The Best Gaming Keyboards for 2021

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If you’re a gamer, you probably take your choice of gaming keyboard very seriously. And you should.

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 to a 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 best keyboards you can buy, along with a brief guide to help you find the one that’s right for you.

Switch It Up! Understanding Mechanical, Dome, and Scissor Switches

Most higher-end gaming keyboards these days use mechanical switches, which pair each key to its own spring-loaded switch. They are designed to provide superior audio and tactile feedback. Most of these switches use so-called “MX” mechanisms from a company called Cherry, and are identified by color (MX Black, MX Brown, MX Blue, MX Red, and so on), each with a slightly different design, tweaked to provide a specific feel and sound 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 hair-trigger Cherry MX Red switches. If either is too extreme for you, there’s a compromise candidate in Cherry MX Brown switches: They have the same actuation force as the Red variety, but add a 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.

Frameless Keyboard Showing Switches

Cherry isn’t the only switch maker in town, though. Decent Cherry MX imitations from makers such as Kaihua populate some budget mechanical keyboards. Also, some mass-market keyboard manufacturers have developed their own mechanical switches as an alternative to Cherry’s. Logitech’s Romer-G switches are now available on many of its gaming keyboards, and the company claims they have a longer lifespan (up to 70 million keystrokes) and a shorter travel distance than Cherry switches. Razer, too, has made a name for itself with its Green (tactile and clicky), Orange (tactile and silent), and Yellow (linear and silent) key switches. What’s more, the green tri-serpent company now has an optical (“Opto-Mechanical”) key switch that uses a light beam to detect a keypress rather than a standard metal contact point. (For lots more about mechanicals, see our picks for our favorite mechanical keyboards.)  

Razer Keyboard in Closeup

At the lower end of the gaming keyboard market, you will still find boards that make use of “rubber dome” switches, which employ little bubbles in a silicone membrane, the material being the spring behind 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 also uses a silicone membrane for springback but has a slimmer profile and adds a stabilizing “X”-shaped mechanism beneath each key. Scissor switches are most often found on laptops, but a few low-profile gaming keyboards use them.

Trick It Out: Keyboard Backlighting and Customization

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. For gamers, newer twists on the old backlight include adjustable colors, and multiple lighting zones with separate backlight areas for arrow and WASD keys, highlighting the most frequently used control keys. Some gaming keyboards even have individual-key backlighting, which lets you personalize the color of each key, one by one, as you see fit. (This is often referred to as “per-key RGB,” as opposed to zone-based RGB, in which you can assign colors to key clusters or areas.)

RGB Keys With Numpad Closeup

Another customizable feature is the swappable keycap. Because mechanical switches are physically separate from the keycap itself, with some designs you can remove and swap out the keys’ tops for others that feature molded sculpting, texturing for better tactile control, or differently colored plastic. Some keyboards offer only swappable WASD keys, while others may include arrow or number keys that you can change out.

HyperX Keyboard Volume Roller

A gaming keyboard may have more to offer than exceptionally well-made keys, adding features like macro-command customization and dedicated shortcut keys. Some go so far as to include entirely new features, such as in-game statistics tracking, text communication to the keyboard, or built-in touchscreen displays. Other possible enhancements include rows of dedicated media keys (for adjusting volume, playing and skipping music, and the like) and profile keys (for toggling on game-specific sets of keyboard functions). Some gaming keyboards also have USB pass-through, letting you connect other USB peripherals to the keyboard itself, freeing up an extra port or two on your PC.

Most gaming models offer a 10-key numeric pad, which laptops frequently lack and is a necessity for anyone who needs to tally numbers or enter data into a spreadsheet. So-called “tenkeyless” models slice off the numeric pad in the interest of space savings and keeping your typing and mousing hands closer together. Bear that in mind if you’re looking at gaming keyboards, as tenkeyless models are a recent trend especially in that subclass. If you want to go even smaller, 60 percent keyboards eliminate even more keys. Check out our 60 percent keyboard guide for everything you need to know about the category.

Interface: USB Wired, or Wireless?

Speaking of USB: Though you may prefer your keyboards to be wireless, most gaming keyboards are wired for a reason. Wired keyboards are snappy, as you don’t have to worry about the potential input latency involved in the transmission of wireless signals. With a run-of-the-mill wireless keyboard, you might expect some delay between you pressing down a key and your computer registering it as a keypress.

Keyboard With Volume Dial

When you’re playing games, especially in the case of competitive multiplayer titles, it’s critical to keep this lag to a minimum. That’s why many competitive gamers and esports hounds swear by wired only. That said, many of the big players in gaming keyboards offer a few avowed low-latency wireless designs. But wireless gaming keyboards remain the exception rather than the norm. (See our picks for our favorite wireless keyboards.)

Evaluating Gaming Keyboard Software

Another area that we consider when evaluating gaming keyboards is the software. These days, almost every gaming keyboard worthy of being called one is tied to an application that lets you assign functions to shortcut keys, create game-specific profiles, and customize on-keyboard lighting.

For these tasks, and a few others, Corsair keyboards use a utility called Corsair Utility Engine (iCUE, formerly just CUE). One of the best-regarded examples of keyboard software, iCUE boasts a simple interface with a vast assortment of options for personalizing your board. You can, for example, record your own custom macros or assign new functions to existing keys. For Corsair keyboards that support RGB, you can even use the software to stack various effects, with the option to preview combinations before applying them.  

Corsair iCUE

The latest Logitech keyboards, on the other hand, are compatible with two programs: G Hub and Logitech Gaming Software (LGS). G Hub is the newer interface for Logitech gear, and it offers a more digestible interface for setting up game profiles, customizing and synchronizing lighting zones, and assigning a second layer of functions to your keys, activated by pressing an assignable G Shift command.  

Gaming Keyboard Software

Meanwhile, all Razer keyboards use an application called Synapse for personalization. Up until G Hub was released, Synapse had one of the cleanest interfaces of all the keyboard utilities we’ve tested. Easy to learn, Synapse employ menus with options to modify lighting, create profiles, record and assign macro functions, and integrate your Razer hardware with Philips Hue lights for the ultimate coordinated RGB (or “Chroma,” as Razer calls it) experience.  

Razer Synapse software

Other software for gaming keyboards exists, such as Roccat’s Swarm, SteelSeries’ Engine, and Cougar’s UIX. As much as their appearances vary, the purpose and functionality of these programs remain largely the same. Software goes hand-in-hand with gaming keyboards, and one of the key selling points for these peripherals is that you can tweak the way they look and perform to suit your preferred games, genres, and play style. Competent software helps you make better use of your gear; that’s why the best gaming keyboard manufacturers pour so many resources into developing software and drivers that our analysts deem up to snuff. Look to our reviews for deep dives on the software.

So, Which Gaming Keyboard Should You Buy?

If you’re looking to fully deck out a gaming system, you’ll also want to check out our top-rated gaming mice, monitors, and gaming headsets. Some of these models can work in sync with the keyboard, in terms of lighting and commands, so it’s worth reading reviews of these as well. Sometimes, the same software can control RGB effects or macros on a keyboard and a mouse from the same manufacturer, keeping you from having to maintain and understand two or more utilities.

Check below for the best gaming boards we’ve tested of late. Most are classic mechanical-switch models, but a few use alternate key types, so check the reviews for the details. And if you’re in the market for a whole new gaming rig, don’t miss the best gaming desktops and gaming laptops we’ve tested.

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