Sure, we recently had a look at how game controllers are no longer a compromise for PC gamers, but the mighty gaming keyboard remains king of PC input without doubt. Besides gaming, the keyboard is key (pun 100% intended) to using your computer for other ‘normal’ things, like typing up emails, filling out massive spreadsheets, or ranting to Reddit.
But did you know that the venerable keyboard comes in several form factors; some of which might be better or worse for your particular use case? Some of us use our computers for everything but the laundry, while others simply game and watch Disney+. Depending on your regular use case, then, some keys are clearly unnecessary for some users.
And this is where the different form factors come in. Mainstream keyboards now come in three major form factors: Full-size(104 keys), Tenkeyless (87 keys) or TKL and 60 percent (68 keys). There are some other, more niche layouts, such as 75 percent, 65 percent and 40 percent, but the aforementioned three are the most common.
Let’s start with the OG; Full-size or 100% keyboards, which are the most common. They usually have 107 keys with a full row of function keys and a number pad on the right. These keyboards are perfect for most people who do heavy numerical work while most of us end up using it for entering PINs.
Gamers who play MOBAs and RTS games benefit the most from full size keyboards. These are games which usually have a ridiculous number of functions that would benefit from being mapped to the number keys.
Additionally, full-size keyboards have enough space for extra conveniences, such as dedicated media buttons and sexy volume dials. The downside to full-size keyboards, however, is the sheer size of the things.
Space is at a premium, and unlike many a YouTuber, most people don’t have massive desks upon which to place these keyboards. Additionally, gamers who play shooters and action games find the massive distance between the mouse and WASD keys too large for comfort. And this is where TKL keyboards come in.
Tenkeyless or 80% keyboards come about when you remove the number pad from a full-size keyboard and shrink the width by about 20%. This size of keyboard is best for most people who only occasionally do number input. It might not seem like much but removing the numpad creates a good amount of space to move your mouse around.
However, as well as losing the dedicated number pad, you will often also lose out on those convenient dedicated media keys. This can be really annoying when gaming and listening to Spotify in the background for instance. You are forced to tab out to control media which isn’t ideal.
Now, if that’s a deal breaker for you, then 60% keyboards will likely be an absolute no-go for you. These super tiny keyboards get rid of the numpad, the function key row, and the arrow and home keys. Of course it’s not that you lose those functions but rather everything is hidden in a layered design requiring the use of an Fn key to activate. This is less convenient, requires some serious digital dexterity, and does have a bit of learning curve that casual users won’t like.
Additionally, the keys on 60% keyboards are also usually packed closer together making for a tighter hit circle than bigger keyboards. However, this is perfect for hardcore gamers who only need minimal keys that first-person shooters and action RPG’s need. That additional space means the distance between your left and right hand is far shorter and can thus help improve accuracy.
Besides which, 60% keyboards, like the Razer Huntsman Mini, are just so damn cute. There’s something so aesthetically pleasing about them, especially with the right keycaps and backlighting. And if you move around a lot or work with laptops, these keyboards are perfect for stashing in a backpack with minimal fuss if you prefer tapping away on a proper board.
But what if you’re a hardcore accountant and a hardcore fps shooter who needs the full range of keys but doesn’t have that much space? Well this is where modular keyboards come in. This rare breed of keyboards allow you to add or remove sections to fit your particular use case. We recently reviewed the excellent Mountain Everest modular keyboard which is a perfect example. It’s numpad and media keys are removable, which best of all allow you to place them on any side of the TKL base, rather than being restricted to the right hand-side.
At the end of the day, it’s very clear that you don’t have to suffer with a boring old full-size keyboard. Gamers have so many options available to them to get something that fits their size, comfort and budget. And that’s before we get into discussing the various aesthetic joys of artisan keycaps and replacement switches.
We think that most PC Gamers will be more than happy with a TKL unless you find yourself hammering your numpad day and night. Frustratingly, smaller doesn’t mean cheaper, as TKL boards are often the same price as larger boards. However, keep an eye out for modular keyboards because that’s where you can have your cake and eat it too.
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