Best mechanical keyboard: Game, code, type, and work smoother and faster

Whether you’re a gamer or a desk jockey, finding the best mechanical keyboard for you can be a game-changer. Here’s advice on how to shop for one, and a few of our best picks.

If you’re reading this on a PC, you might not have given a second thought to the keyboard in front of you, but trust us: You can do so much better than the traditional rubber-dome model that probably came with your computer. Gamers have already caught on to the joy of mechanical keyboards, with their far more sensitive spring-activated key switches, but there are myriad benefits for non-gamers willing to spend a little bit more for a better typing experience.

The best mechanical keyboards allow for faster and more accurate keystrokes, and they last longer than their rubber-dome or flat plastic cousins (30 to 70 million or more key presses compared to just five or so million). They also suffer from far less wear and tear over the course of their lifespan. So typers and gamers, rejoice: With the best mechanical keyboard, after a year or two of heavy use, you won’t have to waste valuable time pressing Y over and over because the key sticks.

How to find the best mechanical keyboards

Now that you’re ready for an upgrade to the best mechanical keyboard, let’s begin with a few things to consider when you’re tracking it down. Before you settle on anything else, you need to decide what kind of keyboard layout you’d prefer. Then you need to figure out how you want the process of typing to feel, followed by how you want it to sound. The weight of the keyboard may not matter if it will be mostly stationary, but if you’ll be transporting it or using it on your lap, you’ll want to be sure it’s not dragging you down. Finally, what extras do you need to maximize the typing and/or gaming experience?

How many extra keys do you really need?

The best mechanical keyboards come in a variety of formats. The PC gold standard is a full-size board with 104 keys. That includes the alphabetic characters, numerals, punctuation, and all the various functions like Home, Mail, Volume Up and Volume Down. Each key is typically 15.5mm X 15mm in size and the space between them is around 3.3mm to 3.8mm. One defining characteristic of full-size mechanical keyboards is the numeric pad on the right, just in case the numbers in the top row don’t count on their own for you. Full-size keyboards have pretty much everything you’ll need, but do you really need everything?

If you want something a bit more portable and manageable, tenkeyless keyboards (also known as 80 percent keyboards because they’re about 80 percent less wide than full-size) drop the numeric pad that’s to the right on full-size keyboards, leaving them with 87 or 88 keys. This is a smaller version that actually feels like a bit of an upgrade. Tenkeyless models take up considerably less space than their full-size counterparts, and your hand won’t have to travel quite so far to get from the keyboard to the mouse.

If you want to go smaller still, a compact 60 percent keyboard has smaller keys and smaller gaps between them than the full-size and tenkeyless options. Separate dedicated arrow keys, the F-row and the number pad might be discarded completely, but you can still complete many of the same typing tasks by pressing Function and another key. The best mechanical keyboards go as low as 40 percent, but those are pretty basic and are probably most useful to light computer users who travel a lot and don’t want a keyboard taking up too much space in their carry-on luggage.

Best custom mechanical keyboard: Drop CTRL High-Profile

Type How You Want

This highly customizable model gives you total control over how it functions. Amazon

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There is some assembly required, but don’t let that deter you from splurging on this high profile model. If you’re up for that challenge, you can construct it to suit your preferences and needs. When you are done choosing a type of switch to determine how the keys will work in your custom mechanical keyboard, don’t forget to adjust the RGB backlighting and underlighting to create the perfect mood for your next gaming adventure.

What will it feel like when you’re typing?

One of the most important items in mechanical keyboard terminology is the switch. This refers to the device underneath the keys that registers each tap. They have different ways of signalling that a keystroke has been recorded, one of which is to do nothing at all. Right under the keycap, are the five levels of the mechanical keyboard switches: The stem determines the feel of a keystroke and the type of switch it is. Two layers down, between the upper and base housing, the coil spring controls the pressure that needs to be applied every time you tap a key, and the electricity flows to the crosspoint contact at the bottom.

The operating force needed to activate the switch is typically measured in grams or centinewton (cN). A cN of 50 or lower means light pressure is needed. Anything more is medium to high. Other variables, like speed and sound come into play, but the operating force will give you a pretty good idea of how using the keyboard will feel. If you would prefer to hear or feel some kind of signal when your finger goes down and a stroke is registered, a tactile or clicky switch is the type for you. A linear switch gives you a smoother, silent experience and tends to be the preferred switch choice for gamers.

Best mechanical keyboard for typing: Das Keyboard 4 Professional

Pump The Music With The Large Volume Knob

This attractive option comes loaded with useful functions. Amazon

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This full-size mechanical keyboard has media control buttons along with an oversized volume knob. It also has a two-port USB 3.0 hub that allows for the speedy transfer of music, videos, and photos. The inscriptions on the keys are laser-etched, so they won’t fade, and the aluminum design ensures longevity.

Want silence when you type—or that clicky noise?

Linear switches produce no sound, while tactile and clicky mechanical keyboard switches offer sensory and audio feedback so you know a keystroke has been registered. These are usually preferable for those who will be using a mechanical keyboard primarily for typing. Tactile switches produce a bump to let you know that the keystroke has been recorded, while clicky switches produce, as the name suggests, a clicking sound that is similar to the one typewriters make.

It’s really up to you what sound you want your mechanical keyboard to produce as you type or if you don’t want any sound at all with a quiet mechanical keyboard. Regardless of the kind of switch you choose, keep in mind that when you bottom out – which refers to pressing the key down as far as it will go – even if you choose a linear switch, the key system will inevitably make a sound to let you know you’ve, well, bottomed out.

Keep this in mind, though: Bottoming out is never necessary on the best mechanical keyboard. The main beauty of them is that they require a lighter touch than other kinds of keyboards, so your typing will be more effortless and comfortable, regardless of how much or what kind of noise it makes.

Best mechanical keyboard for typing sounds: Logitech K845 Mechanical Illuminated

A Bright Choice

It’s an ergonomically sound choice that places equal emphasis on functionality and comfort. Amazon

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This Logitech mechanical keyboard offers the choice of going with a linear, clicky or tactile switch for the sound—or lack of sound—that’s most appealing to you. It also produces five different lighting patterns while giving you the option of using tilt legs to adjust the keyboard so that it sits between a four- and eight-degree angle.

Does keyboard size matter to you?

The price tag isn’t the only thing you should expect to increase when you upgrade from a membrane or rubber-dome keyboard, or even from the butterfly and scissor switches used by Apple. The best mechanical keyboards are also significantly heavier. They can easily weigh up to five pounds. That may require you to exert a bit more energy when moving it around, but it also means the keyboard will be more stable while you are using it at a desk or on a table.

Also, the metal gears that make up the best mechanical keyboards are far sturdier than they are in plastic membrane models. That explains why they cost more, but the trade-off means that you’ll get far more use out of a mechanical keyboard. Of course, you can always decide to go more compact and portable than full-size. As models drop unnecessary keys, the mechanical keyboard will be less cumbersome to carry around and will feel more comfortable resting on your lap.

Best lightweight mechanical keyboard: Keychron K2

Easy To Bring Around With You

Here’s one with a portable design that’s suitable for typing and gaming. Amazon

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This wireless mechanical keyboard can connect to up to three monitors at once, and although it is designed for typing, it is also suitable for light gaming use. Although the keypad incorporates a Mac layout, it’s also compatible with Windows operating systems. An inclined bottom frame promotes comfortable typing, so you won’t even notice that it lacks a palm rest.

Want the best mechanical keyboard kit?

Once you’ve settled on the best mechanical keyboard your money can buy, what’s next? Well, now you can brace yourself for the really fun part, which is figuring out what accessories you want to get to make it even better. Mechanical keyboards are already more comfortable than their counterparts, but you can get a keyboard wrist pad to further minimize the risk of strain or carpal tunnel syndrome. Meanwhile, O-rings can be inserted at key level to minimize the noise made when you bottom out. It may take a bit of time to attach them to the stem of every single keycap, but you’ll be glad you made the extra effort every time you bottom out in silence.

USB cables, switch and keycap pullers and carrying cases might also come in handy, and you can stock up on replacement keycaps, just in case you’re in the mood to change the look of your mechanical keyboard down the line. Oh, and there is at least one accessory worth spending $20 or so on before you buy your new keyboard. If you can’t decide whether to go linear, tactile or clicky, you can get a switch tester that allows you to try out several different types of switches before you settle on just one.

Best mechanical keyboard kit: ENHANCE Mechanical Keyboard Kit

Preserve Your Gear

The package of miscellaneous extras can help keep your product in peak working order. Amazon

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This mechanical keyboard kit includes an assortment of ingredients to go along with your new purchase. There are tools for minimizing the clicking sound of hard keystrokes and other items that can perform routine upkeep tasks when you aren’t using the keyboard for gaming and typing. These won’t necessarily make your device last longer, but they’ll improve the user experience every time you get behind it.

How much do you want to spend on a mechanical keyboard?

Although plenty of companies will charge you well over $100 for what they’ll claim is the best mechanical keyboard, you can quite comfortably get one for under $100. In fact, if you are just after something basic that works, you can go even lower.

Best budget mechanical keyboard under $50: Pictek TKL

Affordable And Versatile

Durable and dependable, it will satisfy your requirements at a bargain-basement price. Amazon

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We like this mechanical gaming keyboard with rainbow colors, multiple backlight modes, 87 keys, and a lifespan of up to 10 million keystrokes— all for the whopping price of $29.99 on Amazon.

Best mechanical keyboard brands to know

At this point, there are nearly as many companies making mechanical keyboards as there are companies specializing in computer products. Wading through them isn’t an easy task, so we will narrow this discussion down to three of many that are worth a look: Corsair, Drop, and Logitech. All have reputations for excellence that extend well beyond the mechanical keyboards they make.

Corsair

One of the more recognizable brand names in computer products, Corsair specializes in gaming mechanical keyboards. One of the most appealing aspects of their models is that they are extremely customizable through Corsair’s iCUE software, which can be accessed through both Windows and macOS.

Drop

The company has been around only since 2012, and already it is making some of the most dependable mechanical keyboards for people who use them primarily for typing. The Drop ENTR doesn’t boast any major bells and whistles, but it’s one of the best tenkeyless mechanical keyboards you can buy for less than $100. It’s perfect for newcomers to the world of mechanical keyboards.

Logitech

The Swiss company has excelled in producing computer products since 1981, and it has emerged as a leading manufacturer of affordable mechanical keyboards with a wider range of choices than gamer-focused Corsair. The G413 is a budget-friendly option for gamers that features media shortcut keys and USB passthrough for connecting to a mouse as well as individually backlit keys.

A final word on choosing the best mechanical keyboard

The keyboard that came with your PC will get the job done, but the best mechanical keyboard will do it much better, and it will last for a considerably longer time. Gamers will appreciate the responsiveness of the keys, and everyone else will enjoy being able to exert more control over pretty much everything else, including the sound the keyboard makes as you type. If size matters, you can opt for a device with more keys than you’ll ever use or just the basics. Either way, by going mechanical, you’ll notice a marked improvement in both your typing and your gaming.