Ever see those keyboards with fancy patterned lights and all? Yup, that’s an RGB keyboard.
Given a bit more elaboration, though, RGB keyboards can come in different configurations and certain “flavors” related to visual aesthetics. Some of these are stereotypical, some are surprisingly more practical, and some are just features related to general keyboards, a significant majority of which also happens to be mechanical.
This PC basics 101 guide isn’t meant to cover every detail about every brand that sells RGB keyboards. But, we hope there’s enough information here to give you a better idea of what they can really offer for your current battle station.
Table of Contents
1. What… does RGB even mean?
RGB stands for red, green, and blue, the three primary colors that make up the entire standard color model. On other visual hardware, RGB simply means “color,” like if something would have a combination of colors or is black and white. In PC components and peripherals, this definition is pretty much the same. Any lighting that can show a prismatic array of colors can be considered RGB.
Do take note, though, when RGB is specifically mentioned with regards to PC-related stuff, people would usually mean “addressable” RGB. In other words, RGB that can be freely configured to any color pattern, as opposed to “RGB” products that can only be available in one particular color or color pattern per model.
As for RGB keyboards, they can both be available in addressable and non-addressable RGB models. For models with addressable RGB, a third-party bonus software might be available (check your specific model) along with typical Function controls. For non-addressable RGB keyboards, the default configuration would usually be the standard “rainbow puke” variant.
2. Main technologies behind RGB keyboards (Simplified)
The technologies involved in making RGB keyboards work are very simple. The lights are a combined array of LEDs, placed strategically so that one can easily flip to the desired color version of the other. The distinguishing factor is control refinement, which is presented by the following technologies:
- Simple output LEDs – better known technically as “dumb” RGB LEDs. These are simply combined red, green, and blue LEDs in a single unit, that light up separately when current is applied. They may be addressable, although a separate component is required to introduce the lighting patterns.
- Integrated control LEDs – the “smart” type of RGB LED, differentiated by the inclusion of an integrated driver that provides native control of the LED. As expected, these do not require external control components and may be programmed to be addressable by default.
- Pre-Installed LED PCB – simply refers to a keyboard PCB that is directly installed with a PCB array. Depending on the type RGB, the PCB could either provide per-key lighting, or an underglow, where the LEDs are simply spread out around the keyboard to achieve its named effect.
- Control software – the advertised third-party software for that specific keyboard model that allows more granular access to RGB configurations. Needless to say, this is only available with integrated control LEDs of standard or high-end (mechanical) keyboard tiers.
- Syncing software – any compatible integrating software that opens universal control to all RGB components of your PC. Usually just bundled with control software if the keyboard from the same manufacturer.
3. What to look for in RGB keyboards?
First off, balance your budget with your expectations in feature and customizable quality. If it has fancy lights and yet is dirt cheap, then you’re probably looking at a static, non-addressable configuration, default rainbow-color setting, and a relatively basic-ish membrane keyboard.
Once you have this balanced mindset, you can then consider the following specs and factors:
- Don’t simply look for keyboards that only feature RGB. Look for a keyboard with its specialty, and then also features RGB. This mostly boils down to being mechanical (since most modern mechanical keyboards are also RGB keyboards anyway), but other (main) specialties such as wireless connectivity and usage customizability can also be worth looking at.
- Go for both individual addressability and group addressability. More than just configuring specific keys for certain controls, your ideal RGB keyboard should also shift colors for a small (mostly circular) group of them either with the keyboard itself or via software.
- If you want crisper colors, go for direct backlighting. If lighter tones, choose an underglow setup. This may vary depending on your preference, but such default setup should work for the most part.
- Go for options with variable wire orientations, or at least a detachable one from the keyboard base itself. This is for potentially cleaner desk space arrangement, as well as easier unit maintenance.
- Third-party configuration software is highly recommended but is ultimately not an absolute requirement. Tinkering with RGB keyboard settings via your OS can give you more options, but interfaces can be a hit or miss. Still, with good software, you can work wonders on the color schemes and individual key settings for your RGB keyboard.
- Default pudding keycaps are nice… but should not be a priority. Consider just going the standard upgrade route to such keycaps and stick to a keyboard with the (non-RGB-related) specs that you need.
- The story is the same for on/off toggle features. They’re nice to have, but not really required, because a simple Function button combo can usually suffice.
- Component syncing can make your desktop setup look uniformly fantastic, though you can usually just limit it to a mouse + keyboard combo. Needless to say, compatible third-party software (assuming the mouse is also made by the same manufacturer) is required for this one.
- And finally, USB features. USB hubs built into these keyboards can make the use of additional input or data hardware easier. Kind of the same thing too if the keyboard has a USB passthrough.
4. Sooo… Mechanical keyboards = RGB keyboards?
No. RGB are just lights. They have nothing to do with the type of keyboard.
There are non-RBG mechanical keyboards out there, but they seem to be decreasing in number with the passing of every year. In other words, RGB keyboards may not always be mechanical keyboards, but almost all mechanical keyboards today have some sort of RGB feature. This is because mechanical keyboards today often feature a good mix of different tweaking options, the most basic of which is RGB lighting addressability.
As such, it is also important to consider all RGB features within what mechanical keyboards can offer in general. For example, (gaming) profiles can allow you to basically implant all visual cues of your controls to your keyboard by assigning them certain colors, lighting patterns, or even timings.