A quick google search will reveal dozens, if not hundreds or sites offering advice on how to choose the best cheap gaming keyboards, and, truth be told, for the most part they are pretty good articles. The problem is practically none of them go past the keyboard review and actually match the gaming keyboard with the type of gamer each keyboard is best for. There are, in fact, 4 different types of gamers; Strategy, RPG/MMOs, Action/FPS and the ‘everything gamer’ (he, oddly enough, plays everything). Finding a good, cheap gaming keyboard means identifying the type of gamer you are and then finding a good, cheap gaming keyboard that fits those needs perfectly.
In this article we’ll first look at the different types of gamers out there and what their gaming keyboard needs are. Next we’ll identify some of the features available on the best cheap gaming keyboards and finally we’ll look at some of the most popular cheap gaming keyboards and see which type of gamer will benefit the most from it.
Also, when I say cheap gaming keyboard I’m looking at about $60, any more than that and it really isn’t a cheap gaming keyboard. In addition, while there are certainly dozens of gaming keyboards in the under $60 range I will only be looking at the best ones, after all, this article is about the BEST cheap gaming keyboards, not the so so ones.
So, let’s get on with it….
What type of gamer am I? Cheap keyboards for gaming
Like I said above, there are four main types of gamers; Strategy, RPGs, FPS and the ‘everything gamer’
The Strategy Gamer: This type of gamer plays strategy games, and no, I’m not talking Starcraft here, I’m talking detailed strategy games like War in the Pacific (google it). What does he require? Well first off there’s lots of hotkeys, not necessarily programmable, but many are needed to quickly access many different screens. Since these aren’t real-time action games there isn’t a big need for extra solid ‘WASD’ keys. Truth be told the strategy gamer could easily get away with the cheapest of gaming keyboards and be quite happy.
The RPG gamer: Role Playing Games, and I include Online Role Playing games like World of Warcraft here, require one thing and that’s programmable macro keys and lots of them. Imagine being able to press one key and auto-target a group member, cast a few healing spells on him and perhaps auto-send a shout saying something like ‘I’m healing BlahBlah right now”. You could even program a key to target yourself, cast a few heals and yell ‘group healer under attack!”. The possibilities are truly endless, and the best RPG/MMO players have many macros programmed to quickly and efficiently perform many tasks. Press one key or look down and press a bunch of them? A good cheap gaming keyboard with programmable macro keys is the gaming keyboard of choice for the RPG gamer. Secondary is good solid WASD keys and of course illuminated keys.
The FPS/Action gamer: Unlike the RPG gamer programmable keys aren’t really necessary here (well maybe one or two) the most important feature here is good solid durable WASD keys because they often take a terrific pounding in the heat of battle. Also, because many of todays shooters have awesome environmental effects that are critical to game play sound/media control is important as well as illuminated keys. You really need to be able to immerse yourself into the game to get the full effect. Also, look for built-in USB ports so you can plug in your headphones/mic (2.0 of course)
The ‘Everything gamer‘: You would think that the guy who plays everything would simply need all the features available bundled into the cheapest gaming keyboard possible. Although this is somewhat correct the fact of the matter is that if you want all the best features you’re simply not going to be able to buy a cheap gamer keyboard, you’ll have to spend a few dollars more. However, the good news is there are some features that can be traded off. Firstly you could choose a gaming keyboard without backlit keys and media controls, this will certainly reduce the price. Next you could go with a minimal set of programmable keys, another way to reduce the price.
What are some of the features available on cheap gaming keyboards?
Now that we know what type of gamer we are, let’s dive a bit deeper into the features that actually make a keyboard a gaming keyboard.
- First off there are programmable keys. What does this mean exactly? Well, the easiest way to explain this is with an example. Remember the example above for the MMO gamer trying to heal a party member? Without a gaming keyboard the process of doing that would go something like this…
First you’d need to click on the party member, then you’ll need to look down at the keyboard and hit the key that corresponds to your healing ability and finally hit enter and send a quick ‘shout’ saying you’re healing that party member (remember, everyone else is yelling for heals so you’re just letting your group know you’re not just sitting there doing nothing).
This is a lot to do in the heat of battle, remember, when players die in a group they always blame the healer, every second counts.
With a gaming keyboard you could program a key using the included software, now keep in mind this is only an example as every game and keyboard software is different.
Macro Key 1
group_shout ‘healing %team_member_1% now’
Pretty simple, target team member 1, heal him, send a group message letting everyone know what you’re doing and finally target yourself (just so you don’t mistakenly attack a friendly).
Instead of taking 15 seconds to accomplish this manually it literally takes 1 second to fire off these commands by pressing key1. Obviously you’d make macros for 5 or 6 keys (depending on max group size) including one for yourself to make your healing tasks (and survivability) much more efficient.
- The next feature is good sturdy WASD keys. If you don’t know what these are they’re the keys most often used to move your character, or tank, or ship, or whatever. For action gamers these need to be very durable as they can, and often will, take a horrible beating. Some gaming keyboards will have these specific keys made of metal, unlike plastic for the other keys.
- Illuminated keys, a must for long gaming sessions in the dark. There’s nothing worse than using the light of your monitor to see the keys. Actually, the fact is if you can’t see the keys you’ll probably hit the wrong one in the heat of battle. If you always play with the lights on then this feature means nothing to you and you shouldn’t pay for it.
- Media keys. These range from simple volume control to illumination adjustment. For me, this isn’t a must have, but I’m a strategy gamer. For some folks this is truly an important feature.
- Keyboard Layout. Some gaming keyboards, even cheap ones have modified the ‘standard’ key layout to something more gamer friendly, much more important to an action/FPS player as usual the most common keys are grouped together. I do want to point out though that gaming keyboards with unconventional layouts are not only annoying to use as a day-to-day keyboard but also more often than not take up much more space, so pay close attention to the size and make sure it’ll actually fit on your desk. Awesome for an FPS/action player, useless for any other though.
- On-board memory. Remember those programmable keys? well that info needs to be stored somewhere, usually it’s on your hard drive, but with on-board memory it’ll be stored on the keyboard. Why is this important? well, if you travel to your friends place to play you could bring your keyboard and have all your macros available even if you’re gaming on a different computer.
- Mechanical keys. This is a sign of quality, durable construction. Unfortunately it’s not usually found on cheap gaming keyboards. In fact, a good mechanical gaming keyboard will easily top $100, or even more. Look for rubberized keys, they are comfortable to use.
- Macro recording. Like I first mentioned macros are the MMO/RPG gamers best friend. Unfortunately some games just don’t offer commands that you can use to program a macro. With macro recording you could actually record your mouse movements and keystrokes into a macro file that will execute them on a key press. A really nice feature to have, especially if the game you want to use the gaming keyboard for doesn’t have the ability to use text macros.
- Game mode switch. This is really nothing more than disabling the annoying ‘windows’ key, which, as you know will send you straight to your desktop as soon as you press it. For action gamers this is a must have.
- Warranty. Not really a feature of a keyboard. In my eyes a warranty is really an indication of how confident a company is in the quality of the product they’re selling. For Action gamers keep your eye open for a crappy warranty and avoid that product like the plague.
So now that we’ve looked at some of the features available on gaming keyboards let’s match up the gamer type with a cheap gaming keyboard that has the required features.
What’s the best cheap gaming keyboard for me?
We’ve looked at the different types of gamers and the features available on gaming keyboards, now let’s put this together and find the best cheap gaming keyboard for each type of gamer. Remember, I”m not going to look at all of them, just the highest rated ones at about $60.
The strategy gamer
To me there’s only one cheap gaming keyboard the strategy gamer should consider. The Microsoft Reclusa Gaming Keyboard. It has 12 programmable keys including media controls. It’s back lit keys are great for long gaming sessions full of concentration and thought. I actually own this keyboard and it has served me well for years, a 4 star consumer rating and under $60. It’s also a good day-to-day keyboard. One caveat, which may or may not mean anything to you.. I have a tendency to hit the side buttons with my mouse occasionally. It’s also a little large so check the size before you get this one. This is definitely NOT a good keyboard for an action game as the keys feel a bit ‘spongy’. For a strategy gamer this is a good solid choice.
The Action/FPS gamer
This guy wants good solid construction but doesn’t really care about macros and programmability. Speed and response is what matters. Well, there’s one choice here…
The Cyborg V.5 keyboard. This has good ‘feel’ (you FPS gamers know what I mean), not much in the way of programmability but you really don’t need that anyway. A good, solid, cheap gaming keyboard that can take a beating. It’s back lit keys have multiple levels of illumination, a nice feature indeed. This one is getting harder and harder to find, with a 4.5 star consumer rating you should jump on this if you can find it.
The MMO/RPG gamer
If you remember, macros keys are the rule here, and for me there’s a clear winner.. The Logitech G110. This one has 12 programmable keys with 3 modes each for a total of 36 macros you could program, now that’s cool. You can also use three different illumination colors and has a game mode switch. The software with this gaming keyboard is quite good too, a steal at under $60, free shipping too.
I just want to say here that this has tons of programmable keys but you’ll need to take the time to actual program them. Trust me, your work will be rewarded with mastery on the battlefield.
The ‘everything gamer’
Let’s be honest here, this guy wants it all but at this price range that just isn’t going to happen. You need to find the keyboard that has a little of everything and accept the fact that it’s not really great at any one aspect of gaming. This doesn’t mean the cheap gaming keyboard for you has to suck, in fact, take a look at the Microsoft SideWinder X4 keyboard. This has 3 banks of 6 macro keys for a total of 18 programmable macros available to you. This is the important part though, it’ll store different profiles and load your macros depending on what game you’re playing, so it’s perfect for the ‘everything gamer’, 4.5 star rating and under $50 so it’s a steal too. Oh, back lit keys with multiple levels of illumination, nice.
I know there’s tons of information here but actually finding the perfect cheap gaming keyboard is easy, just figure out what kind of gamer you are. If you’re an everything gamer than just think about what kind of games you really want to excel at and go for that type of gaming keyboard. Remember, I set the budget at about $60 and the minimum rating at 4 stars, if you’re willing to compromise that then the sky’s the limit in your choice of gaming keyboards.
Filed Under: Computers and Electronics