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Klash of the keyboards: We mash down hard on six all-new mechanical models

Hayden Dingman | March 21, 2014
A good keyboard is like a good bed--once you've lived with one, you'll never be satisfied with anything less. And if you're like me, you spend more time behind a keyboard than you do in a bed, so why are you hanging onto that crappy plank that came with your PC? There are oodles of great choices available today, and I've just laid hands on six of them.

Razer bucked the longstanding trend of using Cherry MX switches by designing its own Razer Green and Razer Orange mechanical keyswitches. The BlackWidow Ultimate, reviewed here, uses Razer Green switches. The BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth, which I haven't tested, uses the quieter Razer Orange switches.

Other features to look for
Audio hub
Plugging your analog headset or analog headphones and mic into your keyboard gives you more play in your cable, increasing your freedom of movement.

Backlighting Many gamers enjoy playing in the dark. This becomes much easier if the key caps are backlit. 

Braided cables Cables with sheaths of braided fabric are more durable — and more attractive — than cables wrapped in cheap rubber or vinyl. 

Game mode key Accidentally hitting the Windows key during the heat of battle can temporarily kick you out of a game. That won't happen if you can disable those keys with the press of a button.

Macro keys With this feature, you can record complex strings of keystrokes and execute them by holding down just one key.

Media-player controls When you're watching videos or listening to music, having play/pause and forward/reverse buttons on your keyboard are much more convenient than using the controls embedded in the app.

N-key rollover With some games, you can execute complex moves or perform a series of actions by holding down more than one key at a time. The N in N-key rollover indicates the number of individual keys the keyboard can distinctly recognize when they're pressed simultaneously. 

Onboard memory This enables macros to be stored on the keyboard, versus loading a driver or software program on the host PC and storing the macros there.

USB pass-through Having USB ports built into your keyboard is handy if you have a limited number of USB ports on your computer. A USB pass-through can also make it easier to connect a USB headset or a thumb drive to your PC.

Volume control/mute Like media-player controls, it's easier to adjust the volume from dedicated controls on the keyboard than it is from an app (although most headsets also have these controls these days).

The reviews

Just how obsessed am I with keyboards? I recently attended a press conference for the rollout of a new high-end gaming laptop. As soon as I got some hands-on time with the machine, I launched Notepad and started typing text strings. A PR rep looked over my shoulder and said "That's a $2,300 gaming laptop, and you have Notepad open?"

Of course I did. No matter how great the rest of the laptop is, I'll interact with its keyboard more than any other component.

For this roundup, I put each keyboard through its paces with everything from Titanfall to Microsoft Word and am here to tell you in excruciating detail everything you need to know. To read the individual reviews, click the Next Article button below this paragraph. The reviews are presented in order of score, from highest to lowest. 

 

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