A keyboard might not seem like it would be that important of a component to a gaming PC system, but alongside your graphics cards and RAM and monitor you should be paying some attention to the keys. Whether you're into firing out a dozen spells in quick succession in an MMORPG or a no-scope sniper in your favorite FPS, finding a decent keyboard is arguably a vital endeavor.
Wait, what's a mechanical keyboard?
So, why a mechanical keyboard? What's all the fuss about and are they worth paying out more than more affordable membrane keyboards? Absolutely. Mechanical keyboards sport individual switches under each key, which improves performance and enhances tactile and audio feedback with each key press. It has also been found that mechanical keyboards last longer than membrane counterparts, which is always a positive.
You can feel confident when using a mechanical keyboard that each key stroke is registered.
As for membrane keyboards, instead of using more expensive individual switches for registering key presses, they typically utilize strips of plastic that don't offer the same level of feedback and simply cannot feel as solid as mechanical switches. That said, when looking at mechanical keyboards, you'll need to take into account the different switches available, as well as models offered by the various peripheral manufactures.
The most popular brand of switches are Cherry MX, and even these come in different flavors (actuation forces — how much force is required for a key stroke to register — are shown in parenthesis). We've listed available Cherry MX switches below, though it's mainly down to personal preference. There's really no right or wrong choice.
- Cherry MX Black - If you're not a fan of loud click noises and tactile feedback, the Black switches are for you. Easier to tap keys multiple times. (60cN)
- Cherry MX Blue - Popular with typists due to the audible feedback, accompanied by the tactile "bump" when pressing down on a key. (60cN)
- Cherry MX Brown - The middleground in the Cherry MX range. Quieter than the Blue switch, but retains soft tactile feedback. (55cN)
- Cherry MX Red - Similar to Black switches, these offer less resistance and are favored by gamers due to them requiring less force to actuate. (45cN)
If you're moving up from a membrane keyboard (if you're not sure what kind of keyboard you have, then it's probably membrane), the selection of mechanical keyboards available to you will be a vast improvement. There are a lot of choices, so we've rounded up some of the best mechanical keyboards worth your consideration. Of course, if you want to get really serious about your next keyboard investment, you can go one step further into the realm of custom-tuned keyboard setups. But for the rest of us mere mortals, the mechanical keyboards from the likes of Logitech, Razer, and Apex will do just fine.
No matter how much you read online, you need to get a feel for the switches available. We recommend that you pay a visit to your local computer stores to test out some of the available switch types and see which you prefer. But here are some of our favorites that you should definitely consider adding to your peripheral arsenal.
Razer BlackWidow Chroma
If you know anything of PC gaming, you know the Razer name and might have expected to see a Razer keyboard on this list. The entire BlackWidow series of mechanical keyboards is a popular choice among gamers due to reliability, durability, included features and accompanying software.
While the Razer BlackWidow Chroma uses Razer's own switches (manufactured by China-based Kaihua), it's a solid experience for those looking to leave membrane behind. And if you absolutely must have Cherry MX, there's always the BlackWidow Ultimate that comes with Blue switches.
As for features, you have Chroma lighting effects, five macro keys on the far left, USB and audio pass-through, anti-ghosting to enable you to go wild with key strokes, and a braided fiber cable. You then have the Razer Synapse app to customize everything from the repeat interval to the multi-color lighting (it's a lot, so we have a handy guide on setting up the BlackWidow Chroma. That's not bad considering you're looking at spending around $135 on the keyboard itself.
Razer also makes a variant called the BlackWidow X Chroma that features a unique visual design but loses a few of the BlackWidow Chroma's extra features. Check out our review for a comparison.
The Logitech G810 is yet another keyboard for those who would rather focus on the game, rather than flashy LED screens and other miscellaneous additions. Logitech's custom Romer-G switches in the G810 are similar to the new Cherry MX Speed used by the Corsair K70 RGB.
Much like other options in our collection here, the Logitech G810 features RGB lighting that can take advantage of a spectrum of 16.8 million colors. Whatever you may be using inside your desktop case, this keyboard will be able to pair up and reflect more visual magic into the room.
Corsair K70 RGB
Corsair's new K70 RGB mechanical keyboard is for those who require the fastest experience. Sporting the newest Cherry MX Speed switch (it's all in the name!), the keys on the K70 are super-responsive and require only small amounts of movement for them to press down and register input. In fact, the switches themselves actuate at just 1.2mm of travel.
However, this high level of sensitivity isn't for everyone, and wouldn't be recommended for typing up that new e-Book you're working on. For gamers, these excitable keys allow for speedy reflexes in-game, which is ideal if you're in a first-person shooter and need to be on point for your team mates. As an added bonus there's full RGB lighting.
If all that weren't enough already, Corsair has included USB pass-through and there's also a detachable soft-touch wrist rest to aid you with those long sessions.
SteelSeries Apex M800
SteelSeries' Apex M800 sports the company's own mechanical QS1 switches, manufactured by Kaihua (same as Razer), and offers a quick keyboard with fast registering keystrokes. The low profile design packs more keys into a smaller area help optimize ergonomics and prevent finger fatigue. And of course, there's anti-ghosting to register those rage quit moments.
The M800 by SteelSeries has its own dedicated set of six macro keys on the far left, which can be programmed to do a multitude of functions. The SteelSeries even added tactile bumps to the W key so you can quickly return to optimal finger positioning without having to look down at the peripheral.
The second Corsair mechanical keyboard to make our list is the Strafe, available with Blue, Brown and Red Cherry MX switches. Sporting USB pass-through for attaching your mouse and free up a port on your PC, this particular keyboard packs a punch for the price.
Corsair has also thought about the different titles owners of this keyboard will enjoy by including textured and contoured keycaps for FPS and MOBA setups. Throw in the included anti-ghosting functionality and it's quite the keyboard for both typists and gamers — especially at its competitive price of just $99.99. See our full review for more details.
Your favorite didn't make our list? Let us know which mechanical keyboard is your trust companion in the comments!