A decent gaming keyboard is an essential part of any competitive player’s arsenal.
Gaming keyboards offer a variety of benefits including more reactive key switches, programmable macro keys, and mappable RGB lighting that can be used to highlight specific games’ control schemes. Advances in wireless technology also mean that you no longer have to be tied to a desk to take advantage of them.
But which should you opt for? Picking a gaming keyboard is a tricky proposition, with every company under the sun offering a variety of products at radically different price points and for various types of player. Here to help, we’ve created an in-depth buying guide to explain the differences between each type of model.
We’ve also tested all the latest keyboards to offer a comprehensive list of the best currently available in each category.
Related: Best gaming mice
Mechanical switches explained
One of the most confusing elements of a mechanical keyboard are the colour-coded Cherry switches, which you’ll find on most brands. There are a few exceptions, however – some keyboard manufacturers, such as Razer and Logitech, have their own custom mechanical switches.
Mechanical switches are very different to the switches you’ll find on cheaper keyboards. They provide much better feedback and a more satisfying action. They’re not for everybody, though, so it’s worth trying before you buy.
Related: The ultimate gaming PC build guide
Cherry manufactures six distinct types of MX keyboard switch, named after colours.
Blue and Green switches are similar. Blue switches give a tactile click the moment the button becomes activated, meaning you get instant feedback for every keystroke, which is very satisfying. Green switches are similar, but require more force than the Blue switches to activate. These are fantastic for typing but exceptionally loud – so if you’re in a shared workspace, or have thin walls, then they’re best avoided.
MX Brown switches are similar to Blues but the tactile click is far less pronounced. They’re also less noisy than their Blue and Green siblings, feeling more like a bump than a click. MX Clear have a less pronounced click than the Brown switches, and require less force to activate. These switches are a good middle-ground for gamers who also type a lot.
MX Red switches have no tactile click and instead have an extremely smooth keystroke all the way to the bottom of the board. These are the most common switches on gaming keyboards due to their exceptionally easy and quick operation. They’re less comfortable for long periods of typing, and the lack of feedback can prove discomforting for some. MX Black switches are very similar to Reds but require more force to activate.
Finally, there are the new MX Speed switches, which have a very small actuation point of just 1.2mm.
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Descriptions are all well and good, but you really need to try them out to determine which is best for you. You can buy MX switch samplers, although these cost in excess of £10, so you should probably try your local PC store first and get them to unbox some for you.
Since Cherry MX switches are interchangeable (usually not by the buyer), many of the keyboards on this list will offer multiple specifications with different MX switches.
Non-Cherry keyboards are becoming more common, with the likes of Logitech and Razer choosing to ship keyboards with their own custom switches. As you’ll see below, Cherry still dominates the list but alternatives are becoming more popular.
Many gaming keyboards also have extras that set them apart from the crowd. For example, some will come with USB passthroughs, meaning you can hook up USB peripherals to your keyboard directly, without having to plug them into your PC.
Some will also come with extra buttons for gaming shortcuts, which can be programmed through software that you can download from the manufacturer’s website.
You should also look out for coloured backlighting. Some keyboards will ship with a single colour, others will offer customisation options. This will no doubt add to the cost, and if you don’t like garish flashing lights, then you’re better off steering clear.