What is Keyboard Ghosting? How to Stop It

edited August 2023 in PC Tech

Keyboard ghosting is a common issue that plagues gamers and can hurt your gaming. But what is it, exactly? Simply put, ghosting is when your keyboard fails to register certain keyboard presses, leading to missed actions and disrupted gameplay, which frustrates gamers who rely on their quick reflexes.

Whether you're a casual gamer or a competitive pro, understanding and preventing keyboard ghosting is key to ensuring smooth and seamless gameplay. First, you need to understand keyboard ghosting and how to stop it. In this article, we'll delve into the causes of keyboard ghosting and provide tips on how to prevent it from happening to you.

What is keyboard ghosting? 

Keyboard ghosting occurs when you press more than one keycap simultaneously. Instead of a spirit from another world overtaking your computer, your keyboard doesn't respond the way it should when you press a button. Some of the keys work correctly, but one or more don't. The keystrokes that seem to have disappeared have been "ghosted." Ghosting can occur when gaming or using keyboard shortcuts as we press multiple keys simultaneously to execute specific actions.

Why does keyboard ghosting happen? 

Keyboard ghosting is a common issue that can disrupt gameplay and hinder productivity. But what causes it?

In short, it's a consequence of standard keyboard design. Your keyboard buttons connect to the motherboard through a series of circuits that use a matrix of rows and columns to register key presses. When you press a key, the keyboard sends a signal to the computer indicating that key's row and column.

However, it can get mixed up when you press three keys in two different rows and two separate columns. Your computer sees two row and two column wires activated but can't identify which individual keys caused those signals since multiple possible combinations would produce the same output. It registers five different sets of keys. This overload causes some key presses to be registered and others to be "ghosted" or not registered.

In some cases, the keyboard itself may not be able to handle the number of simultaneous key presses, resulting in ghosting. Alternatively, the computer will activate an unpressed key, giving a different response altogether. It's less of a problem with modern keyboards, as most have features designed to stop jamming.

A limitation in the software or firmware of the keyboard can cause another keyboard failure. We all use the Control-Alt-Delete combination from time to time, so all keyboards are designed to handle this. Still, some keyboards are not programmed to handle anything more complicated and can't run multiple concurrent key presses.

For example, on my standard typing keyboard, I pressed 6 keys (WASDIO) simultaneously on 4 occasions, and I got 4 different results: sadiow aiods wsido wosdai. I then tried 8 letters (WASDBNM) and got these results: dbansw bdnwsm, wbdnms, bnmdws. Adding wires to create more specific keyboard presses is possible, but that additional circuitry would create a more expensive keyboard.

The third primary reason for keyboard ghosting is when there is interference from electrical noise or other devices connected to the computer. Understanding the root cause of ghosting is key to preventing it and ensuring smooth, lag-free performance.

Why do keyboards malfunction and ghost? 

Keyboards' original purpose was for typing documents, where you typically only press one key at a time at a reasonable speed. However, in the world of gaming, users often need to press multiple keys simultaneously to execute specific actions. This can be a problem for some keyboards, as the hardware and design may not be able to handle the number of simultaneous key presses required for certain types of gameplay - run diagonally and strafe (pressing A, W, and G simultaneously). It could be time to upgrade to a keyboard with a higher rollover count.

A rollover means the ability of a keyboard to accurately register multiple keys simultaneously pressed because the keyboard must "roll over" to the following available circuit to record the different key presses. Rollover only applies to keys used to type with, rather than modifying keys, such as Control or the Windows button.

Keyboards usually have limited circuits available, so they can only register a certain number of simultaneous key presses. A rollover, or n-key rollover (NKRO), refers to the number of keys that a keyboard can register being pressed simultaneously without experiencing ghosting.

For example, a keyboard with 6KRO can register at least 6 key presses simultaneously, while a keyboard with 3KRO will manage a minimum of 3. One with a full n-key rollover (NKRO) can register unlimited simultaneous key presses.

When gaming, it's common to press multiple buttons simultaneously, consecutively, and at high speed. Pushing a keyboard beyond its capabilities can lead to ghosting and malfunctioning. To prevent these issues, consider upgrading to a keyboard with a high rollover count and maintain your hardware to ensure optimal performance.

How can I find out what rollover rating my keyboard has? 

The rollover rating of a keyboard refers to the number of keys you can hit simultaneously without experiencing ghosting. However, some keyboards may not have a high rollover rating, yet they can handle common combinations, such as WASD, for character movement in gaming.

To find out the rollover rating of your keyboard, you can use online tools such as Microsoft's free online demo. Follow the instructions on the site, and you'll quickly learn your keyboard's rating and which key combinations ghost. With this information, you can determine whether your keyboard suits your needs and, if necessary, consider upgrading to a keyboard with a higher rollover rating.

How to prevent or fix keyboard ghosting 

If you are in the middle of a tense game and your keyboard fails to operate correctly, frustration levels will go through the roof when you cannot play the game to the extent of your experience and skill. So, what can you do about it?

Cleaning your keyboard may help. But as the primary cause of ghosting is limitations in the design or functionality of the keyboard, the best way to sort out the problem is to use a keyboard with a more advanced design or by using specialized software to work around the limitations.

Which keyboard should I get? 

When choosing a keyboard, there are several factors to consider when meeting your needs and preferences: 

  • Key layout: Some keyboards have a standard layout, while others have a more compact or ergonomic form. Consider which design is most comfortable for you to use. 
  • Keycap type: There are several types of keys available, including mechanical keys, membrane keys, and scissor-switch keys. Each type has its feel and level of durability. 
  • Connectivity: Consider whether you want a wired or wireless keyboard. Wireless keyboards offer more flexibility, but wired keyboards tend to have faster response times. 
  • Additional features: Some keyboards have other features, such as backlighting, media keys, or a built-in touchpad. Decide which is right for you. 
  • Price: Determine your budget and look for a keyboard that meets your needs within that price range. 
  • Compatibility: Make sure the keyboard is compatible with your operating system and any other devices you plan to use it with. 
  • Brand reputation: Look for a reputable brand with good customer reviews.

When it comes to anti-ghosting issues, other points to consider include: 

  • The 6-key rollover is sufficient for most people unless you expect to have two people using the same keyboard, and then you might want to go for the unlimited (NKRO) rollover model. If you aren't sure which keyboard is best for you, you can try searching for the product name plus "NKRO" or "6KRO" to find more information about it. 
  • Many gamers and professional typists prefer mechanical keyboards for comfort and accuracy. The Mechanical Keyboard Organisation is good at explaining why this is and providing lists of keyboards to check out for potential purchases. 
  • PC Cases.org have a wide range of keyboard articles that might help you to make the final decision.

Anti-ghosting keyboards buying guide

Acer has a top-of-the-range Nitro anti-ghosting membrane keyboard worth investigating for top players or those wanting the best in professional keyboards. Features include:

  • Anti-ghosting for 19 keys 
  • RGB backlit colored zones 
  • 5M keystroke rated 
  • Tenkeyless (TKL) is 80% of the usual sized keyboard, making more room for your mouse

Don't let ghosting haunt your performance - upgrade to a keyboard with a high rollover count and take your gameplay to the next level! 

Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.


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