The world of mechanical keyboards is vast and more than a little confusing if you’re just getting started. There are so many kinds to choose from that picking a path seems like more trouble than it’s worth. But if you narrow down what you want from a mechanical keyboard, finding the perfect one is possible.
Some people buy mechanical keyboards for the sheer nostalgia of it all, whether to replicate a beloved keyboard from their youth or because they thrive on the old-school sound of clacking keys. Others gravitate toward them because they can fine-tune the typing experience. Mechanical keyboards utilize a mechanism called a switch, which is essentially a metal spring tuned to offer a variety of noises, response times, and travel times. Cherry MX switches tend to be the most common, and they’re categorized by color. (Mechanical Keyboards has a helpful primer on the typing experience of each switch.) You’ll also find manufacturers making their own switches with different names.
And then there are people like me who get into mechanical keyboards because they’re infinitely customizable. I continuously throw money at custom keycaps and desk mats to change around the look of my work area. I always stick with the same base—Cherry MX Browns or their more economical offshoot, Gateron Browns—because of how vital the typing experience they offer is to my day-to-day.
We’re not going to cover customization in this guide because this is all about getting started, but in short you should know that linear switches offer a smooth, direct press that bottoms out at the end of stroke, while tactile or “clicky” switches have a small bump at their actuation point, letting you know when the keyboard recognizes a press.
Many of the keyboard models mentioned in this guide are decidedly mainstream, manufactured by your favorite peripheral makers. These keyboards can be easily found and purchased right now, and aren’t subject to group buys or long waitlists like those frequently making the rounds on Drop or in the Kono store.
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The keyboards below have many of the hallmarks of great mechanical keyboards, including nice switches and swappable keycaps (save for the low-profile ones or unless otherwise stated). Most of them have LEDs below the keys and they’re also full-size keyboards, though you can often find them without the number pad to save space (also referred to as tenkeyless). And they offer a few extras for gamers and programmers who might need special features.
For the sake of being complete, we also included picks for the best wireless membrane keyboards. You know, for those who hate the idea of being tethered to their desks with a braided USB cable.
Our Pick: SteelSeries Apex Pro ($199)
The SteelSeries Apex Pro is a terrific all-around mechanical keyboard for anyone who considers themselves an all-around kind of user. I repeatedly found myself coming back to this keyboard in between using the other models tested here because it’s so comfortable.
The programmable OLED screen in the top right corner also made me giddy each time it displayed my handle. The SteelSeries Engine desktop app lets you customize the display, along with the backlight for every key. You can configure it for notifications from apps like Discord, or status changes inside games like League of Legends.
The Apex Pro uses proprietary Omnipoint switches, which rely on magnetic sensors rather than springs to adjust the actuation point (or how hard you have to press a key before it’s recognized). By default, the OmniPoint switches feel similar to MX Cherry Reds. If you don’t like that, you can use the SteelSeries Engine app to adjust the actuation point—anywhere between 0.4 mm and 3.6 mm, represented by a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 requiring the most extended press. I pegged it as a total gimmick at first, but I felt the relative difference in sensitivity between adjustments, and now I’m a believer. I didn’t experience the kind of “finger exhaustion” I get from more resistant switches. But if you’re the type who finds satisfaction from an audible keypress, you won’t find that in the Apex Pro.
I’m not a hardcore gamer (though I’ve logged more than 600 hours in Skyrim), so I couldn’t take full advantage of the aforementioned gaming-specific features. But what I like about the Apex Pro is that it doesn’t make those abilities the marquee. Navigational keys like Page Up and Page Down are programmable as macros for every game you play, or you can leave them be.
The Apex Pro is similarly priced to other mechanical keyboards with the same breadth of features. What ultimately sets it apart from the rest of the pack is that it feels like a customizable package—a choose-your-own-adventure-type of a keyboard, which is what all good mechanical keyboards should strive to be.
Also Consider: DAS 4Q ($199)
If you’re considering a mechanical keyboard, you’ve likely come across a DAS keyboard at one point or another. The DAS 4Q is a particularly solid choice for entry-level keyboard enthusiasts or anyone who wants a solid mechanical keyboard to customize down the line. The Cherry MX Brown switches offer that “just right” feel of clicky and tactile, and there are dedicated media buttons and a large volume dial for turning up the tunes. There are two USB 2.0 ports on the backside of the keyboard for ease of access, and the 4Q’s bottom rubber bumpers keep the board from sliding around. The accompanying DAS Keyboard software lets you configure the RGB lighting per key, and you can set up profiles based on games or programs you frequent. The software also lets you set up applets with a ton of third-party apps and gadgets—everything from Discord to Philips Hue smart bulbs—though I didn’t find much use for them and ultimately disabled them altogether.
The DAS 4Q isn’t a mechanical keyboard for everyone, which is why it’s the runner-up. There’s no included wrist rest, for one, and the way the DAS 4Q is elevated rather than sloped like traditional keyboards might take some adjustment. There are also no programmable macro keys or on-board memory. If those aren’t on your must-have list and you’re just looking for a satisfying, well-made mechanical keyboard, you can’t go wrong with the DAS 4Q.
Our Pick: Razer Huntsman Elite ($199)
If esports athletes tapping hurriedly on the loudest, clickiest switches is ASMR for you, you’re going to find plenty to like about Razer’s Huntsman Elite. The Huntsman Elite’s purple optomechanical switches are quite loud, but in the way that a trampoline is loud is because its springs are taking the brunt of your jumps. The springs on this keyboard offer a comfortable landing for hard-typing folks like myself. The Huntsman Elite is also available with Razer’s Linear Optical Switches, which are much quieter and softer to press. Both switch types use infrared light beams to detect actuation. I can’t speak to its reaction time versus a plain old mechanical keyboard, but I like that I couldn’t tell the difference.
Aesthetically, the Huntsman Elite caters to the committed gamer. The keyboard’s look is gamer chic, from the circular volume dial in the upper right-hand corner to the RGB backlighting woven into the comfortable leather palm rest. The Huntsman Elite’s overall M.O. will knock the Mountain Dew out of your commemorative Phantom Menace cup. The Razer Synapse software is also packed with features, though the interface can be dizzying. The app lets you customize each key color and the colors of the wrist rest and outer edge lighting. There’s even an applet that syncs the keyboard lights with a Philips Hue bulb. Or you can use the software to set up Macros and other in-game integrations.
Also consider: Corsair K95 Platinum XT ($199)
The Corsair K95 Platinum XT’s gaming-specific features and comfortable positioning make it our runner-up pick. It’s available in three Cherry MX configurations, including Blue, Brown, and Speed, which came with my review unit and which I found to be quite springy compared to what I’m used to. That said, if you’re a gamer, you’re going to love it. But if you live with other beings, they’re not, because the switches make a loud “thunk” when pressed down real hard.
The K95 Platinum XT’s edge-to-edge leather wrist rest is the real reason to get this keyboard. It’s plush and extremely comfortable—like laying down in the back of a broken-in Chrysler 300. There are also six dedicated macro keys on the left side, which you can swap out with six streamer-focused keycaps included in the box. The extra keys are helpful if you plan to use them, and I like that I don’t have to think twice before hitting the keys to run a macro for combat. However, they can throw the whole keyboard off-center if you’re a traditional typist, so I’d only recommend this keyboard for strict gamers.
Our Pick: Logitech G915 ($250)
The Logitech G915 is an easy way to blow $250, and it’s worth it. Once your fingers get used to the pillowy feel of the G915’s low-profile keys and Tactile switches, you’ll convince yourself—just as I have—that it’s a perfect keyboard.
The G915 is ultra-thin and though it’s just as big in dimensions as any full-size mechanical keyboard, it feels like it takes up less real estate. It’s wireless, and you can connect to it with the included wireless USB dongle or Bluetooth, depending on the task. I had no latency issues playing my usual round of Elder Scrolls Online, or even while furiously typing out this story. Non-power users might not be too enthused about the extra column for macro keys, but they’re slightly less displacing than on the Corsair K95. Battery life is pretty good, too. Logitech claims up to 12 days of battery life on a charge. I didn’t have that much time to put the claim to the test, but I drained a mere 8% of battery life while intermittently using the keyboard for a week and a half.
Also Consider: Corsair K70 MK2 ($160)
The Corsair K70 MK2 is on par with the Logitech G915 in terms of comfort and utility. I tested it with Cherry MX Red switches and was pleasantly surprised by the soft typing experience, though the lack of clicky feedback might not be your jam. You can find the K70 MK2 with other switches, including Brown, Silent, Speed, and Blue.
The Corsair K70 MK2 does make some sacrifices for its relatively lower price. It isn’t as sleek as Logitech’s G915, nor is it wireless, though you do gain a USB passthrough. Its keycaps are a tiny bit thicker, and the board takes up more desk room despite not employing the extra macro keys. The wrist rest isn’t cushy like its sibling keyboard, the K95 Platinum XT, and I left it off the keyboard during testing because I had sensory issues with its ridged plastic frame.
Our Pick: HyperX Alloy Origins ($110)
You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get yourself a fully-equipped mechanical keyboard. The HyperX Alloy Origins looks bare-bones with its LEDs off, but once you start customizing it, you can turn this brushed aluminum keyboard into nearly anything your heart desires.
The HyperX Alloy Origins is simplistic in its design, but that subtlety is the look it’s going for. There are no dedicated media keys on the keyboard and no wrist rest, and its keycaps become fingerprint-laden after some use. The Alloy Origins does have three programmable on-board profiles, however, as well as macro keys, three adjustable angles, and a small LED screen for switching between modes. It also has a detachable USB cable, which I liked for the sheer compactness of it all.
The Alloy Origins types like a high-end keyboard does, too. HyperX produces custom switches of its own. I tested the Alloy Origins with HyperX Aqua switches, which are effectively Cherry Browns, but it’s available with HyperX Reds, too, which are akin to Cherry Reds. Whichever switch you pick, you’ll realize the HyperX Alloy Origins is a good buy for the price. Add on a custom keycap set of your liking—or HyperX’s own translucent pudding keycap set—and the Alloy Origins can transform into something that’s all your own.
Also Consider: Logitech G413 Carbon ($90)
At first, I scoffed at the Logitech G413 Carbon because of its boring red backlight. Then I started typing on it, and I realized why this is at the top of so many budget mechanical keyboard lists. The G413 Carbon is a fine keyboard, and an especially great entry point for anyone who wants to start typing on a mechanical one. I discovered the red backlighting is adjustable through the Logitech G Hub software, too.
Other little considerations that make the G413 Carbon a well thought-out piece of kit include a cable pathway on the bottom for routing your headphones and an anchor point for your mouse cable. There’s also USB 2.0 passthrough and programmable macro keys for gaming. All in all, the G413 Carbon offers everything you need from a mechanical keyboard for under $100. The only caveat is that its Romer-G switches aren’t standard, so you might not be able to swap out the keycaps.
Our Pick: Logitech MX Keys ($100)
Perhaps you’ve read through this entire list, and you realize that what you’re actually in pursuit of is a membrane keyboard with a little less jump-back than one with tactile springs. We’ve got you covered.
The Logitech MX Keys wireless keyboard would be my membrane backup if my mechanical keyboard were rendered useless. Its slim build fits into any modern office design, and its scalloped keys work well in taking the brunt of both stubby fingers and long claws. The Logitech MX Keys also has a full number pad, which is helpful for tedious data entry. It connects via Bluetooth, or the included Unifying Receiver, which works with other Logitech peripherals.
Despite its wireless capability, the Logitech MX Keys is strictly a desktop keyboard. It’s not the kind of wireless device that you can toss in your bag and go—try our runner-up picks below for that. But because it’s cord-free, it goes anywhere, so you can angle it as you like, however it feels most comfortable for your typing preference. Logitech claims the battery has about a 10-day lifespan. I wasn’t testing long enough to fully vet that claim. However, little features like automatically dimming backlights and nearly instant standby mode are helpful for keeping the remaining battery life intact.
Windows Users Consider: Logitech K380 ($40)
The very simplistic and very compact Logitech K380 is the best choice you can make for a wireless keyboard, whether you’re using a computer or a tablet. The K380 pairs via Bluetooth, and there are three quick pairing buttons for switching between devices. Its special keys are limited, but it includes markings for both Mac and PC users. Logitech claims the duo of AAA batteries powering it up will last about 24 months, which is on par with other Logitech keyboards I’ve used in this vein. If a particular color is your thing, the keyboard is available in pink, gray with yellow accents, and a deep blue.
Mac and iPad Users Consider: Apple Magic Keyboard ($100)
Mac users, I’d be remiss not to suggest that you spend a little and get the Apple Magic Keyboard. It’s probably already sitting in your cart. I’m a Windows user, so I couldn’t get the full functionality out of the Magic Keyboard. But I worked on this text with it for a bit and it types like the Apple keyboards I used so long ago. Apple knows it has a good thing and let it be, while lightening up the chassis for those on the go. The Magic Keyboard is practically feather-thin, and I’m a little jealous that Apple users have such a svelte, satisfying wireless keyboard to tow along.