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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Keyboards | Special Keyboard Features and Accessories ]

Integrated Peripherals

The trend with many after-market keyboards is to add extra buttons, keys and features. While a good percentage of keyboards sold today--and even included with systems--go beyond "the basics" of a regular 104-key keyboard, some go well beyond it, adding not just extra buttons but entire peripherals. Such keyboards are really multiple components in one.

The sky is really the limit in terms of what can be built into a keyboard, though the keyboard interface itself is a limiting factor to some extent: you're not going to find someone building a hard disk into a keyboard (or at least I sure hope you don't!) The most common devices to be integrated into keyboards are probably the following:

  • Pointing Devices: One can't integrate a mouse into a keyboard, but a trackball, touchpad or pointing stick device is fairly easy to do. Some desktop keyboards provide this feature for convenience. Of course, most notebooks do this as a matter of necessity...
  • Scanners: Some keyboards include paper scanners built into them, to allow you to scan paper documents. These are of course sheet-feed scanners, not flat-bed scanners.
  • Calculators: Some keyboards build in calculators to the body of the keyboard itself. This is really more of a gimmick than anything, since calculators are so cheap they are practically throw-away items, and there's a good software calculator built into Windows anyway... Still, some people like the convenience.
  • USB Hubs: USB keyboards will sometimes act as a USB hub, providing ports for other USB devices to plug into. This one I think is a nice feature, as it's much more convenient to connect some kinds of USB devices to a keyboard near the work area than to the back of the PC. Note that sometimes these hubs are limited in terms of how much current they can supply to devices that connect to them.

There are others too but those are the most common ones.

I suppose integrating these peripherals into the keyboard can be a good idea if desk space is at a premium, or if the user finds it convenient in some way. The USB hub is a good idea and the calculator fairly harmless. At the same time, I generally consider tightly-integrated peripherals to be a bad idea for a few reasons. The main one is that you severely limit your choices when, for example, you try to find a combination keyboard and pointing device, compared to just getting separate ones. Similarly, new scanners are coming out all the time, but if yours is built into your keyboard, to upgrade you must also replace your keyboard (or at least, you won't be getting anything out of the integrated scanner.)

Another problem is that when any part of an integrated device fails, you must generally repair or replace everything. Finally, the integrated device often costs more than separate devices of the same type added together, which compounds the other two problems.

Next: Mechanical and Interface Keyboard Adapters


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