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Description: The keyboard is the primary input device for the PC, and the primary way in which textual information is entered into the PC. It has been around since the earliest days of the PC (when it was the only input device on most systems) and is not likely to go away any time soon. :^) Keyboards come in hundreds of shapes, sizes, colors and variations but in terms of general design and interface they have probably changed the least of any component type in the PC world.
Tip: For much additional
information on keyboards, including more discussion of how they work, as well as many of
the technical details, criteria and features mentioned below, see the Reference Guide section on keyboards.
Role and Subsystems: The keyboard is an input device and is part of the input subsystem. It connects to the motherboard through the keyboard port on the motherboard (though some models now connect using USB.)
Related Components: The motherboard to which it connects, primarily. PS/2 mice use the same interface so I suppose that technically makes them related, but they do not need to be specified simultaneously.
Key Compatibility Selection Criteria: There is only one real compatibility issue, the size of the connector. Many older PCs and keyboards used a larger, 5-pin keyboard connector that mated a large port on the back of the motherboard; newer ones use a smaller 6-pin connector. This is really not a big deal, however, as there are cheap mechanical adapters available, and the keyboards are electrically compatible.
Some keyboards are now available that use the USB port instead of the keyboard port; these of course require a working USB interface.
Performance and Capacity Selection Criteria: Not really applicable to keyboards.
Quality Selection Criteria: Keyboards range fairly widely in quality, but all but the cheapest will work for casual use. Since many people don't use them for typing extensively, they are typically given little attention, and for many people that's probably fine. However, for people like me who may make over 100,000 keystrokes in a single day (as I likely did the day I wrote this section), keyboard quality is very important. Thus, there are two basic approaches to keyboard quality: spend a fair amount and get something really good that will last for years, or just get something cheap and buy a new one if and when it breaks.
There are several different basic technologies used in making keyboards; some create keyboards that feel better than others or last longer, and these usually cost more. Generally speaking, most keyboards today are not as solidly-built as they were many years ago. (If you've ever used a real IBM keyboard from one of their 1980s models, you know what I mean). There's not much point in trying to explain keyboard technology. The proof is in the pudding, as they say--try out different keyboards and select one that feels good on your hands and fingers.
Remember also that keyboards are ergonomic components. If you do a lot of typing the keyboard will have an impact on your physical strain level and also the potential for repetitive stress injuries. See here for more.
Important Features: A basic, standard PC keyboard contains 101 keys, including the standard 12 function keys located along the top of the keyboard (very old PCs used an older design with only 10 function keys, on the left-hand side). Over the last few years, new keyboard designs have appeared that expand the capabilities of some models:
"Magic Numbers" To Watch For: None.
Performance Impact: None.
Retail, OEM and Gray Market Issues: Not really relevant. Most keyboards come with systems or are sold retail; OEM keyboards are probably fine if you do run across them.
Importance of Manufacturer: Not very much. Keyboards are made by many different companies. This only matters if you are someone who wants a really good keyboard.
Typical Component Lifetime: Depends entirely on how much typing you do on the keyboard, of course! Good keyboards can last for years; cheap ones may start to get flaky after only a few months of heavy use.
Warranty Issues: None.
Driver Support Issues: May be required for USB models or funky designs with integrated audio controls and other special features.
Special Specification Considerations: I would make these suggestions: