If you’re a super keen gamer there’s an entire market out there dedicated to making you even better. Just like any outdoor sport PC gaming has its gadgets and gizmos to increase your performance. We grabbed some of the newest and most popular products from the big names in gaming gear and put them through their paces. Though comfort is subjective at best we have tried to be as neutral as possible when it comes to the look and feel of these devices while proving benefits and potential pitfalls along the way. Unfortunately the distributor for Razer was in the process of getting in the new model keyboards at time of writing – so we’ll look at them in standalone reviews when they become available.
So what do these gaming keyboards offer over standard (and much cheaper!) models? The primary thing for keyboards is ghosting which is the limit of the number of keys which register as pressed at any one time. Secondly and the thing that sets many keyboards apart is the inclusion of multiple programmable keys such as macro keys. These let you set up a group of actions and assign them to a single keypress saving you precious time in the heat of battle. Gaming mice are optimised to be ultra-precise – that is they can respond to the smallest of movements. They also typically have a large amount of buttons.
What do I look for in a gaming keyboard?
Make sure you can press multiple keys at the same time and have them register.
Save precious keystrokes with macro-compatible keyboards.
It’s a personal thing but some like the thump of a long travel key or mechanical switches.
High-end boards sometimes include USB hubs to cut down on the cable mess on your desk.
Play in the dark? A backlight might make things easier.
Be sure to check out part two of our gaming accessories roundup which takes a look at the best gaming mice available. Note: additional reviews for this article were written by Troy Coleman.
[#PAGE-BREAK#GIGABYTE AIVIA K8100#]
GIGABYTE AIVIA K8100
GIGABYTE is not the first name that springs to mind when talking about gaming accessories. Motherboards and VGA definitely; computer cases sure! But gaming keyboards? Well the first GIGABYTE gaming keyboard to hit our shores is the AIVIA branded K8100 and it’s bloody awesome.
Out of the box it looks pretty low-key (pardon the pun) but it has a lot of thought put into it. For example your WASD keys plus 1-4 R-Ctrl and space all have a different weighting to the other keys. It means they spring back quicker just what you want when bashing away. Secondary keys (Shift Tab etc.) have a second level of force.
There are also five macro buttons above the F keys on the left hand side of the board that can in turn be toggled with five sets of macros. It’s not as elegant as the Logitech system and the placement is a bit out but the software is extremely functional. There’s the usual backlighting and USB hub plus some pretty cool touch sensitive audio controls. Anti ghosting is limited to 20 keys around WASD so though it’s not perfect anti ghosting it’s still four times better than most keyboards.
Available from GIGABYTE retailing for $69.
APC rating: 7/10
[#PAGE-BREAK#Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard#]
Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard
If you’re a keen FPS gamer then this board is for you. The G13 is a gameboard (as opposed to a keyboard) a 20-key mini keyboard built around the WASD design with supporting keys. It’s hard to describe but the picture tells the story. The G13 includes a wrist rest a thumb driven mini joystick and 25 programmable keys. That’s pretty much every key! There’s the ubiquitous Logitech gaming keyboard LCD display (in high contrast black and white) for displaying game stats and comms data.
Now the G13 is a strange beast. This writer finds it quite uncomfortable and it all comes down to the pinky. The pinky of our left hand sits on the Shift key normally ranging to Ctrl Z and X as need be. On the G13 the key that is where Shift would normally be is higher than the WASD keys so the hand posture changes immediately. Strangely the keys placed to be accessed by the pinky have been cut off (you end up with half-size keys for the least accurate finger): definitely style over utility.
It’s one of those designs where no doubt with lots of practice it will become a favourite tool. You’ll need to spend the hours setting it up and getting used to it though.
Available from Logitech retailing for $159.
APC rating: 6/10
[#PAGE-BREAK#Logitech G19 Keyboard for Gaming#]
Logitech G19 Keyboard for Gaming
The G19 looks like the pinnacle of gaming keyboards but is it all that it’s cracked up to be? The first thing that pops out about this keyboard is the swivel-mounted colour LCD mini monitor on the top centre of the board. This little screen acts as a secondary information source for your gaming – it allows you to see stats specs or act as a menuing system depending on the game.
The G19 allows a simultaneous pressing of 5 keys before ghosting kicks in which will be fine for most people. There’s also twelve programmable macro keys lined up in rows of two on the left hand side of the keyboard. Macros are stored in onboard memory so you can pick it up and go.
Up against some games this board takes a long time to get used to. This writer has been using a G19 for over two months and still has to look when putting fingers on keys (due to the added length of the board). The key press is also quite deep; you need to push down quite far on the keys before they register. It’s not ideal and can cause you to mess up a bit at first. This board is incredibly expensive but in this case I don’t think that the expense is worth it.
Available from Logitech retailing for $399.
APC rating: 7/10
[#PAGE-BREAK#Logitech G510 Gaming Keyboard#]
Logitech G510 Gaming Keyboard
At first glance the Logitech G510 looks just like the high-end G19 keyboard except with a smaller LCD screen. It’s not the case however the G510 is a much better buy overall. Though the external design looks the same the keyboard has a very different feel to it. The G510’s key press though it does have the same deep travel as the G19 has a much softer feel to it. This makes it seem like you don’t need as much effort to bash in a key. The spacebar is also hair trigger so a jump is just a brush of the thumb. The G510 also rocks more macro buttons than the G19.
There’s 18 buttons on the left hand side of the keyboard in three groups of six fully programmable macro compatible with an on-board storage memory. There’s also the Logitech media keys Windows button disable toggle and customisable backlighting. A big plus is the integrated USB audio so you can connect with a single cable and get high quality sound direct from your keyboard.
Overall if you’re in the Logitech camp we prefer the G510: the look and feel is very similar the key features are there (the extra keys LCD info panel and audio) and it’s half the price.
Available from Logitech retailing for $199.
APC rating: 8/10
[#PAGE-BREAK#Roccat Arvo Compact Gaming Keyboard#]
Roccat Arvo Compact Gaming Keyboard
It’s not just a clever name – the USB powered gaming keyboard from Roccat is certainly compact – taking into account the extended numeric keypad the Arvo measures a space efficient 39 x 14cm. Even though the Arvo takes up a small footprint the size of the keys has not been compromised; the QWERTY keys have generous size and spacing.
Roccat are coming to the table with some genuinely excellent ideas in regards to design – while the meagre five programmable keys pale in comparison to the abundant Gs of the keyboard world it’s the placement that counts. Nestled snugly below the space bar within easy thumb reach are the first three keys with the remainder located on the numeric keypad which can be switched to gaming mode with an additional set of directional keys to boot.
Unfortunately the major set of keys lack any backlighting the array of function keys sit flush with the top of the board and each other leaving no way of knowing which key is being pressed without looking. Finally the Arvo features no additional connectivity – there’s not a USB port headphone jack or audio control in sight. Not too bad for the price.
Available from Roccat retailing for $89.
APC rating: 6/10
The SteelSeries 7G has us very confused. It has none of the crazy features of some other gaming keyboards like replaceable key sets LCD screens and endless macro buttons. What is has is performance in bucketloads. The 7G uses mechanical switches under the keys as opposed to the rubber and plastic “dome” style key switches found on most keyboards. These old school style switches give you that nice positive clunk keypress all keyboards use to have.
The mechanical switches also allow the keys to be more rigid as well as provide a stable base for all gold contacts. The 7G is also different in that it is a PS/2 keyboard. This allows the keyboard to avoid ghosting issues altogether; every key can be pressed at the same time and all will register. If you must a USB to PS/2 adaptor is included but it brings the ghosting back to USB’s maximum of 6 simultaneous keys. The 7G also sports the usual USB and audio throughputs seen on most gaming keyboards.
Ultimately this is a keyboard for serious gamers. It doesn’t light up it doesn’t let you macro endless commands and it won’t cook you breakfast. It will however be an awesome keyboard and we love it.
Available from SteelSeries retailing for $239.
APC rating: 9/10
[#PAGE-BREAK#SteelSeries MERC STEALTH#]
SteelSeries MERC STEALTH
The MERC STEALTH from SteelSeries is a strange beast. It’s a full sized keyboard with an extra WASD keypad built in to the left hand side. What we end up with is a hulking behemoth of a keyboard around 55cm long. For a start that’s a lot of desk space and secondly it’s not terribly comfortable to use.
The problem here is that it is too wide. Once you factor in the space for your mouse on the other side of the keyboard you’re realistically spreading your two hands over 70cm more if you swing your mouse wide. I measured up our games editor Troy Coleman of the monkey arms and it’s considerably wider than his shoulder width (which is a width most gamers tend to play within).
The functionality can’t be questioned though with every button under the sun and by far the most sensible layout of a keypad WASD setup we’ve seen. It looks good and it plays well. The MERC STEALTH backlights in red blue and purple. The included software has over 150 presets for common games meaning you don’t have to do a lot of setup but considering the keypad keys mirror the “real” keys around the gaming area you probably won’t need to change much.
Available from SteelSeries retailing for $139.
APC rating: 6/10
Out of the box it’s hard not to marvel at the behemoth that is the SteelSeries SHIFT; it’s an imposing beast that looks as if it would take up a significant chunk of desk real estate – and it does. This USB powered monster is basically the SteelSeries Z-board on steroids. It features a full QWERTY with numeric keypad three levels of height adjustment two additional USB ports on the right shoulder as well as audio headphone/mic jacks and controls.
The best feature of the SHIFT however is – just like the Z-board – the ability to completely remove and replace the keys. The only downside is that the space bar is split in two by one of the keysets hinges. We did have some difficulty getting the SHIFT set up under Windows 7; it is a known issue and there is a simple workaround while the devs prepare the next version of the firmware.
The downloadable software is easy to set up and serves as the hub to allocate both in-game and application macros and shortcuts; within a few minutes we had all of our apps allocated to one-touch open as well as a library of commonly used MMO commands.
Available from SteelSeries retailing for $159.
APC rating: 8/10