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Computing

This brilliant device stuffs an entire PC into a keyboard

Pentaform, a London-based computer company, is developing the Abacus PC, a complete Windows 10 computer that fits in a keyboard. The project recently raised over $400,000 on Kickstarter to manufacture the concept, which only costs $149 each.

Pentaform’s Abacus is similar to a stick PC, but integrates all the components into a sleek keyboard/trackpad device, giving a nod to Sir Clive Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum, a 1980s-era personal computer that was equally compact and affordable.

The only extra component needed to make this a usable PC is a screen. This mini PC supports 4K resolution at 30 fps (frames per second) when connected via its built-in HDMI port. There’s also a VGA connection so older monitors can be used, keeping costs at a minimum. You can even detach the computer portion from the left edge of the keyboard for easy connection to a TV, while you use the keyboard and trackpad from a sofa, or it can stay attached to the keyboard when using it within reach of a monitor.

The Abacus PC is a complete solution in that it comes with Windows 10 installed, works with Microsoft Stores, and even supports Linux. The hardware includes an Intel Atom X5-Z8350, 2 to 8GB of memory, and 16 to 128GB of storage. The Intel Atom processor can usually only access 2GB of memory but Pentaform has found a way to expand it to 8GB capacity. A MicroSD card allows removable storage to be added as well.

As you may have guessed, the Intel Atom chip the Abacus uses was first released in 2016, so this won’t be a fast computer. The focus was on holding the price to a minimum.

The device supports Bluetooth 4.3 and Wi-Fi 5 802.11 ac for wireless connections. A trackpad is included at the right of the keyboard, and there’s even a built-in speaker.

Pentaform's Abacus PC can connect to TVs.

Rounding out the connectivity, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, gigabit ethernet, two USB 2.0, one USB 3.0, and USB-C for supplying power to the Abacus PC. For experimenters and developers, a 40-pin GPIO allows access to the hardware for custom accessories.

Pentaform’s Abacus PC case is molded from tough, recycled ABS plastic with plans to source the material from ocean waste collectors. The Abacus PC is estimated to use only 31 kilowatts per year if plugged in constantly, so this low-cost PC is also an environmentally friendly solution.

As with any crowd-funded product, there is a chance that production might be delayed or even prevented for some unforeseen reason. Pentaform says the most significant challenge is securing enough semiconductors to meet demand. The Abacus PC was introduced in a Kickstarter campaign last month, and demand was so high that the project was fully funded in 2 hours. The first computers are expected to ship in January of 2023.

Editors’ Choice




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Why you should build your next gaming keyboard, not buy one

I’m fed up with mainstream gaming keyboards. They’re just too expensive for what you get. My frustration to find something I really loved led me to finally bite the bullet and build my own. It’s a hobby that’s billed as niche and prohibitively expensive, but that’s not the case. You can build a keyboard for the same price as buying one from a mainstream brand, and you’ll come out with a much better result.

Keyboards are complex beasts, despite how simple they appear. Once you open the can of worms that is custom mechanical keyboards, you’ll quickly become an expert in minor differences between keycaps, switches, and everything in between. If you want a keyboard that can put even the best mechanical keyboards to shame, you need to build your own.

Building your own keyboard isn’t that expensive

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There’s one reason most people stick with mainstream keyboards: building your own is too expensive, or at least that’s how the story goes. Although it’s tough to build a keyboard for the same price as something like the HyperX Alloy Origins Core, it’s not much more than buying a high-end gaming keyboard.

My personal keyboard (above) cost me about $250. That’s a lot, but not much more than the wired Asus ROG Strix Flare II Animate, and the exact same price as Logitech’s popular G915 TKL. And you’re getting a lot more for your money. If a mainstream brand like Corsair, Logitech, or Asus released a keyboard that could go toe-to-toe with one you built yourself, it would be $400 or $500. Easy.

But in that way, building a keyboard isn’t akin to building a PC. It’s not about making something cheap and scrappy. Building your own keyboard is about piecing together something that’s unlike anything you can find in the keyboard world — from the amazing customization that’s offered to the high-end build quality.

There are more options than ever for building your keyboard now, too. For years, we were restricted to Cherry MX switches and their derivatives, as well as kits that would cost several hundred dollars on their own. An influx of newer brands like Akko are selling parts for much less, vastly lowering the barrier to entry. There’s never been a better time to dive in.

Pick your base

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Building your keyboard starts with a base. If this is your first time, I’d highly recommend starting with a DIY kit so you can get your keyboard up and running right away. These kits come with all of the basic components you need, and they almost always allow you to modify the kit with your own parts after the fact.

Here are a few kits I recommend:

From $50 to nearly $200, DIY kits cover quite the range of prices. And for good reason. Before buying your DIY kit, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

The first is how the plate is mounted to the frame. Most cheaper kits and nearly all mainstream mechanical keyboards use a plate mount — that is, the keyboard plate is attached directly to the frame. More premium kits like the Akko ACR Pro 75 and GMMK Pro use a gasket mount instead, which puts a small gasket between the switch plate and frame. I prefer a gasket mount because it provides a slightly softer typing experience. You may encounter a few other mount types, but most are variations of a standard plate mount.

Otherwise, consider what form factor you want. I don’t like full-size keyboards, so I gravitate toward 60% or 70% options, but it all comes down to personal preference. You have a lot more options when building your own keyboard, so take some time to look around for a form factor that you like.

Finally, look at the material the keyboard is using for the plate. You can usually swap out the plate later, so don’t worry too much about getting it right immediately. You can find aluminum, copper, and even acrylic plates, and they all provide a slightly different sound and typing experience.

Once you have your kit, it’s time to turn your keyboard into, well, a keyboard with some switches.

Switches make the difference

Several switches sitting in front of a keyboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The key switches you use are incredibly important when building your own keyboard, so it’s important to research the switches that are right for you. Look up typing examples on YouTube, read reviews, and try not to get too in the weeds on specs. You can usually order testers for a few dollars to try out the switches before you buy them, too.

Overall, switches break down into two types: linear and tactile. You’ll want a linear switch for gaming and a tactile switch for typing, though you can certainly switch between gaming and typing with either. It comes down to preference, as is usually the case.

Here are some switches I recommend for gaming:

  • Akko Wine Red linear switches — A perfect alternative to Cherry MX Red switches.
  • Glorious Lynx linear switches (lubed) — A super light linear switch that’s hand-lubed.
  • Gateron Oil King linear switches — A much heavier switch that’s great for heavy-handed gamers and typists.

And for typing fanatics:

  • Glorious Panda tactile switches (lubed) — Hand-lubed tactile switches that have an extremely satisfying thonk while typing.
  • Drop Halo Clear tactile switches — Heavier switches that have a clear bump early while pressing. Definitely for heavy-handed typists.
  • Kailh Speed Bronze clicky switches— A clicky switch that’s very loud. Great if you love clicky keyboards, but bad for the office.

Hand-lubed switches are the way to go if you can get them. Factory lubrication is super inconsistent, so you’ll want to seek out switches that have been lubricated by hand if you can. You can also buy a kit to do it yourself, or you can ditch lubrication altogether. Some people prefer the typing experience with unlubed switches anyway.

The main thing to pay attention to is how many pins the switch has. You’ll typically find 3-pin and 5-pin switches, but they’re basically the same. 5-pin switches add a couple of plastic posts to stabilize the switch, but you can snip those bits off if your keyboard can only accommodate a 3-pin switch.

Make it your own

A keyboard with Japanese art on the keycaps.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Now for the fun part: making the keyboard yours. Style points matter when building your own keyboard, so take some time to find the keycaps you like, a cable that fits your theme, and lighting that brings the whole thing together.

Keycaps are a personal endeavor, and many sets are limited edition drops that you only have a brief time to buy. Instead of recommending specific sets, here are a few places I recommend shopping for your keycaps:

  • Drop — Expensive, but fantastic switches with a lot of personality and unique shapes. If you have the money, this is where you want to shop.
  • Osume — Minimalist keycaps that are only available in limited edition runs. They look and feel fantastic, but are a bit expensive.
  • Akko — Akko keycaps are inexpensive and not quite as nice as the top two options, but you’ll find several unique designs you won’t see anywhere else.
  • Amazon — Amazon is a great place to shop for inexpensive keycaps, but you may have to deal with quality issues like fuzzy legends or durability depending on the set you choose.

There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your keycaps. First, try to go for PBT keycaps if you can. ABS keycaps have better color, but they wear down over time. PBT keycaps will last longer, but feel free to use ABS if you want something with a little more flare. Try to shoot for thicker keycaps if you can find them, too.

Outside of the material, look into how the keycap legends are attached. You want either dye-sublimated or doubleshot legends, if possible, as they offer the best protection for the legends over a long period of heavy use. Laser-engraved keycaps are also an option if you want RGB lighting to shine through, though they’ll wear out much faster.

Finally, look at the keycaps you’ll need for your keyboard. A lot of kits have different form factors for function keys like Ctrl and Alt, so you may need to purchase a separate set if yours doesn’t come with the proper sizes.

Outside of keycaps, your cable brings the look of your keyboard together. There’s nothing special here to note outside of picking up the right cable for your keyboard. Both Glorious and Drop have several coiled cables with different color options, though they’re a little expensive. If you’re trying to save, you can always use any old cable.

A journey, not a destination

Keycaps with bananas on a gaming keyboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I’ve only scratched the surface of the world of building your own keyboard. Much like building a PC, you can continue to upgrade, swap, and customize your keyboard over time. That’s the idea. Build something now for your budget and needs, but know that you can always make changes down the line.

Nothing you do is set in stone, which adds so much value to your upfront purchase. Again, you’re not just buying a single product — it’s a platform that you can build on in the future.

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Logitech MX Mechanical keyboard review: Form, meet function

Logitech MX Mechanical keyboard

MSRP $170.00

“The Logitech MX Mechanical keyboard should be the centerpiece of your next office setup.”

Pros

  • Excellent typing experience
  • Works with Windows and MacOS
  • Pairs with up to three devices at once
  • Adaptive, useful backlight
  • Pairing is a breeze

Cons

  • A bit expensive
  • Limited key remapping options
  • No hot-swappable switches

The Logitech MX Mechanical fills a gap that’s plagued mechanical keyboards for years. You want a true mechanical typing experience with the slim form of Microsoft’s Surface Keyboard, but all you’ve been able to find are RGB-ridden gaming keyboards that may offer a great typing experience, but don’t look great sitting in the office.

Enter the MX Mechanical.

It’s not the first low-profile mechanical keyboard, but it’s the first we’ve seen from a mainstream peripheral brand like Logitech. The price is a bit high, and the software could use more features, but the sublime typing experience on the MX Mechanical earns it a spot among the best keyboards on the market.

Expensive but not egregious

Logitech MX Mechanical keyboard sitting next to its dongle.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Logitech’s premium peripherals are expensive — there’s no way around it. The MX Mechanical doesn’t buck that trend, but it still doesn’t feel like you’re throwing away extra money. Logitech has two versions available at slightly different prices: The full-sized MX Mechanical for $170, and the 75% MX Mechanical Mini for $150.

The main competition are the low-profile Keychon K3 and K7, which are both around $50 less than what Logitech is asking. The K7 supports hot-swappable switches, too, so you can adjust the feel of the keyboard down the line or swap some switches out if they go bust.

What’s working in Logitech’s favor is that the MX Mechanical works with other Logitech peripherals, and it unlocks some productivity features that aren’t present with brands like Keychron. Make no mistake: The MX Mechanical keyboard is expensive. But considering Logitech’s gaming-focused G915, which is very similar to the MX Mechanical, sells for $60 more, the price doesn’t seem as intimidating.

Three devices at once

Device keys on the MX Mechanical keyboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

One of the most exciting aspects of the MX Mechanical is that it can switch between three devices almost instantly, regardless of the operating system you’re using. You can connect with either the pre-paired Logi Bolt dongle (a newer dongle for keyboards like the Logitech Pop Keys) or Bluetooth, and you can switch between systems either with a trio of dedicated keys on the board or through the free Logi Options+ software.

I paired it to my desktop with the Bolt dongle and Bluetooth across a laptop and tablet, and there was never more than a second or two of delay between switching. One downside here is that the MX Mechanical flat-out doesn’t have a wired mode. It works via wireless while it’s plugged in and charging, but you can’t ditch Bluetooth or the dongle for a straight wired connection.

Dual support for Windows and MacOS is a huge plus for the MX Mechanical.

Even inexpensive mechanical keyboards like the Akko 3068B work across various connections at the press of a key, but the big boon for the dual connections is Logitech Flow. With a compatible mouse, you can bounce between Windows and MacOS just by dragging your mouse, as well as transfer files or text. It works across up to three devices, either with Windows or MacOS.

The keyboard supports Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, iPadOS, Chrome OS, and Android on its own, but Flow is restricted to the two major desktop types of OS. Dual support for Windows and MacOS is the main plus for the MX Mechanical, though. Unlike the Keychron Q1, the MX Mechanical recognizes what OS you’re using and automatically switches the layout.

More than a backlight

Lighting on the MX Mechanical keyboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I assumed the static white backlight on the MX Mechanical would be the biggest difference it has compared to Logitech’s G915 gaming keyboard, but I was wrong. The MX Mechanical doesn’t have RGB lighting, but the white backlight is for more than just looks.

It’s adaptive, so the ambient light sensor inside the MX Mechanical will adjust the backlight automatically based on how much light you have in the room. This is a key component that allows the MX Mechanical to achieve 15 days of battery life and a full 10 months with the backlight off, according to Logitech. I don’t have 10 months to wait for a keyboard to die, but I’ve been using the MX Mechanical on and off for about three weeks, and my battery is at 50%. Bring a USB-C cable with you when you leave the house just in case, but you shouldn’t need to charge the MX Mechanical often.

The lighting has some nice touches outside of being adaptive. It lights up when you lay your hands over the keyboard, for example, which is a novelty I haven’t grown tired of (even after three years with the Nvidia Shield’s remote and its proximity sensor). Logitech uses the backlight to call out important information, too, like a brighter light on your currently paired device when you turn the keyboard on.

Sublime typing

Logitech logo on the MX Mechanical keyboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The MX Mechanical isn’t a G915 with the gaming bits ripped out, and a few minutes of typing on it makes that clear. It uses Kailh Choc switches like the G915, but the V2 versions the MX Mechanical comes with use a standard cross stem so you can swap the keycaps out if you want. Logitech gives you the choice of Tactile Quiet (brown), Linear (red), and Clicky (blue) switches, and I chose the Tactile Quiet option that comes with 45 grams of activation force, 1.3mm to reach the actuation point, and 3.2mm of total travel distance.

These low-profile switches have the same force as their full-sized counterparts, but the travel distance is much shorter (0.7mm less actuation travel, and 0.8mm less total travel). That completely changes the typing experience compared to full-sized switches like the ones on the Azio Izo keyboard. It’s snappy, like if Apple’s Magic Keyboard was slathered in a coat of mechanical goodness.

Switch on the MX Mechanical keyboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The Tactile Quiet switches have a traditional feel, but they’re not exactly quiet. They’re not loud, like the click you’ll find on the Clicky option, but they have a hollow, chunky clunk as you type. It’s immensely satisfying for typing, and I found myself wanting to write just to use the keyboard more. Most mechanical keyboards are focused on gaming first (like the SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini), but the MX Mechanical is among the few mainstream options focused on typing first.

I didn’t count it out for gaming, though I probably should have. The flat keycaps mean there’s little distinction between rows, causing multiple slipups in Destiny 2 and my recent addiction, Neon White. It works for gaming, but you might have to build your own keyboard for something that looks like the MX Mechanical but functions like a G915.

Simple isn’t always better

Key remapping options in Logitech Options Plus software.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Logitech wants the MX Mechanical to be powerful and simple, which is apparent the first time you load up the Logi Options+ app. It walks you through the unique elements of the keyboard — the three device buttons, the various backlighting options, and even some special function keys like a dedicated emoji key and a mute button for meetings. Simplicity is great, but the MX Mechanical takes it too far.

You can’t rebind most of the keys. Options+ allows you to rebind your function keys, the grid between Insert and Page Up, and four keys on top of the keypad, but that’s it. Key remapping is a standard function for multiple Logitech keyboards, so it’s strange that it’s not more available on the MX Mechanical.

It’s even more strange considering the options you have for the few keys you can remap. You can bind them to keyboard shortcuts, OS apps like the Calculator, and functions like minimizing the active window. You can even customize the keys for specific apps (though, you’re given the same slate of actions regardless of the apps you’re using).

Options+ is also missing macro recording and binding. The list of actions in Options+ is fairly comprehensive, but the fact that you can only rebind some keys seems like an unnecessary roadblock for what is otherwise a great software experience.

Our take

The Logitech MX Mechanical keyboard is all about keeping you productive. Flow is a big plus if you have an MX mouse, and the updated low-profile switches provide one of the best typing experiences you can get south of $200. The price stings a bit with the lack of options in Logi Options+, but the premium is well worth it if you have other Logitech peripherals or often need to switch between Windows and MacOS.

Are there any alternatives?

Yes, but they’re few and far between:

  • Keychon K3: It’s much cheaper than the MX Mechanical and still comes with low-profile mechanical switches. It doesn’t support Logitech Flow, however, and it uses strictly Bluetooth for the wireless connection.
  • Logitech G915 TKL: A gaming take on the MX Mechanical for a much higher price, the G915 offers a similar build and typing experience. It’s much more focused on gaming, with dedicated meta buttons, a volume wheel, and per-key RGB lighting.

How long will it last?

Low-profile mechanical switches have a life span of 50 million keystrokes, so you can get several years out of the MX Mechanical before you need to replace it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have hot-swappable switches like the Keychron K7 or K3, so you can’t extend the life with a switch swap down the line.

Should you buy it?

Yes, especially if you have a mouse that supports Logitech Flow or toggle between devices often. You can get a similar typing experience for less with something like the Keychron K3, but no other peripheral maker has the same combination of features that Logitech is offering with the MX Mechanical.

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Computing

How to connect a keyboard and mouse to the Steam Deck

The Steam Deck is packed with controls – so many controls, you are able make all sorts of adjustments to the way it works and plays. But it didn’t quite manage to fit in an unfolding keyboard and retractable mouse, so you’re on your own for those. The good news is that a keyboard and mouse setup is entirely possible on the Steam Deck. You may want to switch to this option for certain games that just don’t play the same without it or if you plan on doing some serious work in the desktop mode.

Here’s what you’ll need to enable a keyboard and mouse on the Deck, plus which settings to keep an eye on to help get the performance you have in mind.

How to connect your keyboard and mouse to the Steam Deck

Step 1: Use a compatible wireless keyboard and mouse. While devices like the Steam Deck Docking Station (which isn’t out quite yet) will make wired connections easier to manage, for now, the best way to get your keyboard and mouse working on the Steam Deck is with wireless devices. Fortunately, the Steam Deck comes with unrestricted Bluetooth 5.0 support, which means it can work with all kinds of Bluetooth devices. If you want to pick up a new Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, we have your back with our guides to the best wireless keyboards and the best wireless mice.

Step 2: Make sure your keyboard and mouse are fully charged, turned on, and ready to pair with your Steam Deck for the first time. If either of them have pairing buttons or similar features, make sure they’re ready to go.

Step 3: You don’t need to switch to desktop mode to use a keyboard mouse. Simply select the QAM button – the “…” button on the bottom right of the Deck. This pops up the right-side menu. Here, navigate down to the cog icon, where you’ll find the Quick settings menu.

Steam Deck Quick Settings.

Step 4: At the bottom of Quick settings, select the Other option. This should open a small Bluetooth menu. Make sure Bluetooth is enabled here – it may not be turned on by default.

Step 5: Exit out of the QAM menu, and select the primary Steam button to open up the options menu. Go down to Settings and select it.

Settings in Steam Deck Menu.

Step 6: Select Bluetooth from the left-side menu. In the right-side screen, you’ll see all your current Bluetooth options. Look at the section called Available to pair. Keep your keyboard and mouse close by. If they have pairing buttons, now’s the time to hit them.

When you see your keyboard and mouse appear in Available to pair, select them, and wait for your Steam Deck to pair, then connect. It may take several seconds for each device.

Step 7: If you want to play a game with a keyboard and mouse, you should also check your controller layout. The Steam Deck tries to switch to an external device layout when it senses connected devices, but this doesn’t always work right for a keyboard and mouse.

Find the game you want to play on the Steam Deck, and select the Controller icon on the right side of the title. This will open controller settings, where you can check your current layout. Select the Right-pointing arrow on the current layout to check available layout options. If you see a keyboard and mouse layout available, switch to that.

Controller settings in Steam Deck.

Step 8: If there’s no template for a keyboard and mouse, you can always make your own by choosing a new layout, going to Edit, and going to the Mouse and Keyboard sections at the top of the menu, where you can set your own commands and more. Keyboard and mouse controls won’t function the same across every game, but this kind of customization can help. Just make sure your Deck doesn’t switch back to a different layout the next time you start the game – reorder the priority of your layouts if you need to.

Changing Deck Controller layout.

Step 9: Note: If you are already in Desktop mode, then all these options will work straight from the Desktop menu in the bottom right of the screen, where you’ll find a Bluetooth button. It’s just often easier to set up your keyboard and mouse before heading to the Desktop mode.

If there are specific games you want to play on the Steam Deck with a keyboard and mouse, make sure to check their compatibility first.

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How to Clean a MacBook Keyboard

Dust, crumbs, and gunky build-up are all bound to find their way onto your MacBook keyboard at some point. If you’re having trouble with a specific key or simply feel it’s time to give your keyboard a good cleaning, there are some dos and don’ts for the process.

Here, we’ll walk you through how to clean a MacBook keyboard using compressed air. We’ll also include what Apple recommends for getting build-up off your keys and which types of products to avoid.

How to clean a MacBook keyboard

Step 1: Before you clean your MacBook keyboard, you should turn off, unplug the computer, and detach any accessories.

If you’re using an external keyboard that you want to clean, turn it off and remove the batteries.

Step 2: Be sure to insert the straw that comes with the can of compressed air. Remember to keep the straw approximately one half of an inch from the keyboard when you spray.

Also, be sure to keep the can of compressed air at its normal angle. Do not turn it upside-down. You can review the instructions on the can as well.

Step 3: Make sure you have a good grip on your MacBook as you’ll be turning it at different angles to clean the keyboard.

First, open the MacBook and turn it about 75 degrees facing the screen downward. Then, spray the compressed air in a zig-zag motion from left to right across the keyboard and back again.

Step 4: Turn your MacBook to one side and use the same swiping motion to spray the compressed air on the keyboard. Then, turn your computer on its other side and do the same thing.

If you have an external keyboard, you can follow the same process for turning it as you spray the air.

Additional tools for cleaning your keyboard

If you have a particular key or two on your keyboard that has a grimy build-up, you may want to clean those keys specifically. You can use a soft, dry, lint-free cloth to wipe the keyboard, but if you need something stronger, Apple suggests you can use a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe, a 75% ethyl alcohol wipe, or a Clorox disinfecting wipe on the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple devices, like the display and keyboard. Just make sure not to use anything with bleach of hydrogen peroxide in it.

What to avoid when cleaning your keyboard

Here are a few things to stay away from if you plan to clean your keyboard a further.

If after cleaning your MacBook keyboard, you’re still experiencing problems with certain keys, you may need to contact Apple for keyboard repair information.

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How to Turn Keyboard Lighting On and Off

There isn’t just one way to turn on your keyboard lights. It can vary wildly among laptop and peripheral manufacturers and even among different laptop lines from the same brand.

To bring a bit of clarity to the situation, we’ve gathered together six possible ways to turn your keyboard backlighting on or off. Read on to find the best method for your laptop or desktop keyboard.

Press the dedicated button for keyboard backlighting

Some keyboards, like the Logitech G Pro desktop keyboard, will actually have a dedicated button that you can press to toggle the keyboard light on or off. In the case of the Logitech G Pro, you’ll want to look for a button stamped with a sun icon with rays in the upper-right corner of the keyboard. Some laptops also have a dedicated backlight key, though the icon on it can vary wildly.

Press the Increase Brightness button

A close up of the backlit keyboard of an Apple MacBook Pro 13 from 2015.
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

If you have a MacBook, certain models allow you to turn on the backlighting by pressing the Increase Brightness key, which looks like half of the sun with three rays. Press it until you get the desired level of keyboard light brightness. To turn it off, press the Decrease Brightness key, which looks like a half-circle outlined in dots (instead of the rays) until the light turns off.

Using the Increase/Decrease Brightness buttons should work for certain models of Macs that run MacOS High Sierra, Mojave, Catalina, Big Sur, or Monterey.

Press the assigned Function key

A Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2015 keyboard backlit.
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

For many Windows laptops, you might need to press a Function key (F1-F12) to turn on your keyboard’s backlighting. If this is the case, which Function key it is will likely depend on the brand and model of your laptop.

For example, Dell notebook PCs have at least three possible key options: F6, F10, or the right arrow key. In some cases, F5 is also possible. From these options, you should be able to tell which one controls the backlighting by seeing which one has the Illumination icon (which looks like a half-sun with rays) stamped on it. If you don’t see this icon at all, your Dell PC doesn’t have keyboard backlighting. But if you do see the icon, press the Function key that has it. (You may need to press it in conjunction with the Fn key.) Pressing that key combination — Fn + [Function Key] — should allow you to cycle through various brightness level options for your Dell PC’s keyboard, so keep pressing it until you reach your desired brightness level or until you turn it off.

HP notebook computers work similarly to Dell laptops: You’ll need to press an assigned Function key (which could be F5 or F4 or F11) with or without pressing the Fn key as well. You may need to press it multiple times to adjust the brightness or turn it off. There should also be a backlight icon stamped on the assigned Function key for your HP notebook that looks like a row of three dots with rays coming out of the first dot.

The main thing, though, is that if you don’t know the keyboard shortcut or Function key assigned to your keyboard’s backlighting feature, you should look it up in your PC’s manufacturer’s support site or manual to find out.

Use the Touch Bar

Close up of person's hand touching a Macbook pro touch bar.
Chesnot/Getty Images

Certain MacBook models may have you adjust your keyboard lighting via the Touch Bar instead. To do so, tap the Arrow icon on the Touch Bar to expand its Control Strip. To turn on backlighting, tap the Increase Brightness button. To turn it off, tap and hold the Decrease Brightness button, which looks like a half-circle outlined in dots, not rays.

These instructions should work for MacBooks with Touch Bars that run MacOS Monterey and Big Sur.

Adjust it in Control Center or Windows Mobility Center

Depending on the manufacturer and model of your device, you might be able to turn on/adjust the keyboard light via your PC’s control panel menu.

For certain MacBooks, that means opening Control Center, selecting Keyboard Brightness, and then dragging its corresponding slider. This should work for some MacBook models that also run MacOS Monterey or Big Sur.

For some Windows 10 PCs, this means you’ll need to access the Windows Mobility Center which resides in the Control Panel. To access it, select Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Windows Mobility Center. In the Windows Mobility Center, look for the Keyboard Brightness (or Keyboard Backlighting) setting, select its corresponding slider, and pull that slider over to the right.

Use the keyboard’s recommended software, if available

Some keyboards have their own specific software or app that can be used to control and customize the settings of your laptop or desktop keyboard. A great example of this is the app used for Razer’s laptops and peripherals: Synapse. The Synapse app can be used to customize the lighting effects of your Razer gaming laptop’s keyboard or your Razer desktop gaming keyboard. And this can include increasing or decreasing the brightness of your keyboard light or adjusting the settings so that the light stays on or off in sleep mode.

Most of the best gaming keyboards have some kind of back-end software that can let you adjust the RGB lighting of individual keys or turn any or all of them on or off at will.

Enable keyboard backlighting in the BIOS

In some cases, if your laptop has the right keyboard light buttons and they still don’t work the way they’re supposed to, it’s possible that you may need to check your device’s BIOS settings and make sure that they’re configured correctly, or your BIOS may need to be updated to the latest version. When doing either of these things, be sure to follow your device manufacturer’s instructions on how to do it carefully. Look up those specific instructions first. Some manufacturers like HP or Dell have posted detailed instructions online on how to check for these issues and/or correct them.

FAQ

Why won’t my keyboard backlighting turn on?

There are a number of reasons why your keyboard backlighting won’t turn on. Here are a few you may want to consider:

  • Your device may not actually offer a backlit keyboard. Not all laptops or desktop keyboards have keyboard lights. Check with your device’s manufacturer to confirm that the model of your device is supposed to have backlighting. If it is, confirm that you’re using the right keyboard shortcuts, buttons, or settings to turn it on.
  • Some laptops like MacBooks use light sensors for backlighting in low-light situations. It’s important to know where they are on your device and to make sure you’re not blocking them.
  • Is the backlight not working or is the brightness level set too low? If the brightness level of the backlight is set too low, then the light is probably working but you’re just having trouble seeing it. See if you can increase the brightness level using our suggestions above so you can see the light better.
  • You may need to update the BIOS to the latest version, or its settings aren’t configured correctly. If you decide to update the BIOS to the latest version or reconfigure its settings, be sure to follow your device manufacturer’s specific instructions for doing so.

Does keyboard backlighting drain the battery?

Yes, keyboard backlighting can contribute to the drain, as it does need power to function. If you’re concerned about conserving battery power, you can turn off the backlighting or adjust your keyboard lighting settings so that the light automatically turns off when the computer goes to sleep or the display is off.

How do I change the keyboard backlighting color?

First, make sure that your keyboard has the ability to change backlighting colors. If so, you’ll need to consult your device manufacturer’s specific instructions on how to change the backlighting color. Usually, these instructions will involve you opening a manufacturer-recommended desktop app like the HP OMEN Command Center or Razer’s Synapse app and then customizing your lighting settings within that app to add colors to your backlight.

Editors’ Choice




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Computing

Best Keyboard Wrist Rest Picks for 2021

If you’re a gamer or someone who is always at the keyboard, then you might want to consider buying a wrist rest. Wrist rests ensure that you do not put too much strain on your hands or wrists as you type away for hours on end. According to some doctors, keyboard wrist rests might also help reduce carpal tunnel syndrome and other pain points in your fingers and hands.

Although some keyboards come with wrist rests already, if yours doesn’t, or you want to upgrade it, here are our top seven picks for the best keyboard wrist rest in 2021.

The best keyboard wrist rest at a glance

HyperX Wrist Rest

Why you should buy this: It’s the best wrist rest money can buy.

Who it’s for: Long-haul typists or gamers.

Why we picked the HyperX Wrist Rest: The HyperX Wrist Rest is one that is designed to fit in with your setup. A simple rectangle, this rest does not force you to take a specific position when typing and allows for a variety of different typing positions. It is also rather durable, as it’s made of a cool gel memory foam, ensuring that your hands will stay cool and fit softly onto the rest during long-haul typing sessions. That gel ensures firmness, as well as buoyancy.

If you’re a gamer, you might enjoy how clean this wrist rest looks. The top has a spandex-like fabric, and the branding is barely visible. It’s designed to slide right under your keyboard and blend in without being too overly distracting.

Leyouyou 520 Wrist Rest

Leyouyou 520 Wrist Rest.

Why you should buy this: You need a quality wrist rest that comes with a mouse rest.

Who it’s for: Wrist rest buyers who need something comfortable and affordable.

Why we picked the Leyouyou 520 Wrist Rest: If you need a wrist rest but don’t want to spend much more than $10, then this is for you. This rest keeps a lot of the same features from the others on our list, including foam padding and a superfine fabric, but it isn’t on the expensive side. Note that this rest also has a unique shape designed for your palms. Instead of being more rectangular, this one is rounded on the edges, allowing you to slide your wrists in just the right spots for prolonged periods of typing.

The stitching on this is flush with the body, ensuring that it’s super comfy and durable for long-term gaming sessions. As a bonus, it even comes with a mouse pad wrist rest, so you have a place to rest your other hand while scrolling with a mouse.

Razer Ergonomic Wrist Rest

The Razer Ergonimic Wrist Rest.

Why you should buy this: It matches Razer’s other accessories nicely.

Who it’s for: Gamers and anyone with matching Razer accessories.

Why we picked the Razer Ergonomic Wrist Rest: When your setup has a lot of Razer gaming gear, then you probably want a wrist rest to match it, and the Razer Ergonomic Wrist Rest is designed for gamers. Even more so, Razer promises that the rest can alleviate pressure on your wrists from prolonged periods of gaming at an elevated angle.

This product has an ergonomic inclined design to ensure that you can reduce fatigue as you move your fingers across the WASD keys when gaming. It also sports anti-slip rubber feet, so it won’t go moving around during intense gaming sessions. Razer even encloses the wrest in a solid-edge frame, which ensures more durability than stitched edges, and, thanks to the plush leatherette cushion material, the rest is waterproof.

Redragon Keyboard Wrist Rest

The Reddragon keyboard wrist rest.

Why you should buy this: It’s an adaptable, affordable wrist rest with a clean design.

Who it’s for: People who want a keyboard wrist rest that is adaptable to their needs.

Why we picked the Redragon Keyboard Wrist: The Reddragon Keyboard Wrist rest is one that’s perfect for most keyboards and laptops. It uses soft, medium-firm memory foam, which means that it can adapt to your wrist’s unique shape over time. This wrist rest is even certified to be washable, as it has a waterproof coating that won’t peel off when liquids touch it. That makes the rest perfect for home office setups or gamers who might have a messy desk.

The size of this wrist rest is just right. It can fit both full-size keyboards as well half-sized keyboards, so it’s not only for gamers with larger and more fancy mechanical keyboards. The rest’s wider edges also allow for extra hand movements and room for you to slide your mouse around. RedDragon even claims that this design choice can help the wrist rest stay in place and prevent curling.

Jedia Keyboard Wrist Rest

JEDIA Keyboard Wrist Rest.

Why you should buy this: Its holes help prevent perspiration buildup, and it comes with a comfortable mouse rest, too.

Who it’s for: Students, office workers.

Why we picked the Jedia Keyboard Wrist Rest: The Jedia Keyboard wrist rest is more catered for everyday use and usage outside of gaming. This rest has massage holes and two wave-shaped grooves on both sides. What this means is that if you’re a programmer or art designer, the feel of the rest should be more like a softer memory foam mattress and less like a harder, flat padded rest that’s often used by gamers.

Generally speaking, the Jedia Keyboard Wrist Rest is a bit less traditional than other wrist rests and fits better due to that look. The base of the rest is also made of rubber, which helps it stay firm on a desk. That’s unlike other products that have a resin base that could cause it to slide around. Jedia even includes a matching mouse rest, so you’re getting two products for the price of one.

Asus ROG Gaming Wrist Rest

Asus ROG Gaming Wrist Rest.

Why you should buy this: If you’re a gamer and you need a quality wrist rest, this one looks the part.

Who it’s for: Gamers.

Why we picked the Asus ROG Gaming Wrist Rest: This Asus rest is designed for gamers. The rest has a matte black minimalist look with a soft foam cushion core that provides superior comfort and support. There’s even some Asus ROG branding on the sides if you like to match your setup.

It also has a leatherette surface that can offer a soft, smooth feel with splash resistance for easy cleaning and maintenance. As for becoming worn at the edges, this rest has stitched edges with concealed seams so it won’t tear. Asus even adds in non-slip rubber feet, so the rest doesn’t glide across your desk if you jam your keyboard too hard. Note that the feet also allow the rest to elevate a bit. This keeps your hands at an ergonomic input position to alleviate wrist fatigue during long sessions.

Klim Keyboard Wrist Rest

KLIM Keyboard rest showing memory cotton.

Why you should buy this: You need a comfortable and durable keyboard wrist rest.

Who it’s for: Anyone wanting ultimate wrist comfort.

Why we picked the Klim Keyboard Wrist Rest: The Klim Keyboard Wrist Rest is one that is more of an all-rounder. It has the right amount of height and cushion for gamers as well as folks who are just casual typists. Designed with memory foam, a natural rubber base, and anti-slip fabric, it’s supportive without being too hard on the hands. This is so that your wrists won’t slide away when the rest is in use.

Klim’s wrist rest is also backed by a life after sales service. This means that your rest can be replaced if you ever have any issues with it. Considering the wear and tear that wrist rests are known to go through, that’s a huge bonus.

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Computing

Dell’s Black Friday in July Sale for a Cheap Gaming Keyboard

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Dell is currently hosting a Black Friday in July sale that offers a plethora of discounts on computers, peripherals, and much more. As you might expect, there are some awesome wireless keyboard deals, as well as some steep wireless mouse deals. Basically, if you’re in the market for some new killer peripherals, you don’t want to miss it.

As part of that event, Dell is offering some deals on keyboard and mouse combos, including Alienware gear. The Alienware AW310K Keyboard and AW510M RGB Gaming Mouse are just $125, which is over $50 off. Alternatively, the Alienware AW510K RGB Gaming Keyboard and AW610M RGB Gaming Mouse are in a bundle for $189, which is over $70 off. You can read more about the deals below.

Alienware AW310K Keyboard + AW510M RGB Gaming Mouse Combo — $125, was $175

The Alienware AW310K Mechanical Gaming Keyboard is more subtle than some other options, as it does not feature any bright or vibrant RGB. The AW510M RGB Gaming Mouse sure does, however. Both are wired, with USB connections. The keyboard has Cherry MX Red switches, with dedicated multimedia keys and volume controls. The mouse is optical with a 16,000 DPI movement resolution and a polling rate of 1,000Hz. It also features a fully programmable 10-button layout. Normally $175, you can get the combo through Dell right now for $125, which is over $50 off.

Alienware AW510K RGB Gaming Keyboard + AW610M RGB Gaming Mouse Combo — $189, was $260

Alienware AW510K and AW610M Combo

Beautifully designed, this combo features breathtaking RGB across the board — and mouse! The keyboard is wired (USB), while the mouse has dual-mode support, so you can plug it in or use it wirelessly. The RGB profiles support up to 16.8 million color combinations. The keyboard has programmable keys and dedicated volume control. The mouse is optical with a 16,000 DPI movement resolution, and it also includes a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Dell is offering the bundle for $189, which is over $71 off the normal price ($260). That’s a fantastic deal for this high-performance combo!

More gaming keyboard deals available now

If you don’t like RGB or Alienware, or you just want something cheaper, there are plenty of other deals available. We rounded up all of the best ones for you, which you’ll find below.

We strive to help our readers find the best deals on quality products and services, and we choose what we cover carefully and independently. The prices, details, and availability of the products and deals in this post may be subject to change at anytime. Be sure to check that they are still in effect before making a purchase.

Digital Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.

Editors’ Choice




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Computing

Why Building a Custom Keyboard is the Ultimate Design Nerd Hobby

When it comes to choosing the best keyboard, or best gaming keyboard, there’s already what seems like a million options out there — surely there’s something there for everyone, right? So why would anyone go through the effort, time, and expense of building their own?

The answer to that question isn’t quite a one-part answer of “it’s cheaper,” because unlike building your own PC, building a keyboard generally isn’t cheaper than buying an off-the-shelf model — in fact, it’s often (but not always) quite a lot more expensive, with plenty of examples making planks like Logitech’s $250 G915 look like a bargain.

It’s all about the design and the journey of creating something that is unique to you. And unlike a lot of creative hobbies, building a keyboard can be oddly practical, as essentially, you’re creating the perfect tool for your PC use, whether that’s for gaming, general web-browsing, office work, or programming.

It all starts with the layout

When building a custom keyboard, it all starts with the layout. One of the most popular reasons for building a keyboard is because you want a plank with a specific layout and feature set, and what you’re looking for simply isn’t out there — and a full-size 104-key plank is just too much with too many unused keys. For example, you might have run into that perfect layout 65% keyboard, but despise the switches on it.

But there are multiple ways of going about making a keyboard — and it’s all about choosing what you find important, how much money you’re willing to spend, and how much time you’re willing to devote to the project.

It doesn’t have to cost a fortune

For example, take this keyboard that a programmer friend of mine made. As a basic frame, he grabbed a Noppoo Nano 75-S keyboard with Noppoo Blue switches — a layout that he adored for its compact but complete feature set, and with a brilliant clicky switch. But he didn’t like the plastic shroud, color, nor the keycaps one bit.

So, he tore off the shroud to expose the metal backplate and create the ‘floating key’ look, sanded down the chassis and spray-painted it with a matte-black finish, lubed up the switches for smoother actuation, and replaced the keycaps with white, extra-concave keycaps of much higher quality. That’s not a super-extensive keyboard build, but it is custom, to his wishes, and he ended up using the keyboard for years — and due to the high-quality keycaps, it hardly looks or feels worse for wear.

The end result is a keyboard with a striking look – with the metal backplate exposed and classic-style keycaps, it certainly looks like a homemade bit of kit – but it doesn’t type like it.

In fact, this keyboard typed better than the vast majority of keyboards I’ve ever laid hands on. That’s due in part to the clicky and lubed switches, but mostly due to the high-end SA ‘Ice Cap’ keycaps. Their concave design hugs your fingertips, which feels brilliant. I enjoyed typing on this keyboard quite a lot more than most other planks that come through my office — I kind of want to keep it.

It doesn’t have to end there

But as much as taking a pre-built keyboard as a basis is a digestible entry to the world of keyboard building, it doesn’t have to end there. I’ve seen keyboards with custom PCB builds by folks with some electric engineering skills, who then built custom backplates, a custom frame perhaps from a pretty kind of wood, integrated a controller, soldered their (modified) switches of choice on, chucked on premium switches, and as a final cherry on top, connected a sleeved, coiled cable in the color of choice for connecting up the system.

Need inspiration? Just look at the r/MechanicalKeyboards subreddit, and you’ll be lost in a sea of ideas.

And it’s in those territories where the cost of things can start to add up — this is a hobby that can get expensive, but it doesn’t have to. But in the end, the keyboard is the main tool you use to interact with your PC on a day-to-day basis, and making it more enjoyable to use can, to a certain extent, be an investment in making your work that bit more enjoyable too.

Editors’ Choice




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Tech News

Brydge 12.9 MAX+ iPad Pro keyboard supersizes the trackpad

Brydge has revealed a new keyboard for the latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Gen), increasing the size of the trackpad to make it even more capable as a laptop alternative. The company has also announced a new firmware update for all Brydge iPad keyboards with trackpads, which adds some much-requested functionality.

Brydge 12.9 MAX+

Designed to work with the slightly-thicker 12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Gen), with its Mini-LED screen, but also backward compatible with the 3rd and 4th generation versions of the 12.9-inch tablet, the Brydge 12.9 MAX+ looks, at first glance, like a MacBook keyboard. That’s no accident, either, as the new iPad accessory brings Apple’s tablet and iPadOS even closer to replacing your traditional notebook.

It has, the company says, the largest native multitouch trackpad on a tablet keyboard so far. At 5.5 x 3.3 inches it’s twice the size of the Pro+ trackpad.

The keyboard, meanwhile, is a full QWERTY layout, with a top row of dedicated special function keys for iPadOS. There’s LED backlighting with three adjustable levels of brightness. Of course, the whole thing is designed to easily detach when you want to go tableteering instead.

The iPad Pro fits in with a magnetic back cover, using Brydge’s SnapFit system. Battery life is up to three months on a charge – assuming two hours of use a day – recharging via the included USB-C cable. That’s without the backlight, mind; use that, and you’re looking at up to 40 hours per charge, Brydge suggests.

Connectivity to the iPad Pro, meanwhile, is via Bluetooth. The plastic case will be offered in Space Gray, Silver, and – as a limited edition – White finishes, and weighs 2.1 pounds. It’s available for preorder now, priced at $249.99.

The Brydge 12.9 MAX+ will join, rather than replace, the existing Brydge Pro+, the company says. In fact, that keyboard is getting a price cut, now coming in at $169.99 for the 12.9-inch version, and $149.99 for the 11-inch version. The Pro+ also benefits from Brydge’s newest firmware update.

Brydge firmware v2.0.0

Available for all existing Brydge iPad keyboards with a trackpad, Brydge firmware v2.0.0 brings multitouch support to those models. It’s available now, the company says, as a free update via the Brydge Connect app. That links to the keyboard via Bluetooth.

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