How do you decide which keyboard form factor (full-size, tenkeyless, 60 %, etc.) is right for you? For many, the decision comes down to price and how much desk space they have. However, you should make sure you get a keyboard that won’t cause you pain with prolonged use.
There are a few common keyboard form factors on the market. They vary from the full size traditional computer keyboard (roughly 46 cm wide) to 60 % models (27 cm wide). I’ll cut to the chase right away: many use too wide keyboards and you should probably get one without the numbed. Read on if you need more convincing.
You’re probably shopping for a keyboard in an online store and trying to form an opinion based on customer reviews. But how can you tell whether a keyboard form factor will let you maintain a good ergonomic posture or not? Ergonomics vary from person to person. Does the reviewer who claims that a keyboard you’re interested in is “comfortable and ergonomic” have the same sized hands and shoulders as you do?
Most keyboards have the common QWERTY alphanumeric key layout. The key pitch is the distance from the center of one key to center of its neighbor in the alphanumeric area. It’s standardized at 17–20 mm with the most common options being 17,5 and 19,05 mm.
Non-standard keyboard for tablets and living room keyboards may feature smaller key pitch and even smaller form factors. These are out of scope for this article.
In order to make keyboards smaller, some keys are sacrificed compared with the traditional full size models. The keys that get sacrificed are the numeric keys (NumPad, show in yellow), editing/navigation keys (shown in blue), and the arrow keys (shown in red).
The following table shows what keys are available on which keyboard form factors. There may be some other variations from manufacturer to manufacturer.
|100 % / full-size||Yes|
|80 % / tenkeyless||No||Yes|
|75 % / compact||No||Vertically aligned||Compact|
Your hand resting position is different for gaming and touch-typing/office tasks. Gamers rest their left middle finger on the W key (WASD rest position) and typist rest their left index finger on the F key (touch-typing rest position). This guide covers both use-cases.
As a gamer, you use both keyboard and mouse simultaneously for long periods of time. You need devices that let you maintain a relaxed and comfortable posture. You should avoid a setup that requires you to reach your mouse arm out to the side.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you identify your keyboard resting posture. You can use this to work out what keyboard form factors will allow you to maintain an ergonomic posture.
- Clear out some space on your desk. Move your keyboard and mouse aside.
- Extend some measuring tape on the desk in front of you.
- Sit comfortably in your chair. Stretch your arms out in from of you and lower them down to the desk. Hold the position for a minute and make sure you’re comfortable. Shake lose your shoulders and try again if you’re uncomfortable.
- Measure the distance between and including one of your middle fingers.
This measurement is the ideal distance between the WASD resting position (from the center of W key) to your mouse resting position. The mouse should be positioned at least 12 cm to the right of your keyboard to have enough room to be moved about. The illustration at the top of the article shows this measurement. It can have some correlation with your shoulder-width, but the two measurements won’t necessarily be the same.
You should chose a keyboard that allows you to maintain at least the distance you measured between your resting position on the keyboard and your mouse resting position. You should not pick a keyboard size that requires more distance than your hand resting distance allows for.
The following is a reference table for the minimum distance between the WASD resting position and the mouse resting position with common keyboard form factors. It’s only suitable for right-handed use (left hand on keyboard, right hand on mouse).
|Keyboard form factor||Resting hands distance|
|For gaming||For typing|
|100 %||50 cm||48 cm|
|80 %||42 cm||40 cm|
|75 %||37,5 cm||35,5 cm|
|65 %||33 cm||31 cm|
|60 %||30 cm||28 cm|
You can move the mouse and keyboard further apart if your body allows for it. However, you should not buy a keyboard that is too large for your hands! You wouldn’t be able to maintain a good posture if your keyboard is too large.
You can get a stand-alone NumPad and position it to the left of your keyboard if you do a lot of data entry and can’t live without it. You can also find some keyboard models with the NumPad positioned to the left of the alphanumeric section of the keyboard instead of the traditional right-side position.
If you have short hands, you should also make sure to pick a keyboard with reduced key pitch (the distance between the center of one alphanumeric key to the center if its neighboring alphanumeric keys). 19,05 mm is the normal for full-size keyboards, but you can find keyboards with key pitch as small as 17,05 mm.
If you don’t want to replace your keyboard, you can make an oversized keyboard more comfortable by remapping keybindings. Configure your games to use ESDF, RDFG, or TFGH instead of WASD for movement.
You’ll reduce the minimum hand resting distance by 17–19 mm per key as you move your resting position rightwards You’ll want to remap all keys — such as moving Ctrl to Z — to move them closer to your movement keys. You can find guides and suggested key mapping schemes for various games on the web.
I’ve always insisted on using a full-size keyboard and I’ve suffered needlessly from shoulder pain. I’m not a big guy and my shoulder width is about the average for women in the U.S. I should have switched to using the 80 % keyboard form factor years ago. Maybe you should consider it too.