Mechanical keyboard glossary of terms
Jumping into the world of mechanical keyboards can be a bit daunting as you’re bound to run into loads of jargon you aren’t familiar with. In addition to our list of best cheap mechanical keyboards to get you started and our best RGB mechanical keyboards, we’ve compiled a list of terms to help you navigate your way to the right mechanical keyboard. If you’re on this page it’s likely that you’re still new to the world of mechanical keyboards. If so – check out our beginners guide here.
Key Rollover is the maximum number of keys you can press at once and still be recognized by the keyboard. This is denoted by #KRO (6KRO being the most common, NKRO meaning unlimited), where you can press # keys (not counting modifiers like Alt or Ctrl) and still have the keyboard send through all your commands.
Typically 6KRO and above is more than enough, as you probably don’t have any 6 key hotkeys or a reason to be pressing that many keys even when gaming.
This is similar to key rollover, where a keyboard may miss-send keystrokes to the computer due to too many keys being pressed at the same time or too rapidly. Most mechanical keyboards will talk about “anti-ghosting” technology to prevent this sort of error. If you’re using a non-mechanical keyboard, then it is likely that you may run into this issue.
The typically plastic covers for the mechanical switches which usually have the letter or character printed on them. These are removable with minimal effort. Some people may prefer blank keycaps or specially colored versions.
Tenkeyless (TKL) Mechanical Keyboards
A mechanical keyboard form factor without a numpad, for a more compact footprint.
The distance the keys of a mechanical keyboard have to be pushed down before the keystroke is recognized. This will vary depending on the type of mechanical switch used.
Activation Point/Tactile Point
The point of a keystroke where the action is recognized by the hardware and sent to the computer. You will feel the mechanical switch activate at this point, hence “tactile”. This will also vary by the switch type used.
Actuation Force/Tactile Force
The amount of force required to press a key down to the activation point. As the previous two terms, this will vary based on the mechanical switch. Most gaming mechanical keyboards have a lower actuation force for quicker keystrokes and double-taps, while typing mechanical keyboards favor a bit heavier actuation force so accidental keystrokes don’t get registered.
Plate Mounted/PCB Mounted
Refers to what the mechanical switches are mounted to on the keyboard. Mounting to a metal plate can feel more stable and sturdy than mounting directly to the circuit board, but it isn’t always a big difference.
A technology used in non-mechanical keyboards that use a rubber dome to provide resistance and feedback. These are standard in most all keyboards and laptops today (but not all!).
You could write an entire article on these. Refers to the switch hardware inside the keyboard and under every key. Different switches have different characteristics, the most important of which is the feel of the keystrokes. You can find a visual mechanical switch guide here.
The most popular type of switch used in today’s mechanical keyboards. There are many different types with varying characteristics known by their color names (Red, Blue, Brown, Black, Clear, etc.). Each one can have its own travel distance, force, and activation point, allowing for substantial modifications on most mechanical keyboards.
RGB (red, green, blue) refers to colorful backlit mechanical keyboards that can display a wide variety of colors (often claimed to be up to 16 million!). This is achieved by LEDs beneath each key that are capable of mixing colors to fit your needs. In some keyboards, these colors can be programmed to display different patterns of lights beneath the keys.