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:
|Rosewill RK-9000 series||$69.99-$139.99|
|Unicomp buckling-spring series||$79.00-$109.00|
|Cooler Master QuickFire XT series||$89.99-$119.99|
|Vintage Model M||$90.00-$105.00|
|Corsair Vengeance K70||$99.99-$129.99|
|Topre Type Heaven||$150.00|
The Rosewill RK-9000, Corsair Vengeance K70, 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 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 rollers, and special media keys. The Vengeance K70 is our favorite. Geoff gave it our Editor's Choice award, and he went and bought one for himself—a true endorsement. We're partial to the full-sized version of the K70 with Cherry MX brown switches, but other variants with different switches exist. Corsair is even cooking up the K70 RGB, which will have customizable LED backlighting with 16.8 million hues, for an early September release.
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—without the mushiness of classic rubber-dome offerings. The downside is the price: $150, which is a lot 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:
|Enermax Briskie combo||$11.99|
|Hausbell Mini H7||$43.99|
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 Hausbell Mini H7, a funky gizmo with BlackBerry-style keys and a built-in touchpad. We used to recommend the Rii N7, which is similar, but the Rii in Scott's home-theater setup died unexpectedly. Scott picked up the Hausbell as a replacement, and it turned out to have a better touchpad and nicer keys. The user reviews for the Hausbell are more encouraging, too.
Mice and controllers
Most of us are less particular about our mice than about our keyboards, but that doesn't mean we don't have our preferences. For the most part, we're quite keen on comfy gaming mice with high-precision sensors and other perks, such as on-the-fly DPI adjustments, macro buttons, and software that supports custom bindings and profiles.
|Corsair Vengeance M65||$59.99|
|SteelSeries Sensei Raw||$59.99|
|Cyborg Rat 7||$69.99|
|Cyborg Rat 9||$139.99|
Among wired gaming mice, we're partial to Corsair's Vengeance M65. I reviewed the M60, a slightly older version of the same rodent with a lower-precision sensor, and I liked it a lot. Its wide shape is particularly nice for folks with large hands. Jr. Damage took the M65 for a video spin recently and was just as impressed.
Logitech's G500s is another tethered option, and it's also priced around the $60 mark. Logitech gaming mice tend to have narrower shapes that suit some mousing styles better. The G500s—and its wireless sibling, the G700s—also have some handy macro buttons just above the thumb rest, which can always come in handy. I use the G700, the predecessor of the G700s, for day-to-day mousing, and I'm quite pleased with it. Plenty of other folks swear by Logitech's gaming mice.
A nice wired alternative for lefties is SteelSeries' Sensei Raw, which Geoff uses in addition to a right-handed mouse in order to avert RSI during long work days. The Sensei Raw has a symmetrical design with thumb buttons on both sides and the requisite on-the-fly DPI adjustments. Geoff digs the soft-touch coating and the fact the LED lighting can be toned down, as well.
Moving a little upmarket, we have Cyborg's Rat 7 and Rat 9. Geoff gave the former our Editor's Choice award a few years back. The Rat 9 is the same thing, but wireless. These mice are completely adjustable, from their width and length to the height of their palm supports, so they can be tailored to match the shape of the user's hand. That perk comes at a price, though. These things aren't cheap.
Don't need a fancy gaming mouse? We also like a couple of Logitech's no-frills rodents:
The Logitech M510 has a full-sized, ambidextrous design, while the M505 is smaller and meant to cater to laptop users. Both of these mice are wireless, too. For everyday desktop tasks that don't require extreme precision or speed, they'll do just fine.
Finally, we'll throw in a recommendation for Microsoft's Xbox 360 controllers:
|Xbox 360 USB controller||$39.99|
|Xbox 360 wireless controller for Windows||$49.99|
You can get 'em in both wired and wireless flavors. (The wireless one linked above is marketed toward Windows users, and it comes with a wireless receiver in the box.) We won't debate the superiority of keyboard and mouse control in games. However, we will say that some games, especially racing titles, can be a lot more fun to play with a controller. Some cross-platform games just have crummy mouse and keyboard controls, too.
Whatever the reason, having an Xbox 360 controller around is always handy. Windows has drivers for it out of the box, and most cross-platform games will support it with no setup required. The same isn't necessarily true for other PC gamepads.
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