A few years ago, purchasing a keyboard included going to the nearest mall and choosing between four or five options. Then, you tried the touch and looked at what you would like aesthetically or what would fit your budget.
Then came the revolution of wireless keyboards, and now the multitude of options for choosing the perfect keyboard has skyrocketed. Because of that, this article will help you navigate through everything you need to know about keyboards before buying the perfect fit for you.
How Does A Keyboard Work?
A keyboard consists of two parts: a set of keys pressed in sequence by the user and an encoder that identifies each key pressed and generates a code that uniquely identifies that key.
The set of keys includes the standard alphanumeric keys found on older typewriters and additional keys such as cursor keys, navigation and function keys, Apple or Windows keys, and a numeric keypad.
The encoder is a microprocessor located on the keyboard that detects each key when pressed and released. The encoder maintains a set of signals in a grid of intersecting rows and columns.
When the user presses a key, a connection is established on the grid. If, for example, the connection is found in the first row and third column, the encoder immediately identifies the pressed key and sends a unique signal, called a “scan code,” to the PC.
The PC translates the scan code into the appropriate binary code and displays the character on the monitor so the user can verify that the correct key was pressed.
The keyboard lights (for caps lock, num lock, scroll lock, etc.) are controlled by the PC, not the keyboard. So, for example, when you press the Caps Lock key, the keyboard encoder sends the Caps Lock key code to the PC, turning on the keyboard light.
The PC keyboard is based on the design of early typewriters. Until the end of the 19th century, typewriter keys were arranged alphabetically.
In 1872, Christopher Latham Sholes (1819–1890) developed the first typewriter, which featured the QWERTY (pronounced “kwer-tee”) keyboard, so named because the first six letters near the top left of the keyboard are Q- W-E-R-T-Y.
The new layout was designed to improve typing speed and to place the keys least likely to be struck in rapid succession on opposite sides of the typewriter. That was done so that the machine would be less likely to get stuck.
The fix solved the interference problem but created two others. First of all, many common letters are not located in the middle row, also called the “home row.”
Second, some of the most common letters are concentrated on the left side, favoring left-handed typists. For example, the most common letter, “E,” is a stretch for the left middle finger, and the second most common letter, “A,” is written with the weaker finger of the left hand.
The QWERTY keyboard continues to appear on the vast majority of keyboards. However, the reason for its creation, to minimize typewriter clutter, ceased to be relevant with the invention of electric typewriters and PCs.
August Dvorak patented an alternate design in English in 1936. The top row has p, y, f, g, c, r, and l. The middle row has a, o, e, u, i, d, h, t, n, and s. Finally, the bottom row has q, j, k, x, b, m, w, v, and z.
Dvorak, a professor at the University of Washington, claimed his design could speed up typing by about 35 percent. In addition, some consider the Dvorak keyboard to be a more efficient layout because it concentrates the most frequently used keys in the keyboard’s middle row.
Proponents claim that the Dvorak layout allows 70 percent of keystrokes on the center row, compared to 35 percent with the standard QWERTY layout.
While QWERTY is the most widely used layout, some popular operating systems (such as those from Microsoft and Apple) have a built-in option to accommodate Dvorak and QWERTY keyboards.
Also, one-handed Dvorak layouts are available for users who use only their right or left hand.
Many operating systems include support for different keyboard layouts. For example, Microsoft Windows operating systems support dozens of configurations.
A regional setting determines how your PC adapts to regional language and conventions, such as keyboard layout, order, currency formatting, date, time, and number formatting.
Some non-US language keyboards are electronically identical to those produced for US customers but have special keycaps and a special software program, called a driver, to translate each keystroke into the appropriate symbol for that language.
For example, a Japanese language keyboard would need a Japanese driver to translate keystrokes into the correct characters.
Ergonomic keyboards were developed to treat typists’ hand, wrist, and arm ailments. For example, awkward wrist positions can lead to muscle, tendon, and nerve injuries in the wrists and forearms due to decreased blood supply or compression caused by inflamed tendons.
Ergonomic keyboards claim to reduce repetitive strain injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, by placing the keys on each hand in a more natural position for the typist’s arms, wrists, and hands.
Ergonomic keyboards include wave keyboards, split keyboards, and separate keyboards. Therefore, keyboard operators must pay special attention to ergonomic factors in their work environment.
The chair and keyboard should be positioned so that the typist can sit up straight with their feet flat on the floor, and both arms can move freely without hitting the armrests or becoming fatigued.
Different sizes of keyboards
We can find different keyboard formats that differ in size in the market. However, the most common is the full keyboard, which includes a number block on the right.
The TKL format is also very common, which removes the number block on the right to be more compact. TKL stands for “tenkeyless,” which means ten keys less due to removing the numeric pad.
There are also other formats like 70% and 60%, which are even smaller by dispensing with system keys and F keys.
We can summarize in:
- Standard keyboard
- TKL keyboard
- Keyboard 70%
- Keyboard 60%
Razer Huntsman Tournament Edition TKL
- Razer Linear Optical switch technology
- Razer Chroma
- Aluminum Construction
- Fully Programmable Macros
Membrane vs. mechanical keyboards
Logitech G213 Prodigy Gaming
- Brilliant color spectrum illumination
- Comfortable and durable
- Customizable with Logitech gaming software
- Dedicated media controls
Let’s start with the first type of keyboard: membrane keyboard. It uses three different layers in its design, which are very flexible. The first layer is called the upper membrane layer, a conductive trace below.
When the key is pressed, it moves through the second layer, which is made up of holes, allowing the pressure pads located under each key to pass through, making contact with the conductive traces on the back top of the bottom membrane layer.
Two types of designs can be used. One is the flat faucet design, commonly used in microwave ovens.
The keys in this design are printed on the pad itself. It still uses a pressure pad, but because it doesn’t provide noticeable “physical feedback,” making it difficult to use on a computer keyboard, typists rely on physical feedback for blinking.
The other type is called a dome switch keyboard, which uses a dome with letters printed on top, sometimes laser printed or stretched. This type of keyboard uses a rubber or silicone keyboard that comes with domes as the top layer of the membrane.
When the domes are pressed down, they collapse, and the graphite under the dome will complete the circuit under the membrane pad, thus sending the signal of a key being pressed.
- Low price
- Very quiet in operation
- Light and transportable
- They are resistant to liquids
- Touch might be too harsh
- It’s easy for keystrokes to miss the trigger point
- Its durability is not very high
- The keys are not removable, which makes cleaning difficult
SteelSeries Apex Pro
- Best mechanical gaming keyboard
- OmniPoint adjustable switches
- Premium magnetic wrist rest
- Aircraft grade aluminum alloy
Mechanical keyboards use mechanical switches to send the typing signal. There is more than one type of switch, each with different performance. Each key has its switch, a base, spring, and stem.
The most common switches are blue, red, brown, black, etc. Some require a certain amount of force to press, tactile on click or not, and others can be easy to press. In addition, mechanical keyboards generally provide interchangeable keycaps, which allow users to DIY their keyboards.
- Its operation is much smoother and more pleasant
- They are available in a wide variety of mechanisms and formats
- Its durability is very high
- Keys can be changed to customize however you like
- Cleaning is simple
- They are usually much noisier than membrane ones
- The price can be five times that of a membrane keyboard
- They are much heavier and less portable
Types of mechanical switches
Cherry is the main manufacturer of mechanical switches for keyboards. Below you can check the most notable features of its most used models.
Cherry MX Blue
This is the most common clicky switch and was first made available on Filco keyboards in 2007.
Typists prefer blue switches due to their tactile bump and audible click. Still, they might be less suitable for gaming due to their higher activation force of 50 cN, and it’s a bit more difficult to double-tap since the release point is above the actuation point.
Blue switches are noticeably louder than other mechanical switches, so these switches can be a bit disruptive in close working conditions.
Cherry MX Brown
This is the most popular type of tactile switch, which doesn’t click. This switch was introduced in 1994 as a special “ergo soft” switch but quickly became one of the most popular switches.
Today, many keyboards are sold with brown switches, as the switch is a good middle-of-the-road option, suitable for both typing and gaming. They’re also great for typing in office environments, where a blue switch might annoy coworkers.
Cherry MX Red
Introduced in 2008, they have a low actuation force of 45 cN, the same as Brown. Red switches have been marketed as a gaming switch, with lightweight allowing for faster actuation, and have become increasingly common in gaming keyboards.
Cherry MX White
They are very similar to the Brown switches but with an activation force of 55 cN, so they are somewhat harder and make wrong presses more difficult. As a result, today they are hardly used.
Cherry MX Black
Introduced in 1984, making Black one of the oldest Cherry switches. They have a medium to high actuation force at 60 cN, which means they are the hardest of the most common Cherry switches.
Black switches are generally not considered ideal for writing due to their high weight. However, the stronger spring also means they bounce faster, which means they can be actuated fairly quickly with enough force, though you may find that fatigue becomes more of a factor than with other switches.
Cherry MX Speed or Silver
This is Cherry’s newest switch, with a low actuation force of 45 cN. Its main characteristic is that the activation point is only 1.2 mm away, compared to 2 mm for the rest of the Cherry switches.
That makes them the fastest switches on the market, ideal for competitive gaming.
Cherry MX Silent Red
These switches stand out for being the quietest of Cherry MX, which is achieved by placing a piece of rubber inside the mechanism to cushion the impacts between the different parts that make it up.
That makes them ideal for offices and work environments where you don’t want to give up a mechanical keyboard.
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