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Is a gaming keyboard really essential for gaming? Which is the best one? Why are they so expensive? And for the budget-conscious buyer which are the best alternatives on the market? In this brand new comparison of gaming keyboards, we have tested and compared several top models of both mechanical and membrane keyboards!
Beyond marketing… which gaming keyboard is really the best?
We focused on the best gaming keyboards available today on the market, but without getting carried away by marketing hypes. Unlike mice and their rather complex sensors, we do not consider keyboards as high-tech… and the price for certain “gaming” models is sometimes totally nuts.
We also wanted to test and prove that some “non-gaming” keyboards can also do the trick. We weren’t able, obviously, to review all the models in the market, but we are rather pleased with our assortment and as always we will keep updating this list as soon as we discover a new gaming keyboard that deserves a spot.
Things to know
For the last 60 years computer keyboards have undergone some major changes and today it is not always easy to decide what features are you looking for:
Format: much more important than you’d think. Most computer keyboards are 42cm long and have around 107 keys. However, things are not so simple. Today there are 5 major categories. The most common denomination is that of a “standard keyboard” described above.
Then we find the so-called tenkeyless models (75%, 60%, and 40%). Each iteration eliminates something in order to become more compact.
The original tenkeyless keyboard eliminated the numeric keypad. Thus it is 5 to 6 centimeters shorter than a standard one, but still comfortable since it sports classic size keys. The 75% model combines the arrow keys with the rest of the keyboard in order to save more space. The other models continue on this path of miniaturization via subtraction. A 40% keyboard has no arrow keys nor function keys and the keycaps are also smaller.
The choice of a keyboard format over the other depends on several factors such as desk space. Do take into account the size of your hands/fingers: a 40% keyboard has significantly smaller keys. Finally, there is also a practical aspect at play. By removing the numeric keypad, a tenkeyless keyboard brings the mouse closer to the keyboard and you often gain in comfort since your left and right hand are less apart.
Ghosting, and why it matters
Conventional office keyboards rarely see more than two keys pressed at the same time, and even when that happens and the keyboard fails to recognize them it is not a huge problem.
However, during a game, you will press three, four or even five keys at once and the keyboard must handle this kind of input. The answer is, anti-ghosting. This solution requires a better matrix, and given its cost, two versions exist. The least expensive is limited to a partial anti-ghosting on the most used keys during gaming (WASD and arrow keys). The most advanced solution concerns all keys and its dubbed “full anti-ghosting”.
KRO (key rollover) is complementary to ghosting. It lets us know exactly how many keys can be pressed and recognized simultaneously. The most advanced gaming keyboards are capable of a full N-key rollover. This means that all keys can be pressed simultaneously. Such a product is, of course, immune to ghosting.
That said, a full n-key rollover is particularly expensive, so the majority of keyboards – even premium gaming models – are content with just a 6KRO or 10KRO, 6 or 10 keys can be pressed simultaneously without a problem. Beware, however, because manufacturers tend to speak about anti-ghosting technology or Key-rollover without too much detail boasting on the real capabilities of their keyboards.
Bells and whistles
So far we have discussed the heart of a modern gaming keyboard. Many manufacturers try to stand out from the competition using additional programmable keys. Popular with MMORPG fans, these additional keys allow you to record a series of commands that are then executed with a simple push of a button. Also, many keyboards include multimedia keys that control video and audio playback and volume.
Among other features, we find we have to mention the inclusion of a wrist rest that can help reduce fatigue.
Wired or wireless?
Every PC peripheral wants to go wireless. Today, lots of mice and Gamepad have gotten rid of their cable, but the keyboard insists.
When you game in front of your PC, the presence of a wire is not the most embarrassing thing in the world. This is obviously different in the case of the console, and that’s why most controllers are now wireless. The other problem is that a wireless device must carefully manage battery life and the current gaming keyboard trend is exactly the opposite: just take a look at the number of LEDs on certain models.
RGB backlit gaming keyboards are nowadays a work of art. Most of them can display 16.8 million colors! It is no more about seeing in the dark it is a declaration of personal identity… Note however that the same model often costs $20 more for its “RGB” version.
Membrane or mechanical switches?
For many years you either had a mechanical keyboard or a crappy membrane one. Today, things are not that simple and the two technologies are more balanced.
Mechanical keyboards are not a one-way street
We have said it before, a keyboard does not necessarily need mechanical switches. I, for example, have to write pages of text each and every day. The accuracy of mechanical switches is an asset, but their noise is unbearable. Cherry has also understood this, that’s why it came out with its MX Silent range (although still noisier than membrane ones).
In the field of gaming, the mechanical switch reigns supreme, but again, it is not essential. It is more responsive, but it is not like you to compete in the final round of StarCraft 2 each and every day. In fact, for gaming, anti-ghosting (5KRO is more than enough) is way more important.
Membrane and scissor switches
Membrane switches do not make much noise. On the other hand, they are hardly ideal for video games since their activation travel is long (3 to 4mm) and the rebound very “soft”. And it doesn’t help that membrane keyboards get worse over time till they break down.
Various manufacturers have improved this technology using “scissor” switches. They are a plastic or metal frame around the dome. The goal is to guide the key downwards (making it feel more firm and accurate) and to help with the rebound once the key is released. So, scissor switches retain the compactness and silence while offering a much higher reactivity. Good. On the other hand, it is still necessary to press each key all the way down in order to activate it and this motion can be rather tiring during long gaming sessions.
Roccat Vulcan 120 Aimo: the most futuristic
Roccat has been active for a few years now, but it is only with this keyboard that the brand has truly established itself on the scene of high-end gaming peripherals.
Again, we are dealing with a frameless keyboard, with a stunning brushed aluminum backplate. And although the keys are very thin (just half a centimeter), everything seems solid. With its magnetic and therefore removable wrist rest and retractable feet, it also offers good comfort.
With this model, Roccat has also launched its own switch, the “Titan”. Roccat says that these are “20% faster” than the competition… In fact, we can attest that this keyboard is extremely responsive (even faster than a Cherry MX Red one), and the anti-ghosting technology works perfectly. Moreover, it is rather silent for being mechanical.
It may feature less RGB lighting effects compared to a Corsair gaming keyboard, but that’s OK.
The companion software allows you to customize everything and even create macros although the keyboard itself lacks dedicated macro keys.
This is a keyboard perfectly able to compete with the Corsair K70 MK.2 (my personal favorite). It has the same defects (lack of macro keys) and sports the same benefits (comfort, responsiveness, design, etc.). Its software suite can be improved and its price is a tad high (Check on Amazon.com) but given the opportunity, I would pick this one!
Read more: Roccat Vulcan 120 Aimo review: the best gaming keyboard with Titan switches
Corsair K70 RGB MK.2: a personal favorite
Released in the summer of 2018, the Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 quickly became a bestseller, like the K70 before.
Like its predecessor, it is a frameless keyboard, which makes the keys float. The finish is impeccable, and the black brushed aluminum plate is the most beautiful thing we have seen in a while.
This keyboard comes in five versions depending on the switch you prefer: Cherry MX Red, Blue, Brown, Speed, and Silent.
It also features stunning RGB LEDs with amazing effects. The lighting intensity is adjustable in three levels via a dedicated key while all the rest is customized using the iCue software. The companion software is also essential for personalizing all of the keyboard’s functions.
At the top right corner, we find the volume control knob and five multimedia buttons. Corsair also provides a set of spare textured keys (QWERASDF) that can be easier to find by touch while gaming but also annoying when typing.
Last but not least it sports a USB 2.0 port, Full-Key rollover anti-ghosting technology, and a comfortable wrist rest.
Missing only a row of dedicated macro keys, the Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 has everything else: it is comfortable to type on, responsive when gaming, has beautiful RGB lights and is completely customizable. Its price is certainly a bit high, but it also offers the best bang for your buck (Check on Amazon.com).
Read more: Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 review: probably the best gaming keyboard on the market
Razer Huntsman Elite: the fastest
This Razer keyboard (Check on Amazon.com) quickly established itself on the market because of its innovative switch called optomechanical. Key activation, rather than via a metal contact, is accomplished using an optical beam, which improves responsiveness.
Razer’s switch feels like a mix between Cherry MX Red and Speed. Note, however, that it is also clicky, like the Cherry MX Blue, thus for some will be rather annoying!
The Huntsman Elite uses a frameless matte aluminum board that exudes premium quality.
The included wrist rest is the best yet: a foam cushion covered in faux leather that is extremely comfortable and magnetically attaches to the keyboard.
The RGB lighting is not limited to the individual keys but doubles with an edge LED strip that surrounds both the keyboard and the wrist rest.
Razer’s Synapse software allows you to customize both lighting effects and key functions, including macros… sadly, this keyboard, has no dedicated macro keys.
Super responsive and pleasant to type on, it is the perfect ally for competitive gamers and probably the most comfortable keyboard on the market, thanks to the fantastic wrist rest.
Corsair K63 Wireless: the best wireless
Again with Corsair, this time with a compact wireless model. The K63 Wireless offers unprecedented portability and comfort, without missing precision.
The keyboard is very compact, thanks to the tenkeyless design. It’s also mechanical, with touch textured keys. It uses Cherry MX Red switches that can improve performance in games since they are very fast and ideal for FPS titles.
It works wirelessly, but the signal is robust and uses secure encryption. The battery can last a full day (with the backlight turned on but dimmed). Sadly it uses monochrome blue LEDs, so no flashy RGB combinations, just some effects.
For the price (Check on Amazon.com) it can be considered a bargain, especially considering the lack of competing products.
Read more: Corsair K63 Wireless review: couch gaming at its finest
Corsair K95 RGB Platinum: the best
It is Corsair again that takes the first place, with a keyboard dating back to 2017, but one that offers just about everything you can ask from high-end gaming peripheral.
While asserting its gaming pedigree with its RGB backlight, it displays a rather simple and classic look, which will not stand out in an office. Its brushed aluminum finish looks the part and inspires confidence in the build quality of the product.
The magnetic wrist rest is easy to attach, and offers great comfort. Note that it is also reversible, leaving you the choice between a smooth and a rough side.
It also sports a USB port, which is perfect for connecting a gaming headset or mouse.
Its only flaw is that it comes in just two versions: one with Cherry MX Speed and one with Cherry MX Brown switches. Thankfully, typing is reactive and comfortable in both configurations. It also has multimedia and dedicated macro keys.
The asking price is a bit high (Check on Amazon.com), but the K95 RGB Platinum is a complete keyboard with a ton of useful extras.
Read more: Corsair K95 RGB Platinum review: a flagship keyboard that does everything right
Logitech G513: the most silent
The G513 (Check on Amazon.com) houses Logitech’s newer Romer-G switches, that feel less “soggy” than, for example, the switches in the G910. Also, this time around Logitech gives you a choice between three switches: linear, tactile and “clicky, which means everyone can find its ideal match.
The G513 is similar in terms of price, functionality and overall design to the G810 Orion Spectrum. However, the G513 has a slightly higher build quality, with its metal case making it much more robust than its plastic cousin. It doesn’t have any multimedia keys, though, but that’s a good thing for some since it is more compact and better suited for smaller desks.
If you have limited space on your desk, but still want a full-size keyboard and a comfortable wrist rest, then get the Logitech G513!
SteelSeries Apex Pro: the most versatile
The SteelSeries Apex Pro (Check on Amazon.com) is the most tasteful gaming keyboard ever created. Its minimalist design, in combination with an OLED display, is only the tip of the iceberg. Aesthetics, design and mechanical OmniPoint switches provide the perfect gaming experience, whether for FPS or MMO titles. In addition, the activation point of each individual key can be adjusted from 0.4 to 3.6 millimeters.
Of course, there is also full RGB lighting and thanks to the SteelSeries Engine software you can combine it with other SteelSeries peripherals. You can also use the suite to fine-tune the keyboard and create specialized profiles for every single game and application.
The included wrist rest provides the necessary comfort in long gaming sessions. The USB port is very handy for connecting a mouse or headset. And it even comes with a built-in cable management system under the chassis.
The SteelSeries Apex Pro is one of the best gaming keyboards right now but also a glimpse of the future.
HyperX Alloy Elite RGB: best all-round
The HyperX Alloy Elite RGB (Check on Amazon.com) sports a simple design and a good price but offers premium features and RGB lighting. You can choose between Cherry MX Brown, Blue or Red switches. It is equipped with dedicated media controls, a USB passthrough, and a removable wrist rest.
It also has an additional set of keys (W, A, S, D,1,2,3,4) with titanium-colored textured keycaps and the handy HyperX keycap removal tool. If you don’t mind the lack of dedicated macro keys, this is the best all-round gaming keyboard.
Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB: the most ergonomic
The unique Freestyle Edge RGB (Check on Amazon.com) opens up in the center, and the two halves are connected via a 20-inch cable. This allows the user to freely tilt the two halves to best fit the natural position of his hands. The right half side can also be completely set aside during gaming, freeing up extra space for the mouse. We also strongly recommend that you purchase the Lifting Kit to further enhance your comfort. The lifting kit inclines the two halves outwards, thus better supporting the natural rotation of your wrists.
The Kinesis Freestyle Edge can be equipped with Brown, Blue or Red Cherry MX switches. It also features 9 dedicated macro keys, a rarity even on high-end gaming keyboards. All keys can be programmed on the fly without having to install any additional software.
Razer Cynosa Chroma: the best membrane
The Razer Cynosa Chroma (Check on Amazon.com) was released at the end of 2017 and has detained since then the title of best membrane gaming keyboard!
The general feeling is obviously less precise compared to a mechanical keyboard, but it is comfortable enough and surprising reactive.
Its highlight is the RGB lighting controlled via the Synapse 3 software. The app is one of the best out there and allows you to customize each key and create macros and profiles.
There are no dedicated macro keys, multimedia controls, or even a wrist rest. On the other hand, it supports 10-key rollover technology.
In the end, the Cynosa Chroma is a solid alternative for those who don’t like mechanical switches!
FAQ: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Is the polling rate relevant?
No. Although the polling rate can make a huge difference in gaming mice, it is largely irrelevant for keyboards. Even the fastest typist in the world would not see a difference as the polling rate of a keyboard increases. With sufficient key rollover, multiple key presses are recognized in the correct order, regardless of the keyboard’s polling rate.
Do I really need a mechanical gaming keyboard?
Short answer: It depends. Depending on how seriously you take your hobby, a proper mechanical gaming keyboard can make a difference, especially in RTS (Starcraft 2) or MOBA games (League of Legends). A good gaming keyboard is always a good investment in the long run and mechanical keyboards are far more robust, durable and reliable than membrane ones.
How much does a good mechanical keyboard cost?
You will not find a high-quality mechanical keyboard for less than $80 (unless it is renewed).
Should I buy my gaming keyboard with or without cable?
You should always choose a wired keyboard for competitive gaming.
How good are the Romer-G Switches from Logitech compared to Cherry MX variants?
Logitech’s in-house Romer-G switches are similar to Cherry MX Brown switches and have the same, if not higher, quality. Logitech claims that their switches are 25% faster and last 40% longer than comparable Cherry MX switches.
Are Topre switches worth the fuss?
Our honest opinion: NO. Although Topre switches are considered very reliable, high-quality and durable, the keyboards that use these Japanese switches are very expensive. For gaming, you will notice any difference between Topre and Cherry Brown or Red switches regarding response time. In addition, they make a very hollow sound, which sounds less good than an MX-Blue switch. Get a mechanical keyboard with Cherry, Razer, Romer-G or Titan switches and invest your money elsewhere.
Who are Buckling Spring Switches for?
Actually, only for pure typists; they are not really suitable for gaming.
Will a mechanical gaming keyboard improve my skill?
The simple answer? Perhaps. The reduction of response time will theoretically help you in games like LoL or SC2 where every millisecond counts. However, this difference is virtually negligible.
Still, using a mechanical keyboard could give you a placebo effect, which makes you believe that your keyboard gives you an edge in the game. This can have a positive effect on your gaming and your reaction times.
Also read: BEST GAMING KEYBOARDS BUYING GUIDE
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