The only people who think the best gaming keyboards are overrated have never used one. The difference between using a stock mechanical keyboard that comes pre-packaged with your PC and investing in the best mechanical keyboard is truly a difference of night and day. Whether you're looking for something big or small, clicky or silent, the best gaming keyboards can add an incredibly personal touch to your gaming setup.
Picking out a gaming keyboard for yourself should typically start with how many keys you want. The most common layout is the 104-key format, but if you don't use a Numpad very often, you may want to opt for a tenkeyless (TKL) keyboard to save some real estate on your desk. If you're eager to condense things even further, you might opt for a keyboard with a 60 percent layout. These cram the most keys into the least amount of space by doubling up functions on most of your keys, and while they definitely offer a super clean look, they can be a little awkward to get acclimated to.
While standard mechanical switches are far from dead, there have been advancements to this tech in recent years, whether that's the optical switches of the Razer Huntsman Elite or the adjustable travel distance of the Steelseries Apex Pro. Until we see some kind of revolution in either switches or how we interact with computers in general, keyboard switches still fall into the three general categories of linear (Cherry Red), tactile (Cherry Brown, Razer Orange), or clicky (Cherry Blue, Razer Green).
Some other options that might interest you are RGB lighting or dedicated media controls. These features hardly dictate the kind of experience you'll have with your keyboard, but can definitely make your life easier. You may also want to take note if a particular keyboard requires third party software to use all of its features. With the vitriol around third party applications getting worse by the day, you may want to think twice about investing in a keyboard that forces you to install another application just to remap your keys.
Best gaming keyboards 2019
The best gaming keyboard
Switch: Cherry MX Speed, Brown | Size: Full size | Backlights: RGB | Passthroughs: USB | Media Controls: Dedicated | Wristrest: Detachable
When you want to go the extra mile and upgrade to the absolute best of the best, it's hard to find a better option than the Corsair K95 Platinum. The K95 Platinum is a big keyboard: its enormous footprint still requires some desk cleaning before it can be nested comfortably. But feature-wise, the K95 Platinum's got it all. Dedicated media controls and a USB pass-through, a metal volume wheel, RGB lighting. It even comes with an extra set of textured keycaps for the WASD keys. While it's expensive, you do know what you're getting for your money here, and throughout 2019 we've seen the price of the K95 dropping steadily.
We also love its detachable wristrest, which makes things super comfortable for long gaming sessions (and this keyboard is fantastic for strategy games and MMOs). The rubberized wristpad attaches magnetically and has two contrasting textures: one smooth side and one rough side. Switching sides is as easy as flipping it over, and the added comfort it brings is exceptional.
During our tests we noted excellent key responses, a decent spread of keys for most hand sizes, a satisfying tactile click to each press, and wonderfully dimpled keys to help you rest your fingers when you're not actually pressing down. While this all seems quite obvious, it shows that the K95 does the basics right, as well as including the fancy extras, and that's why it's top of the plank pile.
2. HyperX Alloy Elite RGB
The gaming keyboard with extra flash and features
Switch: Cherry MX Blue, Brown, Red | Size: Full size | Backlights: Red | Passthroughs: USB | Media Controls: Dedicated | Wristrest: Detachable
For a board lit in up to 16.9 million colors, the HyperX Alloy Elite sports a relatively simple aesthetic while still packing the features we expect out of a quality gaming keyboard. It comes in your choice of Cherry MX Brown, Blue, and Red. What it lacks in a dedicated macro column it makes up for with its reasonable price and quality, durable design.
The HyperX Alloy Elite RGB leaves no box unchecked in features. It's equipped with dedicated media controls, USB passthrough, a detachable wristrest, and full RGB backlighting. To up its aesthetics, it also includes an extra set of silver keycaps for WASD and the first four number keys. The board supports full N-key rollover, meaning you never have to worry about key presses not registering. While there is a standard variant of the Alloy Elite available that lacks RGB, depression in this model's pricing has brought them almost to parity, and you can regularly find the 'luxury' model for around $130.
3. Razer Cynosa Chroma
The best gaming keyboard for membrane enthusiasts
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Per-key RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Per key RGB lighting, supports Windows 7+ and OSX 10.8+
If even mecha-membrane keys don't suit you and you demand a fully membrane typing/gaming experience, the Cynosa is the deck for you. It has some of the best feeling, low profile membrane keys I've ever tested, and at a retail price of $59.99 is one of the most affordable gaming keyboards out there (past a certain threshold of quality). While it may lack some of the features a number of gaming boards pack in these days, stuff like a dedicated wrist rest or media controls, it does boast Razer's extensive RGB lighting, which can be programmed on a per key basis or applied by zones.
It's a solid, no frills, nice looking keyboard that's the best membrane option of a huge range that I've tested. There is a step-up version of the Cynosa available, but for $20 extra the only real addition is underglow RGB, so unless that kind of 'ground effects' package is massively appealing to you, I recommend you save your cash and invest in the base model.
4. Logitech K840
The best gaming keyboard for gamers on a budget
Switch: Logitech Romer-G | Size: Full size | Backlights: No | Passthroughs: No | Media Controls: Function key integrated | Wristrest: No
Logitech's proprietary Romer-G switch is where the magic lies. Designed in collaboration with the Japanese switch giant Omron, it was traditionally reserved for Logitech's high-end boards. Now, they're served with the budget-friendly K840 for the first time. Because you're scoring the Romer-G switch at such a low price point, you’re not going to find any extras on the K840. Never mind dedicated macros and USB passthroughs, there isn’t even any backlighting. The keycaps also come with cheap, fragile pad printed lettering that's likely to wear off over time.
The best gaming keyboard for FPS lovers
Switch: Cherry MX RGB Blue, Brown, Red, Black, Silent Red, Speed Silver | Size: Full size | Backlights: RGB | Passthroughs: No | Media Controls: No | Wristrest: No
Asus' ROG Strix Scope is a keyboard made for function over form. While it's festooned with the typical array of RGB lighting, the solid aluminium top plate sports an understated, industrial design that's welcome in an era where flash and spectacle too often take precedence. The Scope is a solid, durable, reliable keyboard that works exactly as advertised without the bloat of unnecessary gimmicks. And with a wide range of Cherry's RGB switches, replacing their less even 3mm LED solution for RGB, you can find the Scope in practically any flavor you'd like.
It also has a few quality of life features to appeal to fans of shooters. Full macro customization is available, and the left Ctrl key has been broadened to make it easy to hit during a tense firefight without accidentally actuating other keys. The more compact form factor of the Scope also means that it (and all the other bottom row keys so often critical in an FPS) is really easy to reach down and smack when you need it.
6. Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB
The best gaming keyboard for customization and ergonomics
Switch: Cherry MX Blue, Brown, Red | Size: Split tenkeyless | Backlights: RGB | Passthroughs: USB | Media Controls: No | Wristrest: Yes
The original Freestyle Edge from Kinesis was one of the best split ergonomic keyboards on the market, and the upgraded RGB model improves on the original in a number of key ways. It retains the split design, allowing you to set the two halves of the deck at shoulder width and reduce back, neck, and shoulder strain. The gap also lets you drop a flight stick or HOTAS in between them for space sims, or leave your controller within easy reach when you're typing in text chat or messengers between sessions.
The braided cable that connects the two halves can be adjusted to accommodate larger peripherals, or made shorter if you're leaving that space empty and want to declutter your desk. The additional lift kit accessory, which unfortunately doesn't come bundled with the keyboard, attaches to the bottom of the wrist rests and lets you tilt the keyboard to face out towards your hands at angles of five, ten, or fifteen degrees. There's an acclimation period where you're getting used to the angle and layout, but beyond that initial adjustment it feels comfortable and natural having the deck angled outwards.
The Freestyle Edge RGB is also incredibly customizable, with onboard storage for up to nine user profiles, ten dedicated macro keys on the left half, and the ability to customize every key individually (including on the entire layer that you access by pushing the Fn key). It's fully programmable without the use of any additional software, though it can also be customized through Kinesis' Smartset software for an even more granular experience.
The best gaming keyboard to replace a gamepad
Switch: Cherry MX Red | Size: Full size | Backlights: Full RGB | Passthroughs: USB | Media Controls: Dedicated | Wristrest: Yes
Cooler Master may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of gaming keyboards, but the MK850 may very well change your mind. The headline feature of their latest peripheral offering is the aimpad technology built into a subset of the deck's keys, which transform them with the push of a button into analog inputs not unlike the analog stick on a gamepad. This means that you can push a key part of the way down and it'll register the input differently than pushing it all the way to the floor, the way you can tilt an analog stick slightly forward to walk in a 3rd person shooter or tilt it all the way to run. It's a useful feature, particularly in stealth or racing games, where analog input is an important factor and a traditional mouse and keyboard setup hasn't sufficed.
It's not just the aimpad that makes the MK850 a great board, though. It's packed with the additional features that elevate a gaming keyboard, stuff like a row of dedicated macro keys and media controls (including two independent scroll wheels for controlling things like system volume or RGB brightness), USB passthroughs, and Cherry MX Red switches. And it's an attractive deck, with raised keycaps to highlight the backlighting, and a supportive magnetic wrist rest and anodized aluminum backplate.
The best gaming keyboard to actuate at the speed of light
Switch: Razer Opto-mechanical | Size: Full size | Backlights: 16.8 million color RGB | Passthroughs: No | Media Controls: Dedicated | Wristrest: Detachable magnetic
The Huntsman family of Razer keyboards is the only place in the world to find their opto-mechanical switch, and it's one of the best (and most technologically interesting) switches on the market. The opto-mechanical build eschews traditional metal contacts, and instead actuates by a beam of light that fires through the switch when the key is depressed, meaning actuation is almost instantaneous. The other major advantage of removing all the relatively frail, slender metal contact pieces from the switch is that they're rated as twice as durable as standard mechanical switches, up to 100 million keystrokes. They're tactile switches that actuate at 1.5 mm and 45g of force, meaning they're ridiculously easy to spam but still provide tactile feedback. They're also amazing for typing for much the same reason.
The rest of the Elite is well designed too, with a comfy detachable magnetic wrist rest, a full suite of dedicated media controls, and a multi-function dial that can be used for anything from altering your PC's volume to scrolling through lighting suites for the 16.8 million RGB color options. It also features some handy storage on the keyboard, so you can easily save your preferences to a profile that will travel with you if move it to a different machine. It's an excellent, fully-featured keyboard with some truly fantastic switches, though you'll pay a premium for the privilege of using them. Here's how the Corsair K95 and Razer Huntsman Elite stack up against each other.
The Huntsman Elite is also available with their opto-linear switch that debuted on the Huntsman Tournament edition. This switch keeps the lasers but gets rid of the clicky feedback of the opto-mechanical switch. This version is otherwise unchanged but gives you some options.
9. SteelSeries Apex Pro
The best gaming keyboard for per-key actuation
Switch: Omnipoint Adjustable | Size: Full size | Backlights: 16.8 million color RGB | Passthroughs: Single USB | Media Controls: Dedicated via OLED | Wristrest: Detachable magnetic
The Apex Pro may be built around one headline feature (its ability to individually set the actuation point for every key), but it's also an incredibly solid, competitive gaming keyboard even without that groundbreaking customization. That said, adjusting the actuation point on a key-by-key basis is an incredible boon, particularly for anyone that splits their time between typing and gaming. If you find you struggle to decide between a linear and tactile switch, the Apex Pro offers you a hybrid that can satisfy both needs in the same model. Set a deeper actuation for typing, or higher when you need to spam keys in a MOBA or MMO. Or if you find you're frequently nailing a particularly key by accident and blowing your cooldown, you can set it individually to require that you bottom out so you'll really need to push it with intention.
The Apex Pro also features a novel OLED in the upper right hand corner of the board, which lets you alter the actuation (though only across the entire board uniformly; the per-key settings require the SteelSeries Engine software), handle media controls, or even display a tiny animated gif. While it's more gimmick than necessity, it's does let you alter some key settings without having to dig deep into a separate software suite. And the low profile of the chassis with the heightened key caps contributes to a very attractive aesthetic, with little to no wasted space around the edges of the board.
Jargon buster - keyboard terminology
The height to which a key needs to be pressed before it actuates and sends an input signal to a device.
A switch that delivers an audible click everytime it's pressed, generally right around the point of actuation.
A technique to ensure that only one input registers every time a key is pressed.
The shell that surrounds the internal components of a switch.
The result of the actuation point and reset point in a switch being misaligned. This generally means a key needs to be lifted off of further than normal before it can be actuated again.
A switch that moves directly up and down, generally delivering smooth keystrokes without noise or tactile feedback.
A keyboard built around individual switches for each key, rather than a membrane sheath mounted on a PCB.
A keyboard on which all the keycaps are mounted on a membrane sheath; when a key is pressed, a rubber dome depresses and pushes against the sheath and PCB beneath, actuating the key.
The component of a switch on which the keycaps are mounted on a mechanical keyboard.
The physical component of a mechanical keyboard beneath the keycaps on a mechanical keyboard. The switch determines how a key is actuated, whether or not it provides audible or tactile feedback with each press, and more.
A switch that provides a 'bump' of feedback every time it's pushed.
A keyboard that lacks the right hand number pad.