Keyboards were once just a means to an end. You simply "needed" a way to interface with a computer. They were all alike. All of them were bulky, white (or tan), would get dirty over time, and were always noisy. Somewhere down the line. The color black was introduced to home PC components. We started getting stylish black PC cases, colorful wires, if you were lucky, RGB fans. Still, the keyboards were plain and black.
The demands of gamers and pc enthusiasts have led to a renaissance, if you will, in the arena of keyboards now. No longer are the masses simply satisfied with the boring, clicky, slab of keys most stock PC's come with.
Now we can buy keyboards in all manners of sizes. From 104 key, full-size keyboards, to compact 60% size keyboards, your options are many. Keyboards are a prominent feature in today's gaming setups. However, with all of the options out there, it is good to have an idea of what to expect before you buy.
Table of Contents
Why Does Size Matter?
The size of the keyboard can be determined by many factors. I will try to highlight some of the major ones you might encounter, but this is by far not a complete list of reasons. Simply put, the size of the keyboard will be determined by your needs and desires.
Do you need space on your desktop? Real estate can be a hot commodity on gaming desktops. Do you have enough room for your mouse to sit comfortably next to a large slab of keys? Maybe not. Then you might look at getting smaller keyboards, perhaps an 84-key keyboard, or even a 60% if size truly is in short supply.
Aesthetics, or how it looks. Honestly, if you are looking at keyboards apart from the standard full-size ones, there is a good chance you are going for an overall "look" on your rig. Would a large keyboard bring the total package together, or do you want a smaller, more minimalist approach? There are those who prefer to have as little as possible on the desk to clutter things up. In this case, a low profile of 60% or 80% might be an option.
Finally, do you want to take it with you? Let's face it, someday you may want to take your keyboard to school during a lab, or over to your friend's house to show it off. Or you may just want to have it in your backpack and connect it to a laptop for better typing. Whatever the reason, there are lightweight, slim, compact keyboards for you.
Let's Look at the Sizes
So now you have likely been thinking, how do I decide? There are so many types of keyboards. Sure, it may look pretty on my desk, but how is it going to actually work for me? Let's break each major type of keyboard down and try to help you decide.
Full Size - 104 Key Keyboard
First up, our standard size 100%, 104-key Keyboard. This is the one that started it all.
It is what you think of for traditional keyboards. It has the full complement of FUNCTION keys at the top, 1-12. A full number pad to the right and all of the page up/down, home end, etc… above the arrow keys. It's all here.
- What's good about this keyboard? Well for starters, there are no Fn keys on these keyboards to access things like PAGE UP/DOWN making them easier to use. They are perfect for those doing a lot of typing at home or working. It keeps all commonly used functions easily accessible.
- What's bad about this size? For one thing, this is by far the largest keyboard. It will take up substantial real estate. Also, there can be a large price difference between a full-size as compared to a smaller keyboard. That translates, as well, into customization. Remember, a 104-key set will cost a lot more than a 61-key or 84-key keyboard.
- Who would use it? So, if you are working from home and not traveling, or gaming full time, then a full-size keyboard may be for you. Or perhaps you are a gamer who prefers quick access to keystrokes and are not bothered by the size, then go for it.
- Recommended RK Royal Kludge keyboard: RK920
1800 Keyboards – 99-114 key (varies on layout)
Next is a keyboard size that is a little more on the rare-to-find side of things. It is the 1800 Compact keyboard with the same keys as a full-size keyboard. These are typically physically 96% the size of a full-size keyboard. Their name derives from a very early computer system that adopted this layout to conserve space. In this configuration, Arrow keys are moved over to below the Enter key along with some changes to the number pad arrangement.
- What's good about this keyboard? It provides all of the functionality of the full-size keyboards, but in what could be considered a more attractive image. These can save space on the desktop and have a more attractive look. They are still very useful for work-from-home people. While it is shorter width-wise, they tend to be a little taller than normal keyboards.
- What's bad about this size? What was said about the full size pretty much applies here. These keyboards are still on the larger end of the spectrum. The keys being more tightly compacted together can lead to awkward typing and impact comfort levels. There isn't a clear reason to get one unless you just want it.
- Who would use it? People who would use 1800 keyboards are people who don't want to reach as far to the right or left but retain the same functionality afforded to full-size keyboards. They would work well for gaming keyboards but are not as portable as some.
- Recommended RK Royal Kludge keyboard: RK96
80% Keyboard – 87 key
Now we start shrinking in size. Next up is the 80%, 87-key Keyboard also called a Tenkeyless Keyboard (TKL). This simply means they took the num pad away from the right side of the keyboard. These are now getting into the smaller keyboards for gaming that are gaining popularity.
- What's good about this keyboard? This is a keyboard that knocks a considerable amount off of a full keyboard and retains a lot of functionality. The keys are still arranged traditionally, like a full-size, but just missing the num pad. It has become a very attractive style of keyboard and is readily available.
- What's bad about this size? Well, while it is smaller, it isn't by any means compact. Some will miss the number pad, but if you are buying this size, it shouldn't be a surprise. It can present a small learning curve just to get used to the missing num pad and find the numbers on the top row of the keyboard.
- Who would use it? This is still a fully functional keyboard at its heart. Its target audience is those who want a full-functioning computer keyboard with a minimal function layer (more on this later) if any at all. It is for someone who wants to type a lot but has a sleeker keyboard sitting on the desk.
- Recommended RK Royal Kludge keyboard: RK87
75% Keyboard – 84 key
As we get smaller, and smaller, next up is the 75%, 84-key keyboard. Also known as a Compact Tenkeyless Keyboard
- What's good about this keyboard? It is noticeably smaller. All of the functionality of an 80% keyboard is here, and you still retain all of the F1-F12 keys at the top. Cherish it, they don't make it past this size. This is where the keyboards become more portable. These keyboards are good for gaming as they typically have a very quick response time and have a compact layout meaning not a lot of hand movement is needed to cover the keys.
- What's bad about this size? The compact design of the keys means a new layout to memorize. This can lead to some frustration when trying to type fast at first, but that is likely to be short-lived.
- Who would use it? Gamers love this size. Averaging just over a foot wide, these are the perfect size to slide into backpacks to take with you. This size is still large enough to avoid a complicated string of function commands and still supply all of the keys a gamer needs.
65% Keyboard – 68 key
And further down the rabbit hole, we go to the 65%, the 68-key keyboard also called simply a Compact Keyboard. A 65% doesn’t have the Numpad or function row. Some 65% of keyboard don’t even feature the home cluster keys or has the function buried in a function layer.
- What's good about this keyboard? This is the smallest keyboard that will still include the Arrow keys, which is an obvious attractant to gaming. This is considered a very popular gaming keyboard setup because the arrow keys are integral to many games. A keyboard this size is light, small, and highly portable.
- What's bad about this size? At this size, the function row is gone, as well as a home cluster and number pad. Simply no room. These keyboards are average 10-11 inches long. With that size, you are going to have to learn about functions and get used to smaller typing areas. This could lead to some awkward, or even uncomfortable typing depending on the size of your hands. You WILL have hands closer together with this size of the keyboard.
- Who would use it? People who like to carry their keyboards around. Those who want the keyboard to be small, yet highly functional with gaming. This is not the keyboard for work-from-home people or students. No num pad and reliance on function layers will be a nuisance to those folks.
60% Keyboard – 61 key
Lastly, in the realm of common sizes, we have the 60%, 61-key Keyboard also called a Mini Keyboard. These keyboards as compared to 65% don’t have the Numpad, function row, home cluster or arrow keys. They are much smaller, or more compact than a 65% keyboard.
- What's good about this keyboard? This keyboard is small. So, typically they are inexpensive. These keyboards are highly customized by gamers and custom rig makers because they are inexpensive to mod. It is cheap, by comparison to only having to change out or swap 61 keys instead of 104. The market that exists for modifying 60% of keyboards is huge, so there are literally thousands of options to make it yours.
- What's bad about this size? Let's be real here, it is small so it can be hard to use. It is going to force you to possibly hold your hands and wrists at weird angles, so this isn't the keyboard to use for extended periods for everyone.
- Who would use it? Those who love to tinker, have almost limitless options to make a keyboard express who you are.
What is a keyboard function layer?
Laptop owners rejoice! If you own a laptop, this function will be intimately familiar. For those who do not, here's the technique you will be expected to master. Because as keyboards shrink in size, you must remove keys, it is imperative that functionality not be compromised. So the only option is to assign multiple functions to certain keys. On some keyboards, keys will actually perform triple functions as well.
How does it work? Simply put, you press a function (Fn) key in combination with another key to access commands in a different “layer”. Most smaller keyboards will have different modifiers to the Fn key so you can access multiple function layers.
To sum up, keyboards are what you will get out of them. Each will do what you need them to do, but what matters is what you want them to do. It comes down to personal taste and comfort. Do you want to go full and have a nice, uncomplicated keyboard, or go to a MINI and have the ability to inexpensively modify it to suit your tastes?
Look at your setup. See what sizing options might be best and go from there. Better yet, visit a local electronics or computer shop and see they have some on hand that you can sample to see what works. The keyboard is a visual representation of your gaming rig or home PC if you want it to be. Choose which version best suits you.