The right gaming keyboard ultimately comes down to the right feel while you’re playing. Membrane switches are familiar, but often spongy. Mechanical keyboards offer key switches that are responsive when typing or moving in a game, and feel good to push down. That feel is important, because the keyboard is the peripheral you’ll spend the most time with at your PC, and it has to feel right. We tested a wide range of keyboards, membrane and mechanical, to find the ones that felt best for gaming.
Corsair’s Vengeance line is a series of mechanical keyboards that are beautifully designed. The keys look—and feel—like they’re floating, due to the open structure of the board’s layout, and the base of the board includes lots of brushed aluminum. They keys themselves have a slightly textured, rubber feel, particularly on the spacebar and replaceable WASD keys (more on that later). The result is a keyboard that feels good on your fingertips.
We like the Corsair Vengeance K70 for its responsiveness, but also for its ergonomics. It includes a textured wrist rest that matches the feel of the space bar. In additional to the two feet stands near the back of the board, Corsair also includes stands near the front, which raises the keyboard significantly and makes typing and general use more ergonomically friendly. It’s a nice touch, and one that the other keyboards we tested neglected.
Corsair’s media keys don’t require any external software, and we love the feel of the textured aluminum volume slider in the top right. Play/Pause, Stop, Forward, and Rewind all work natively with apps such as Spotify, Foobar2000, and iTunes. The system-wide mute button is big enough to find when you need it, but hard to hit accidentally.
The K70s we tested all use red LEDs for backlighting. You can set three brightness levels with on-board controls, as well as changing lighting on an individual key level. The K70’s on-board memory remembers what you program, and it’s a nice way to remember specific keybindings for games such as World of Warcraft or Elite: Dangerous.
The K70 we prefer uses Cherry MX Brown switches, which represent a middle ground in clickiness and smoothness. They’re tactile, and you can feel them activating as you type words or dodge enemy attacks, but the click doesn’t get in the way of actually putting in commands.
Your own personal feel might lean more toward a Corsair K70 with Cherry MX Reds, which are super smooth, or a Corsair K70 with Cherry MX Blues, which are loud and clacky. Corsair offers the K70 in all three versions, with only minor differences in price depending on retailer. Aside from the switches, all three boards are the same.
While Corsair recently released a new version of this keyboard called the Corsair Gaming K70 RGB, we still recommend the Vengeance K70. The new keyboard offers the same keyfeel, but augments it with full-color LEDs under each key. Those keys look really pretty, but the LED keyboard costs $170. $50 is more than we'd recommend spending on lights, even if they are fancy lights. The Corsair Vengeance K70 is a great value at around $120.
It’s not the cheapest keyboard you can get, but Cooler Master’s QuickFire Rapid is a fantastic mechanical gaming keyboard for the price. The tenkeyless version still uses full-size keys, and the Cherry MX Blue switches on the model in our office have a satisfying click when depressed. Most people prefer Blues for typing rather than gaming, but you can also get the keyboard with Brown or Red switches more ideal for gaming.
The entire board has a nice, solid, rubberized feel, with gives the keys a great texture. Media controls are activated through a function (Fn) key down on the right-hand side, but all work at an OS level. Like the Corsair K70, the Storm Rapid I doesn’t require any additional software for its media functions or backlighting programming. We also really love the detachable USB Micro cable, which makes this a great keyboard for LAN gaming.
Cooler Master’s backlighting is nice and bright, and the QuickFire Rapid includes a few different modes to use it. You can control brightness through the function keys, or set an “echo” mode that lights each key as you press it. It doesn’t make you a better gamer or typer, but it’s a nice effect.
We wish the CM Storm QuickFire Rapid was a little more ergonomic—though it’s the same size as the Corsair K70 (minus the tenkey side), the keyboard feels a little more crampy without a wrist rest. A gel rest solves most of those problems, but it’s still an additional requirement, and while you can find the board for $80 at some retailers, it’s still a lot of money to not include some basic comfort options.
WASD’s keyboards are elegant, so much so that the WASD V2 is our keyboard of choice on the Large Pixel Collider. That elegance comes from the fact that the keyboard is fully customizable, and WASD gives you lots of options when you order.
The WASD V2 on the online store starts gloriously pristine, and it's up to you to fill in everything from key layout to printing.
You can pick whichever version of Cherry’s switches you like, from standard clacky blues to smoother reds. WASD even offers less common variants, like the tactile bump of MX Clears or the super-click of MX Greens. If you want the feel but not the noise, you can add sound dampeners.
Finally, WASD lets you customize your keycap colors, including mix-and-match options. The choices are impressive, from the font used on your keys to using DVORAK instead of QWERTY, even down to what OS logo you want on your OS system key. If the online layout tool doesn't let you get fancy enough, you can even upload your own layout file to further customize the keyboard.
This customization comes at a price, of course. The standard V2 retails for $150, and the price goes up as you make your changes. But you’ll end up with a keyboard that’s built to your tastes, and since the keyboard is the most personal of input devices, that’s important.
If you’re not sold on mechanical switches for your gaming, you still have a lot of options for membrane keyboards. Our favorite for gaming is Razer’s Anansi, which uses the exact same layout from Razer’s Black Widow line, but without the clickity-clack that the Black Widow Ultimate is known for.
The Anansi includes five configurable keys on the left hand side, labeled M1 - M5, as well as seven additional media-like buttons below the spacebar that are easy to reach with your thumb. There are no dedicated media buttons, but you can control volume and playback through Function keys. Razer’s software is easy to use for lighting and binding control, and will also play nicely if you use one of Razer’s many gaming mice.
The Anansi is a great option if you want to stick with membranes, but we’d urge you not to. For just $5 more, you can upgrade to the Cooler Master Rapid, and we truly believe that mechanical keys are more responsive and feel better to use. That said, it’s nice to have options, and there are plenty on the membrane side.
Your keyboard is the first point of contact between you and your computer. It’s how you communicate, how you tell your PC to do what you need it to do. For PC gamers, it’s even more: the keyboard is your go-to tool for winning, fragging, conquering. It's the defining component of PC gaming, what separates it from being just another console. Most of the time, we don’t want some proprietary gamepad—we want WASD.
Because keyboards are so subjective, we’ve also also chosen the best alternatives in three categories: high-end, budget, and non-mechanical.
We chose our favorite gaming keyboard by typing lots of words (and playing lots of games) on a wide selection of keyboards available today. We scoured message boards and customer reviews to develop an initial list of models, based on real-world feedback. Then we spent hands-on time with our list, testing each keyboard with day-to-day use on work machines, and playing FPS games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and RPGs such as Wasteland 2.
We put our hands on a whole bunch of gaming keyboards in the process of testing for this article. The Corsair Vengeance K70 came out on top, but here are some of the other keyboards we researched or tested before choosing our favorite.
Razer premium keyboard is a nice full-sized board with extremely clacky keys, but doesn’t offer much for ergonomic support. It’s also premium priced, at $130, and includes no dedicated media keys. It’s a well-loved board, however, and could make a great option if you don’t like the K70.
The most expensive keyboard we tested, at an MSRP of $200. This membrane keyboard includes lots of dedicated keys and a micro-screen that can run system-monitoring apps or work with select games. The keys are far too spongy for our tastes, however, and the screen is not well supported by newer games.
The DeathStalker shares layouts with the BlackWidow and Anansi, but uses chiclet keys that feel more like a laptop or Mac keyboard. It’s cheap, at $50, but most gamers won’t enjoy the keys.
One of the most solidly built keyboards we’ve used. The Ryos keys feel responsive and satisfying, and the MK Pro includes lots of configurable macro keys. The wristpad is not detatchable, however, which means this board will take a lot of space on your desk. It’s also expensive, at $170.
This low-end membrane keyboard has decent backlighting and dedicated media buttons, but no additional macro keys to program. It does come with a mouse and we like the price, but it’s for budget-minded gamers only.
This expanded version of the K70 includes 18 additional macro keys, along with all of the other features from Corsair’s smaller boards. It’s nice if you need the additional control, but most gamers won’t justify the higher price ($150).
The tenkey-free version of the K70, along with Corsair’s new multicolored backlighting options. It retails exclusively at Best Buy for $100, but we prefer the volume dial instead of discreet buttons, and miss our tenkey pad.
The same board as our Best Gaming Keyboard pick, but with Corsair’s new multicolored backlighting switches. Impressive if you take the time to program fancy color options, but at an additional cost ($170).
We like the no-frills feel for the 6G V2, but prolonged use feels crampy without proper wrist support.
This is Logitech’s premium mechanical keyboard, but its key layout feels more cramped than the rest of the competition. It’s also one of the more expensive options, with an MSRP of $150.
A note on affiliates: some of our stories, like this one, include affiliate links to stores like Amazon. These online stores share a small amount of revenue with us if you buy something through one of these links, which helps support our work evaluating PC components.