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TR's April 2014 peripheral staff picks

Our new companion to the TR System Guide

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When we introduced our new System Guide format in February, we cut out peripherals in order to focus more closely on internal PC components. Our plan was to revisit keyboards, mice, displays, and such things in a separate guide, which we would be free to flesh out a little more and update as needed, independently of the already lengthy System Guide.

Today, that plan comes to fruition. Welcome to our first peripheral staff picks.

Our aim here is a little different than with the System Guide. Rather than provide an exhaustive overview of the entire market, we'll mostly tell you about the products we, TR's editorial team, personally like—or would purchase for ourselves.

We've chosen this focus partly because our editorial work tends to center on internal components, and the breadth of our experience with the myriad peripherals and accessories out there isn't all-encompassing. Also, in many ways, peripherals are more a matter of personal preference than internal PC parts. We can benchmark things like graphics cards and make very specific recommendations based on the results, but we can't guess what kind of mouse you might like, what brand of headphones you prefer, or what type of external backup solution would best suit your needs.

Finally, you might notice the "powered by" logo at the top right of this page. As with the TR System Guide, Newegg is the sponsor for our Peripheral staff picks. When possible, we'll link to Newegg listings for the products we recommend. Newegg still has no input on our actual recommendations, nor does it have any say in the editorial content of this article. If we want to recommend a product Newegg doesn't carry, we'll simply link to another e-tailer. That's the same deal as with our System Guide.

All right. Now we've explained everything, let's look at our recommendations.

We like keyboards here at TR, probably because we spend quite a few hours each day typing up the stories you see on the site. We particularly like mechanical keyboards, which have a discrete switching mechanism with a metal spring under each key. Mechanical keyboards tend to provide better response than the more commonplace rubber-dome offerings.

Lately, the mechanical keyboard market has seen something of a renaissance. Many vendors have come out with mechanical offerings of various shapes and sizes, with a wide variety of different key switch types. We've singled out a few of our favorites for the staff picks:

Product Price
Rosewill RK-9000 series $74.99-$149.99
Corsair Vengeance series $89.99-$149.99
Cooler Master QuickFire XT series $89.99-$119.99
Unicomp buckling-spring series $79.00-$109.00
Vintage Model M $90.00-$105.00
Topre Type Heaven $150.00

The Rosewill RK-9000, Corsair Vengeance, and Cooler Master QuickFire XT series are all based on Cherry's MX series of key switches, and they're each available with different versions of that switch type. Before we talk about the keyboards themselves, let's introduce the switches briefly.

The most common Cherry MX switch types are the blues, browns, reds, and blacks. In short, the blue and brown switches provide tactile feedback when the key reaches its actuation point, and the blues also generate an audible click. The reds and blacks, by contrast, have no tactile or audible feedback whatsoever. They're smooth and silent all the way down to the bottom-out point. The only difference between them is that the blacks are stiffer.

We prefer the brown switches for typing. The blues are a little loud for our taste, and the lack of tactile feedback on the reds and blacks can lead to inadvertent double keystrokes. Some gamers like the reds and blacks for that very reason, however, since it's possible to repeat keystrokes quickly without a tactile bump or a dead zone getting in the way.

This article provides more detail about the main Cherry switch types. You might also encounter Cherry MX green and clear switches. Those are pretty much just stiffer versions of the blues and browns, respectively. We haven't used any keyboards with MX clear switches, but you can read about the greens right here.

Rosewill's RK-9000 series (pictured above) and Cooler Master's QuickFire XT are both relatively plain, no-frills designs. They have no extra macro or media buttons, and some variants of the QuickFire XT even lop off the numeric keypad altogether. Gamers may appreciate the extra mousing area that compromise affords.

Corsair's Vengeance keyboards, meanwhile, are more stylish and full-featured, with aluminum surfaces, volume control knobs, and special media keys. The Vengeance K95 is probably the most tricked-out of the bunch, since it's got a block of 12 macro keys for MMO games. The Vengeance K70 lacks those extra keys, and the Vengeance K65 also does away with the numpad. Corsair also includes LED backlighting in select models. Just make sure you avoid the K60, which is an older version of the K70 with rubber domes under some of the keys.

What about those Unicomp and vintage Model M keyboards? They're based on old-school buckling-spring switches. Those of us who were around computers in the 1980s and 1990s likely remember them. Quite a few mechanical keyboard purists prefer buckling springs, even though the keyboards based on them lack many of the bells and whistles of newer designs—and aren't particularly pretty to look at. We'll concede that buckling springs do feel extremely satisfying to type on.

Finally, there's the Topre Type Heaven, which is outfitted with electrostatic capacitive switches. You can read all about this keyboard and its rather unique switch type in our review. In short, it's not a mechanical keyboard in the strictest sense of the term, but it provides smoother, quieter action than conventional mechanical designs, yet it lacks the mushiness of classic rubber-dome offerings. The downside is the price: $150, which is rather onerous for a keyboard without media or macro keys.

Mechanical keyboards aren't really appropriate for use on the living-room couch. There, light and wireless options are ideal. Here are a few we like:

Product Price
Enermax Briskie combo $11.99
Rii N7 $35.38
Logitech K400 $39.99

Enermax's Briskie combo is a very affordable, laptop-style solution with a nice and snappy key feel. It even comes with an optical mouse in the box. Thanks to its full-sized layout and light weight, the Briskie should be equally at home on a coffee table and in front of a desktop PC.

Logitech's K400 is more couch-centric. It fits comfortably on one's lap, and instead of a numpad, it features a laptop-style touchpad. We're not all that thrilled with the key feel on this thing, but it should be fine for the kind of typing required to control a home-theater PC—mostly quick Netflix and YouTube searches.

Last, but not least, there's the Rii N7. This keyboard is similar in concept to the K400, but it's much smaller: the size of a remote, in fact, with BlackBerry-style keys.