Best gaming keyboard 2020: 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 another critical area: the best gaming keyboards.

Whether you prefer a simple non-mechanical keyboard that nails the essentials or a full-fat mechanical option that brings all of the best features too, you're sure to find something that appeals within our top recommendations. We've tried to ensure that each of the ten options here are distinct, rather than ten variations on the same theme. With a bit of luck, you'll find some great new brands and keyboards here that you may not have even heard of, let alone considered.

We've also collected Frequently Asked Questions at the bottom of the page, like what kinds there are, the differences between mechanical and not and why some keyboards look funny.

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 with unique switches and crazy features hitting the market as we enter 2020. It can be hard to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation in this unassuming space, 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 top ten - and our bonus selection for Xbox users. Click the links below to jump straight to those entries, or scroll on to read our full recommendations!

Best gaming keyboard 2020

  1. SteelSeries Apex Pro: a beautiful design with plenty of extras
  2. Corsair K70 RGB MK.2: a full-fat mechanical in many flavours
  3. MSI Vigor GK50 Low Profile: a low profile, laptop-like gaming keyboard
  4. Razer Cynosa Chroma: the best membrane keyboard available
  5. Cooler Master MK730: a modern compact keyboard with no weaknesses
  6. Xtrfy K2-RGB: the quintessential best keyboard for CSGO
  7. XPG Summoner: a well-equipped keyboard with real Cherry switches
  8. Wooting One/Two: an advanced optical keyboard from a small Dutch firm
  9. Corsair K57 RGB Wireless: a rare premium membrane keyboard with low-latency wireless
  10. Redragon K551/K552: the best cheap mechanical keyboard
  11. Razer Turret: a peerless wireless keyboard and mouse set for Xbox

1. SteelSeries Apex Pro / Apex Pro TKL

This keyboard boasts hyper-advanced features while still nailing the essentials

apex
  • Adjustable actuation switches can be tuned for gaming or typing
  • Bright RGB backlighting and beautiful design with a super extra OLED display
  • Superb build quality and long feature list justifies the premium price

The SteelSeries Apex Pro is our new top pick, thanks to its strong fundamentals and truly meaningful extras. The first thing you're likely to notice is the OLED screen in the upper right, which allows you to see your in-game stats, chatters in Discord or the music you're playing; it also lets you adjust settings using the convenient volume wheel nearby. This feature even makes it into the smaller TKL (tenkeyless) version, though the volume wheel is substantially thinner.

Less obvious but more impressive are the magnetic sensors built into each switch, which allow the actuation point - the point at which a keypress is registered - to be set anywhere from a crazy-short 0.4mm to a super-deep 3.6mm. This lets you reap the responsiveness benefits of a "speed switch" keyboard for gaming, then swap back to a more standard feel for typing and general computer use with a push of a button. It sounds trite, but this really is like having two keyboards in one.

As well as offering advanced features, the Apex Pro is just a nice keyboard to look at and to use. It feels well built, with an gently rounded aluminium alloy frame, and its bright RGB backlighting spills out of the large capital letters on each keycap. A USB pass-through port, elegant cable routing, intuitive companion software and a comfy palm rest complete the package.

2. 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 pass-through, media keys, volume wheels, palm rests, programmable RGB backlighting - then one of the many flavours of the K70 MK.2 is a brilliant choice.

3. MSI Vigor GK50 Low Profile

This keyboard looks and feels one of a kind

gk50
  • Stylish floating keycaps, RGB and solid brushed aluminium construction
  • Kailh Choc low profile switches are clicky, satisfying yet quiet
  • Relatively compact, despite the full-format layout with numpad

The MSI GK50 is one of several recent keyboards to debut with Kailh's low profile Choc switches. These mechanical switches have a short travel distance, like a laptop keyboard, yet provide pleasant tactile feedback and a quiet click. If you love the snappy feel of the scissor switches on the best laptop keyboards or you just fancy a quiet mechanical keyboard, this is an excellent choice.

Apart from the excellent switches, the GK50 Low Profile includes a full layout with number pad, customisable RGB backlighting and convenient media keys. We also appreciated the build quality of this keyboard; despite being rather thin the brushed aluminium top plate provides considerable rigidity. Overall, it's a great shout for both gaming and typing that should appeal even to those that don't like the feel or sound of regular mechanical keyboards.

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. Xtrfy K2-RGB

The quintessential best keyboard for CSGO from the Ninjas in Pyjamas

k2
  • 1000Hz polling rate and n-key rollover ensure consistent performance
  • No software needed: built-in keys for macro recording and RGB adjustments
  • Only one switch type offered, but at least they're well-suited to FPS: Kailh Reds

Peripherals manufacturer Xtrfy is a Swedish brand, spun out of the Ninjas in Pyjamas pro-gaming team. That heritage has allows the company to release a keyboard laser-focused on FPS gameplay, specifically that of CS:GO. As well as a fast 1000Hz polling rate and n-key rollover that ensure each key press is received as quickly as possible, the K2 includes a PS/2 adapter for even faster interrupt-based inputs (if your motherboard even has a PS/2 port in 2020). The switches here are also tailored for FPS, with soft linear Kailh Red switches that make the precise movement required in high-level CS:GO and other esports a little easier. Build quality is also a high point; this keyboard feels absolutely bullet proof despite its plastic construction.

It's surprising to see how many of the K2's keys have secondary functions, whether that's for recording a macro, programming the backlighting, skipping songs or opening up the HLTV.org CS:GO hub with a single key press. There's actually no companion software here at all; everything is set up on the keyboard and is stored in local memory. That's ideal for esports pros, and is a nice alternative to pushy software solutions from Razer and Corsair. However, it does mean that the keyboard's advanced functions have a bit of a learning curve attached.

7. XPG Summoner

A great value for money choice with Cherry switches

summoner
  • Full-size design with volume wheel, USB pass-through and palm rest
  • Standard bottom row, so custom keycap sets can be installed
  • Brown tactile switches provide good tactile feedback for gaming

The XPG Summoner is a strong value-for-money option, with a handful of features you'd expect to find on much more expensive keyboards. For starters, it uses real Cherry MX Speed Silver, MX Blue or MX Red RGB switches, which are better-regarded and more expensive than later imitators. The Summoner also feels well-built, with an aluminium alloy design. A chunky volume wheel is included with a dedicated mute key nearby; on the back is a USB pass-through port. As well as the keyboard itself, in the box you get a plush palm rest and nine red keycaps to add a bit of gamer flair. Of course, you can also leave these in the box and set the keyboard to a single colour (or disable the backlight entirely) for a more professional look. Either way, it's an impressive effort from a company best known for its RAM and SSDs.

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. Corsair K57 RGB Wireless

A rare premium membrane keyboard with low-latency wireless

k57
  • Non-mechanical membrane switches are soft and quiet
  • Full-size layout with dedicated volume, media and macro keys
  • Long battery life for a full RGB-backlit keyboard

It's rare to see a truly premium non-mechanical keyboard these days, but that's exactly what you get with the K57. This keyboard uses Corsair's low-latency Slipstream wireless tech which we enjoyed on the company's recent gaming mice, and this is backed with Bluetooth and standard USB so it's easy to connect to a wide range of devices from PCs to tablets and smartphones. We didn't notice any performance penalty from using the Slipstream wireless connection, even in fast-paced games like CS:GO. Battery life is astonishing too, rated at up to 170 hours thanks to advanced RGB lighting and a sizeable battery.

The keyboard feels nice under the finger too, with the membrane switches providing a soft landing and very quiet operation - ideal for family rooms and offices. The full-size layout offers everything you could want in terms of features, barring except a rolling volume wheel - instead, you'll have to make do with only six macro keys, seven media controls and three other small buttons for recording new macros, adjusting the full RGB backlighting or locking the Windows key. Corsair's iCUE software is on tap if you want it, with deep options for programming custom lighting patterns or interfacing with other apps and games. There's even a nice wrist rest that echoes that found on the considerably more expensive Corsair K70 MK.2. All in all, a cool modern membrane keyboard that goes some way to justifying its nearly three-figure price tag.

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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