Maybe you’ve always used the keyboard and mouse that came with your computer and had a very happy life with them—if it’s not broken, why fix it? But if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about with the more expensive versions of these essential peripherals, we’re here to explain why some users spend a serious amount of cash on upgrades, and why you might want to invest in new hardware, too.
While more powerful and more expensive keyboards and mice essentially do the same jobs as the most basic and affordable models—typing, pointing, clicking—there are certain extras and some detailed specs worth diving into, especially for gamers and other power users. Here’s what you need to know.
One of the most popular keyboard upgrades you can make is the switch to a mechanical keyboard: If you’re not already familiar with these devices, then be warned that it’s possible to get completely obsessed with their form and function.
First and foremost, it gives you a completely different typing experience than the basic keyboards that are bundled with computers. Many people find they can type faster and more accurately when using a mechanical keyboard, while a lot of models are geared to support NKRO or n-key rollover—the ability to accept multiple keystrokes simultaneously, essentially, which is particularly useful for games. Some models have a specific limit, while others let you hit as many keys as you want at once.
The major decision when it comes to mechanical keyboards is the switch type you choose. This will affect the key travel and the associated noise, both of which you need to consider when upgrading. A guide to all the switch options could easily take up an entire article on its own, but there are three main categories to know about: linear (simple, smooth feedback), tactile (with feedback as each press is registered), and clicky (with feedback on each press and an associated clicky sound).
You don’t have to upgrade your keyboard to a mechanical one, if you don’t like their size, sound, or feel. You could opt for a wireless keyboard to replace your wired one, for example, giving you more options in terms of where you work and how your desk is set up. Some wireless models are designed to switch quickly between multiple computers, which can simplify setups where you’re working with more than one system.
Other extras that premium keyboards are likely to have include extra dedicated keys for specific functions, like controlling media playback, adjusting volume and brightness, navigating the web, and more. The best keyboards will come with their own customization software, enabling you to set up your own keystroke shortcuts and potentially offering you a serious productivity boost.
Ergonomics and aesthetics are something to consider, too. You’ll find keyboards designed to fit the shape of your hands more naturally, as well as keyboards with all kinds of adjustable lighting effects to brighten up your desk and make for a more immersive gaming experience. If you buy multiple peripherals from companies with a host of gaming accessories, like Razer and Asus, you can even sync your choice of lighting across multiple gadgets.
Your current mouse may already do a perfectly good job of moving and pointing and clicking, but there are other mice out there that will do it just a little bit better. At the higher end of the mouse market, you’ll see references to a DPI spec: that’s dots per inch, or how frequently your mouse reports its position. A higher DPI should give you a more sensitive mouse experience, though like megapixels on cameras, it’s not necessarily the case that higher is always better.
What can make a real difference is the sensor inside a mouse—either a laser or optical (LED) sensor. Laser sensors typically offer a higher DPI and are usually more expensive, though as we’ve already said, you can’t rely solely on DPI for judging the quality of a mouse. This is one of those areas where it pays to read as many reviews as you can, because the spec listings on their own won’t necessarily tell the whole story.
Laser mice work better on a broader range of surfaces (optical mice can struggle on top of reflective materials like glass), but their extra sensitivity can cause problems when it comes to very slow or very fast movements—there’s just too much data coming in for the mouse to properly track where it is. Again, reviews should tell you which peripherals manage this better than others, but it’s something to be aware of.
Another reason to upgrade your mouse is to access extra buttons, usually ergonomically placed around the mouse body, and designed to do everything from side scrolling to launching specific apps. The number of buttons and their positioning is going to vary from model to model, but they give you much more flexibility when it comes to operating Windows and the applications and games that you’re running on top of it.
Many mice will let you customize the button functions using a companion utility, and as these software packages go way beyond the default mouse options in Windows, they represent another advantage of getting new hardware. Go for a high-end gaming mouse and you might even get a customizable array of lights on the input device that you can tweak to match your taste and desk decor.
Switching out a wired mouse for a wireless one gives you more freedom and a tidier desk, while you might also find one with ergonomics that better fit your palm and hand (especially if you’re left-handed). While gamers are going to get the most return on their investment from buying a brand new, high-end mouse, there are benefits in upgrading for just about everyone.