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March 1996 Pullout

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Hitting the Boards

HOW TO BUY A...Keyboard


A standard keyboard costs anywhere from $20 to $100. As a rule, you get what you pay for.

Tactile Feel

When you type, do you favor the familiar IBM Selectric click or do you crave the sound of silence? Decide whether you want a "mushy" keyboard or one with a stiffer feel, and type away until you find a good fit.


Stick with a familiar keyboard layout, particularly if you are a touch typist. Even standard 101-key keyboards differ slightly from one model to the next. Various manufacturers use different-size keys and diverse locations for the Enter and Backspace keys. Windows 95 users will want the 104-key layout; it features two Windows-logo keys (which let you access the Start menu) and an Application key (which acts like a right-mouse click).


Before you leave home, find out if your PC uses a DIN or a mini-DIN (also called a PS/2) connector for the keyboard. If your system is less than a year old, odds are you will need a mini-DIN; older systems use a regular DIN. Many keyboards include the necessary adapter free. If not, you can buy one for between $5 and $10.

Put a keyboard through its paces before you buy. Here are some sure-fire tests of keyboard quality. Try them out on the keyboards you're considering.

If you find a keyboard that passes these trials to your satisfaction, you're ready to start typing.

Is All-in-One Model Just Your Type?

If you tried our keyboard torture tests, you've probably found a stable keyboard. But have you also considered a sound one?

A number of keyboard makers are integrating multimedia or even into their products. Generally, multimedia keyboards include a microphone, headphone jacks, speakers, volume/bass/treble controls and an amplifier. Speaker power should be a major buying consideration. Your sound card probably puts out about 6 watts of power, and 10 watts will soon be common. Some multimedia keyboards have speakers that can only handle 2 or 3 watts. These speakers won't take full advantage of your sound card's capabilities.

Multimedia keyboards eliminate the wires you need for separate speakers. The speakers are positioned near where you're sitting, and speaker controls are within easy reach. Multimedia keyboards cost from $70 to $200.

Another integration option is a keyboard/trackpad combo, which can save you some valuable desk space. These keyboards cost about $120 to $150.

Purchase Plans

Make copies of this checklist and fill it out for each keyboard you are considering.

Product Name

Tactile Feel: __ Stiff __ Mushy

Layout: __ 101-Key __ 104-Key __ Other

Connector: __ Mini-DIN (PS/2) __ DIN

Integration: __ Speakers __ Pointing Device

Heft Test: __ More than 3 lbs. __ Less than 3 lbs.

Twist Test: __ No Movement __ Slight Movement

Wobble Test: __ Firm __ Minor Wobble __ Major Wobble

Stability Test: __ Very Stable __ Stable __ Not Stable

Legending Test: __ Decals __ Silk Screened __ Laser Printed

Warranty Test: __ 1 year __ 2 years __ 5 years __ Lifetime

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