Gaming keyboards have never been more popular than they are currently. The hardcore gamer can find or build just about anything they can imagine as the options are limitless. However, there are some disadvantages to the traditional keyboard, especially if you are an MMO player. Traditional keyboards are not very ergonomic and there are a lot of key binds and macros required for the average MMO. This typically requires long stretches and sometimes requires physically looking at the keyboard to find the specific key you are trying to press. In tense, fast-paced PvP situations, this usually ends up meaning death at the hands of another player.
Many gamers prefer the layout and feel of a dedicated keypad controller, especially for playing MMO's since they offer a more ergonomic layout of buttons. There are various manufacturers of these controllers, but the most popular are Logitech and Razer.
The biggest advantage a gamepad has over a traditional keyboard is the addition of a thumb controller. Some players like to use this for macros or other commands, but the real advantage the thumb controller offers is for movement. Being able to do all of your forwards and backwards movement along with strafing with your thumb is so liberating. It will take a little time to wean yourself off of the traditional WASD movement keys, but once you make the switch, you will never want to go back.
My personal all-time favorite gaming keypad is the Logitech G13, which is sadly no longer being produced. It offered what many considered the ideal combination of ergonomics and functionality. It also happened to be extremely durable. Mine has survived ten years of hardcore World of Warcraft PvP with only one button failing in the last year or so.
One other feature of the G13 which is very handy is the onboard LCD screen. I typically use mine to quickly choose the gaming profile I would like to use. It really helps to be able to see this information at a glance rather than having to open the software on your PC in order to choose your profile. There is also a clock and in-game information such as character stats that you can choose to display on this screen as well.
You can find a few New Old Stock G13's on Amazon for exorbitant prices but there are other options if you do not want to shell out that much money.
Razer Orbweaver Chroma
The Razer Orbweaver Chroma is a fantastic keypad that has been around for a few years and has seen a couple of iterations. I really like this keypad, but there are two reasons I personally looked for another alternative. First, I found myself getting a little lost on the Orbweaver because it has what I consider too many buttons. Unlike my trusty G13, the buttons are all the same shape, so your hand cannot determine your position based on tactile awareness. Also, it is surprising how just that one extra row of buttons really makes a difference in the comfort and overall feel. I found myself reaching a lot for buttons that were on the very top row on the outer edges. I have medium hands, so a person with smaller hands might find this quite a large challenge.
Razer Tartarus V2
The Razer Tartarus V2 is my current replacement for the venerable Logitech G13 and I have to say it has been surprisingly excellent. Overall I prefer the flatter, more sprawled out design of the G13, but the Tartarus V2 has an excellent thumb pad for movement, a very comfortable wrist rest, and really solid Mecha-Membrane keys. Unlike the Orbweaver, I do not find myself having to make awkward stretches to press keys on the outer edges of the controller. Also, the thumb pad is a solid replacement for the small thumbstick on my old G13. I did not think I would warm to anything else, but I have really warmed up to the thumb pad on the Tartarus.
One other feature the Tartarus V2 features that the Orbweaver Chroma does not is the scroll wheel. This is a handy little feature as it can be used for zooming in and out as one would expect but it also can be assigned macros like any other button, but has the advantage of "feeling" different so it is easier to use from a tactile point of view.
Razer Synapse Software
The Synapse software that controls both the Orbweaver Chroma and the Tartarus V2 has really improved. Players complained about early Synapse software so much that Razer re-worked it and I have to say, they did a pretty good job overall. There is still room for improvement here, but it is a much better product than prior versions. They seem to have a taken a few ideas from Logitech, but I am sure no one will complain about any improvement.
I tend to assign the buttons on my Tartarus V2 to certain key binds I have been using for over a decade. This is not the traditional way most players set up their key binds, but it works for me and everyone is a little different in this department.
While there are other options on the market, especially through Amazon, you will be hard pressed to find the quality Razer offers in the Orbweaver and the Tartarus V2. There are a lot of gamers hoping Logitech makes a second version of the G13, but until then, Razer offers the best two gaming keypads on the market.