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?
In a word, yes. Different keyboards have different features, of course, but all gaming keyboards come with a battery of extra options and features and have the potential to improve your gaming experience dramatically.
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 their more expensive and bulky nature versus 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 your typing even in the dark, as well as often enabling you to program specific colours or patterns for aesthetic appeal.
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 they way you play.
1. Razer Ornata Chroma
Razer is well known in the gaming world for its peripherals, and a Razer keyboard is the first choice for many. We previously had the BlackWidow Chroma in this list but we've replaced it with possibly the most comfortable keyboard in our roundup, the Ornata Chroma – a hybrid mechanical membrane gaming keyboard.
A key feature of the Chroma is Razer's all-new hybrid Mecha-Membrane provides gamers with the soft cushioned feeling of a membrane dome with the tactile click of a mechanical keyboard and the result is nothing short of amazing. Combined with a mid-height keycap that reduces the time taken to register keypresses, our fingers fly across the keyboard with ease and never miss-click. After trying out Razer’s Mecha-Membrane, it’ll be tough for us to go back to a standard mechanical keyboard – and that’s saying something.
However, it’s not just the Mecha-Membrane that provides the comfort, as the Ornata Chroma also comes with an ergonomic soft leather wrist rest. This means that you don’t need to hover your hands above the keyboard, or rest your wrists on the desk and stretch to reach keys just out of reach. The wrist rest means that your hands are always correctly positioned to reach all keys on the keyboard in a split second without getting tired, ideal for hardcore PC gamers that game for hours on end.
As the name suggests, the Ornata Chroma supports 16.8 million customisable colour options so you can basically do whatever you want with it. You can simply set it to a single colour to match the colour scheme in the room but also much more advanced things, like assigning specific colours to particular keys on the keyboard to help you locate it at a glance when gaming, or add cool ripple light effects.
Pretty lights aside, the Ornata Chroma comes with other features that’ll improve your gaming experience, including a gaming mode that’ll stop you quitting to your desktop by disabling the Windows key, and can also be expanded to Alt+Tab and Alt+F4. The only real omission from the keyboard? A lack of programmable keys, although you can customise macros via Razer Synapse for use within certain games.
2. G.Skill RipJaws KM780 RGB Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
The G.Skill Ripjaws KM780 RGB is a fully customisable RGB mechanical keyboard that has RGB Cherry MX switches.
The reason we chose the KM780 in our round up, is due to its versatility. The keyboard is available in the Cherry MX Brown (tactile), MX Red (soft) and MX Blue (clicky) variants and, if you’re not a fan of the RGB colours, you can save yourself some money and buy the non-RGB variant. This give you plenty of options to choose from and better still, the keyboard is well-priced at £150 given its features.
No matter which Cherry MX key switch you opt for, the German brand behind the switches guarantees 50 million keystrokes and alongside the RGB lightning provides 16.8 million colours to choose from!
The KM780 also features NKRO and anti-ghosting, meaning you can press and hold as many keys as you like, as they'll all be registered.
The KM780's package contents is impressive. Inside the box you'll find a wrist rest, an additional 10 gaming keycaps (which are red in colour and have a texture on them) and a key puller that comes in very handy when you want to clean your keyboard.
The software itself works flawlessly and allows you to fully customise the keyboard with custom macros and keystrokes - this will allow you to open programs, give you an edge in games and even be used to play/pause your music.
If you're looking to control your music, the KM780 has dedicated media keys on the right-hand side, a live volume LED slider, three programmable profiles and six dedicated macro keys. The keyboard doesn't stop there, it has an additional USB port and headphone/mic jacks so that you can plug your flash drive or headset directly into the keyboard, rather than at the back of your PC - a nifty feature!
From top to bottom the KM780 keyboard is a fantastic all-in-one ultimate keyboard and we would recommend it, as long as your pockets are deep enough
3. Logitech G613
Even as consumer tech moves increasingly towards removing wires wherever they can be found, gaming gear is still stubbornly plugged in for the most part, as competitive players value ultra-low latencies over the convenience of wireless tech.
Luckily, wireless transfer speeds are improving constantly, and Logitech reckons they're finally good enough to match a good old USB cable, so the G613 doesn't have a wire in sight.
It's powered by the company's Lightspeed wireless tech, which it says delivers a 1ms report rate, which is pretty bloody fast. We can't say if it gets down to 1ms, but we can confirm that the G613 is incredibly responsive - we never noticed any lag or latency while using it - even pro players might be tempted to cut the cord.
The G613 also boasts Bluetooth support so you can pair it with other devices, and lets you switch between Lightspeed and Bluetooth at the press of a button, so that you could use it as your main computer keyboard but switch to typing up a text message on your phone and straight back again. In a nice touch, it even comes with a little phone/tablet stand so that you can prop your smart device of choice up next to your main monitor.
This is a mechanical keyboard, with short-throw Romer-G switches. They're a little quieter than your average mechanical keys, but still have a fair clatter to them. The 1.5mm actuation means they're very responsive, but at times it feels like there's almost a slight mushiness to the bottom of the keystroke. They're not bad by any means, but there are better out there.
The G613 is also heavy. Like, so heavy - it weighs almost a kilo and a half. For most people, that won't matter at all, but if you expect to travel with your keyboard, it's worth bearing in mind.
Otherwise, you get six programmable function keys along the left side, along with extra music and volume controls. Logitech claims an 18-month battery life from the included pair of AA batteries, but that is at one cost - unlike most other gaming keyboards around this price, there's no backlighting at all.
4. 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.
5. SteelSeries Apex M750
The Apex M750 is the latest tournament-grade mechanical keyboard from SteelSeries, offering eSports-grade performance and a gorgeous design. It's ideal for those that want to get into the world of eSports, or those that simply enjoy the feel of a good mechanical keyboard beneath their fingers.
The SteelSeries Apex M750 features the sleek and minimalistic design famous across the SteelSeries keyboard range, boasting improved durability and a lighter body than previous keyboards. Why? The M750 is crafted from 5000 Series aluminium alloy, a similar alloy to that used in Apple's iPhone 7, famed for being robust without adding any weight.
There's a step-up in the LED department when compared to older SteelSeries keyboards like the M500, as the M750 boasts dynamic per-key RGB lighting. It boasts a number of LED profiles, from those that react when keys are pressed to something a little more impressive: GameSense.
GameSense integration provides game-specific LED animations based on in-game events like low health or grenade explosions, although it's limited to only three games at the moment.
And, of course, you can customise the LED patterns/colours via SteelSeries Engine for PC and Mac.
So, what makes this keyboard so great apart from cool LED effects? It’s mainly down to the keys. More specifically, the SteelSeries Apex M750 features QX2 Mechanical Switches for better performance and added durability, providing an average of 50 million clicks before issues arise.
For those that aren’t aware, low force and actuation point enables faster and more responsive gameplay, and is a standard candidate in any high-quality gaming keyboard. The M750 offers an impressive 45cN force and a 2mm actuation point, providing instant response for the competitive gamers out there.
We love gaming and generally typing using the Apex M750 – the response time is minimal and it’s extremely comfortable to use over long periods of time. The only downside? There aren't any programmable macro keys, a possible downside for those that rely on macro commands when gaming.
6. Fnatic Rush G1 Silent
The Fnatic gear range has so far emphasised an attractive, minimalist aesthetic, and the Rush G1 Silent is no different. The simple, soft-touch black finish and compact size make this the sort of understated choice that could fit in just as well in an office or an eSports tournament, and we're big fans of the look.
There's backlighting across every key, though it's strictly limited to red, and you don't get much customisation beyond a few intensity settings and the option to set the light to pulse. To be fair, not many keyboards at this price offer the full range of RGB lighting, though we might have preferred if they'd opted for Fnatic's trademark yellow rather than red - it would have made the Rush stand out a bit more, and make it better complement the rest of Fnatic's range.
As for the keys themselves, the Rush G1 Silent is packing Cherry Reds, but as you might have guessed, they're the silent variety. That means you get most of the responsive control and satisfying feel of the best mechanical switches, but without the constant clatter. How much that matters to you will depend on whether you use the keyboard with other people around or just find loud keys irritating yourself - if you're not that fussed, you can save a little money by opting for the standard Rush G1.
The on-board memory allows for up to five player profiles with custom key settings, while there's also a 'Fnatic Mode' button, which disables the Windows key and allows you to set macros to just about every key, which is sure to appeal to more competitive gamers. There are also two pass-through USB ports, so if USB access is tight you don't have to give up a port, while the keyboard itself connects with a sturdy braided cable.
The only big letdown from a design perspective is the wrist rest. While it's comfortable enough, and continues the stripped-back aesthetic, it's just too fiddly. It connects by loosely slotting into the base of the keyboard, but it's fiddly to slot in, and has a tendency to come loose every time you move the keyboard around.
Still, that's a relatively minor quibble, and for the most part we're fans of the Rush Silent. It looks great, it feels great, and we're suckers for a good silent mechanical keyboard.
7. Roccat Ryos MK Layout Mechanical
It’s painfully evident that Roccat’s strength lies in its range of mice after using the Ryos MK (part number ROC-12-602-MK). For starters, there is no backlighting, a feature now common throughout gaming peripherals. This is disappointment particularly as certain small elements of the keyboard are lit, leading us to question why the rest of it wasn’t. There is a fully illuminated version of the Ryos MK, but it's £120.
The Ryos MK is huge, largely due to the built-in wrist rest. While it’s quite ergonomically comfortable, it increases the size of an already-bulky device – you’ll need a lot of desktop space for this. The keyboard also feels oddly hollow and flimsy, a side-effect of which is that the sound of the Cherry MX black switches is amplified by the echoey body to old-school typewriter levels of clackyness. The overall build quality is average and the plastic feels fairly cheap. The lack of a braided cable also makes the price seem a tad high.
A common feature of gaming keyboards (and many others for that matter) is having multimedia controls bound to the function keys. For gaming, there's the standard set of multiple profiles and the ability to switch between them. It also has a column of five macro keys on the left of the keyboard and thumb modifiers below the spacebar, similar to the Anansi. However, the Ryos has three thumb keys rather than seven, which we feel is a more sensible amount.
Should you feel that this is insufficient, Roccat’s EasyShift[+] technology allows you to assign a second function to every key, accessed by holding down what would otherwise be the capslock button. However, with over 100 programmable keys already available, we can’t conceive of any situation that would necessitate almost doubling your keyboard’s functions.
Unfortunately, the macro and configuration interface is less comprehensive than some we’ve seen, and it’s definitely less intuitive – programming macros is something of an ordeal. It’s also separate to the Roccat mouse drivers, so if you’ve got multiple devices it’s not easy to share settings between them. We also couldn’t find any option for changing the resolution of the software, which appeared as ridiculously tiny on our monitor, forcing us to squint at the settings.
The Roccat Ryos MK is a decent keyboard, provided you don’t mind the lack of backlighting and the prospect sounding like a 1950s typist. However, there are better options out there, so unless you particularly need the option to have around 200 key bindings, look elsewhere.
8. Corsair K70 RGB Mechanical Keyboard
We’ll say this for the Corsair K70 RGB keyboard: it’s a beautiful piece of kit. Constructed from aircraft-grade brushed aluminium, it’s both reasonably light and impossibly sturdy, on top of looking absolutely fantastic. The design itself is simple and square and a little dull, but we can live with that. It also comes prepackaged with a detachable soft-touch wrist rest, which is a bonus.
It looks even better switched on, too. The chief selling point of this model is the backlighting, boasting 16.8 million colours per key and virtually limitless combinations. Corsair’s cross-device software allows you to build an endless variety of pulse, ripple and wave effects in vibrant rainbow colours, as well as colour-coding specific keys, such as movement controls in green, skill keys in blue and combat buttons in red. You can also assign timers to the lighting, such as having your spell keys change colour when they’re ready to use. The lighting interface is a initially confusing, but makes up for it with sheer unbridled flexibility, and looks absolutely breathtaking in action.
However, although macros and timers are supported within the software and can be bound to any button, the K70 RGB has no dedicated macro keys, forcing you to reassign any macros you build to an existing key. The key switches themselves are Cherry MX models, and the red versions that we used are nice and responsive. There’s not a huge amount of physical feedback and they’re pretty clacky (although not as loud as the Roccat Ryos), but whether that’s a plus or a minus is entirely down to personal taste. For the record, we’re fans.
Rather than assigning music and video controls to the function keys as most other keyboards do, Corsair has opted to give them special little buttons all their own. There’s also a special volume roller, for instant and precise audio control. It’s a small detail, but for some reason, we’re absolutely in love with it.
One thing we’re not in love with though is the two USB ports required to run the keyboard. In this case we can understand why it’s necessary, given the intensiveness of the backlighting, but it’s still a little awkward. The braided cable is also unexpectedly chunky, which is odd.
While it’s not as densely packed with hardware features as some of the other models on this list, in terms of purely aesthetic value it’s the clear winner by an absolute mile. If you desperately need macro keys it’s probably not ideal, but it’s just so damn pretty that we can’t help but recommend it.
9. HyperX Alloy
The HyperX Alloy is mechanical keyboard aimed at FPS gamers. The keyboard uses Cherry MX Blue switches, which are light when pressed and only require 50 cN of force to actuate.
The Cherry MX Blue switches make the keyboard quite loud, so if you'll be bashing keys while gaming, or want to be silently gaming, then the HyperX Alloy will be on to avoid. However, the reason this reasonably expensive keyboard makes in our round-up is due to its front-panel metal body, allowing you to bash keys on your HyperX Alloy without fearing about any keyboard flex (where the keyboard saves in from force).
Its build quality is really a stand-out feature and for the extra investment in it, over other keyboards that offer the same functionalities, the HyperX Alloy is a well-built piece of kit.
The keyboard also has red blacklit keys that can be customised through the FN+Arrow keys - no software is needed, making it easy to plug and play.
The HyperX Alloy also has a few extras which are to be admired: It features a soft carrying pouch, extra 1234 & WASD key caps, where the WASD keys also have a different texture, a key puller (useful for cleaning the keyboard) and a removable braided USB cable, which is excellent for transportation.
It should be noted that the cable is connected through a mini-USB to two USB ports - one of which is used to provide extra power to the keyboard's USB port, where you can plug in a phone directly into your keyboard to charge it.
Finally the keyboard also has media keys that can be accessed by using FN and one of the F6-122 keys. FN+F12 enables game mode, disabling the Windows key.
10. Cooler Master CM Storm Quickfire TK
When we took it out of the box, the first thing we noticed about the Cooler Master CM Storm Quickfire TK was the absolutely tiny size. The Quickfire TK was the smallest keyboard we tested by a fairly considerable margin, but it felt a bit wrong. For a while, we couldn’t put our finger on the reason, until we realized that in order to save space, Cooler Master has combined the right-hand numpad with the arrow and command keys to the left.
On paper, this seems like a great idea: a lot of those buttons are fairly redundant, and there’s a substantial amount of wasted space in that area. However, muscle memory plays a huge part in keyboard operations, both in terms of gaming and when just generally typing, and by smashing those two sections together and shortening the form factor, our muscle memory was thrown off in a pretty major way. After spending some time with it, we were able to (mostly) get used to the smaller dimensions, but it’s initially counter-intuitive and uncomfortable.
We really can’t understate how small it is, though. You’d have to struggle not to fit this onto even the smallest of desks, and it’s extremely portable. The braided cable is also detachable for even more flexibility, and connects via miniUSB enabling you to swap it out for a longer or shorter wire as needed.
Like the Excalibur, it’s incredibly basic in terms of design, opting for the basic matte-black square shape. The plastic material of the body feels a little low-quality, but the keys themselves are really quite nice, and the inbuilt steel plate gives it a fantastic rigidity, albeit at the expense of a slightly disproportionate weight. It’s unassuming, but for some reason, we found it more attractive than the similar looking Excalibur.
One feature it is unfortunately lacking in is macros. We couldn’t find any configuration software, so if you want to rebind any keys or assign any long macro combinations, you’re out of luck with this particular keyboard. This also means that there’s no lighting customization. While it is backlit, the Quickfire TK only has one colour option (depending on which switch type you opt for), with three lighting modes (including lighting the most common gaming keys) and five brightness settings. It’s also got a brace of media controls, once again assigned to the function keys. It’s not the most impressive set-up in the world, but it’s at a decent basic level.
The keys used in the Quickfire are Cherry MX switches, available in red, blue or brown. We used the red switches as also seen on the Corsair K70 RGB, and the action isn’t quite as crisp as we’d like. It’s also not quite as noisy as Corsair’s keys, but both these things are very minor quibbles. One bonus it does have is a tool for detaching the keys included in the packaging, allowing you to take them out for cleaning or maintenance.
This keyboard is perfect for gamers that have to juggle their hobby with work or education, as it won’t dominate your desktop real-estate and is uber-portable. On the other hand, the lack of modification options and macro support is a little irritating for those of us that like to tweak our settings. Overall, though, this is a great all-rounder for both fast, responsive gaming, and for acting as a typing workhorse.
11. Logitech G213 Prodigy
The Logitech G213 Prodigy is a non-mechanical fully membrane keyboard. However, unlike most membrane keyboards, it feels very much like a mechanical Cherry MX Brown switch keyboard.
As a fully membrane keyboard it does come in a little expensive at around £55 in the UK (depending on your key layout), however it does offer zonal RGB lightning - which means you cannot individually customise the colour of each key, but you will be able to display a RGB-like wave colour and light up sections of your keyboard (such as the Number Pad).
The switches have a 50g actuation force and require 4mm of travel distance in order to be registered - this makes them very good to game on, versus other rubber-dome membrane keyboards out there.
The G213 is also a very thin keyboard, which does play against it when it comes to keyboard flex (if you're a heavy typist or gamer you might prefer a more sturdy keyboard) - but it does look sleek and stylish on a modern desk.
At the top-right hand side of the keyboard, there are dedicated media keys allowing you to quickly change or stop media on your PC. There is also a game-button, which disables the Windows key - better still the F1 to F12 keys can be fully reprogrammed through Logitech's Gaming Software. You'll be able to set macros or even open up your favourite programs through the software - this means that you don't have dedicated macro keys, but have the option to set some in place of the F keys that you might not use often.
If you're not looking to spend too much money, want a mechanical-keyboard feeling with zonal RGB lightning, then the G213 is a great choice.
12. Sumvision Sonic Wave
The Sumvision Sonic Wave is a cheap, yet feature-rich membrane keyboard. Its hybrid key switches mimic a mechanical switch-feeling, making it pleasant to type and use for gaming and typing purposes.
The keyboard has RGB lighting, where you'll get good zonal illumination, but remember the keys are not individually lit so you can't fully customise the look of the keyboard. Nevertheless, the RGB lighting is a real treat at this price point (£26.99), especially with its nine LED modes at your fingertips.
The most unique mode is the music equaliser LED mode, where the keyboard reacts to sound and music. Despite needing a high volume to be receptive, the key are illuminated in a fun fashion and offer something rather unique from a keyboard.
It features 19 anti-ghosting keys, allowing you to game comfortably, without worrying about any keys not registering. There are accessible media keys, and specific program shortcuts (such as opening the calculator by pressing FN+F12).
Due to being made out of a full-plastic body, it does suffer from a little bit of keyboard flex, but this is minimal.
All things considered, the Sumvision Sonic Wave is an excellent budget gaming keyboard that offers a lot for its price tag!