the best gaming keyboards we’ve tested
So, you just built a new gaming PC. It has the best graphics card – you know, the one that had all of your friends drooling a few weeks ago. Now, the only thing you have left to complete your gaming station is one of the best gaming keyboards. We know, it’s tempting to just buy the cheapest membrane keyboard you can find – but seeing how you just dropped a thousand bucks on your new PC, you really should get a keyboard that is at least on par with it. That’s where the best gaming keyboards come in: not only can they actually increase your performance in games, but there’s also a certain je ne sais quoi about lighting up your room with just your keyboard.
Using a cheap membrane keyboard for gaming is ill-advised to say the least. The best gaming keyboards will allow for much deeper and accurate travel, so you never have to worry about accidentally killing your teammate when you’re just trying to reload. And, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention RGB lighting – the golden feature for any gaming peripheral.
So, here is our list of 10 of the best gaming keyboards available in 2018. And if you’re on a tight budget, don’t worry, because here at TechRadar, we make sure that every product we recommend strikes a balance between price and performance. You can be confident that all of the MLG typewriters on this list not only will get you through countless games, but will be affordable as well. You won’t find any overpriced nonsense or cheap, flimsy keyboards here – all of the keyboards on this list has been tested by us in-house.
Finding the Right Fit
Maybe your old keyboard has typed its last letter. Perhaps your gaming ambitions have left you dissatisfied with the mediocre model that came with your desktop PC. Or maybe the one you have still works fine for what it is, but isn’t as comfortable and sturdy as you’d prefer. Whatever the reason, anyone can benefit from a better keyboard. After all, is there any part of your computer more hands-on than your keyboard? For these reasons, and more, it pays to know what makes a one a good fit.
Keyboards come in a variety of types, from those optimized for efficiency to sculpted ergonomic designs that cradle your hands and relieve stress on the joints. When shopping for a keyboard, here are a few specific features to look for.
The simplest way to connect a keyboard to your PC is via a standard USB port. Keyboards are usually plug-and-play devices, with no additional software to install (with the exception of driver packages for some gaming models), meaning that plugging in the keyboard is all the setup you’ll need. Unlike wireless keyboards, a wired model will draw its power over USB, so there are no batteries to worry about. Wired connections are also preferred for gaming use, as they are free from the lag and interference issues that wireless alternatives are prone to. Some motherboards still come with an older-style PS/2 port for plugging in a keyboard without needing USB; if you go this route, which many gamers prefer for performance reasons, you’ll probably need a USB-to-PS/2 adapter. (Some gaming keyboards come with these.)
If you want more freedom and less cable clutter on your desk, however, it’s hard to beat a wireless keyboard. Instead of a wired connection, wireless keyboards transmit data to your PC through one of two primary means: an RF connection to a USB receiver, or Bluetooth. Both have their pros and cons, but if you want to reduce the number of cables on your desk and gain the flexibility to use your keyboard at a distance—whether it on your lap at your desk, or from across the room—wireless is the way to go.
Most wireless keyboards connect to a PC via the same 2.4GHz wireless frequencies used for cordless phones and Wi-Fi Internet. A dime-size USB dongle—small enough to plug in and forget about—provides the link to your PC. Companies use proprietary connections like these because they allow for optimal battery life. These USB dongles also provide connectivity to more than one device, meaning you can use the single adapter for your wireless keyboard—or keyboards, if you have one at work and one at home—as well as one or more computer mice, assuming that all are the same brand.
Bluetooth options are regaining popularity of late, largely because they don’t monopolize a USB port and because Bluetooth connections are stable, easy to manage, and offer compatibility with more mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets. In regular use, a Bluetooth connection gives you roughly 30 feet of wireless range, but may not match the battery life offered by devices with a USB dongle. New innovations, including hand-proximity sensors tied to power and connection management, improve the battery life over older Bluetooth devices, which maintained an always-on link, draining battery quickly.
Layout and Ergonomics
Not all keyboards are created equal. In fact, not all keyboards are even laid out the same beyond the standard QWERTY keys. Roughly half of the keyboards available offer a 10-key numeric pad, even though it’s an ideal tool for anyone who frequently needs to tally numbers or enter data into a spreadsheet. Smaller distinctions include placement of the arrow, Page Up and Down, and Home and End keys. Additionally, most current keyboards have basic media features such as playback controls and volume up and down.
In order to help users stave off carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress injury, many keyboards are available with designs that put your hands into a neutral position as you type. The result is not only greater comfort, but reduced stress to the joints and tendons, ultimately helping you to avoid painful inflammation and expensive surgery. Ergonomic features can range from the simple—like padded wrist rests—to the elaborate, with keyboards that curve and slope.
Keys and Switches
One aspect of keyboard design that you’ll see mentioned in reviews—but that most people don’t give a second thought—is the type of switches used for individual keys. You may not care about the specific mechanisms that reside beneath the keys, but you will certainly feel the difference. The three primary types of switches are silicone dome switches, scissor switches, and mechanical switches.
Budget keyboards, such as those that come bundled with new desktop PCs, generally use silicone-dome switches, which use two dimpled layers of silicone membrane that form a grid of rubber bubbles or domes as the switch for each key. The springiness of the silicone rubber makes for a soft, mushy feel as you press each key. The switch type also requires you to “bottom out” with each keystroke, pressing the key to the bottom of the key well to type a letter. And because repeated flexing of the rubber membrane causes it to break down, silicone dome switches lose their springiness and responsiveness over time.
Some newer keyboards mimic the low-profile, chiclet-style keyboards found on full-size laptops and ultraportables. While a few of these use plain silicone dome switches, many use a scissor switch, which adds a mechanical stabilizer to each key for a uniform feel, and an attached plunger under each keycap allows for shorter key travel. As a result, scissor-switch keyboards have a shallow typing feel, but are generally more durable than rubber dome switches alone.
Most keyboard enthusiasts, however, won’t have much to say for either style—instead, they’ll be singing the praises of mechanical keyboards. The switches used in these are a bit more intricate, with a spring-loaded sliding keypost under every key. There are several variations available, each tweaked to provide a slightly different feel or sound, but generally, mechanical switches provide better tactile feedback and have more of the “clickety-clack” sound that many associate with typing. The sturdy switch mechanisms and springs are significantly longer lasting, and can be more easily repaired. These switches also register each keystroke with a much shorter amount of travel, making them ideal for touch typists.
While all keyboards offer the necessary keys for typing, sometimes typing isn’t your main concern. Gaming keyboards are designed for competitive use, equipped for maximum specialization and control, optimized for specific styles of gameplay, and built to exacting standards of responsiveness and durability. They also appeal to the gamer aesthetic, with designs that impress and intimidate with pulsing backlighting and dramatic color schemes.
Premium gaming models almost exclusively use high-grade mechanical key switches and sculpted keycaps, and offer numerous customizable features, like programmable macro keys, textured WASD keys, and swappable keycaps. There are others that let you tweak the color and intensity of the backlighting to make finding certain keys faster and to personalize the look of your keyboard. Anti-ghosting is an essential feature, allowing multiple keystrokes to be registered simultaneously—something standard keyboards can’t do. Other extras include pass-through USB ports or audio connections on the keyboard, which simplifies the process of connecting peripherals to a desktop PC that may not be easily accessed.
Finally, gaming keyboards are often outfitted with software and extra keys for macro commands, letting you prearrange complex strings of commands and activate them with a single press of a button. The number of macro commands that you can save, and the ease with which they can be created, vary from one model to the next, but it’s a valuable tool. These aren’t the sorts of bells and whistles everyone will use from day to day, but for players that invest time and money into gaming, these keyboards offer a competitive edge.
There are certainly a lot of choices out there, so start your search with our roundup below of the best keyboards available. In the market for a mouse as well? Then check out our top picks, as well as our favorites for gaming.
Your Weapon of Choice
If you’re a gamer, you take your choice of keyboard seriously. When your keyboard doubles as your game controller, it’s more than just a tool for typing. It is to you what the katana is to a samurai (or cyborg ninja): an extension of yourself, your interface with the digital world. If you care about PC gaming, it pays to know what makes a keyboard great, what differentiates one from another, and what’s on the market today. We’ve rounded up the 10 best keyboards you can buy, along with a brief guide to help you find the keyboard that’s right for you.
Switching It Up
Most gaming keyboards use mechanical switches, which pair each key to its own spring-loaded switch. They are designed to provide superior audio and tactile feedback. The majority of these switches use mechanisms from Cherry MX, and are identified by color (Black, Brown, Blue, Red), each with a slightly different design, tweaked to provide a specific feel while typing. Which switch you want depends on what types of games you play, and what else you do with your computer. Cherry MX Black switches have the highest activation force, which makes them ideal for games in which you don’t want to have to worry about accidentally hitting a key twice. This, though, can give them a stiff feel that’s not well suited for games that require nimbler response, so for those types of titles you may prefer Cherry MX Red switches. But because both of these switch types lack tactile feedback, there’s a compromise candidate in Cherry MX Brown switches: They have the same actuation force as the Red variety, but add the tactile bump to aid with typing. If you need a keyboard that can switch back and forth between hard-core gaming and traditional work tasks, this is the kind to look for.
Occasionally, you will still find gaming keyboards that utilize silicone dome switches, which form little domes in a silicone membrane, using the rubbery material as the switch. The result feels mushy and requires a full press with each keystroke, slowing down the speed at which commands can be entered. A slight variation on this is the scissor switch, which still uses a silicone membrane and dome switches, but has a slimmer profile and adds a stabilizing scissor mechanism beneath each key. Scissor switches are most often used on laptops, but a few low-profile keyboards can still be found for desktops and gaming.
Trick It Out
Features that would be unimportant on a regular keyboard take on new significance when adapted to gaming. Backlighting, for example, is not merely a way to illuminate keys in a dark room; newer twists on the old backlight include adjustable color, and multiple lighting zones with separate backlight for arrow and WASD keys, highlighting the most frequently used control keys.
Another customizable feature is the swappable keycap. Because mechanical switches are distinctly separate from the keycap itself, sometimes the keys can be removed and swapped out for others that feature molded sculpting, texturing for better tactile control, or differently colored plastic. Some keyboards only offer swappable WASD keys, while others also include number keys that can be switched out.
A gaming keyboard may have more to offer than exceptionally well-made keys, adding features like macro command customization and dedicated macro keys. Some go so far as to include entirely new features, such as statistic tracking, text and audio communication, and touchscreen displays. And not all keyboards are made for typing—specialized gaming keypads put a selection of 10 to 20 programmable keys right beneath your fingertips, combining the same customization and ergonomic designs seen in gaming mice and applying them to keyboard-bound game functions.
Also be sure to check out our overall favorite keyboards and mechanical keyboards. If you’re looking to fully deck out a gaming system, you’ll also want to read about our top-rated gaming mice, monitors, and headsets. And if you’re in the market for a whole new system, don’t miss our stories about the best gaming desktops and laptops.