If you’re a gamer, you take your choice of keyboard seriously. When your keyboard doubles as your game controller, it’s more than just a tool for typing. It is to you what the katana is to a samurai (or cyborg ninja): an extension of yourself, your interface with the digital world. If you care about PC gaming, it pays to know what makes a keyboard great, what differentiates one from another, and what’s on the market today. We’ve rounded up the 10 best keyboards you can buy, along with a brief guide to help you find the keyboard that’s right for you.
Switching It Up
Most gaming keyboards use mechanical switches, which pair each key to its own spring-loaded switch. They are designed to provide superior audio and tactile feedback. The majority of these switches use mechanisms from Cherry MX, and are identified by color (Black, Brown, Blue, Red), each with a slightly different design, tweaked to provide a specific feel while typing. Which switch you want depends on what types of games you play, and what else you do with your computer. Cherry MX Black switches have the highest activation force, which makes them ideal for games in which you don’t want to have to worry about accidentally hitting a key twice. This, though, can give them a stiff feel that’s not well suited for games that require nimbler response, so for those types of titles you may prefer Cherry MX Red switches. But because both of these switch types lack tactile feedback, there’s a compromise candidate in Cherry MX Brown switches: They have the same actuation force as the Red variety, but add the tactile bump to aid with typing. If you need a keyboard that can switch back and forth between hard-core gaming and traditional work tasks, this is the kind to look for.
Occasionally, you will still find gaming keyboards that utilize silicone dome switches, which form little domes in a silicone membrane, using the rubbery material as the switch. The result feels mushy and requires a full press with each keystroke, slowing down the speed at which commands can be entered. A slight variation on this is the scissor switch, which still uses a silicone membrane and dome switches, but has a slimmer profile and adds a stabilizing scissor mechanism beneath each key. Scissor switches are most often used on laptops, but a few low-profile keyboards can still be found for desktops and gaming.
Trick It Out
Features that would be unimportant on a regular keyboard take on new significance when adapted to gaming. Backlighting, for example, is not merely a way to illuminate keys in a dark room; newer twists on the old backlight include adjustable color, and multiple lighting zones with separate backlight for arrow and WASD keys, highlighting the most frequently used control keys.
Another customizable feature is the swappable keycap. Because mechanical switches are distinctly separate from the keycap itself, sometimes the keys can be removed and swapped out for others that feature molded sculpting, texturing for better tactile control, or differently colored plastic. Some keyboards only offer swappable WASD keys, while others also include number keys that can be switched out.
A gaming keyboard may have more to offer than exceptionally well-made keys, adding features like macro command customization and dedicated macro keys. Some go so far as to include entirely new features, such as statistic tracking, text and audio communication, and touchscreen displays. And not all keyboards are made for typing—specialized gaming keypads put a selection of 10 to 20 programmable keys right beneath your fingertips, combining the same customization and ergonomic designs seen in gaming mice and applying them to keyboard-bound game functions.
Also be sure to check out our overall favorite keyboards and mechanical keyboards. If you’re looking to fully deck out a gaming system, you’ll also want to read about our top-rated gaming mice, monitors, and headsets. And if you’re in the market for a whole new system, don’t miss our stories about the best gaming desktops and laptops.