Best gaming keyboard 2019: Digital Foundry's picks

Leading mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards tested.

Choosing the right PC gaming peripherals can make a world of difference, by making it easier to survive in the latest battle royale title or simply become immersed in your favourite virtual world for hours on end. We've already covered the best gaming mice and gaming headsets, and now it's time to take a closer look at the best keyboards for gaming.

Whether you prefer a simple keyboard that nails the essentials or a full-fat option that brings all of the best features too, you're sure to find something that appeals within our top recommendations. While gaming keyboards with mechanical switches are currently in vogue, we'd be foolish to leave out some of great non-mechanical options on the market. With a bit of luck, you'll find some great new keyboards here that you may not have even considered.

Why take my word for it?

I've exhaustively tested each of the keyboards on this list - and many more that didn't make the cut. I've been reviewing gaming keyboards for years, from the rebirth of the mechanical keyboard almost a decade ago to the RGB-encrusted examples hitting the market in 2019. It can be hard to keep up with new mechanical and non-mechanical switches and all of the new features available on the latest boards, so allow me to be your guide.

Of course, it goes without saying that while there are certainly better and worse keyboards on the market, choosing the right keyboard is also a very personal experience. We've tried to consider a range of viewpoints and value judgements, but my number one choice might be one you wouldn't even consider. Keep an open mind as you go through the selections, and feel free to chime in with your own questions or recommendations in the comments. We'll continue to update this article over time, and the more feedback we get, the better we can make it!

With that out of the way, let's get straight to the recommendations.

1. Corsair K70 RGB MK.2

A full-fat mechanical gaming keyboard that comes in many flavours

k70
  • Full-size with dedicated media controls and volume wheel
  • Wide range of Cherry mechanical switches, including Low Profile, MX Speed and MX Silent
  • Best-in-class software for rebinding keys and adjusting RGB lighting

The MK.2 is the latest version of Corsair's mid-size, high-spec K70 mechanical keyboard. It comes with a wider range of switches than ever before, including recently released Cherry ML low profile switches and MX Silent linear switches that offer a very different feel to the more traditional switch options. The MK.2 is also able to remember your macros, lighting and remapped keys between computers, even on devices that don't have Corsair's iCue software installed. The MK.2 SE model also includes upgraded PBT keycaps, which are less slippery and last longer compared to standard ABS keycaps. If you like gaming keyboards with all the features - USB passthrough, media keys, volume wheels, palm rests, programmable RGB backlighting - then one of the many flavours of the K70 MK.2 is a brilliant choice.

2. Asus Tuf Gaming K7

Optical-mechanical hybrid switches promise fast response times

tuf
  • Optical Flaretech switches increase responsiveness and resist water
  • Floating key design with brushed aluminium top plate and leatherette palm rest
  • No dedicated volume or media keys, despite the premium price tag

The Tuf Gaming K7 is one of the few keyboards on the market to use optical-mechanical switches. Normally keyboards need to wait a short period of time - 5ms - to make sure a single key press isn't counted twice, but with an infrared sensor at the bottom of each switch, this can be reduced to 0.2ms. Therefore, optical switches reduce the delay between a key being pressed and recognised, increasing responsiveness and potentially in-game performance.

These particular switches also use a more protected design to resist water and dust ingress, which is great for anyone that drinks or eats at their PC, and come in both clicky and linear varieties. The K7 impresses elsewhere too, with a full-size layout with floating keys, a magnetically-attached wrist rest, Asus Aura Sync RGB backlighting and on-the-fly macro recording. All in all, this advanced keyboard does enough to justify its premium price.

3. Roccat Vulcan Aimo

This keyboard looks and feels one of a kind

roccat
  • Stylish design with flat, floating keycaps and brushed aluminium construction
  • Home-grown Titan mechanical switches provide great tactile feedback
  • Comes with a volume knob and RGB backlighting, but no palm rest outside the EU

It seems that everyone is creating their own mechanical switch these days, but Roccat's Titan switches - and the keyboard they appear on, the Vulcan Aimo - are worth discussing. The transparent bodies of these switches allow for a ton of light to be passed through each keycap, providing strong and clear backlighting that eclipses that provided by other boards. The keyboard's design is unique too, with a slim chassis and unusually flat keycaps that show off the switches underneath. In terms of features, we're looking at a volume knob and mute key, plus function keys for media and backlighting controls. The keyboard is available with a palm rest as the Vulcan 120 Aimo, without a palm rest as the Vulcan 100 Aimo and with single-colour backlighting as the Vulcan 80.

4. Razer Cynosa Chroma

The best non-mechanical membrane keyboard we've tested

cynosa
  • Membrane keys provide a soft feel, work quietly and resist water
  • Full RGB backlighting and integration into Razer's well-developed ecosystem
  • Somewhat expensive for a non-mechanical keyboard

If you prefer the softer feel, quieter operation and lower cost of non-mechanical keyboards, the Cynosa Chroma from Razer is the best we've tested so far. The membrane switches still offer decent tactile feedback, they're water resistant and up to 10 keys can be pressed at once - not always a given on non-mechanical keyboards! Razer's software for remapping keys and RGB backlighting is among the best in the biz too, not least because a fair few games come with their own backlighting schemes. For example, in Overwatch, you'll find different backlighting for each hero in the game, with keys lighting up as your cooldowns finish.

5. Cooler Master MK730 TKL

A modern tenkeyless keyboard with no real weaknesses

mk730
  • Genuine Cherry MX RGB switches in clicky (Blue), tactile (Brown) or linear (Red)
  • Modern design with front and side lightbars and detachable USB-C cable
  • Macros and custom lighting, with or without software

Tenkeyless (TKL) keyboards are popular for gaming as they omit the little-used numpad, giving you more space to move your mouse and keeping your arms in an ergonomically superior position. The best TKL we've tested so far is the MK730, thanks to its modern design with RGB lightbars and floating keys atop an aluminium top plate and clicky, linear or tactile Cherry MX RGB switches.

The MK730 comes in a completely standard US or EU layout, so you can choose a new set of keycaps down the road, and no space is wasted with alternate functions on the F keys, navigation cluster and arrow keys. These allow you to record and replay macros, adjust the RGB lighting and access media controls. Software is also available if you prefer to set up your keyboard that way, but it's not required - a relief after dealing with Razer or Corsair's mandatory software. A palm rest is also included in the box, making this keyboard good value.

If you like the idea of the MK730 but prefer a different form factor, odds are you'll be covered. The MK750 adds a number pad and media controls, while the MK850 includes eight analogue mechanical switches (see the Wooting One below for an explanation) and extra macro keys. If you're after a cheaper but still solid, the CK530, CK550 and CK552 are worth considering. Meanwhile, Cooler Master's SK621, SK630 and SK650 are low-profile mechanical keyboards that will appeal to anyone that likes the short-throw feel of a laptop keyboard.

6. HP Omen Sequencer

A unique gaming-focused mechanical keyboard

omen
  • Optical-mechanical Blue switches provide clicky, rapid feedback
  • Unique appearance with oversized space bar, volume wheel and macro keys
  • Clicky switches aren't ideal for shared spaces

The Omen Sequencer is a unique keyboard that makes itself known through a brash design, including an oversized spacebar, long volume wheel and lower directional keys than you'd find on most keyboards. Inside, you'll find clicky Blue switches that provide a lot of tactile and auditory feedback, which is great for banging out papers or playing games. However, you may prefer a quieter option for shared spaces, as even typing quietly produces a significant report. Annoyingly, by default the Home key will launch the Omen Command Center, HP's gaming peripheral software. You can't disable this functionality in the app, but you can use free utility SharpKeys to rebind the key so that it works as normal.

7. Roccat Suora FX

A paragon of German efficiency, in price and performance

suora
  • Full-size design with handy (and rare) dedicated volume keys
  • Standard bottom row, so custom keycap sets can be installed
  • Brown tactile switches provide good tactile feedback for gaming

The Roccat Suora FX is a good basic RGB gaming keyboard. It has Brown switches which provide a soft yet tactile feel, a full layout including dedicated volume keys and a clean, space-efficient design. While Roccat's Swarm software isn't as full-featured or intuitive as some of its rivals, it still includes all of the features you could reasonably expect. This solid keyboard will get the job done without making a fuss.

8. Wooting One & Wooting Two

An exciting keyboard that nails the essentials and delivers a killer new feature too

two
  • Analogue optical switches provide a rapid response and new gameplay possibilities
  • Clean design with full per-key RGB backlighting
  • Available as the Wooting One (compact) and Wooting Two (full-size)

The Wooting One and Wooting Two are made by a small firm in the Netherlands, quite unlike the big gaming brands on this list. These keyboards set themselves apart thanks to their analogue controls - rather than seeing if a key has been tapped or not, the keyboard uses optical sensors to gauge how far down it's been pressed. That gives you incredibly granular control, so you can steer in a driving game like you're using a racing wheel or change between walking and running in a shooter just by pressing down harder. You're not sacrificing anything to get these unique features either - the Wooting keyboards feel nice to use with tactile or linear switches, come with per-key RGB backlighting and a sleek design. Where other keyboards are using optical-mechanical switches just for fractionally faster inputs, Wooting is doing something revolutionary.

Wooting is also developing new Lekker switches that improve on the concept by trading optical sensors for Hall Effect magnetic sensors. With these, it will be possible to measure actuation across the entire 4mm travel of the switch, rather than just from 1.5mm to 3.6mm. There's also a matching Wooting Two Lekker board coming later this year if there's enough interest.

9. Roccat Horde Aimo

An old-school membrane gaming keyboard, updated for 2019

horde
  • Hybrid mecha-membrane switches are quiet yet tactile
  • Full-size layout with programmable wheel, media and macro keys
  • Dim RGB backlighting and large footprint may be game-breakers for some people

The Horde Aimo is a love letter to classic gaming keyboards, with a brash desk-width design that includes a column of dedicated macro keys, a row of media controls, a programmable wheel and a full standard layout too. The switches inside are a hybrid of membrane and mechanical, quiet and soft with more of a tactile bite than you'd expect. However, the switch design means that the backlighting is rather subdued, which may be a turnoff to the neon-crazed RGB enthusiasts.

10. Redragon K551 & Redragon K552

A mechanical gaming keyboard cheaper than many membrane alternatives

redragon
  • Available in full-size (K551) and compact (K552) sizes, with US or UK layouts
  • Kailh mechanical switches provide consistent tactile feedback
  • Low price makes up for average visuals, one-colour backlighting and few added features

This Redragon keyboard doesn't look as sleek as others on this list, nor is it packed full of the latest features that gamers crave. Instead, it's just a very cheap way of getting a full set of clicky mechanical switches and backlit keycaps under your fingertips. The K551 is the full-size option, with a full US or UK layout, while the K552 is a more compact unit that provides more mousing space at a lower price; other variants are available with RGB backlighting for a small premium. Whichever model you choose, you get a solid introduction to mechanical keyboards at a very reasonable price.

Bonus: Razer Turret for Xbox One

The best keyboard and mouse set for couch gaming

razer_turret_50
  • Satisfying clicky switches with full RGB backlighting
  • Comes with fold-out mousepad and mouse based on Mamba Wireless
  • An expensive proposition, even though it's three peripherals in one

The Razer Turret is the best dedicated mouse and keyboard set for the Xbox One, supported by a decent range of games including Fortnite, Sea of Thieves and Metro Exodus. The Turret also works great on PC, particularly on computers hooked up to a TV for couch gaming. The keyboard is a compact tenkeyless design with clicky switches, providing excellent tactile and auditory feedback plus full RGB backlighting. The mouse is based on the Razer Mamba Wireless, and adheres magnetically to the flip-out mousepad integrated into the keyboard. All three components - keyboard, mouse and mousepad - feel well considered. The only drag is needing to recharge the keyboard and mouse each week. If the couch is your go-to gaming destination, the Turret is well worth considering even at its premium price point.

Frequently questioned answers

What's better, mechanical or non-mechanical?

It depends! Mechanical keyboards feel better to type or game on for many people, and are sometimes described as faster or more responsive. While membrane keyboards harden over time, mechanical keyboards provide a consistent experience for decades. Mechanical keyboards are also available in many different switches, each of which has their own characteristics - loud versus quiet, tactile versus linear, long travel versus short travel and so on.

However, mechanical switches are expensive to produce and often sound louder than their non-mechanical counterparts. By comparison, non-mechanical keyboards tend to feel softer, cost less to produce and don't sound as loud. While both options have their objective strengths and weaknesses, it often comes down to personal preference.

What types of mechanical keyboards are there?

Mechanical keyboards are defined by their switches. The most common options are MX switches, originally made by Cherry and now made by a range of manufacturers. Each switch is described by its colour; the three most popular are as follows:

  • Blue: Clicky and tactile, with a relatively high actuation force
  • Brown: Not clicky but still tactile, with a relatively low actuation force
  • Red: Linear, not clicky or tactile, with a relatively low actuation force

Clicky feedback is fun and can make typing easier, but it can be annoying to others - especially if you're in an shared space or streaming. Tactile feedback also makes it easier to know when a key has been pressed, which can be handy for typing or gaming. Linear switches eschew this added feedback, but operate more smoothly and are therefore most commonly selected for inclusion in gaming keyboards. As usual though, a lot of this comes down to personal preference so experimentation is key.

Since mechanical keyboards became popular about ten years ago, there has been explosion in the numbers of mechanical switches available. Many peripheral producers, such as Razer and Logitech, now make their own proprietary switches which are takes on the original Cherry MX design. The most common modifications allow for faster keypresses (e.g. MX Speed Silver), quieter operation (e.g. MX Silent Red) and improved RGB backlighting (e.g. MX RGB Red). We've also seen the introduction of more major redesigns, such as including optical sensors in order to offer adjustable actuation points or full-fat analogue switches as in the Wooting One, above. Laptop-style Cherry ML switches are also becoming a thing.

What types of non-mechanical keyboards are there?

There are quite a few options, with the most common being traditional membrane keyboards that use a dome of rubber beneath each key to let you know that your key press has been recognised. Hybrid switches, sometimes described as 'mecha-membrane', attempt to provide additional tactile feedback, similar to a mechanical switch, without giving up the low cost and soft feel of a membrane. Scissor switches are another option, which provide a little more tactile feedback and a short travel distance, like you'd expect to find on a laptop.

What is the point of keyboards that don't include the number pad?

Many keyboards, particularly mechanical ones, don't include the number pad. This might be done for several reasons: to lower manufacturing costs by reducing the number of expensive mechanical switches included, to save space on crowded desks or to create a more portable design. However, the most important benefit of so-called 'tenkeyless' designs is that of ergonomics: with no number pad, right-handed gamers can keep their mouse hand more in line with their arm. This position is easier to maintain over long periods - although regular breaks are always advised! - and puts less stress on the limbs and joints. There are also even more compact designs, i.e. 60% or 75%, which drop more keys in order to achieve even smaller sizes.

Are there quiet mechanical keyboards?

Yes. There are many keyboards on the market made with MX Silent Red switches, including options from Corsair, Fnatic and others. Some popular examples include the Fnatic Gear Rush, Fnatic MiniStreak, Corsair Strafe and Corsair K70 Lux; these keyboards and other quiet mechanical keyboards are linked below. However, no keyboard is completely silent, and these are no exception!

Why do some keyboards have differently shaped Enter and Shift keys?

In short, there are two major keyboard layouts in the world: ANSI for the US, China and some other regions, and ISO for the UK, much of Europe and most other countries. ANSI features a wide left Shift key and a wide Enter key, while ISO instead uses a thin left Shift key and a tall Enter key. If a keyboard's layout looks unfamiliar, this might be why.

Regardless of which layout you're used to, you can learn to use the alternate layout without too much difficulty as your computer's keyboard layout setting overrides what is printed on each keycap - so pressing AltGr + 4 on a US keyboard on a British computer will result in the '€' symbol as normal. While most mainstream gaming keyboards come in both layouts, some keyboards are only available in one or the other - and often, it's Europeans that have to accept an American layout. This can be annoying at first, but it does allow you to consider a much wider range of keyboards.

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2.

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