You probably spend more time than you realize hitting one part of your computer repeatedly: the keyboard. So, it makes sense to get one that's comfortable to use, responsive, and reliable. Keyboard enthusiasts tend to prefer mechanical keyboards because they are more comfortable to use over longer periods. Most people find that the longer travel (the motion required to press the key down) and the more positive action (how the keyboard feels when you press a key) make for a comfortable typing experience.
There are lots of options out there, ranging from glowing LED monstrosities to simple retro models. Do you go with the expensive model with glaringly bright lights or the more affordable option? If you're not sure which one to go with, don't worry, we've got you covered. We spent weeks testing the ten best mechanical keyboards available today.
Our top pick is the Logitech G513(available at Amazon for $99.99), a durable keyboard made of aircraft-grade aluminum that's great for typing for long periods. For those on a budget, our Best Value pick is the Havit Mechanical Keyboard and Mouse Kit(available at Amazon), which offers a responsive keyboard with an attractive minimal design. If you're looking for something different, we've got plenty of options to choose from.
These are the best mechanical keyboards we tested ranked, in order
Logitech G513 Carbon
Havit Mechanical Keyboard and Mouse Combo
SteelSeries Apex Pro
Kinesis Freestyle Pro
Happy Hacking Professional Hybrid
HyperX Alloy Origins
Steelseries Apex Pro TKL
Corsair K95 Platinum XT
Das Keyboard Professional S
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The Logitech G513 is a fantastic mechanical keyboard. We really like the solid construction and the sharp, clicky feel of the keys. Its no-fuss design gives it a clean and simple look, too. The keys have bright RPG LEDs underneath them, which can be controlled via the G HUB app. You can do a number of fancy tricks with the G HUB app like turning the keyboard into an audio visualizer from the sound output of your computer or sampling and reproducing the colors on your screen.
When it comes to mechanical keyboards, you'll need to know a thing or two about switch types. Switches are the mechanisms underneath each key on a mechanical keyboard. Different switch types impact how a keyboard feels. Some switches give tactile feedback while others give audio feedback. The G513 offers three switch options: blue, brown, and red. We tested the blue version, which has a sharp and clicky feel. The blue switches provide a great deal of audio feedback, as there's a high-pitched click and rattle when pressed.
This keyboard also comes with a nice cushion for your wrists and a set of indented keycaps, which helps touch typists and makes gaming a bit easier. There’s even a USB-A port on the back, which is useful for those times when you need to quickly plug in a USB thumb drive.
The G HUB app has a few issues, though. We found that it failed to install on one Windows 10 test machine, a bug that Logitech claims will be fixed in a future release. We also found that the desired lighting effect didn’t always stay in place between reboots.
Mechanical keyboards are often expensive, but there are some decent low-cost options available. The Havit Mechanical Keyboard and Mouse Combo is one of those options. For the price point, you’re getting a decent mechanical keyboard and a fairly good mouse.
There are some compromises, though. The keyboard has a decent amount of travel with a nice clicky sound, but the unbranded switches don’t have the same positive feel as their more expensive cousins. You get the sound, but not the same distinct feel as you press a key. In other words, you don’t feel it when the key hits the bottom as you do with other keyboards.
Each individual key has its own LED light and the Havit software (Windows only) provides a good range of lighting schemes and fancy effects. These lights aren’t as bright as others, though. The effect is more subdued. There are effects like Flash_away, where the key you press lights up, followed by a flash that travels along the row of keys. The fancy lighting schemes are cool, but the lights aren’t as bright as more expensive models.
Additionally, the Havit's construction felt less robust than the other keyboards in this guide. The base plate, right below the keyboard, is made of metal but the rest of the keyboard is plastic, including a wrist plate that’s very bendy and not particularly comfortable. For the price, though, it’s a decent keyboard that feels more comfortable than a laptop keyboard or the or the sort of cheap non-mechanical keyboard that comes included with many desktop PCs.
Even though the SteelSeries Apex Pro is a full-sized keyboard with a number pad, it doesn’t take up too much room on the desktop. The build quality is top class, with a matte black aluminum board, and an incredibly comfortable, soft-touch wrist rest that connects to the keyboard, magnetically. There’s a small OLED at the top right, along with a clickable roller and a large key that serve as dedicated media controls. You can make the OLED display your gamer tag or even a GIF animation, but it also offers some welcome feedback on your chosen settings and profiles, so you don’t need to tab out of your game to tweak things.
The headline feature here comes courtesy of the Apex Pro's Omnipoint switches. Not only does SteelSeries claim that they’re much more responsive and durable than conventional mechanical keyboard switches, but they also offer customizable actuation. This means you can configure your preferred sensitivity level, dictating whether you’d like the lightest of touches to register or a deeper press for each individual key. It doesn’t change the feel of typing on the keyboard (which is excellent by the way) but it does change when the keypress registers. Take the time to set up different profiles for work and play, and even for individual games and you will feel the benefit. I found accurate typing a breeze on this keyboard and it’s relatively quiet, for a mechanical board.
The SteelSeries Apex Pro features bright RGB lighting which is also fully configurable on a per-key basis. The SteelSeries Engine 3 software is fairly easy to understand. You can set main and meta key bindings, use a macro editor, tweak the actuation, set up lighting effects and colors, and even load a custom image or GIF for the OLED screen. There’s room for five onboard profiles.
With cable routing left, middle, or right, and a pass-through USB with its own lit-up port on the left, the SteelSeries Apex Pro embodies thoughtful design. Gaming and general typing on this keyboard is an absolute pleasure and nothing offers deeper customization, but the price makes it a serious investment.
I’m Richard Baguley and I’ve been testing and breaking technology for over 20 years. In that time, I have tested everything from automatic coffee makers to wearable computers. Until 2012, I was the VP of Editorial Development at Reviewed, where I created the testing protocols that are still used for products such as TVs, dishwashers, coffee makers, and refrigerators.
For testing, I used each keyboard in my daily work for several days, making sure that I got familiar with the different feel of each of the keyboards and switch types. As well as writing thousands of words of deathless prose, I played games on each keyboard, edited video, and used any special features that they offer such as macros, keyboard mapping, etc. I also looked at any software that came with the keyboard that you use to adjust the lighting, configure different keyboard layouts, etc. I gave each keyboard an equal amount of time and consulted with other writers, users, and reviewers for extra feedback.
What is a Mechanical Keyboard?
Mechanical keyboards use a physical switch, a mechanism inside the key that detects when you press the key down by connecting two pieces of wire. There are many different typesof switches that require different amounts of force to press. This differs from the membrane keyboards used on laptops, where the key presses down on a small bubble of plastic that closes a circuit. The advantage of a membrane keyboard is that they are cheap to make and doesn’t require much space, which is great for a laptop. The downside is it feels like typing on wet cardboard. You squelch the key down rather than get a satisfying click.
What is a 100%, 60%, or 40% Keyboard?
These numbers refer to the size of the keyboard. A 100% keyboard, such as the ones that we tested for this article, includes the main keyboard, direction keys, and a numeric keypad. 60% keyboards lose the numeric keypad while 40% ones lose the direction keys. The upside of this is that they are smaller, so they require less desk space and are easier to carry. The downside is that you need to use key combinations (such as Ctrl-W) to access the missing controls. We’ll test out these keyboards in a future update.
Types of Switches
Lots. Most manufacturers refer to the switches that their keyboards use by a color, which is based on the different switch types offered by Cherry, whose MX switches are used in many of the keyboards we tested. Each color has a different feel:
Red: Requires little force to press down, so you can press the key fast and often. Blue: Requires more force to press down, with an audible click as the switch is triggered. Brown: Similar to the blue, but without the audible click. Black: The original mechanical keyboard switch design, requires medium force and is silent. Silver: Requires little force and has short travel (the distance that you have to press the key down).
Not all mechanical keyboards use Cherry MX switches, but most use a similar color scheme to indicate the feel of the switches they use.
Which one works for you depends on what type of typist you are. If you like to hammer the keys (and miss the clack-clack-clack noise of a typewriter), try the blue. If you like to hammer the keyboard but have to share an office with others, the browns are similar but without the noise. The reds and blacks are great for gaming, as the low force means you can press the same keys often without straining your fingers, which is great for strafing, jumping, and other such gaming-related activities.
Cherry and others also produce variants on these switches, including ones with RGB LEDs and ones with extra padding to be even quieter.
Why All the LEDs?
Keyboards with LED lights that glow different colors started out as a way to find the keys in a dark room. If they have a light behind them, it’s easier to see which key is which. There now seems to be a race to see who can produce the brightest and most garish colors. Is that a good thing? It depends. Backlights on a keyboard can be useful for helping non-touch-typers find their way around, but having a keyboard that pulses different colors in time with your soundtrack won’t make you a better (or faster) typist.
Ergonomic keyboards are ones that are more specially designed to be comfortable to use. It’s a loosely defined term, but it generally refers to keyboards that have a modified design from the standard, such as placing the keys at an angle or on a tilt or splitting the keyboard into two parts that can be moved independently. Again, we will test these keyboards in an upcoming article.
Other Mechanical Keyboards We Tested
Kinesis Freestyle Pro
The Kinesis Freestyle Pro is an unusual keyboard because it’s split into two parts, which are connected via a cable. One half holds the left side of the keyboard (from Q to T on the top row of letters) while the other holds the rest (Y to P and other keys). This setup works surprisingly well because it allows you to tilt the two parts, which puts your wrists at a more natural angle. The optional VIP 3 accessory kit further enhances this with a wrist rest and supports that angle the keyboard to form a tent shape. Again, this can be a big plus if you have RSI (repetitive strain injury) or wrist issues, as it allows you to vary the angle by moving the stands to different positions quickly and easily.
The Freestyle Pro is fitted with Cherry MX brown keys, which have a nice positive feel and a clicky sound when you press them, but with less noise than the blue switches. The keyboard also allows you to record macros using the free SmartSet software, which can be assigned to any key. You can have up to a hundred of them accessed with a combination of shift, control, and other keys. Speaking of which, this keyboard is compatible with both Mac and PC. It’s also the only one in this roundup that includes swappable Windows and Mac keytops.
If you are someone that suffers from RSI (or don’t want to be someone who does), the Kinesys is worth the extra cost, as it’s the most adjustable and configurable keyboard we looked at by a considerable margin.
Do you know how hackers in the movies have strange-looking keyboards with indecipherable buttons? That’s not what the Happy Hacking Professional Hybrid is. Instead, it’s the type of keyboard that a real hacker might use. It’s incredibly customizable and comfortable to type on. It’s a 40% keyboard, which means it’s lacking the numeric keypad and directional keys that are on larger models. The directional keys can be accessed by holding down function and pressing the semicolon and apostrophe keys next to the return key, though.
The layout of other keys is worth noting, as it’s a bit unusual. The caps lock key is replaced by a large Control key, which makes sense if you’re hitting shortcuts like Control-C more often than typing in caps. The keyboard can also be configured to work with Windows, Mac, or Android devices by flipping the DIP switches on the base. These switches also allow you to change the function of the delete key between delete and backspace and the function of the command keys.
There are a few key shortcuts for switching between USB and Bluetooth and four Bluetooth connections. That’s where the real power of this keyboard lies. It can connect to up to five devices (one USB-C and four Bluetooth devices) at once. You can even switch between them with a couple of keypresses. That’s a remarkably useful feature for those who run several computers at once such as those with a Windows PC and a Mac side-by-side or those who have more than one system for tasks like 3D rendering or compiling. You can switch between each Bluetooth connection by holding down the Fn and Control keys and pressing one to four, or switch to USB with Fn-CTRL-0.
The keyboard uses Topre switches, which have a light feel but require a bit of force to press down. They are also quiet, with just a soft bumping noise when they hit the bottom of their travel. It’s a very different feel to the clicky blue switches of other keyboards but it has decent travel and a positive feel, so you know when a key has been pressed by feel.
The downside? Price. This is the most expensive of the keyboards we tested. If you regularly switch between computers (or between computers, a phone, and a tablet) and want a keyboard that can switch as easily as Penelope Garcia hacks FBI databases, then this is the one for you.
The HyperX Alloy Origins is a mid-priced mechanical keyboard that has lights to spare. I mean, the entire thing is illuminated by bright LEDs. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your personal preference, but the lights are very controllable. The HyperX NGENUITY software (available for Windows 10 only) allows you to control the color, pattern, and brightness of the lights right down to each individual key. There are also a number of cool lighting effects like the explosion: press a key and a wave of red flame spreads through the keyboard. The fade effect is rather fun, too. Each key you press lights up, then slowly fades out in your chosen color.
The Hyperx switches have a soft, slightly squishy feel that would work well for gaming. It takes little force to press a key, so you can hammer away at the fire button for as long as you want without straining anything. The keys are well-spaced and have a slight indent, so it’s easy to find a key by touch.
The thin base of the keyboard is made of aluminum, so it should stand up to heavy use. It’s also the only keyboard we’ve seen that uses a USB-C connection. A USB-C to USB-A cable is included, so it can still be used with an older computer, but it’s good to see a keyboard manufacturer moving with the times. There are no extra USB ports, though, which means you can’t plug a thumb drive or flash card reader into the keyboard.
The NGENUITY software allows you to disable individual keys, which is useful if you keep hitting the wrong key dropping out of a game mid-firefight. Every key can also be reassigned to another key and these are saved to the keyboard itself, so the reassignment will survive when you change computers. Any key can also be set to trigger a macro or mouse function, which is useful if you work in a program like Premiere, as it makes use of combination key and mouse commands.
Do you need a screen on your keyboard? Steelseries seems to think that you do, so they put a small monochrome OLED display on the top right corner of the Apex Pro TKL. This can be used to display whatever you want, from a still image to video or game-related information. The chat application Discord, for instance, can display messages on the screen, so you can focus on the game. How useful that is is debatable, though. Most people keep their eyes on the screen when gaming, as glancing down at the keyboard to see how much ammo you have left is a sure way to get fragged.
The Apex Pro is unusual in being somewhat adjustable. The Steelseries Engine app (which is available for macOS and Windows) allows you to adjust the actuation point of the keys, which is the depth that you have to press the key to trigger the switch. This can be adjusted from 0.4mm (so you barely need to press the key to register) to 3.6mm. The idea is to set it low for gaming so you can fire with a gentle touch and high for typing out homework when you need to press the key down fully.
This doesn’t change the feel of the keys, though. They remain rather soft and easy to press compared to the stiffer blue switches in other keyboards. There’s hardly any resistance, so it feels more like a laptop keyboard than most mechanical ones. It’s a neat trick, but it doesn’t really change the feel of the keyboard in the way that using a different switch does.
The LED lighting of the Apex Pro is similarly configurable, with an RGB LED under each key that can be controlled via the Engine app. This offers a good selection of patterns and effects, including a nice effect called ColorShift that changes the color of the keys you press, leaving a slowly fading trail of your typing over the keyboard. The LEDs are also very bright, so you can create some almost blinding effects if you want. Fortunately, they can also be turned down for a more subtle look.
The crown prince of Corsairs range of RGB keyboards is the K95 Platinum, a large, heavy keyboard that has plenty of Red Green, and Blue blinkiness. It’s available with Cherry MX Blue, MX Brown, or Silver switches, which provide a clicky, quiet, or fast action. We tested the model with silver switches, which feature short travel and low actuation force. That means you can type with a quick stab of the finger rather than a long press. It’s a very different experience to the long, more forceful click of an MX blue based keyboard. However, it’s better suited to those who are used to laptop keyboards or other devices with keys that don’t push in very far. It’s still a fairly noisy keyboard to work on, but with more of a rattling sound than the click-click of others.
The left side of the keyboard features five programmable macro keys with textured tops. These (as well as any other key on the keyboard) can be reprogrammed with Corsair’s iCue software to produce either a keystroke or a pre-recorded macro sequence of keystrokes. If you’re regularly typing in names, code sequences, or other long repetitive things, this can be a big time saver.
The top of the keyboard features a series of dedicated media buttons. This includes a nice volume roller, a play/pause button, and a skip track button that’ll mute the sound completely. Another key allows you to disable keys such as the windows key and Alt-Tab, which is useful if you want to focus on a game and not accidentally jump back to the desktop.
The K95 also includes LED lights under every key, which can be controlled with the iCue software. These can be programmed to respond to sound or to typing. Activate the Type Lightning effect, for instance, and a lightning flash of color spreads from every key you press.
All of these features can be programmed into three profiles, which are stored on the keyboard itself. You can switch between them with the profile button at the top of the keyboard. That means that you can program the keyboard on one computer, move it to another, and take advantage of features like the Win Lock without having to install the iCue software.
The downside of this long feature set is that the keyboard needs a lot of power, which it gets by having two USB plugs, both of which have to be plugged in for it to work fully.
The Das Keyboard Professional S is a rather expensive, but high-quality keyboard that forgoes the fancy features of others. There are no blinking lights, complicated apps or strange keys. Instead, you get a solid keyboard with blue or brown Cherry MX switches for a soft or clicky experience. We tested the blue switch version.
The design inspiration here is the classic IBM model M keyboard, and the Model S Professional shares a lot with this keyboard classic: it is a heavy, dense keyboard that feels like it could take a lot of use and keep on working. The Model S professional has a thick plastic case, which does make it a little quieter than other Cherry MX blue equipped keyboards. It's still not very quiet, though: the keys produce a very audible click and bump as you type, which might not be welcomed by those you share space with. This larger case design also means that the keys are not as isolated as they are on other models where they stand out from the base plate: the top of the case here is just a few millimeters below the tops of the keys themselves. That’s more about aesthetics than usability, though: the keys are still nicely separated and easy to navigate by touch.
This 104-key keyboard has all the standard keys, although the function keys above the main keyboard are more heavily branded as media keys, which is a little confusing. The labels for the media functions of the keys are larger than the function key labels, but you have to hold the blue Fn key to use them. Most other keyboards make the largest icon the one that happens when you press the key on its own, not a secondary function. You do get used to it fairly quickly, but it seems somewhat backwards.
On the left side of the keyboard are two USB 2.0 ports, which is useful for plugging in thumb drives without having to reach behind the computer.
The Redragon K551 is a low-cost mechanical keyboard with lots of blinking LED lights. Fitted with Cherry MX Red switches, it has LED backlights under all of its keys. These default to a rainbow display, but can be set to sixteen different combinations of blinking color. You don’t get the same level of control over the lighting as more expensive keyboards, though. There’s no app to customize the lighting and no way to control the individual lights. Instead, you get to choose from 16 pre-programmed patterns that you switch between with a hotkey combination. These aren’t bad (they include a nice subtle pressed key option), but you just don’t get the individual feeling of other keyboards
The Cherry MX red switches used in this keyboard have a soft feel that requires little force to trigger, which makes them great for games or those who like to hammer at their keyboards when they capture the muse. They are quieter than some, but they certainly aren’t silent, as there’s a slight rattling noise when typing at speed.
The construction of the keyboard does feel a little less solid than most. The metal plate under the keyboard provides stability, sure, but the plastic case around it feels flimsy and flexible. There’s also no wrist rest. The upside of this lighter construction is the price. The K551 costs less than half the price of most of the keyboards on this list. However, the Havit Mechanical Keyboard feels more robust, has better lighting control, and costs about the same.
Simon Hill is a freelance technology journalist with a decade of writing experience covering everything from smartphones to smart home gadgets. For the last few years, he served as Associate Editor at Digital Trends where he wrote features, reviews, analysis, how-tos, and more.
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