At CCL I am somewhat of a self stlyed "keyboard guru". Whilst I am by no means all-knowing; I do hope to be able to distil some of my knowledge into a breakdown of the technology behind the modern keyboard. Hopefully this will then help you through the process of choosing a keyboard suitable to you, whether you are wanting it for gaming, for use on a media PC, work use or just simply for browsing the net. A good keyboard choice can make a world of difference and making the right choice can mean reduced risk of RSI (or wrist pain) during prolonged use.
(obviously use of a separate wrist rest would be advised if your keyboard does not come with one)
Wired or Wireless ?
Your choice on a wired or wireless keyboard will depend on the primary use of your keyboard. As you can imagine, if you are wanting to use the keyboard on a media centre PC having a long trailing wire will be quite cumbersome and limit the distance you can be from it. However if you are going to be sat close to your PC, this is not as problematic.
Wired keyboards do have advantages though, the main one being that they don't need batteries so unless the keyboard gets unplugged, it will work the instant you turn your PC on and you will never need to search for batteries. Wired keyboards are also the preferred type for gaming, as they do not suffer from input lag or dropouts that can occur on wireless keyboards.
The primary advantage for wireless keyboards is simply they don't have wires which means you have more flexibility in where you can use them as well as making the area where you use it look less cluttered. Wireless keyboards connect using a multitude of wireless technologies, the majority of which are now 2.4GHz radio, though Bluetooth is becoming more prevalant in the higher end as the connection is more stable and less prone and less prone to the dropout problem. One other advantage is that wireless keyboards generally come as part of a bundle of keyboard and mouse, both using one adapter to connect to the PC, so you only have to use one port for both devices rather than two.
There are two primary connection types for wired keyboards; USB and PS/2. PS/2 is an older technology but it does have some advantages over USB, but USB's ubiquitous nature and spread into motherboards means it is often the go to connection.
PS/2 - the advantage of PS/2 over USB for most uses is that it just works, drivers are normally not required for PS/2 keyboards which means that in the BIOS where some USB keyboards falter a PS/2 one will not. The PS/2 connection also allows for keyboards to have something called N-Key Rollover, which means that there is no limit to the amount of keypresses you can make at one time -this is often useful for gaming, but the keyboard needs to support it. PS/2 also has very little if any input lag as the PS/2 connection is an interrupt based connection which means that as a key is pressed the CPU deals with it immediately.
USB - USB has the advantage of being almost everywhere (a lot of motherboards now do not have PS/2 ports) and except for the problem of having to try plug it in 3 times (it's a curse) keyboards that use it are normally able to offer more physical features over PS/2 ones. Having a USB hub on the rear of your keyboard is not uncommon on gaming keyboards as are audio jacks.
To me USB is the better connection, the additional features that are oft included on USB keyboards (mainly gaming) offer something that PS/2 ones just cannot.
There are lots of different ways that keyboards can work and in practice it boils down to lots of slight variations based on two different ways your keypress is triggered.
As the name infers, mechanical keyboards use physical switches placed underneath each key on the keyboard; when the keys are depressed the switch is closed and your PC registers the input. Mechanical keyboards are available with many different switch types, all of which offer a slightly different feel and experience. These variations mean that you can get one that feels just right. Mechanical keyboards tend to have a longer lifespan than other keyboards due to the robustness of construction, because of this they can have a large premium over normal keyboards, but recently there have been affordable models released which have less features.
There are currently four main switch variations which I will describe below; hopefully this will help you make a more informed choice -although if you do need to try them we do have each switch available to test in our showroom in store.
(for ease each title is linked to a keyboard featuring this switch)
Cherry MX Brown - Brown switches are seen as the "all round" switch, and are the most peoples' first choice. The reason for this is because they are both lightweight and tactile; making them easy to press whilst also giving you feedback that the key is pressed.
Cherry MX Red - Red switches are the Linear brother of the MX Brown above; they have a lightweight feel but lack the tactility of the MX Brown, this means that they are often used in gaming keyboards where rapid keypresses are required, and are not generally used for typing as it is easier to mispress keys.
Cherry MX Black - Black switches are the northern cousin to the MX Red, the only difference being the MX Black is harder to press, again often used in gaming keyboards because of the linear feel, but are also adept for typing as they are less prone to misspresses.
Cherry MX Blue - Blue switches are in a different category to the other switches, once the go-to for typists, these switches have found a home more recently in gaming keyboards. MX Blues are a mediumweight switch lying just between the other switches but also have a tactile feel and a noticeable and audible click to the keypress.
Membrane keysboards are the most common and oft cheapest type of keyboard. A membrane keyboard has a small rubber dome underneath which activates the keystroke when pressed. Membrane keyboards are good as they are generally low cost, with keyboards such as the CiT KB-2106U available for less than £5, but are also available in the high end as well with the Razer Deathstalker costing just under £70. Whilst membrane keys are perfect for general everyday use, their lifespan is much shorter than you will find with a mechanical keyboard and you may find that they are less comfortable to type on than with mechanical switches. Membrane keyboards are best suited for people on a budget.
Scissor-Switches are a variation on membrane keyboards; they improve on the standard by having a scissor mechanism under each key. This improves the stability of the keys whilst also improving the general feel, they are normally not too much of a premium over normal membrane ones but are worthwhile if the choice is there.