Here we’re discussing the considerations factor into picking the best mechanical keyboard for your purposes and preferences. Perhaps you’re gaming at a level where a mere two millimeters of actuation can make the difference between failure or success. Or, you want a keyboard that gets you through the workday and wondering if a mechanical switch keyboard is a good fit.
Mass-market membrane or dome switch keyboards are cheap and abundant (they’re the types you see as the stock option on millions of generic laptops and desktop setups), but they won’t perform to pro gamer standards.
Most mechanical keyboards have longer lifespans, a smaller actuation requirement to register a keystroke, and better auditory and tactile feedback.
The right mechanical keyboard could give you the edge you need whether you’re gaming, streaming, writing, or programming.
Imagine a keyboard that registers your input in half the time, gives you a satisfying click and tactile feedback with every stroke, and lasts you 50 or 60 million keystrokes! It sounds like a dream, but it’s not—mechanical keyboards can give you that experience at a budget, moderate, or pro price point.
You’d benefit from buying a mechanical keyboard if you’re going to use it for competitive gaming, live streaming, programming, or even general use for school and work.
What Makes a Mechanical Keyboard Different?
A mechanical keyboard contains a three-part switch underneath each key. Operating the switches by entering keystrokes creates a tactile and auditory experience, physical feedback that increases performance and lessens errors.
Mechanical keyboards outpace run-of-the-mill keyboards with major differences in durability, feel, N-key rollover, and ability to maintain.
These keyboards tend to last longer than ordinary keyboards—instead of rubber domes or membranes, metal contact points take the brunt of each command. That means your keys can take tens of millions more presses before they start to fail or stick.
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Why Use a Mechanical Keyboard?
Anyone can use a mechanical keyboard for work, school, or home, but these keyboards are a top choice for professional gamers, live streamers, coders and developers, and writers.
You should use a mechanical keyboard if you:
- Want a durable, long-lasting keyboard
- Prefer to feel and hear your typing
- Use a lot of multi-key shortcuts or combos
- Are willing to do regular (easy) maintenance in exchange for the best keyboard experience
Plenty of people use mechanical keyboards because they prefer the feel and sound. Metal contact points create a pleasing instant feedback sensation to the touch and to the ear. The clickety clack of a good mechanical keyboard is rewarding enough to reinforce good performance and keep your error rate low.
High N-key rollover means that you can press as many keys as you want and expect all of them to register.
Most USB membrane keyboards (the kind you’ll find on budget computing setups) have a 6-key rollover, which can be limiting for complex combos. With a mechanical keyboard, you could mash every key simultaneously and your operating system would see every single command!
Finally, mechanical keyboards have the potential to last much, much longer than common membrane keyboards because they’re maintainable.
A keyboard that’s never been dismantled and sanitized is less responsive, more sticky, and short-lived. Doing weekly and daily maintenance ensures your keyboard is responsive and lasts its full potential. Luckily, mechanical keyboards are easy to take apart, clean, and sanitize regularly.
Keep your keyboard tidy between deep cleans with a Cordless Air Duster
Mechanical Keyboard Form Factors
You’ll see that mechanical keyboards have a great deal of options and specifications that can vary a lot from one model to the next.
It’s not really enough to know that you want a mechanical keyboard—before you start your search, think about what you want to do with your keyboard on a daily basis. Use your response to that jumping-off point to guide your choices as you search for the best keyboard for your unique needs.
The switches themselves are a defining factor in a mechanical keyboard, including the switch type, actuation, and reset points.
- Switches can be tactile (moderately noisy, the most common type), linear (the quietest type), or clicky (the loudest of the trio).
- The actuation is the distance in millimeters that a keycap must depress before it triggers the switch; look for 0 mm for a good balance between responsive and accurate keystrokes.
- The reset point is the distance the key travels on the way back up after actuation–the closer together those points are, the more effortlessly you can “float” rapid successive keystrokes.
Aluminum vs. Plastic Build
Aluminum and plastic are the two most common build materials for keyboard casings and keycaps.
The plastic materials that are most commonly used on keycaps include ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PBT (polybutylene terephthalate).
ABS is a budget material that feels slick and develops a greasy texture after regular use. PBT is more durable and has an appealing texture, and the quality is generally a step above most ABS keycaps.
Both materials also appear in keyboard casings often, too. Polycarbonate (PC) is another material that’s used in casings because of its durability and low cost.
Finally, aluminum is a solid, heavy material that’s the most durable you’ll find when it comes to consumer models. Anodized aluminum has been acid treated to resist corrosion and last longer, and it’s often sharper-looking, too.
A wired mechanical keyboard is a good way to reliably get 20 or 30 milliseconds back on your response times. Wireless keyboards have a slow average polling rate (response time) of 125 hz, while mechanical keyboards respond nearly 10 times faster at over 1,000 hz.
Look for a wired mechanical keyboard with a detachable cable to help extend the life of the keyboard and get your ideal response rates.
RGB lighting is not technically a functional feature unless you play and work in the dark, in which case their illumination brings valuable visibility to keep your accuracy up and errors at bay.
Besides, brilliantly backlit keyboards are so commonplace that it’s almost tough to find one that’s not backlit!
You can get even more from your keyboard purchase if you choose one that supports as much individualized choice as possible within the settings. At the minimum, you should look for a keyboard with firmware that lets you:
- Set custom key placements
- Create macros
- Customize lighting
Almost all the mechanical keyboards you encounter are full-sized keyboards with 104 keys (give or take a few specialty keys).
If you’re looking to go compact and ditch the keys you use the least often, these specialty sizes exist:
- Tenkeyless or TKL (87 keys)
- 60% (68 keys)
- Nonstandard sizes (75%, 65%, 40%)
It’s fairly easy to find TKL mechanical keyboards, but the other sizes are rare to the point where you probably won’t ever find one in the wild. (The wild being the electronics trade, both retail and pre-owned).
You can get away with programming the numpad on your full-sized keyboard with your most-used macros, but a macro pad is easier and more versatile (and you can put it on the left, which is the more intuitive position).
Macro pads are usually USB keyboards with just 6 to 10 keys including numerals. They’re used widely for assigning command strings and data entry.
You might want to add a macro pad to your purchase if you rely heavily on macros, such as people who are livestreamers, video editors, or programmers.
What Do MX Switch Colors Mean?
Switches come in six colors:
Red and black switches are linear, which means they are quiet, feel smooth, and respond well to long, fast streams of rapidfire commands. If you need a seamless response and prefer not to hear or feel your keystrokes too much, then linear could be the right choice for you. These colors are the top choices of pro gamers and live streamers.
Blue and green switches are clicky, which is the kind with the most responsive bump and the biggest tactile and auditory input. The loud feedback of these switches helps improve keystroke accuracy, making blue and green switches the top choice of writers, coders, and data professionals.
Brown and clear switches are tactile, with a medium amount of sound and physical sensation under each keystroke. There’s a noticeable bump as you activate each keystroke, but not so much as to interfere with your speed or multitasking. These switches are preferred by users new to mechanical keyboards, for general use such as school or work, or casual to high-level gamers.
Optional Features and Extras
Of course, shopping for mechanical keyboards goes beyond picking the right switch color. Depending on what you plan to use it for, there are many optional features that can take your typing experience above and beyond.
Need to type quietly? Work more ergonomically? Prefer a certain tactile experience? There’s a keyboard out there with the features you need. It doesn’t matter how picky of a gamer or typist you are, there’s a super-specialized mechanical keyboard out there that has you covered.
Find the Gaming Keyboard that’s right for your rig.
Hot Swappable Design
A hot swappable mechanical keyboard is an option if you’re on the fence about different switch types and want to try out different styles.
With this type of keyboard design, the switches aren’t soldered into place, so they can be easily removed (a simple press or push loosens the hold so you can lift it out of place like a keycap) and replaced.
If you try out blue switches and find that they give you a migraine, it’s effortless to switch (get it?) to a quieter, smoother red setup without springing for a new keyboard.
This feature isn’t for everybody, but consider Bluetooth connectivity if you want a mobile setup with no cords. Plan to shuffle your desktop configuration around often? Bluetooth makes sure your keyboard placement isn’t tied to a cord’s length.
Note, though, that wired connections are much more reliable and quick than Bluetooth connections. A Bluetooth mechanical keyboard comes at the cost of added latency and lag. If you need every keystroke to land precisely, then stick to a wired connection.
Choose a model that has accessible stabilizers so you can maintain them with lubricant. Your keyboard will probably arrive pre-greased, but you’ll want to periodically access the stabilizers yourself to add some glide. This prolongs the life and performance of your keyboard.
Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) keycaps are a premium plastic-like polymer that is lightweight, but also very rigid and wear-proof.
Unlike the greasy, shiny look of ABT keycaps, PBT has a textured matte finish that’s pleasing to the touch. It’s also louder and feels heavier under your fingers.
Adjustable Incline Angle
Ergonomic keyboards include an adjustable incline angle to reduce repetitive stress injury and support your wrists properly.
This is a feature that any user should consider. No matter who you are, you (probably) have wrists that you want to protect.
Top Brands for Mechanical Keyboards
Mechanical keyboard users have strong brand loyalty, and for good reason. Some of the top brands sell mechanical keyboards that truly feel like they were built for you, even if it’s a stock model with no customizations.
The best brands for mechanical keyboards use high quality materials, most-asked-for features, and precise craftsmanship to create a real experience every time you sit down at your battle station.
Some of the best brands of mechanical keyboards include:
Das Keyboard has a reputation for making some of the longest-lived mechanical keyboard models on the consumer market, and for good reason. All of the company’s keyboards are rated for at least 50 million keystrokes, and some are rated for 100 million!
Browsing their models, you’ll notice tags such as Supercharged and Minimalist that make it easier to search by your style. If you’re a feature junky, a supercharged model such as the X50Q might be right up your alley with a backlit casing, smart Q software, customizable applets, and more.
One unique feature that Das Keyboard has built a reputation around is models with blank keycaps, which are supposed to help with intuitive typing.
Remember learning how to ride a bike by getting pushed down a hill? Learning to touch type on an unprinted Das Keyboard is like that, but friendlier and more effective. (Don’t worry, they have plenty of models that do have printed keycaps, including the aforementioned X50Q).
People who love Das Keyboard rave about the brand’s flexible, customizable designs. Mostly, Das enthusiasts love that these keyboards are clearly designed just for them. Whatever you need it for, your Das keyboard feels like your keyboard.
The company itself says that their mission is to bring the best keyboard experience to the “badass geeks” of the world. The gaming keyboards feel like they’ve been tested by the esports gods (does Doublelift use a Das keyboard?), and the professional models are perfectly spec’d for surviving a weekend-long GiveCamp gauntlet.
If you go to the Das Keyboard website and happen to encounter the words Destroy this site anywhere, click on them. The genius devs behind the scenes coded a little Easter egg into the website footer—you’ll see.
Drop Mechanical Keyboards
Drop believes that typing should be a joy, not a chore, and that comes through in their playful keyboard designs, including the full-sized CTRL and its compact companion, the ALT.
This tech company also builds joyful audiophile accessories, but their keyboard designs are where they really shine, including collaborations with modding moguls MiTo and Matt3o.
The Drop CTRL mechanical keyboard is their most popular model, and it’s hot swappable so you’re not tied to the switches it comes with (which you get to choose, by the way). You can fully program the RGB light show that shows through peekaboo PBT keycaps—neverending streams of rainbows are an option, but so is a single hue if you’re a keyboard minimalist.
That’s just one of the many Drop models that brings joy to typing—the brand’s library of keyboards and features is diverse, covering over 152 models and variations to make your typing experience happier no matter how you use yours.
Plus, every model has access to optional add-on keycap sets in color schemes that range from red-heavy Samurai to dreamy blue and white Horizon.
Rosewill Mechanical Keyboards
You may know Rosewill for the brand’s premium headsets, speakers, and computer peripherals, but their line of mechanical keyboards is solid and reliable (albeit small with just 16 models and variations).
Rosewill mechanical keyboards are simple and minimalist with feature-light designs that prioritize fast reaction times and exceptional precision. If you’re looking for a keyboard that’s as responsive as an extension of yourself, a Rosewill could be the right fit, with the trade-off of minimal extra features.
You’ll find all the expected features on a Rosewill mechanical keyboard, including:
- Multifunctional dial controls
- Programmable macros
- Software suite for pre-programmed or custom settings
- RGB backlighting, underglow and rim lighting
Razer Mechanical Keyboards
Razer has been a top name in gaming peripherals since pre-esports due to their eyecatching designs, and their mechanical keyboards are just as sleek and shiny. But they’re not just shiny, they perform like you’d expect them to when they’re made By Gamers, For Gamers (the company tagline).
Each mechanical keyboard in the Razer line is built around precision, control, and immersion. The models mostly have durability-based design features in common, including doubleshot ABS keycaps and strong lightweight aluminum casing.
From there, the performance differs mostly based on the color of Razer’s in-house mechanical switches, as well as the size (Razer’s models come in compact sizes as well, for the focused gamer who doesn’t use every hotkey).
Logitech Mechanical Keyboards
Logitech makes mechanical keyboards for high-level gamers and casual users alike, and most of their models come at an affordable price point.
Logitech prioritizes basic features like backlighting and wired connection at an affordable price point, but they sell plenty of premium models with all the bells and whistles too. Ultimately, Logitech is known for being a dependable budget brand for mechanical keyboards.
CHERRY Americas Mechanical Keyboards
CHERRY Americas is the oldest computer keyboard manufacturer in the United States and Germany! You can chalk up the longevity of CHERRY keyboards to the company’s status as a peripheral engineering pioneer.
The brand has literally been a fixture since the beginning of mechanical keyboards. That’s because of their flagship product, which isn’t a keyboard but the CHERRY MX Switch.
This is the switch that’s behind the scenes on many of the world’s best pro keyboards. MX switches are reliable and long-lived, a necessity for pros of all kinds who rely on keyboards as the tools of their trades.
Not only does this flagship switch fuel keyboards from dozens of other brands worldwide, it also powers every CHERRY keyboard, including the signature MX Board line.
HK Gaming Mechanical Keyboards
HK Gaming makes mechanical keyboards for—you guessed it—gamers of all levels, but at an affordable price point.
For instance, their GK61 mechanical gaming keyboard is modestly priced, but it’s also responsive enough to be your primary scrim keyboard at a pro level.
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