As one of the fundamental ways in which you interact with your rig, investing in the best mechanical keyboard can improve the feel of your entire PC. While using a stock keyboard is perfectly acceptable, if you do decide to take the plunge and upgrade to mechanical, you’ll treat yourself to a much more personalised experience.
Mechanical key switches makes these keyboards feel so different from one another, almost like each one has its own personality. Even if you’re not using your keyboard for gaming, there are some neat benefits to switching to a mechanical variant. Also, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a keyboard that doesn’t sport RGB lighting these days and then there’s the layout to consider—you can always drop the numpad and go the tenkeyless (TKL) route if a standard 104-key layout isn’t to your liking.
You’ll also need to choose the switch type. Cherry MX switches are generally seen as the best mechanical switches available, with linear Reds, tactile Browns, and clicky Blues being the most popular. For the uninitiated, ‘linear’ switches require a full keypress while the ‘tactile’ variety register a response once the key is pressed down about halfway. To make things more confusing, companies like Razer have brought out their own colour-coded switches—Razer Yellows are linear and probably the closest to Cherry Reds, Razer Oranges are tactile like the Cherry Browns, and Razer Greens are the clicky alternative to Cherry Blues.
Unless you opt for something with adjustable key switches like the Logitech Pro X, you’re stuck with one type of switch, so opting for one keyboard that suits a number of functions is generally the best way to go, unless you want to end up neck-deep in keycaps. If you have the room and the money to spare, though, there’s certainly nothing wrong with having separate keyboards for various tasks.
We’ve chosen our favourite mechanical keyboards and listed them below. And to help you narrow down your search further, we’ve included the pros and cons of each.
Best Mechnical Keyboards
The best mechanical keyboard comes with Razer’s excellent opto-mechanical switches
Switch: Razer Opto-mechanical | Size: Full size | Backlights: 16.8 million color RGB | Passthroughs: No | Media Controls: Dedicated | Wristrest: Detachable magnetic
The opto-mechanical switches are some of the best on the market
Designed with an eye to detail and aesthetics
No USB passthrough
Razer’s proprietary opto-mechanical switches, which are currently only available on their Huntsman and Huntsman Elite boards, are an interesting and well executed blend of technologies, an artful mix of traditional mechanical switch design and the optical sensor not unlike the one probably lurking inside your mouse.
Instead of using the contact of metal leaves inside the switch to register a keypress, the opto-mechanical switch actuates when a beam of light passes through the stem as it descends. This means there’s virtually no actuation delay whatsoever, making the opto-mechanical one of the most responsive switches on the market.
The rest of the board shares the thoughtful design of its switches, allowing users to change the backlighting under each key individually and sporting dedicated media keys and onboard storage, all in an attractive aluminum plate design. Other than its lack of an option for USB passthrough, an unfortunate oversight, it has all the features you want out of a mechanical keyboard while taking full advantage of one of the best switches ever developed.
2. HyperX Alloy Elite
One of the most feature-packed keyboards available
Switch: Cherry MX Red, Brown, or Blue | Size: Full size | Backlights: Full RGB | Passthroughs: Yes | Media Controls: Dedicated | Wristrest: Detachable
Tons of handy features
Range of Cherry MX switches
Slightly clumsy software
Another board that’s packed with features and aesthetically delightful, HyperX’s Alloy Elite RGB is a premium option for less thank you’d expect. It’s got a full suite of dedicated media keys including a large scrolling volume wheel, a detachable wrist rest, and a unique set of additional quick access keys that allow you set things like brightness or toggle on Game Mode with a single key press.
Available in a range of the top Cherry switches, from loud, clicky Blues to whisper quiet Reds, the HyperX can be configured to suit almost anyone’s typing/gaming style. It’s loaded with the seemingly requisite full RGB package, but still possesses a certain elegance that I find appealing with its matte black design and the option to replace the WASD and first four number keys with silvery keycaps.
The Alloy Elite RGB is also a rugged, durable board, with a solid steel frame built to withstand your worst mid-match tantrums or mischievous pet’s antics. It’s a comfortable full-sized board that’s designed for convenience and to meet all your needs without packing in unnecessary extras that would artificially inflate its price.
3. Razer Huntsman Tournament Edition
A great tenkeyless option for typists and gamers
Switch: Razer Opto-linear | Size: Tenkeyless | Backlights: 16.8 million color RGB | Passthroughs: No | Media Controls: Function key integrated | Wristrest: None
Double shot PBT keycaps
Fast, Responsive switches
No wrist rest
Expensive for a tenkeyless
Adding to the growing litany of available keyswitches out there, Razer has introduced it’s new red linear optical switches with the debut of the Razer Huntsman Tournament edition. These new switches represent Razer’s fastest switch to date, with a 1mm actuation point and optical sensor to register each keystroke. Making them even faster than Cherry’s MX Speed switches.
The Huntsman Tournament Edition also features a standardized set of double shot PBT keycaps, giving them extra resistance against wear, and feature a bolder, easier to read font than previous versions of the Huntsman.
A handful of drawbacks hold this keyboard back from greatness. The lack of dedicated media controls, and a number pad do give the Huntsman TE its compact form factor, but prevent it from being a as feature complete as I would like. Also while the linear switches do make typing a much quieter affair than with the ultra-clicky, opto-mechnaical switches, the optical-linear switches are still far louder than most other linear options out there. At the price it is currently being offered, the lack of even a simple wrist rest costs the Razer Huntsman Tournament Edition some serious points in my book.
4. Corsair K95 RGB Platinum
A large, premium keyboard at a premium price
Switch: Cherry MX Speed, Brown | Size: Full size | Backlights: RGB | Passthroughs: USB | Media Controls: Dedicated | Wristrest: Detachable
Sturdy aluminum alloy construction
Excellent suite of design and functionality features
Large form factor
At the higher end of the mechanical keyboard price pool sits the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum, an excellent durable keyboard that’s loaded with features on both the design and functionality side of the equation.
The standouts are six dedicated macro keys on the left side of the rugged aluminum alloy frame, full individually programmable key backlighting as well as a 19 zone top edge lighting bar, and gold contact Cherry MX Red switches with a very high 1.2mm actuation point. These keys are ideal for spamming multiple times in fast paced, frenetic games and the entire board (which has a large, impressive footprint) is built to withstand the most furious play.
It’s also loaded with a number of other features, like dedicated media keys and a very comfy reversible wrist rest, but perhaps my favorite is the smart cable management system built into the underside of the deck. A USB cable for passthrough can tuck smartly into a dedicated channel underneath the keyboard so it stays smartly tucked away and doesn’t add to the cable nightmare that inevitably develops around all of my PC setups.
5. Razer BlackWidow Elite
Brilliant design with thoughtful extras uncommon among the competition
Switch: Razer Green, Orange, or Yellow | Size: Full size | Backlights: RGB | Passthroughs: Yes | Media Controls: Dedicated | Wristrest: Yes
Razer’s excellent, clicky Green switches
USB and 3.5 passthrough, cord management, and other handy extras
Cord is massive and cumbersome if you’re not interested in passthrough
Another excellent gaming keyboard offering from Razer, the BlackWidow Elite is a big, bold deck running Razer’s clicky, tactile Green switches. It’s one of my favorite boards for typing, but it’s no slouch in gaming performance either. Naturally, being a Razer product, it comes with the requisite 16.8 million color RGB backlighting, for which each key is individually programmable, and Razer’s distinctive three-headed snake logo is also brightly lit at the base of the deck. Even the media controls are lit, and include play/pause, fast forward, and rewind buttons as well as an excellent volume wheel that juts just slightly over the right edge of the keyboard, making it easy to adjust on the fly.
My favorite pieces of the BlackWidow’s architecture, however, are the subtle additional touches Razer has packed into it, stuff like a 3.5mm passthrough alongside the more ubiquitous USB passthrough so you can plug headphones directly into the keyboard. There’s also a channel underneath the board that the braided cable fits snugly into so it’s guided off to the right and out of the way, which is convenient because it’s a massive cord. Even the indicator lights are brightly lit in white and placed under the upper navigation keys, which is good because the raised keycaps would make them difficult to see otherwise.
6. Logitech Pro X
The best mechanical keyboard for analysis paralysis
Switch: Logitech Romer-G Brown, Red or Blue | Size: Tenkeyless | Backlights: RGB | Passthroughs: No | Media Controls: Function key integrated | Wristrest: No
Simple, elegant design
Hot-swappable Romer-G switches
Light on features
The Logitech G Pro X is a reimagining of the original G Pro tenkeyless design. Virtually nothing has changed here, with a small exception, that you can now swap key switches. Logitech has fully embraced hot-swappable PCB designs, allowing you to change the types of switches you use on their keyboard with relative ease. Because of their general uniformity, you can use just about any aftermarket key switch you’d like on the G Pro X. However, due to small differences in switch manufacturing sizes, it’s recommended that you use Logitech’s switches, which are offered in linear, tactile and clicky varieties to avoid any compatibility issues.
This is the first time we’ve seen this feature outside of the DIY market for mechanical keyboards and is certainly a welcome and interesting way to shake things up with a tried and tested design.
Jargon buster – keyboard terminology
The height to which a key needs to be pressed before it actuates and sends an input signal to a device.
A switch that delivers an audible click everytime it’s pressed, generally right around the point of actuation.
A technique to ensure that only one input registers every time a key is pressed.
The shell that surrounds the internal components of a switch.
The result of the actuation point and reset point in a switch being misaligned. This generally means a key needs to be lifted off of further than normal before it can be actuated again.
A switch that moves directly up and down, generally delivering smooth keystrokes without noise or tactile feedback.
A keyboard built around individual switches for each key, rather than a membrane sheath mounted on a PCB.
A keyboard on which all the keycaps are mounted on a membrane sheath; when a key is pressed, a rubber dome depresses and pushes against the sheath and PCB beneath, actuating the key.
The component of a switch on which the keycaps are mounted on a mechanical keyboard.
The physical component of a mechanical keyboard beneath the keycaps on a mechanical keyboard. The switch determines how a key is actuated, whether or not it provides audible or tactile feedback with each press, and more.
A switch that provides a ‘bump’ of feedback every time it’s pushed.
A keyboard that lacks the right hand number pad.