Keyboard: Dell USB 104-Key
Just for kicks, I concluded my testing with Dell's USB 104-key keyboard. It has a volume control, media player control keys, and a few function keys for system standby and shutdown. That's it. I used the keyboard for about a week and found that it worked fairly well for gaming, with all things considered. At the very least, this model proved that my test titles were playable with a bog-standard input device.
I certainly missed some of the more advanced key binding available with gaming-oriented alternatives, especially in MMOs like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. Once you start playing an MMO and become accustomed to programmable keys for casting spells or attacking targets, there’s no going back to using the mouse to click icons (Ed.: we call those guys "clickers," and they're usually at the bottom of the meters). You realize that the speed of your fingers moving across the keyboard beats mouse clicks every time.
Programmable macro keys are where gaming keyboards earn their keep. Backlighting is fun and media controls are nifty, but when it comes to MMOs and other games with customizable interfaces and controls, macro keys allow good players to perform even better by shaving precious milliseconds off of reaction times. They won’t make a new player an instant champion, but with practice they can make a difference.
A similar, but less functional lesson came from using the plain Dell keyboard with FPS and third-person action titles. You may not miss macro recording and programmable keys in those games, but you’ll definitely notice the beeping that comes when pressing too many keys at the same time. Many general-use keyboards interpret pressing more than three or four keys at the same time as an error and will loudly tell you so. This can be a problem when you’re crouched, strafing slowly, switching weapons, and trying to zoom in on a target all at the same time. Gaming keyboards almost never have that kind of problem.
Ultimately, a high-end gaming keyboard won’t transform you from greasy spot on the floor to a master marksman, and it won’t place your guild’s benchwarmer in the top damage spot after your next raid. But if you’re already a gamer with some skill, a high-end keyboard like the G19, X6, or Cyborg will definitely enrich your gameplay experience.