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.
The gaming keyboard market has undergone some major changes. Some companies have made their products increasingly sophisticated, while others are going back to their roots. We’ve also seen the rise of proprietary switches from a few companies. With all these new releases, we believe it’s time to update our best gaming keyboard section.
Best high-end gaming keyboard
- All of the macros
- RGB lighting
- Handy media controls
- Build quality that's made to last
- Crazy expensive
- No USB passthough
The Corsair Vengeance K95 RGB is the updated version of the aging Vengeance K95. Being numero-uno in Corsair’s gaming keyboard lineup, the Vengeance K95 RGB has all the uber-end features that competitive gamers need. A set of 18 programmable macros rests on the left side, more than enough for even the most demanding MMO gamers. Macro programming isn’t restricted to just the macro keys; every key on the K95 is also programmable. To top it off, there are four profiles that can be stored directly in the onboard memory. It also comes with a full set of media control buttons and a superb detachable wrist rest.
Best overall gaming keyboard
- Excellent performance
- Perfectly priced
- Respectable build quality and appearance
- White-only backlighting can be distracting
For a keyboard without much bells and whistles, the G610 Orion Brown still manages to give off a gaming vibe. That said, its plain, rugged design also has no problem blending in with your office cubicle. Logitech has kept the entire board free of prints save the beautiful light-up “G” symbol at the top left, which enhances its overall appeal in simplicity.
There are two variants of the G610 Orion to choose from: one with Cherry MX Red switch and the other with Cherry MX Brown. We like the Cherry MX Brown version. Cherry MX Brown is known as the “do-it-all” Cherry MX switch with a silent and beefy tactile point and a light actuation force.
Best budget gaming keyboard
- Extremely affordable for a gaming keyboard
- Decent build quality
- Has backlit keys
- Full numpad
- Flimsy and slippery keycaps
The Thermaltake Poseidon Z has been around for nearly two years, but its tremendous value still firmly seats it as one of the most popular mechanical keyboards on the market. At the time of writing, you can easily pick one up for around $65.
Those who crunch numbers will definitely appreciate the inclusion of the number pad. At a budget price, this is a huge bonus compared to many of the other tenkeyless (TKL) options in this price category. It also comes with blue backlighting, a feature that’s often lost in the pursuit of lowering the cost.
Best keyboard for typing enthusiasts
- DIP switches at the back to change the position of the FN key
- Dual-injected keycaps
- RGB backlight
- Full range of Cherry MX switch options available (Blue, Brown, Red, etc.)
- Plastic front face looks cheap
- Would like to see PBT keycaps over ABS
- Pricey for its feature list
Designed to be the ultimate end all, be all desk companion, the Ducky Shine 5 is geared towards the office knights. The USB cord is detachable so it can be swapped with different lengths and colors. There’s a set of switches on the back that changes the location of the “FN” key depending on the user’s hand dominance.
The Ducky Shine 5’s best feature by far is its excellent dual-injected (also known as double-shot) ABS keycaps. The dual-injection method layers two different colored plastics on top of one another, with the bottom layer seeping through the top layer to act as the key print. Not only does this help add weight and thickness to the keycap, it also ensures that the key prints stay bright.
Best membrane keyboard
- Modest, professional appearance
- Topre switch is fantastic for a non-mechanical switch
- Cherry MX-compatible stems
- Removable cable
- Highly portable
- May be too austere for some
- Lacks backlighting
- No lock (e.g. CAPSLOCK) indicator lights
- Crappy keycaps
While it’s true that Cooler Master’s “hybrid capacitive” switch can’t really be called a membrane switch, its construction borrows heavily from rubber dome. The inspiration for its design came from a premium switch type called Topre. The Topre switch has an additional spring sandwiched between the membrane layer and the PCB, preserving much of the characteristics of rubber dome while simultaneously providing a vastly superior feel. Topre is widely considered to be one of the smoothest keyboard switches on the market and one with the highest consistency. The specific ones on the Novatouch have an actuation force of 45g and a 1mm actuation distance.
The Cooler Master Novatouch TKL breaks many records in the Topre keyboard category. It’s the first Topre keyboard to incorporate Cherry MX-compatible stems, giving us the freedom of using custom-designed keycaps. It also leads the pack by being the first Topre keyboard to ever feature NKRO over USB. Sitting in the mid-$100 range, it’s one of, if not the most affordable Topre keyboards available.
How we test gaming keyboards and others we tested
To make it on to our list, the keyboard has to have a balance of three things: performance, build quality, and features that makes sense for what it’s designed to do.
When a keyboard arrives at our office, we first dig up some info on the make and switches to get a general idea of its quality. We then hammer our planks with words and gaming for days on end, often at the hands of multiple people to gather feedback from different perspectives. If it warrants, we’ll even tear the board apart and scrutinize its guts under a magnifying glass.
Judging features is much more finicky. What we think is important may not be important to you. But we always have you, the gamer, in mind when we review a product. Do these features really make a difference? Or are they just here as an artsy excuse to jack up the price? That’s what we try to answer.
Lastly, we always try to choose keyboards with more than one switch type available. The Novatouch was a special case because standard desktop membrane keyboards generally have little variation between one another.
Some games we use to test are: Starcraft 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Battlefield 4, and Witcher 3.
We put our hands on a whole bunch of gaming keyboards in the process of testing for this article. Some of the others we tested are worth a mention, even if they didn't make a top spot on our list. After all, keyboards are highly personal devices; what works for one person may not work for another.
Das Keyboard 4 Professional
The Das Keyboard 4 Professional is the closest competitor against the Ducky Shine 5. Its performance and aesthetic appeal all closely match, if not exceed, the Ducky Shine 5. The Shine 5 ultimately came out on top due to its gorgeous backlighting, portability, and stability when the elevator feet are added. Instead of rubber feet, the Das Keyboard 4 has a fun plastic elevator bar that doubles as a ruler, but the lack of rubber made it very slippery sitting on our desk.
Logitech G810 Orion Spectrum
The G810 Orion Spectrum is the big daddy version of the G610 Orion equipped with Logitech’s proprietary Romer-G switches. While its performance is top-notch, it’s a hit or miss for most people since G810 offers rather shallow key travel.
Razer BlackWidow X Chroma
Stunning, beautiful, gorgeous…The Razer BlackWidow X Chroma has looks to die for. Unfortunately, there isn’t much substance behind that pretty face. There’s too little features to justify its hefty mid-$100 price tag. However, it’s a nice plank if you can find it closer to $140.
Roccat Ryos MK FX
The ROCCAT Ryos MK FX improves on the ROCCAT Ryos MK Pro by featuring a delicious set of RGB lighting using Cherry’s transparent switch housing and surface mount LEDs. But why leave out the USB pass-throughs?
There are tons of keyboards we still haven’t reviewed but love to get our hands on. Here’s are a few on the top of our list:
- SteelSeries Apex M800
- Max Keyboard Nighthawk
- Topre Realforce (both TKL and full-sized variants)
- Filco Majestouch 2
- HHKB Pro 2
- Rosewill RK-9000V2
- Tesoro Excalibur
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