaming or for pretty much any other productivity use that requires the keyboard.
Available for $80 at the time of writing, the Cooler Master CK552 keyboard shows you don’t have to spend over a hundred bucks to get per-key backlighting.
If there’s any piece of advice that exactly zero people follow, it has to be not having beverages around your computer. We all do it. And no matter how much equipment we’ve trashed because of it, we just tell ourselves the eternal lie: “I’ll be more careful this time.”
Since we all like living on the edge, it’s best to buy items that can protect themselves. You can find lap- and desktops with spill-resistant keyboards. Different manufacturers use different solutions.
For example, Lenovo laptops with spill resistance usually have strategically placed runoff holes that allow liquids to exit without harming any essential components. However, this approach also means you have to let your laptop dry out before you can use it again.
Waterproof keyboards also exist, but spill-resistance is more common.
The Corsair K68 is a spill (and dust!) resistant keyboard, available for $90 at the time of writing.
Media Keys and a Volume Roller
A function key combination is a poor substitute for media keys. Yes, it works, but it’s as useful as using a smartphone instead of a smart speaker. In other words, it sucks.
Dedicated media keys make life easier for controlling web players, like those from YouTube and Netflix, as well as onboard apps, like Spotify or VLC. This is because you can control them without removing your hands from the keyboard.
Finding dedicated media keys is easy enough, but few keyboards have a volume roller. We’re using the term “roller” as a stand-in for wheels, knobs, and horizontal rollers. Sure, you can keep slamming those Volume Up and Down buttons, but a quick twist or spin of a volume roller is far easier.
Adding this to a keyboard is a nice feature, although, it sometimes looks a bit odd. If you can’t stomach an odd-looking wheel on the edge of your keyboard, a nice alternative is a sound card that comes with an audio control module or an external DAC with a volume roller.
For a great volume roller, check out the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum XT mechanical keyboard. At $181 at the time of writing, it’s a premium piece of technology—but it has many of the features we listed here, including per-key backlighting, USB passthrough, and mechanical switches.
A quality keyboard is a must for anyone who spends all day in front of a computer. If you find a keyboard with all of these must-have features, you’ll have a wonderful addition to your PC that you won’t be able to do without.