Technically, any keyboard you use for gaming is a gaming keyboard. But a keyboard built for gaming often has features mainstream boards can’t match, like ultra-fast polling rates, per-game macro profiles, dedicated media controls, and robust RGB lighting customization (and integration with other parts of your setup).
Mechanical keyboards are ideal for gaming. Not only do they offer a better and more precise tactile experience than the more common butterfly or membrane-switch keyboards, but they also last longer. And they allow for a more personalized experience by providing a variety of switch options for different feels, a wealth of aesthetic customization options in the form of keycaps, and (often) detachable cables. Some gaming keyboards now have hot-swappable PCBs as well, allowing you to swap out switches at will.
Whether you want full-size or compact, wireless, analog, or modular, these are the best keyboards of the dozens I’ve tested.
If you are interested in a mechanical keyboard but don’t need gaming-specific features like easy macro programmability, ultra-high polling rates, or software that integrates with other programs, check out our guide to the best mechanical keyboards. Yes, you can game with those, too.
The best gaming keyboard for most
Layout: Tenkeyless or full-size / Connection: Wired USB-A / Keycaps: Shinethrough PBT / Switches: Razer Optical (linear or clicky) / Backlighting: RGB / Hot Swap: No
The Razer Huntsman v2 is a solid, accessible off-the-shelf gaming keyboard from a major brand. It’s available in both tenkeyless and full-size layouts, has a fairly subdued look for a gaming keyboard, and its ultrafast polling, optical switches, and Razer Synapse software set it apart from more conventional boards. It’s the one I’d recommend to most people buying their first gaming keyboard.
The Huntsman V2 is available with either clicky or linear optical switches, which use an interrupted beam of light to register keystrokes and provide a faster response than standard mechanical switches. The limited selection may discourage some DIY-hards, but considering that linear switches are the weapon of choice for most gamers, I don’t think it’s a glaring issue. My colleague Jon Porter, in his review of the Huntsman V2, found the linear switches’ built-in sound dampening gave them a mushy feel, but I didn’t mind them.
Most people won’t notice the difference between the Huntsman V2’s 8000Hz polling rate and the 1000Hz rate of most wired keyboards — we’re talking .125 milliseconds versus 1 millisecond — but at least it means your reaction time, not the connection speed, is your limiting factor. The V2’s other features are more noticeable: the PBT keycaps feel nicer and don’t shine as quickly as ABS and the sound-damping foam helps keep noise down a bit.
The Huntsman V2 comes in both tenkeyless and full-size layouts. Unless you really want a built-in number pad, the TKL should be your first choice since it lets you keep your mouse closer. The full-size version does have a volume knob and media controls above the number pad, but it doesn’t have a detachable USB cable.
The Razer Huntsman V2 is the follow-up to Razer’s initial attempt at a keyboard with optical switches. This iteration brings back their lightning-fast optical switches but includes sound-dampening foam for better acoustics, and PBT keycaps.
Among the few keyboards with comparable layouts, features, and capabilities is the Corsair K100. It’s equipped with Corsair’s own optical switches but has a larger footprint, doesn’t have sound-dampening foam, and costs considerably more — though it does have dedicated macro keys and an auxiliary media dial.
The Huntsman V2 is going to fit the bill for most people who want a standard gaming keyboard. If you want a more customizable board, a number pad on the left, an analog keyboard, or something more moddable, though, there are plenty of more interesting options. — Alice Newcome-Beill
The best premium gaming keyboard
Layout: TKL + Numpad (full-size) / Connectivity: Detachable USB-C / Keycaps: Shinethrough PBT / Switches: Cherry MX Red, Blue, Brown, Silver, Silent Red / Hot Swap: Yes (3-pin)
The Mountain Everest Max is technically a full-size gaming keyboard. I say technically because it’s modular.
The main chassis (available separately as the Everest Core) looks like a conventional tenkeyless board. The Max also includes a number pad that can be attached to either side and a multi-function media dock (both available separately) that can attach to either the top left or top right of the main chassis. This flexibility, its build quality, and other features make it a strong contender, especially for folks who prefer the number pad on the left — a rare option in gaming keyboards.
The number pad has four macro buttons at the top that can be customized with jpegs from your library (yes, like a Stream Deck). The media dock functions largely like the dedicated media controls that you’ll find on other full-size gaming keyboards, with buttons for controlling playback and a bezeled dial for controlling volume. However, the dial also has a small screen that can adjust the lighting on your keyboard, check system resource usage, or just show you the time. Overall, it’s a pretty cool piece of engineering that makes better use of the space usually reserved for rudimentary media functions.
The modular design is the Everest Max’s biggest differentiator, but it also has the best build quality of any off-the-shelf keyboard I’ve tested, and its RGB lighting can be synced with Razer’s Chrome software. It has hot-swap switch sockets, though they only support three-pin switches. (You can always cut the extra legs off of five-pin switches with a flush cutter, but who has the time?)
In addition to the media dock and number pad that come with the Max, Mountain now sells two more modules: a $109.99 DisplayPad with 12 Stream-Deck-like customizable buttons and a $59.99 MacroPad with 12 hot-swap MX-compatible macro keys. Either can be docked to the left or right side of the main chassis or used standalone.
If you’ll take advantage of its modularity, the Everest Max is worth every penny. It’s one of the very few ways to get a gaming keyboard with a southpaw number pad, for example, and the dock system lets you add a bunch of functionality to your desk without a bunch of wires. But the $250 price for the Everest Max is a high hurdle, and if you buy piecemeal, it’s even more expensive. — Alice Newcome-Beill
Best analog gaming keyboard
Layout: 60 percent / Full-size / Connection: Detachable USB-C / Keycaps: Shinethrough PBT / Switches: Lekker Hall Effect analog / Backlighting: RGB / Hot-swap: Yes (Lekker switches only)
On the surface, the Wooting 60 HE doesn’t do much to grab your attention, but the secret is in the switches. While other keyboards are busy bragging about higher polling rates, Wooting’s Lekker switches offer a genuine advantage for the gamer willing to put in some work. Instead of registering keypresses by physically closing a circuit, they use a magnetic field to sense the position of a magnet inside the switch — the Hall effect.
Their biggest edge is the customizable actuation point, which lets you adjust how quickly your keyboard registers (and resets from) individual keystrokes. This feature also allows you to map different commands to the same key based on how much pressure you put on it and offers translation of true analog movement on your keyboard, similar to what you’d experience with a gamepad. Rapid reset — which stops the key input as soon as you let up on the pressure — can provide a tangible advantage over other gaming keyboards in twitchy first-person shooters like Apex Legends or Counterstrike. (Steelseries has been using its Omnipoint 2.0 Hall effect switches in its Apex lineup of keyboards for years now, but the Lekker switch can register a more granular set of inputs, allowing for up to four separate functions as opposed to the Omnipoint 2.0’s two.)
Aside from the switches, the Wooting 60 HE is a pretty standard 60 percent keyboard, with features like PBT keycaps, a detachable USB-C cable, and included sound-dampening foam. One nice touch: it’s compatible with most standard 60 percent keyboard cases: I popped the PCB and plate into a Tofu60 case with no problems. Wooting also makes a full-size keyboard, the Wooting Two HE, with the same switches.
For those who will take advantage of them, the Wooting 60 HE’s analog switches and customizability justify the above-average price. But unless you’re going to use both of these features, the 60 HE is a tough sell. If you’re looking for a keyboard to tear open and mod, there are other options on this list that don’t cost nearly as much. — Alice Newcome-Beill
Best 65 percent wireless gaming keyboard
Razer’s first 65 percent gaming keyboard uses its HyperSpeed 2.4GHz wireless dongle, and it can also pair with up to three devices via Bluetooth. The BlackWidow V3 Mini can last for up to 200 hours on a charge, if you turn the RGB lighting off, and is rechargeable via USB-C.
Layout: 65 percent / Connectivity: Detachable USB-C, Bluetooth, HyperSpeed 2.4GHz (1000Hz) / Keycaps: Doubleshot ABS / Switches: Razer Linear Yellow, Clicky Green / Hot-swap: No
The BlackWidow V3 Mini Hyperspeed is Razer’s first 65 percent gaming keyboard. This layout makes for a good compromise for anyone that wants a keyboard with a smaller footprint that retains directional arrows and navigational keys.
Besides the layout, the biggest selling point for the BlackWidow V3 is its wireless connectivity. While wireless mechanical keyboards are increasingly common, Bluetooth’s relatively pokey 125Hz polling rate isn’t ideal for fast-paced gaming. The BlackWidow V3 can connect to up to three paired devices with Bluetooth, but for gaming, you’re much better off using the included HyperSpeed wireless dongle — its 1000Hz polling rate is as fast as most wired keyboards (though not the Huntsman V2 mentioned above, which is a faster-than-necessary 8000Hz). The dongle is also compatible with Razer’s HyperSpeed mice and headsets, so you can use a single dongle to connect multiple peripherals.
Battery life isn’t bad, either. I was able to keep the V3 running for around 17 hours with the RGB lighting on its highest setting, and Razer claims it can last for up to 200 hours with the backlighting off.
Just like other Razer keyboards, the Blackwidow V3 uses proprietary switches. They’re available in linear or clicky varieties and are virtually indistinguishable from the popular red and blue Cherry-style switches used in the majority of mechanical keyboards. The overall typing experience is quite good, although, at this price, it would’ve been nice to get some type of sound dampening for the chassis, or quieter stabilizers, to improve the acoustics. Also, just like Razer’s other keyboards, the PCB isn’t hot-swappable. — Alice Newcome-Beill
A great customizable keyboard you can game on
Layout: 75 percent (other options available) / Connectivity: Detachable USB-C / Keycaps: Doubleshot PBT / Switches: Keychron K Pro Red, Blue, Brown / Hot-swap: Yes (5-pin)
The Keychron V1 isn’t specifically a gaming keyboard, but — don’t make me tap the sign — it is if you game on it. It has a 1000Hz polling rate, hot-swap switches, great build quality and typing feel, fully customizable key mapping, and even RGB. The only thing separating it from gaming gaming keyboards is the software: It doesn’t have the easy macro programming, granular lighting control, or software integrations of Razer’s Synapse or Corsair’s iCue. On the other hand, it doesn’t have the bloat of Synapse or iCue, and it does still have macro programming and full keymap customization through VIA. It also has a volume knob.
The V1 is a 75 percent keyboard, which is a great all-around layout for gaming and typing, though Keychron has plenty of other layout options if you prefer. It’s available with clicky, linear, or tactile switches, and its hot-swap sockets make it trivial to swap for your switch of choice.
The V1 is a killer deal for what you get — it’s our top pick for mechanical keyboards for a reason — but if you want a heavier, fancier-feeling keyboard, the Keychron Q1 Pro has all the features of the V1, plus Bluetooth, gasket mounting for a bouncier type feel, and a milled-aluminum case. — Nathan Edwards
A cheap low-profile gaming keyboard
Layout: Tenkeyless (TKL) / Connection: Detachable USB-C / Keycaps: Shinethrough PBT / Switches: Outemu low-profile / Backlighting: RGB / Hot-swap: Yes (Outemu low-profile only)
The Tecware Phantom L is an inexpensive, low-profile tenkeyless gaming keyboard. A low-profile keyboard uses switches with a shorter stem and a more squat housing that results in less travel distance when pressing keys. If you’ve never used a low-profile keyboard for gaming, I’d suggest giving it a try, and at this price, there’s little reason not to.
Just like many other gaming keyboards, the Phantom L is available with linear, tactile, or clicky switches. The PCB is technically hot-swappable, but Tecware says it’s only compatible with Outemu low-profile switches, and the stock switches are remarkably difficult to remove — I had to double-check that they weren’t soldered in. However, given that hot-swap PCBs are such a rarity in low-profile keyboards, I’m willing to give the Phantom L a pass, especially at under $50.
The Phantom L also features per-key RGB lighting that can be adjusted either via keyboard macros or by using the software available on the Tecware site. The software could certainly be better, but it does a passable job of letting you adjust the lighting and set up macros. Compared to something like Razer’s Synapse software or Corsair iCue, Tecware’s software is leaner in both its lighting and profile options, but it hits the basics.
If you’re looking for a gaming keyboard on the cheap, the Tecware Phantom L provides amazing value for its price. The low-profile form factor may not appeal to everyone, and modifying the switches may prove problematic down the line, but you’ll have a tough time finding another keyboard with the same set of features for less. — Alice Newcome-Beill
Key Terms Used in Gaming Keyboards
Switches — the component that registers each keypress. Available in many different varieties, which roughly break down into three categories:
- Clicky switches make a big audible “click” sound when you press them. The most famous example is the “Cherry MX Blue” switch, so these are sometimes referred to as “Blue” switches. Often recommended as the best switch for typists but have the disadvantage of being the loudest switch type.
- Tactile switches, also known as “Brown” switches, after “Cherry MX Brown.” These switches have a small bump you can feel as you press them. A nice halfway house.
- Linear switches, aka “Red” switches, have no bump or click. They just feel completely smooth. Generally recommended as a gaming switch.
Other switch-related terms:
Hot-swappable switches can be removed with a simple pulling tool without desoldering. Ideal if you want to change a keyboard’s feel without replacing the whole thing.
Low-profile switches have a shorter stem and typically a shorter travel distance and are usually paired with low-profile keycaps to give the keyboard an overall slimmer silhouette. Often incompatible with standard MX-style keycaps.
Analog switches use magnetic Hall effect sensors as opposed to the mechanical actuation found in most switches. Analog switches allow you to set custom actuation points or assign different functions to a key based on how hard it’s pressed.