Best gaming keyboards of 2017: Our picks for the top budget, mid-tier, and RGB boards
We’ve sifted through the latest and greatest to come up with our top recommendations.
- Best budget keyboard
- Best mid-tier keyboard
- Best RGB-enabled keyboard
- Why so many Cherry recommendations?
- How we tested
- All of our keyboard reviews
Choosing a gaming keyboard is a matter of personal taste. The best for one person could be Cherry Browns and white backlighting. For another, it could be Razer Greens and a rippling RGB glow. Gigantic wrist pads, compact shapes, numeric keypads, macro keys, volume controls—a ton of keyboards exist because everyone wants a different mix of features.
To help you sort through the piles of options, we’ve sifted through the latest and greatest to come up with our top recommendations. All of these focus on mechanical keyboards, and for good reason—they’re simply more comfortable to use over the long haul. But we’re open-minded, so if we encounter an alternative that works well, you may see it appear on this list. We’ll keep updating it periodically as we test new keyboards.
In this round of evaluations, we had a few surprises. For instance, the G.Skill KM780 is one of the best RGB-enabled mechanical keyboards we’ve seen to date. Turns out you can still improve on a device that’s (at its core, at least) older than PCs themselves.
Best budget keyboard
Not too long ago, the CM Storm QuickFire TK was the go-to recommendation for a sub-$100 mechanical keyboard. For good reason, too: Classic black-rectangle design, no number pad for those who hate them, and fully backlit (with the color varying based on the switch you choose). Plus, it uses genuine Cherry MX switches.
The budget-friendly mechanical keyboard market has expanded quite a bit in recent years, though. These days, I’d go with Razer’s new BlackWidow X Tournament Edition—so long as backlighting isn’t a must-have.
It lists for only $70, has the same trendy exposed-metal-backplate design of the larger BlackWidow X, and sports a discreet typeface on its keys. Oh, and unlike Razer’s other keyboards, you can get this one with Cherry MX Blues.
If you’re willing to go right up to $100, the HyperX Alloy FPS offers some nice perks. It comes with backlighting, features Cherry MX keys, and is the slimmest keyboard on the market. I also like that the Mini USB cable is detachable—you won’t have to RMA the board if only the cable busts.
That said, the low end of the market is a free-for-all. The Cougar Attack X3, the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate, G.Skill’s Ripjaws KM570, the Corsair Strafe—these are all fine sub-$100 keyboards that feature (or at least can feature) genuine Cherry MX switches and per-key backlighting. The biggest difference is design, which is a personal preference. I happen to like the HyperX Alloy’s minimalist look, but someone else could prefer a bulkier look like that of the Strafe.
Best mid-tier keyboard
I’ve been in love with Logitech’s minimalist G610 design since its release, particularly because you can find it with Cherry switches instead of Logitech’s proprietary (and not-so-great) Romer-Gs.
Unlike Logitech’s earlier G410 and G910 designs, the G610 ditches all of the stereotypes adopted by so many gaming keyboards. You’ll find no macro keys, oversized wrist rest, or crazy blue highlights on the G610’s chassis. This is a simple, office- and home-friendly keyboard shaped like a standard black rectangle.
Backlighting in this price range of $100 to $150 is still single-color—the G610 glows white—but some higher-end features do make an appearance. In the G10’s case, you get dedicated media keys and a volume roller. (All the budget boards use Function-key shortcuts for media controls.) The G610’s media keys also have a pleasant stiffness to them when you press upon them.
The non-RGB Corsair K70 is a favorite, with its sleek metal frame and detachable wrist rest. And both Das Keyboard and Ducky have won fans with their sleek, simple designs—though you’re often paying more for less, in that case.
Best RGB-enabled keyboard
While the first RGB-lit mechanical keyboards arrived in late 2014, this extravagant niche is still a relative newcomer. As a result, there’s a lot of turnover as far as which board holds the top position.
For now, the ruler of the bunch is the G.Skill KM780. While this is G.Skill’s first keyboard, it might look familiar to keyboard aficionados. G.Skill seems to have “borrowed” quite a bit of “inspiration” from Corsair’s K70 line and Logitech’s G910. It’s evident in the shape and layout of the macro and media keys, the typeface used on the keycaps, and even in G.Skill’s software.
But regardless of how G.Skill settled on its various design elements, it’s a damn nice keyboard. Detachable wrist rest? Check. On-the-fly profile switching and macro recording? Check. Column of six macro keys? Check.
The list goes on: the timeless typeface on each keycap, a beautiful LED volume readout, a mouse cable holder for clean routing, and (topping it all off) genuine Cherry MX switches. That makes it maybe the only non-Corsair keyboard to offer both per-key RGB lighting and Cherry switches.
Runner-up (Cherry MX switches)
The new LUX refresh of the Corsair K70 fixes the original’s limitation of 512 colors, plus you get the new-old Corsair “Sails” logo instead of the ghastly tribal monstrosity that shipped on the old K70. It’s also a sleeker, cleaner design than the G.Skill.
But much as I love it, I think the G.Skill just barely edges the K70 LUX out, especially given how much cheaper you can typically find the KM780.
Runner-up (Non-Cherry MX switches)
Hate Cherry MX switches but still want that RGB lighting? The SteelSeries Apex M800 is just the keyboard for you.
Granted, its oversized spacebar is a bit of an acquired taste, but the proprietary QS1 switch underneath those keycaps feels pretty damn decent. Like Cherry’s popular gaming-focused MX Red, the QS1 is a linear switch—it requires the same force at the top of a keystroke as it does at the bottom. It’s smooth, and what it loses in typing comfort due to no tactile feel, it gains in speed and consistency. In other words, it’s great for gaming or other situations that benefit from a quick response.
You also get beautiful backlighting. Since the QS1 switch uses a centered LED inside a square box, with the keycap attaching via four prongs into the sides of this square, you get some of the finest RGB backlighing I’ve ever seen on a keyboard. It’s consistent across the whole key, unlike with Cherry switches.
Just one warning: The keycaps on this keyboard can be fragile, and since they’re proprietary, there’s no way to get cheap replacements.
Why so many Cherry recommendations?
If you’ve done any research before finding this guide, you’ll have seen the many options outside of our topic picks—like those $30 mechanical keyboards on Amazon.
Chances are, if you’ve found something that steeply undercuts our top choices, it’s not using Cherry MX switches, but rather a knock-off. These have proliferated since Cherry’s patent expired in 2014, and you’ll find a ton of brands on the market. Outemu, Kailh, Gateron, and Razer’s versions are some of the most common.
So far, knock-off Cherry switches have earned a reputation for being less consistent and less durable over time. It’s hard to to tell whether those claims are based in fact or stem from Internet hyperbole. Regardless, it makes it hard to recommend that el-cheapo $50 Outemu board on Amazon.
Beyond quality claims, the switches themselves can have stark differences. For instance, Kailh switches tend to require more actuation force than their Cherry counterparts, while Outemu Blues have a reputation for being incredibly noisy. Of all the knock-offs, Gaterons are the ones that have received the most positive Internet buzz, but we’ve yet to test them here.
Other switches out there encompass both new (Logitech’s Romer-Gs) and classic (buckling spring, ALPS), and they could appeal to you and your budget. But Cherry MX and Cherry knock-offs cover most of the market, especially the gaming market I’m steeped in as our PC gaming reporter, so that’s the focus here. Sorry, all you buckling-spring fanatics.
How we tested
Each keyboard we’ve reviewed is used over the course of weeks—I’ll type out some articles, play some games, and generally put them through hell. During that time, I keep in mind the following criteria:
Switches: As you may have already noticed through the rest of this guide, Cherry’s mechanical MX switches dominate as a preference. That’s because they’re reliable, durable, and consistent. You also typically have a fairly decent of options among the four common variants—there’s the tactile and clicky Blues, the tactile but quieter Browns, the heavy linear Blacks, and the light linear Reds.
Other switches aren’t automatically disqualified, but few stand out as strongly as Cherry MX switches. If you really require an alternative, Razer’s Green switches are a decent stand-in for Cherry Blues and the SteelSeries QS1 is a good Cherry Red alternative. The only switch we don’t recommend is Logitech’s proprietary Romer-G switch, due to its unsatisfying tactile feedback.
Design: On the whole, “office-friendly” designs are much more universal than keyboards that offer superfluous features or design elements. Legibility of the typeface on keycaps also factors into our final take.
High-end features: Fabric-sheathed cables, macro keys, media keys, N-key rollover, game mode, USB passthrough, audio hub—there are plenty of secondary features that can elevate a keyboard above its competitors. We keep an eye out for which actually work out well in practice.
All of our keyboard reviews
Want to see what else we’ve reviewed? We’ll keep updating this on a regular basis, so be sure to come back to see new products that we’ve put through their paces.