For some PC gamers, having the right keyboard attached to your computer can be almost as important as the hardware inside it. However, for the uninitiated, it can be hard to see what all the fuss is about. Is there really any difference between fancy gaming keyboards and a basic £10 keyboard from Microsoft or Logitech?
Don't worry; here, we explain the different features you should consider when on the market for a gaming keyboard, along with a selection of the best gaming keyboards available in 2021.
While you're at it you should probably check out the best gaming mice to go with your fancy new keyboard, and our pick of the best regular keyboards in case you realise you don't need all the fancy gaming-specific features after all.
Best gaming keyboards 2021
1. Logitech G915
The Logitech G915 is the first 9-series keyboard from the company in quite some time, and the wait has been worth it. The G915 is a stunningly thin low-profile gaming keyboard –22mm thick, to be precise – without compromising on the experience and performance that gamers want from a mechanical keyboard.
The body is comprised of a 5052 aluminium alloy top case and a steel-reinforced base to provide a keyboard that is robust, durable, strong and weighty – you don’t want your keyboard skating around your desk during intense in-game moments, do you? And, of course, it wouldn’t be a gaming keyboard without full Lightsync RGB backlighting customisable via the company’s G Hub software.
There’s more to the G915 than the look though; it’s the first Logitech keyboard to feature low-profile CHOC GL switches, measuring in at half the height of standard mechanical keys. The low-profile keys make typing and gaming with the keyboard a more comfortable experience when compared to standard mechanical keyboards, and you’ve got three variants of switch to choose from: GL Clicky, GL Tactile and GL Linear. The Clicky variant provides the audible and tactile feedback that most gamers want from a mechanical keyboard, and simply put, the typing experience is a dream.
Alongside the mechanical keys, you’ll find soft-touch profile switch and media control buttons and a gorgeous ridged metallic volume wheel. Our only complaint is that the function of the wheel can’t currently be customised via G Hub, although we hope that changes in the future. There are five macro keys for you to customise, though!
The G915 is also wireless, boasting Logitech’s proprietary Lightspeed wireless tech that provides 1ms response times, translating to lightning-fast response times during those crucial gaming moments. The keyboard also features standard Bluetooth support, allowing you to connect to a secondary device and switch between the two with the press of a button – ideal for streamers that have separate capture and gaming PCs.
Of course, with all those shiny RGB lights, you might worry about battery life – but you shouldn’t. The G915 lasts 30 hours with RGB backlighting enabled, which isn’t bad, but if you disable it, it jumps up to a whopping 1100 hours. The battery charges from 0-100 in three hours on average, and it can be used while it’s charging too.
If the idea of charging the keyboard is off-putting, we’d recommend the Logitech G815. It boasts the same design and features as the G915 but it’s wired-only (and a bit cheaper too, at £169.99/$199.99).
2. Razer Huntsman
The Razer Huntsman is amongst the company’s most popular gaming keyboards, and it’s not hard to see why. As well as looking the part, the Huntsman boasts Razer’s unique switches that provide an unrivalled typing experience.
The Opto-Mechanical switches used in the Huntsman feature optical light sensors inside each key, and whenever a key is pressed, a path is cleared for the receiver to be activated by the light signal. It sounds very complicated, but the end result is near-instantaneous response times when typing and gaming.
Razer also claims that the optical actuation provides improved durability, with the opto-mechanical switches lasting around 100m keystokes compared to the average 50m on offer by standard physical mechanical switches.
The performance of the keyboard is impressive, offering great travel, no noticeable resistance and that signature mechanical keyboard click. In fact, we’d argue that the Huntsman is amongst the loudest gaming keyboards we’ve ever used, and while we love it, those that work and play around you might not…
That’s further enhanced by stabiliser bars on top of each switch, which help keep keycap motion level and consistent no matter where the keycap is pressed. Thanks to the on-board anti-ghosting tech, the keyboard can register an impressive 10 simultaneous keypresses, perfect for those high-intensity gaming moments.
Though there are no dedicated macro keys on the Huntsman, the keyboard does feature Razer Hypershift, a feature that provides a secondary set of (customisable) functions on top of the existing function buttons with a simple button press. Those functions, along with the per-key RGB lighting on offer, can be customised via Razer Synapse for PC.
Keys aside, the Razer Huntsman is a gorgeous-looking gaming keyboard that wouldn’t look out of place in an office – and that’s not something you can say about many of the keyboards in our roundup. The lifted keys and gentle glow of the RGB lighting give the Huntsman a premium look, further enhanced by the solid aluminium matte top plate. It’s also available in not one but three colour options to match your setup: Classic Black, Quartz Pink and Mercury White.
3. SteelSeries Apex Pro
This flagship gaming keyboard from SteelSeries is more than just a looker, and it has one killer feature that is (so far) pretty unique: adjustable actuation.
The custom OmniPoint mechanical switches can be adjusted to any actuation point between 0.4mm and 3.6mm. In layman's terms, that means it can register your keypress from the slightest of nudges through to a full depression down to the board, making the keyboard as fast or slow as you like.
Naturally you can set multiple profiles, and even adjust actuation per-key, meaning you can set one comfortable level for typing and another for gaming, or even custom gaming profiles per key - with a slow actuation for special attacks you don't want to risk wasting but a faster response on your movement keys, for example.
It's a phenomenal trick, but it's not all the Apex Pro has going for it. There's RGB lighting (also per-key), a magnetic wrist rest, USB passthrough power, and 3-way cable routing underneath the board.
This also features the mini OLED display seen on previous SteelSeries keyboards, used in conjunction with a clickable metal roller and an extra button to switch profiles or adjust actuation or illumination on the fly. It can also display a small image whenever you want - the SteelSeries logo by default, or your own custom image if you prefer.
There's one big caveat to the Apex Pro, which is that not every key uses the OmniPoint switches. The main portion of the keyboard does, but the Fn, arrow, and NumPad keys don't have the adjustable actuation - so bear that in mind in case any of those are in regular rotation for you.
It's also not cheap at £199/$199 - though you can save a little by opting for the tenkeyless option - but this is about as sturdy and full-featured a keyboard as you're going to find, so we'd say it'll be worth the cost for some.
4. Fnatic Streak RGB
The Fnatic Steak is a mechanical gaming keyboard that's right up there with the best of them. If you're coming from a bog-standard membrane keyboard (think bundled versions of the cheap Microsoft and Logitech keyboards) then you might have to spend a short while adapting to the slightly stepped rows of keys but they are a joy to use.
With the Streak you have a few options, mainly the type of Cherry MX key: Brown, Blue, Red and Silent Red. If you don't need RGB lighting, then you can save a good chunk of cash by opting for the Rush model which has red backlighting and lacks a few of the extra keys you get on the Streak.
Above the numberpad, you'll find three extra buttons - mic mute, competition mode and speaker mute - plus a metal volume control. Press the competition button and the backlighting switches to a constant orange glow at 25 percent brightness, plus the Windows key is disabled. This minimises distractions and ensures you don't accidentally bring up the Start menu when playing a game.
On the rear is an illluminated Fnatic logo but this is on a removable plate: Fnatic says you'll be able to order a custom aluminium plate with your gamertag on it. Obviously this isn't going to be seen unless you play at LAN parties so may well be a moot point for many.
Possibly more useful is the USB port to which you can connect and charge your phone. It isn't a USB 3 port, though, so isn't really for transferring large files to and from memory sticks or hard drives.
By default, the F keys do their usual jobs, but press the padlock button or hold the FN key and they take on other jobs including changing the keyboard lighting and brightness, media playback (when the app is in focus) and there's even a Task View button to switch between apps.
Again, likely to be more useful are the six customisable F keys, F1-F6. You can program what these do in the Fnatic OP software, such as macros, opening apps, opening files and remapping them to other keys. OP also lets you choose the lighting effects, including pulse, fade, gradient, rain and reactive, where keys light up when you press them.
The per-key lighting is excellent and you can customise the exact brightness you want and also the colour you want in competition mode. You can also disable any other keys you like. Overall the software is easy to use. It's just a shame there's no integration with other RGB systems from Asus, MSI, Corsair and others, so your keyboard won't automatically match the colours in your PC.
If there's a slight niggle it's the palm rest. It's far from bad, but it can be a little tricky to reconnect it with the keyboard when it becomes detached. At least the faux-leather padded top is removable and can be placed in three different positions to suit those who prefer it closer or further away from the keyboard.
It isn't the cheapest, but the Fnatic Streak is a great gaming keyboard.
5. Qpad MK-95
Like the flagship SteelSeries Apex Pro, Qpad's MK-95 offers a way to tweak the feel of the high-end mechanical keyboard, but it does so in a slightly different way. Rather than offering adjustable actuation, the MK-95 features a switch in the top-right that, with a flip, changes from a tactile mechanical keyboard to a linear one.
Utilising an optical switch like other high-end keyboards from the likes of Razer and SteelSeries, the tactile feel is much like you'd expect. It's clicky, the actuation is great and it feels responsive while the linear click is rather muted - unless you're typing quickly, in which case it's just as loud as when in the mechanical mode - and there's a softness to the keypress when compared to the tactile option.
The tactile vs linear choice is largely down to personal preference, and we must admit that we've used both types when gaming and haven't really found any issues with either.
When switching from mechanical to linear, you'll see a full-body animation that emanates from the dial, with the colour representing the type of key in use - blue for mechanical, red for linear. That's possible in part thanks to the inclusion of per-key LED lighting, which is brighter than previous Qpad entries due to the placement of the LED - it's now directly under the keycap, keeping the keys free of dark spots.
Of course, it goes without saying that you can customise the LED setup in any way that you desire, and there are a handful of built-in lighting profiles that you can switch between without having to boot up Qpad's software.
Fancy features aside, the MK-95 is a solidly-built gaming keyboard with a durable aluminium frame, although the use of plastic for the dial is slightly disappointing - especially at such a high price point. You'll also get a soft-touch palm rest that snaps into place using magnets, but it's easily removed if that's not your kind of thing.
It's not that cheap, but if you're on the market for a keyboard with both tactile and linear keys, this is one of the only options you've got.
6. Hexgears Venture
The Hexgears Venture is one of the least gaming-y gaming keyboards in this chart, but don't hold that against it: this is a phenomenal mechanical keyboard with per-key RGB lighting - it's just one that also wouldn't look out of place in an office.
The most unique feature here is that it uses low-profile Kailh Choc mechanical switches, which give a typing profile closer to a laptop than a classic mechanical board. That means the Venture is compact, comfortable if you're used to a laptop or membrane keyboard, and is lightning fast to type (or game) on.
You get a choice of three key switches: brown, red, or white. Our review unit uses the white switches, which are the clickiest and clackiest of the lot. If you fancy something quieter consider the brown, but for gaming you're really best off with the red, which use a linear switch for consistent response.
Beyond simply being a mechanical board, the main 'gaming' feature is the lighting. There's not only per-key RGB lighting, but also an RBG light ring that runs around the underside of the keyboard's edge. The two sets of lighting are controlled separately - so you can have them synchronised or clashing - though they're only controllable from the on-board controls, with no current software option to customise things.
The Venture is also missing out on gaming luxuries like extra programmable keys, and that's in part because it's designed to appeal beyond the gaming market. The slimline, minimalist aesthetic makes this just as appropriate to an office as a gaming rig, so it's the perfect keyboard for anyone who needs to game and work from the same machine.
There's Bluetooth support if you want to use the Venture wirelessly, with hot-switching between up to four connections. Battery life varies though - you'll get a few weeks of use without the lighting, or just 16 hours of active time if you stick the RGBs on. Still, for gaming you might prefer to use it wired anyway, and Hexgears includes a braided USB-C cable for charging the rechargeable AA batteries or just using the whole thing wired.
The Venture won't be the right keyboard for you if you want a comprehensive set of macro keys and extra features - there isn't even a palm rest. But if you just want a mechanical keyboard with RGB lights, the option to run it wirelessly, and a design that you wouldn't be embarrassed to show your mum, the Venture is very hard to beat.
7. Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E 4
Following a strong re-entry into the PC peripheral market in 2018, Mad Catz has continued to release high-quality gaming accessories, and the latest is the S.T.R.I.K.E 4. The elegantly simple mechanical keyboard boasts the typical Mad Catz aestethic, complete with Mad Catz detailing along the bottom of the matte-black keyboard, but with enhanced features that should improve your game performance.
The highlight of the keyboard are the keys themselves; they’re matte, just like the body of the keyboard, giving them a nice feel, further enhanced by the concave design of the keys. Beneath the keys, you’ll find Cherry Mechanical switches that provide great travel, but we must admit, it’s not the ‘clickiest’ mechanical keyboard we’ve used. It almost feels like a membrane/mechanical hybrid, but with the performance of a standard mechanical keyboard.
You’ll also find anti-ghosting tech on-board that helps log and process every single keypress, but that’s fairly standard in gaming keyboards at this price point.
Beneath the keys, you’ll notice what the company calls Chameleon RGB Lighting. That’s standard RGB lighting to everybody else, with the S.T.R.I.K.E 4 offering per-key lighting along with 18 preset LED effects that’ll jazz up your PC gaming setup. The lights are fairly muted compared to other gaming keyboards on the market, and while that may sound like a drawback, we see it as a plus – how many times have you been distracted when gaming by the bright pulsating lights on your keyboard when gaming? Exactly.
That can be further enhanced via the F.L.U.X companion app for PC, which allows you to customise not only the lighting setup on a per-game and per-key basis, but allows you to remap keys and create macros to get the upper-hand on your opponents in the heat of battle. The only real drawback is that the S.T.R.I.K.E 4 doesn’t offer dedicated macro keys, although you could repurpose one of the many media/function keys available.
Whether you want a gaming keyboard for the lighting or the performance, the Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E 4 is a great option.
8. Roccat Vulcan 120 Aimo
If you’re looking for something a little more premium than Roccat’s Horde Aimo, then look no further than the Vulcan 120 Aimo. It’s the premium model in Roccat’s latest keyboard range, complete with a premium design that would work well at home or in the office and features we’d love to see introduced on other gaming keyboards.
The Vulcan 120 Aimo features an anodised aluminium top plate that is robust and fingerprint resistant, helping to keep the keyboard looking slick during long gaming sessions. This is paired with raised keys, giving the keyboard a unique design while also making it much easier to clean the bits of dust and food that tend to build up beneath them. That’s not the most impressive feature of the keyboard, though.
The shining feature of the Vulcan 120 Aimo is the Titan Switch Tactile, a new switch exclusively developed by Roccat for use in its keyboards. The switch provides quicker response times – up to 20 percent faster according to Roccat – without having to apply much pressure on the key, and it’s noticeable in use when both gaming and typing in general.
The switch is housed in a transparent cover that allows the backlit LED lighting to shine through brightly, as well as provide a glimpse at Roccat’s engineering prowess. While the lighting on Roccat’s Horde Aimo left a lot to be desired, the lighting on the Vulcan 120 Aimo is much more vivid and responsive.
The keyboard boasts several built-in lighting modes, all adjustable via the dedicated FX button and the dial in the top-right of the keyboard. The dial has several uses, from adjusting volume to tweaking the colour pattern on the keyboard, and can be customised for other uses via the Roccat software for PC.
Our one complaint? At almost £150, we’d have liked to have seen the inclusion of dedicated macro keys for more advanced gamers.
9. Asus ROG Claymore
There's a lot to love about the Claymore, the latest addition to Asus's Republic of Gamers line, which boasts RGB lighting, Cherry MX RGB switches, and a detachable numpad - you've just got to get past the price first.
And at £199.99, that price is a bit of a sticking point, making the Claymore the most expensive keyboard in our round-up. You can save £50 and grab the Claymore Core, which doesn't include the numpad, but then you miss out on one of the keyboard's coolest features. You see, not only can you detach the numpad for a more compact keyboard, but you can also attach it to either side of the main board. That means you could have it numpad-less for travel, attach the numpad to the right side for work, or stick it on the left for quicker access to macros and the like during games.
That's not the only trick that the Claymore has up its sleeve though. As you'd expect for the price, it features RGB lighting with a variety of different effects, customisable down to every single key. More impressively, the Aura Sync feature means that you can synchronise the lighting effects with your other Asus peripherals. That doesn't just mean your mouse though - you can also sync it to a compatible motherboard or graphics card, and even link the lighting effects to your CPU temperature for constant visual feedback, or control fan speed directly from the keyboard. It's worth mentioning that we didn't have a compatible board to test out the Aura Sync features though, so we can't confirm how well they work.
Getting beyond the gimmicks, the Claymore is a very solid keyboard, for gaming or otherwise. The metal body feels solid and sturdy, and the minimalist black finish looks great, with a subtle 'Mayan' effect engraved into the body. The numpad does feel a little loose when it's connected, which slightly detracts from the build quality, but as long as you don't plan to move the keyboard around too much you'll be fine.
The Claymore is equipped with Cherry MX RGB switches, and is available in Red, Blue, Brown, or Black, so it really covers every base. The key spacing is comfortable, despite the keyboard's compact size, so it won't take most users long to get used to it. In the interests of compactness, there aren't any dedicated macro keys either. The biggest downside, especially given the price, is that there's no wrist rest included, so bear that in mind if you struggle without one.
The ROG Claymore may be pricey at £200, but for anyone already in the market for a premium gaming keyboard, this might just be versatile enough to justify the price. Between the selection of four types of Cherry switches, and the variable numpad positions, there's some configuration of the Claymore that will be ideal whatever your needs. It also comes with two velvet travel pouches (one for the numpad), making it easy for tournament travel too.
10. Aukey LED-Backlit 105-Key Mechanical Keyboard
A much more affordable option comes from Aukey with this basic LED-backlit keyboard. Its low price makes it an attractive option for those on a budget who wish to use a mechanical keyboard, and the quality might surprise you. UK (105-key) and US (104-key) layouts are available.
The keyboard is reassuringly sturdy, with a part-plastic, part-metal build contributing to its 1.2kg weight. There's a 1.5m USB cable for connecting it to your computer, plus foldable, height-adjustable rubber feet to position it perfectly on the desk. The Aukey is spill-proof but not fully waterproof, and comes with a long two-year warranty.
It combines well-spaced Outemo Blue switches with rigid ABS keycaps and double-shot molded legends. Said to endure 50 million keystrokes, these are mostly clicky and responsive, with around 4mm of travel, but they are no match for Cherry MX Blue switches.
Across the board the sound and feel is largely inconsistent - the space bar, for example, offers a soft thud, while the number keys are satisfyingly crisp. On the UK model the Enter and Shift keys are also rather spongey, while other keys have more of a spring to their step. Typing on this keyboard is unsurprisingly loud, making it ill-suited to office use.
Aukey also specifies full N-key rollover, which is impressive at this price, as well as a six-colour (not RGB) backlight. The latter supports nine preset lighting modes, with a couple of custom options, but the keyboard is otherwise non-customisable.
What to consider when buying a gaming keyboard
Not all gaming keyboards are born equal, and there are features that you should look out for when on the hunt for a new one.
Membrane vs mechanical
One of the principal differences is the keys themselves, and whether the keyboard is mechanical or membrane-based. Membrane keyboards use a layer of conductive plastic underneath the keys which forms an electrical contact when pressed. Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, use physical switches underneath each key, which are actuated when pressed.
Mechanical keyboards are generally said to be more crisp and responsive and keyboards using the high-quality Cherry MX mechanical switches are a firm favourite of PC gamers, allowing for faster, more precise keystrokes.
The principal downside of mechanical keyboards is that they're more expensive and bulky, versus more streamlined membrane models. There are also a variety of mechanical switches, such as the Gateron, Kailh, Romer-G and QS1 switches others in the market today - however, the Cherry MX switches are still the most popular switches out there.
Of course, how a keyboard feels is only part of its appeal; you want it to look good as well. Many gaming keyboards now come equipped with backlighting, allowing you to see what you're typing even in the dark, as well as often enabling you to program specific colours or patterns for aesthetic appeal.
There are two types to look out for; per-key and zones. The former allows you to customise the colour for each key, and usually comes with a range of stunning RGB effects and can be used to highlight specific keys when gaming, while the latter only lets you customise lighting on a per-zone basis.
Layout and macro keys
Layout is also an important aspect of gaming keyboards. Many games rely on lightning-fast reflexes, and a split-second can mean the difference between glorious success and humiliating, abject failure. For this reason, gaming keyboard layouts are optimised for maximum efficiency, with ergonomic layouts, programmable keys and numerous shortcuts meaning that everything you need is always right where you need it.
Part of this is macro keys: programmable buttons to which you can assign long, complicated strings of keystrokes. This enables you to execute complex commands and manoeuvres with a single button press, saving time and effort and letting you focus on your gaming strategy. You can even create multiple profiles with separate macros, allowing you to tailor your macro sets to specific games.
Many additional factors can influence a gaming keyboard's appeal - the design and build quality, the convenience of its configuration software, additional multimedia keys and so on. You may find that if you're only an occasional gamer, you're perfectly happy with the most basic of peripherals. But for those of us that consider gaming a serious hobby, upgrading to a dedicated keyboard will change the way you play.