Why your next gaming keyboard could be electro-capacitive

Niz electro-capacitive keyboard
(Image credit: Future)

Go out and ask someone what their ideal gaming keyboard is. Try it. Odds on they’ll tell you to go and get something with light switches in it. What about RGB lights? Yeah, some of those. Additional software to program the keys? Why not. The chances are though, you won’t be told to go and buy a keyboard with electro-capacitive switches.

“What are electro-capacitive switches?”, I hear you ask. Truth be told, I don’t fully understand the mechanism myself, but in short, it utilises a high-quality rubber dome to generate tactility which in turn pushes down a spring that is pressed onto a pair of capacitive contact pads on the keyboard’s PCB. In essence, a dome pushes down a spring which pushes onto two pads—got it? No? Neither have I, but here we are.

But...but…there are rubber domes! You don’t have rubber domes in mechanical switches, do you? Well, for keyboards like those made by Topre and this handy Niz Mini84 Pro I’m using, it turns out you do, and they feel fantastic. The switch feeling on offer is completely different to your usual linear MX-style switch, offering something as buttery smooth and quick as Usain Bolt. Purists may argue these aren’t mechanical, given the presence of domes, but in essence, there’s a spring involved, and seemingly all mechanical switches utilise a spring.

Can I game on electro-capacitive switches, and is it worth doing?

Let’s find out. For testing, I booted up my trusty old copy of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and delved into some random maps (all with bots—don’t judge) to test these switches out.  In short, to answer your question, you most definitely can. It can take a bit of getting used to if you utilise any form of more traditional MX stem switch, but once you’ve broken them in a smidgen, the experience is marvellous. They feel rather snappy to use with a weight of 45g being ideal for gaming. If you do want them lighter, it is possible to pick up electro-capacitive keyboards with 35g switch weighting, which on a personal level, would perhaps be too light and prone to mistypes.

You don’t have rubber domes in mechanical switches, do you? Well, for keyboards like these, it turns out you do, and they feel fantastic.

Even for day to day usage, electro-capacitive switches can work a treat, feeling responsive enough for you to write out an essay or emails all day long, and that unparalleled smoothness really does make them a joy to use. I can vouch for that given this very article was typed on with a Niz Mini 84 Pro, which is one of the most popular electro-capacitive keyboards for enthusiasts alongside HHKBs and ones from Topre, but more on that later.

The Niz Mini 84 Pro is a neat machine. (Image credit: Future)

So, the short answer is yes, you can game on electro-capacitive switches, but should you? Well, this is where things become a little bit more complicated. Firstly, you’ve got to know what you’re looking for, and arguably more integrally, have the budget to do so. Unlike where you can go onto Amazon and pick up a decent gaming keyboard for under $55 (£50) these days, a board with these switches in will set you back a little bit more.

For reference, the Niz Mini84 Pro I’ve been using will run you about $165 (£165) from certain suppliers. Sometimes these slightly more obscure and enthusiast-level boards can be a little fiddly to find unless you know where to look. The Keyboard Company stock them here in the UK, so getting one delivered was as easy as pie. However, for some other boards, it could perhaps be a bit more of a challenge, so do bear that in mind if you want something super specific.

Luckily, there are a shedload of manufacturers to choose from, including Niz, but arguably the most recognisable and well-known is Topre, whose RealForce line of keyboards have become the stuff of legend for a lot of enthusiasts simply based on their feeling. PC Gamer's own Jacob Ridley has one and swears by it. I’ve been fortunate to utilise a RealForce 105UWB for a few months now and can say they’re some of the best-feeling switches I’ve used, alongside the Unicomp New Model M’s buckling springs.

The Topre switch on a Realforce RGB keyboard. (Image credit: Topre)
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Then, there’s the question of layout. Do you go full-size, TKL, or even 60%? Well, whilst we do have a handy guide on which keyboard layout is best, it all comes down to personal preference. I’ve stated before that going for a 60% for gaming can be pretty decent, but, if you’re yearning for the added convenience of arrow keys, then the Niz’ 75% offers a nice happy medium. Of course, for maximum functionality, a classic full-size board is going to be best, but choose whatever suits you.

So, in short, picking up an electro-capacitive keyboard is worth it given that light weighting and super-smooth keypress. They are a bit expensive, but if you can stretch your budget for one, and find one you like most integrally, then you will be onto a winner. Of course, the world of electro-capacitive keyboards is one that has grown out of years of enthusiasts lauding them for superior feelings but considering how quickly the world of mechanical keyboards is growing now, you might as well jump on the wagon. We’re goin’ places.