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How Many Keys are there on a Computer Keyboard?

Most computer keyboards have a total of 104 buttons or keys.

These can differ slightly between different keyboard manufacturers, as well as depending on the country in which the keyboard is designed for. However, in most cases, the number of keyboard keys will stay around this number.

If you’re looking for a new keyboard and are looking on Amazon or eBay for a regular-sized piece of equipment to use in an English-speaking country, the keyboard will most likely have 104 keys.

Of course, not every country uses the same alphabet, though. Some countries are very similar to English but also include accents, umlauts, cedillas, and more. Some keyboards will include extra keys for these characters, whilst others require shortcuts to access them.

Other languages are non-alphabetic, such as Chinese, which is based on characters, or Japanese, which is based on syllables. These again require different keyboard hardware or software to write on a computer.

Let’s explore further to find out the different types of keyboards we have, how they are laid out, and some uses of the F keys on the keyboard.

mechanical computer keyboard
Photo by Marcellino Andrian on Pexels.com

What are the different types of keyboards? 

There are many types of keyboards, and they don’t just vary by language. Keyboards can be used for a wide range of tasks, from programming to gaming to flexible portability.

QWERTY keyboards

These are the common keyboards you’re probably accustomed to seeing and using in the English-speaking world. QWERTY keyboards are so named because starting from the top left and moving right in the letter section spells out QWERTY.

gray keypad
Photo by Khizar Hayat on Pexels.com

These are suitable for people who need to complete routine computer tasks such as emailing and typing documents. You were probably taught how to use these, or something very similar.

So, if you want something that is comfortable and familiar to you and millions of other people, a QWERTY keyboard is probably the way to go.

When typing with this type of keyboard, people achieve very high word-per-minute rates while putting no strain on their fingers or brain.

They’re also ideal for a shared computer because they’re easy for children to use and will be familiar to other adults as well

Portable and Flexible Keyboard

Many people are slowly switching from laptops to tablets as they later become more powerful and provide many of the same functions that a laptop can.

The one thing clearly missing from the screen-only device, however, is the keyboard. For those looking to spend long periods of time typing, the on-screen keyboard is often too much of a pain. The software was designed for quick Internet searches or for sending and receiving instant messages, not serious word processing.

These are where portable keyboards come in handy. Much like tablets, they are easy to carry around to keep your work or fun going whilst on the move.

However, portability commonly comes at the expense of size, and thus an insufficient range of keys. The second set of number keys and the function keys that run along the top of standard keyboards are frequently missing from portable keyboards.

This means the keyboard can take up less space and fit in your backpack or possibly even your pocket!

However, with modern technology, even more, inventive methods of making keyboards portable have emerged. It is no longer necessary to cut sections of traditional keyboards to make room. Some people are already altering keyboard materials to make them foldable or even rollable.

This means that a piece of equipment that would normally be longer than your forearm can be rolled up and put in your pocket like a newspaper. So, your keyboard could have a full range of keys and still be perfectly portable.

That’s right, 104 keys fitting snugly in your back pocket!

Be warned, however, that these foldable and rollable keyboards are often lacking in terms of consistency once they’re fully laid out. Key hits are not as easily registered and you’re unlikely to have the same ease of use as you would with an everyday QWERTY keyboard designed for use at home.

Numeric keypads

Some keyboards are built without any number keys, meaning you’ll have at least 10 fewer keys. These are often built for portability so you could be missing 30 or even more keys.

This means they’re smaller and easier to carry around but can become a pain if you want to sit down and get some serious work done, which often includes regularly needing numbers.

Numeric keyboards are nifty little additions you can get your hands on that usually have between 9 and 18 keys. These can be plugged in or wirelessly connected alongside your numberless main keyboard so that you can have a full set-up.

Some lines of work may even be so number-intensive that the tiny numeric keypad can be your solitary keyboard in some cases. It’s likely to be even more portable than any portable “normal” keyboard that you’d otherwise carry around.

Either way, these can be seen as a useful set of keys to have on their own, or a sometimes-essential edition to an otherwise incomplete keyboard set you may have.

Ergonomic keyboards

The main function of ergonomic keyboards is to allow you to type with as little physical strain as possible. These still usually retain the overall QWERTY layout of a regular keyboard but will be laid out in a different shape, or shapes.

Ergonomic keyboards are designed so that your hands can rest and type in a more comfortable way, and in the long term will have less wear and tear on your hands and fingers.

If you spend a lot of time with your keyboards or are concerned about the strain on your hands, wrists and posture, then ergonomic keyboards are worth looking at.

In most cases, you will still have access to the full range of 104 keys and are also less likely to develop medical conditions that are usually related to typing such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Sometimes they are split into two separate pieces that can be moved for your preferred way to type. Often, the left piece is smaller and may hold around 30 to 40 of the overall keys, but this varies between different designs.

You will usually have to spend a little bit of extra money to get an ergonomic keyboard but you will still have access to all of the keys you would get on a regular keyboard and have an even more comfortable time using all of them.

Gaming keyboards

Gaming keyboards are in some ways similar to ergonomic keyboards in that they have utility in mind.

Gamers often spend hours frantically hitting away at buttons and so it’s crucial they have a well-made piece of tech so they don’t strain themselves and can play well.

These bits of hardware will have all the keys you need and more. Often there is thought put into the aesthetic design of gaming keyboards as well as the function, so you may see keys included that change the backlight or provide shortcuts to screen capturing tools.

Portable gaming keyboards also exist, although are a rarity come by. These will have fewer keys but will still be designed to let you navigate the core tenets of the game in a non-strenuous way and hopefully look good whilst doing so.

USB vs Bluetooth keyboards

It used to be that trying to get work done at home meant loads of wires laying around the house.

The pieces of tech that they lead up to, such as everyday keyboards, are still undoubtedly useful but can be a bit of an eyesore.

They are also not always ideal for travelling, with wires getting tangled, taking up extra space in your suitcase and possibly getting in other people’s way on your journey.

The introduction of wireless keyboards has threatened to put an end to much of that.

If you were previously tired of all the space on your desk being taken up by wires, then you may feel more comfortable getting a fully-keyed keyboard if it operates wirelessly and doesn’t make your working space look like a mess.

If you’re willing to risk running out of charge every now and then or are happy to trust in your ability to regularly charge your keyboard, then picking a Bluetooth piece of equipment is a great shout.

They’re also much better for many portable devices, which are often low on USB slots and so may not always be a reasonable choice for typing with a wired keyboard.

Both wired and wireless keyboards can be found with the full 104 keys or less.

Portable keyboards are more and more frequently also wireless, and so these are more likely to have less than the full 104 keys, but it should always be possible to check before making a purchase.

Membrane vs Mechanical keyboards

These two keyboards come with very similar shapes and layouts, but there’s a different feel between them when you’re typing.

Membrane keyboards are produced so that there is no space between each key. Each button is pressure sensitive since the surface of the keyboard is flat, meaning there’s no physical differentiation between each key.

These are usually very cheap but come with another big benefit that makes people choose them over a mechanical keyboard sometimes regardless of the price.

Pressing a key on a membrane keyboard is silent, meaning you can type away to your heart’s content without worrying about disturbing anyone else.

Some people find the clicking of using classic mechanical keyboards annoying and so choose to use their computer without any distracting sounds.

Mechanical keyboards on the other hand are designed more like old-fashioned typewriters. They still use the QWERTY layout in most cases, as is the case with membrane keyboards, and are what most adults today will be most familiar with.

They’re more expensive than membrane keyboards on average but are reliable when it comes to recognising when a key has been hit and they are usually durable.

The clicking noise that some membrane keyboard users find annoying is a pleasant part of the typing experience for many mechanical keyboard users.

The space between keys and the feel of individual springs and switches that make up the distinctive feel of a mechanical keyboard also allows many writers to find a comfortable rhythm when using them and hit their highest words per minute rates.

What are the different layouts of keyboards?

As you can see, there are many different ways that keyboards are made, but did you know there’s actually a great deal of variety in how the keys are placed on them too?

Even within languages that use the Latin alphabet, you can find different designs of how the keys are laid out. The main ones are the QWERTY layout, which we’ve already discussed, and the QWERTZ and AZERTY layouts.

QWERTZ

The QWERTZ layout is mainly used in central Europe, and like the QWERTY layout is named after the first six letters of the top left of the keyboard. It’s the primary layout of choice in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, and others.

close up photo of black typewriter keys
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The main difference this has the QWERTY keyboard is that the Z and Y keys are switched, mainly due to patterns in the German language. These include Z coming up much more frequently than Y, and Z and U spelling Zu, meaning ‘to’, making them ideal candidates to be placed next to each other.

AZERTY

The AZERTY layout is often used in countries such as France, Belgium, and Russia, although it is not necessarily always the main layout in those countries. There are variations within the AZERTY layout depending on the country in which it is produced for.

This layout goes back almost as far as the QWERTY layout, first being used at the end of the 19th century in France. That country still spends much time deliberating over the ideal layout for typing its language.

These countries still normally have 104 keys, with the normal variations between different types of keyboards such as portable and numeric devices.

Different combinations of keys are used too, such as the Alt Gr T being used to put an accent above a typed E.

Dvorak

Some people also use the Dvorak keyboard layout. This was invented in the 1930s by Dr August Dvorak, his intention was to make typing as fast and efficient as possible.

This was done by putting the consonants and vowels that are most common on the home (middle) letter row, aside from U.

It is hard to measure accurately just how fast typists can churn out words using this layout since there is not a wide enough pool of users to accurately compare it to QWERTY typists.

However, the evidence that is available suggests that people who are used to the Dvorak keyboard can type as fast, if not faster than those using QWERTY keyboards. There are also indicators that it can help with the accuracy of typing.

The problem is encouraging the transition, with so many people already used to QWERTY keyboards, the teething period of trying to widely introduce a new layout would be painful for many keyboard users.

However, it’s easy enough to see if you like a different layout from the comfort of your own home. Almost all keyboards can be adjusted with the right software to change what appears on the screen with the same inputs.

It is easy to buy sticker sets online of all 104 keys that lets you essentially remap the layout of your keyboard. With these, you could turn your QWERTY keyboard into a Dvorak keyboard, or any other layout you wish.

If you’re really willing to commit you cannot even buy keycap pullers, which let you remove the tops of your keys and place them down as you see fit.

If you’ve been typing for years, don’t expect the transition to be easy or quick. It will take a long time for your muscle memory to readjust but you may get even better results when using a different layout.

However, expect a lot of complaints from unsuspecting people who come to use your keyboard if they’re suddenly faced with a completely different layout from what they used to.

Do laptops have a different number of keys?

With most keyboards designed for desktops, you can be quite confident that there will be 104 keys available to you.

With laptops, however, there is a lot more variation as manufacturers are forced to consider how well the keyboard matches the screen whilst keeping things easy to use and providing you with enough functional capability.

Often, it’s the numeric keyboard that ends up missing out. On full-sized keyboards, this runs along the row above the letters and lets you also type symbols and punctuation. This means that you’re looking at 10 or so fewer keys.

In many cases, the function keys will be integrated with the number keys so that one can be accessed by holding the FN key.

You may also still have the number keys to the right of your keyboard, which you may not be used to using but are just as simple to utilize once you get used to their position.

For the smallest laptops, you may just have access to the letter keys and a few more essentials. These could have as few as 50 keys, though one way or another you should still have the ability to carry out all the same tasks, even if it requires a few extra steps.

What are the F keys used for on a keyboard?

The F keys, also known as Function keys, provide you with some handy ways of navigating and making the most of your computer.

They are usually lined across the top of your keyboard and labelled F1 through to F12. Their use can change depending on your computer or what programme you’re using. Let’s have a look at some of the most commonly used and helpful function keys.

  • F1 – Many programmes designate this as the help key which will open the advisory panel or a help page.
  • F2, F3, F4 – On many computers, these are used to mute the volume, turn the volume down, and turn the volume up, respectively. Sometimes you’ll also have to hold the Fn key to access these functions.  This is usually a lot easier than opening the taskbar or settings to change the volume.
  • F5 – This is mainly used as a shortcut for refreshing a browser page. Almost all modern internet browsers include this function. Holding the Ctrl key simultaneously will force a complete refresh, meaning the cache is also cleared and everything is loaded from scratch.
  • F8 – Often used to enter the Windows start-up menu or access Windows Safe Mode, depending on what part of your computer’s software you’re currently navigating.
  • F10 – Used to enter BIOS set-up when the computer is booting, this key is indispensable to anyone who’s looking to fix a seriously damaged computer or is hoping to create a split partition or install a new operating system on their machine.
  • F11 – Allows you to enter full-screen mode on most modern browsers and many other programmes. So don’t worry if the X in the top right corner suddenly disappears, you can still use this key to return to safety whenever you want!
  • F12 – Used both alone and in conjunction with other keys for a vast array of functions in Microsoft Word, such as opening, printing, or saving a document.

This is a long way from a full list of potential uses you can get out of the function keys. If you’re really confident, you can even map out your own uses for them.

Most new programs you see nowadays will also include a guide that lays out what keys can be used for. From speeding up your work tasks to improving your gaming performance, the function keys are just as important as many of the other keys on a keyboard!

Conclusion

That’s all there is to it. A detailed explanation of the number of keys on a computer keyboard.

Even though 104 keys is the most common number of keys on a computer keyboard, keep in mind that not all keyboards are made the same, so the number of keys on some keyboards may vary.

We hope you found this guide to be as useful as possible.

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