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Which keyboard or mouse should I choose to buy ?

by Tom Cumming


Thankfully, choosing a keyboard and mouse is one of the few fairly simple hardware choices for PC users. However, not all keyboards and mice are the same, so I will now go over some of the differences between them.

1) Connection. There are a number of different ways to connect keyboards and mice to a PC:

a) AT connector (also sometimes described as a 5-pin DIN connector): This was the standard PC keyboard connector up until about 1996. It looks like a farily large round plug, about 15mm in diameter, with 5 thick chunky pins in a smile-shape (or grump-shape, depending on which way up it is :-) ) These are only for keyboards, and cannot be used for mice. If your PC has a 5-pin DIN connector for a keyboard, this is probably the only way to connect a keyboard, so you have no choice.

b) PS/2 connector (also sometimes described as a 6-pin mini-DIN connector): This is the connector that replaced the AT connector. They are smaller than the older AT connectors, have another pin, and can also be used for mice (most PCs have two, one for keyboard and one for mouse), but apart from this, are similar to the PS/2 connector.

c) Serial port: The standard 9-pin serial connector can also be used for connecting mice to computers. This is useful if you do not have a PS/2 connector, or wish to use more than one mouse, but has the disadvantage that it hogs a serial port that could be used for other devices, if you have any other devices that connect via the serial port.

d) USB port: The USB port can be used for both keyboards and mice, and is a useful "wildcard" if you wish to use more than one keyboard or mouse with a machine.

You will not have much choice for connectors. By and large, most PCs will fall into one of the following categories:

- Keyboard goes into AT connector, mouse into serial connector (PC older than 1996);
- Keyboard and mouse both go into PS/2 ports. If a second mouse is needed, the serial port is used (1996-1998 PC);
- Keyboard and mouse both go into PS/2 ports. Extra keyboards and/or mice in USB connectors (recent PC);
- Keyboards and mice all in USB ports (legacy-free PC without PS/2 ports.)

You will find that a lot of keyboards and mice come in different forms for different ports, and some come with adaptors to allow use in different connectors. However, I have found in experience that these adaptors can be troublesome: try to buy a keyboard and/or mouse with the correct connector for your PC, without the use of an adaptor, if you can.

The main differences between different keyboards and mice, besides the connectors, are:

- Build quality. Buy a £5 mouse and it might only last a couple of years before the microswitches that work the buttons wear out. Buy a £50 mouse and it will probably outlast the rest of the PC. You get what you pay for, simple as that.

- Ergonomics. Every keyboard and mouse feel different to use, and everyone has their own personal favourite. So experiment with different models in the shop to find one that suits the shape of your hands. With mice, many are shaped to fit a right hand, so if you are left-handed you should look out for a symetrically-shaped one or a left-handed one.

- Extra buttons. A standard keyboard has 105 keys, and a standard mouse has 2 buttons. Many now have extra features, such as Internet keys, sound keys, scrolling wheels, extra mouse buttons, and the like. These can make your PC easier to use, meaning you have to press less buttons to get to the functions you need. However, the disadvantage is that with older versions of Windows, you will need to install drivers to make the extra features work, which will mean using up some hard drive space and having another program running in the background, using up a little bit more memory. So, these extra features may not be such a good idea with older PCs, and with non-Microsoft operating systems such as Linux, they may not work at all, so do not waste your money on extra features you cannot use. Do your research first on your PC and operating system.

Copyright © 2001-2006 © Copyright Karl Davis.

No part of this site may be reproduced in any format.All documents author acknowledged are copyright retained by the author.

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