Best Mechanical Keyboards

Updated August 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

60 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
180 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best mechanical keyboards

Last Updated August 2019

Once upon a time, mechanical keyboards were the rule rather than the exception. If you had a computer prior to the 1990s, chances are good that it came with a mechanical keyboard. The less expensive rubber dome keyboards took off in that decade and now account for 90% of all keyboards produced.

Why would you buck this trend and purchase a mechanical keyboard? By definition, mechanical keyboards are made up of switches that actuate before the switch bottoms out. They provide a consistent feel that is prized by typists and gamers alike. Mechanical keyboards are also more durable than their rubber dome or membrane cousins, frequently built with switches that are rated in the millions of presses. While more expensive, this durability will more than pay for itself when your keyboard is still clicking away years later.

When shopping for a mechanical keyboard, what features and other considerations should you keep in mind? While mechanical keyboards are similar to the more popular membrane keyboards, there are still several factors to consider. This guide can help you master some of the technical information you’ll need to know before purchasing a mechanical keyboard. When you’re ready to buy, take a look at our top recommendations, too.

While most keyboards sold today are rubber dome/membrane types, laptops typically use a scissor mechanism for their keys.

Key considerations

Layout

Mechanical keyboards come in a variety of sizes and layouts. Some of the more popular include the following:

Full-size: This is the traditional or standard layout that you’re probably accustomed to. The U.S. standard for these is 104 keys, and it’s notable for the inclusion of a full number pad. Some typists may find these to be hard to use or too large.

Tenkeyless: The tenkeyless, or 80%, keyboard essentially just omits the number pad, resulting in 87 keys (U.S.). If you use the number pad infrequently or not at all, this might be a more ergonomic option for you.

60% and 75%: Both of these mechanical keyboards either shrink the function and arrow keys on the right or delegate them outright to a function layer. Neither of these has a number pad.

Switches

When mechanical keyboards are mentioned, switches invariably spring to mind. When you press a key on a mechanical keyboard, you’re really pressing a switch. One of the features that’s unique to mechanical keyboards is the variety of switches available and the different feel of each one.

Most of the switches you’ll find today are Cherry or Cherry clones, and you can find them in a variety of color options that largely break down into three unique types:

Clicky: These switches feature a crisp feel and clicking noise that is prized by those who type often. Cherry MX Blue is a common clicky switch, while MX Green is also popular.

Tactile: These offer less of a clicky feel in addition to producing less noise. These are great switches for people who type frequently and don’t want to deal with the noise of a clicky switch. Cherry MX Brown and MX Clear are popular tactile switches.

Linear: These switches are quite responsive and offer little resistance when you push them. They can be more difficult to type with but are highly prized by gamers due to the speed with which you can press them. Common linear switches include Cherry MX Red and MX Black.

Durability

Mechanical keyboards are more durable than membrane keyboards, but some mechanical keyboards are even more rugged than others. Search for a keyboard that features a casing made of aluminum or other strong material for increased durability. If you have a habit of spilling coffee or other liquids around your computer, seek out a keyboard that’s water resistant.

DID YOU KNOW?

Keycaps are constructed from a couple of different kinds of plastic. While less common, polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) offers a thicker, more durable keycap surface.

Mechanical keyboard features

 

Lighting

Some typists prefer backlit keys for a variety of reasons. If you are one, keep this feature in mind when comparing keyboards.

Some keyboards take backlighting to the next level with programmable LED lighting. While certainly not a necessary feature, it can be a fun one. Keyboards that have LED lighting usually have bundled software to control or program the light patterns on the keyboard. Gamers may find this feature to be a must-have because they can download profiles that work with their favorite games (think flashing red and blue lights when the police are closing in while playing Grand Theft Auto).

Cable

The cable that ships with your mechanical keyboard may attract little notice, but without it your keyboard is pretty much just a paperweight. The included cable should be long enough to work with your setup. It should also be durable. Braided cords will generally be more rugged than non-braided ones.

Some keyboards have a detachable cable, while others feature USB or audio pass-through ports so you can plug a mouse or headset directly into the keyboard.

Programmability

Are you the kind of typist who loves to rearrange keys and program custom layouts? Then be sure that your keyboard supports this level of tinkering. Also note any dedicated macro keys or multimedia keys that the keyboard is equipped with if you have an interest in those.

 

EXPERT TIP

Topre switches offer a premium – and expensive – choice for typists. The feel of these switches is smooth and distinctive.


Staff  | BestReviews

Mechanical keyboard prices

As we’ve noted, mechanical keyboards are not all that economical. This is one area where paying more is recommended because you’ll wind up with a longer-lasting keyboard with higher-quality switches. That said, you should be able to pick up a decent quality keyboard starting at around $30, although most run in the $50 to $100 range. The price goes up from there for keyboards with more advanced features or ergonomic designs.

Tips

  • Buy a switch tester. To test all the main variations of mechanical keyboard switches (and acquire a feel for them before you buy a keyboard), consider picking up a cheap switch tester.
  • Try tenkeyless. If you don’t often use the number pad, consider going with a tenkeyless layout. You’ll be able to reach all the keys more easily, and you’ll have room to move the mouse closer to the keyboard.
  • Customize your keyboard. Take your mechanical keyboard to the next level by buying customized artisan keycaps for it. These handcrafted decorative keycaps can be expensive and hard to find.
  • Skip the USB. USB hubs built into the keyboard may seem like a great idea, but often these don’t have enough power to really consider them a pro feature.
  • Add O-rings. If your switches are too loud, you can easily fix this by adding your own O-rings to them.
  • Dim the lights. If you like the backlighting or LED lighting but find it to be a bit much, check the documentation to find out how to dim the brightness.
  • Harvest the keys. If your mechanical keyboard dies, you can harvest the keys to use in a custom-built board.

One of the more compact mechanical keyboards you can find is the 40%, or ortholinear, keyboard. This has just four rows of 12 keys each and uses two function layers to access the removed keys.

Other products we considered

The mechanical keyboard field is packed with keyboards offering a wide variety of features. While we focused on some that are tops in terms of both popularity and features, we should mention some other mechanical keyboards that we also love. The UtechSmart Wireless Mechanical Keyboard is a full-size keyboard that isn’t dependent on a too-short cord. This wireless keyboard gives you a variety of options for using it and ships with rechargeable batteries. The Logitech G910 Orion Spark Mechanical Gaming Keyboard offers gamers a host of special features, including nine programmable G-keys and media controls. We also love the smartphone dock. The KINESIS Freestyle Edge Split Mechanical Keyboard is also geared towards gamers, but it offers a unique split design that lets you customize it for your gaming rig. It also features custom layouts and detachable palm supports.

Compact mechanical keyboards, such as the 60%, are perfect for people with limited desk space or frequent travelers, but touch-typists and anyone who uses the number pad frequently may find them frustrating.

FAQ

Q. Can I build my own mechanical keyboard?
A.
If you’d rather try your hand at building a mechanical keyboard instead of buying one, there are DIY kits. This a great way to set up your keyboard with your favorite switches or switch combos.

Q. Which switch is best for an office setting?
A.
The tactile MX Brown or MX Clear switches are perfect for office situations. They offer excellent typing without the noise of a more clicky switch.

Q. Will these work with both a PC and a Mac computer?
A.
Read the product description carefully. Some of these are specific to either a PC or Mac, while others will work with both (although you might need to rearrange the keyboard some so it will work with your system).

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Rich
    Rich
    Writer

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