Interested in trying out a mechanical keyboard but don’t know here to start? We’ve rounded up some fantastic best-in-class models for every situation and budget.
If you’re unfamiliar with mechanical keyboards you might be curious as to why people seem so into them and if they’re a good fit for you. The main advantage of mechanical keyboards is a long, satisfying key travel thanks to individually-manufactured switch mechanisms. They’ve become incredibly popular among serious typists and gamers on account of how responsive they are and how enjoyable they are to type on. If you’ve never used one before the best analogy we can think of is it’s like the different between using a cheap plastic tool and a carefully machined all-metal tool—the weight and precision creates a more comfortable user experience.
The selection for mechanical keyboards is diverse—so diverse that nailing it down to a handful of selections is more or less impossible. But the following categories should have you covered if you’re just starting out, and you want to explore the better feel and more customization nature of mechanical keyboards in general. We’ve selected picks for the best all-around board, the best compact travel board, the best wireless and cheap options, and the best for those who want to dig into custom switches and keycaps.
Oh, and if you get confused with some of the terms below, check out this glossary from our sister site How-To Geek. It has all the obscure definitions for the mechanical keyboard niche—you’ll get the lingo down in no time.
Best All-Around Board: Cooler Master MasterKeys ($119)
Cooler Master is best known for PC cases, fans, CPU coolers and the like, but they’ve been making some fantastic general audience mechanical keyboards for a long time. Their current line, titled “MasterKeys” with a variety of modifying descriptions, offers a more sober take on a mech that’s equally at home in an office or in front of your gaming battlestation. Unlike some alternatives, it features genuine Cherry MX switches: red for gamers, brown for typists, blue for VERY LOUD TYPISTS. There are also three three different size choices, and a selection of lighting options—there’s a model for almost any user and budget. The top-of-the-line, $150 MK750 model features an aluminum case and a USB Type-C connection, but it’s not functionally very different from the much cheaper MasterKeys S. They’re all programmable with macros and custom functions via either included desktop software or binds using the keys themselves, though this can sometimes get confusing.
But what we like most about Cooler Master’s line is that it’s functional. Unlike mechanical keyboards that dominate other major retail brands, the MasterKeys line doesn’t try to dazzle you with superfluous styling or unnecessary add-ons. It’s just a keyboard, for solid typing and gaming, no matter which of the many models you choose. A recent upgrade to PBT keycaps, which makes them thicker and more satisfying, is a big plus.
The keys use a standard layout, which is good, since one of the few complaints for the line is that the printed key legends can wear away quickly with intense use. The standard positions of the switches and corresponding keycaps mean you can swap them out for a custom set if they start to look faded. That might not be something you’d thought much about with previous keyboards, but because the switches in mechanical keyboards are typically rated for millions upon millions of presses, then there’s a very good chance the keyboard itself will outlive the keycaps.
Best Compact Board: Vortex Pok3r ($130)
The Vortex Poker series is one of the most common 60% models. That means that the design strips away the right number pad, function row, and the arrow keys and the keys above them. It makes theswe boards about half as big as a full-sized keyboard, and ideal choices for users who travel a lot and want to take their keyboard with them (or just want more room to roam around their desks). There are a lot of them around, but the Pok3r model is an easy choice. It includes a no-nonsense layout, wide selection of genuine Cherry switches (eight different kinds, including the new quieter Silent Reds and Speed Silvers), and robust programming options. The dip switches on the bottom of the aluminum case can make easy adjustments, too, like switching to a DVORAK layout or setting the Caps Lock as a function key.
The Pok3r comes in white or black to match your setup, and some models are equipped with RGB lighting—though those use the cheaper ABS plastic keycaps instead of the thicker, nicer PBT. You can even get a fully custom-colored model from WASD Keyboards, which sells a rebranded but identical version. As nice as the Pok3r is, the 60% form factor can be tough to acclimate yourself to, because it uses function modifiers for so many keys, including the arrows. If you can’t bear to part with them, the Vortex Race 3 model is slightly larger but includes the function row and arrow keys.
Best Wireless Mechanical Board: Corsair K63 Wireless ($100)
There aren’t a lot of mainstream wireless mechanical keyboard options, at least if you demand a model from a notable brand. The Corsair K63 is the best in a short field. It offers a Bluetooth 4.2 connection for the mobile typists, a speedy 2.4GHz wireless dongle for those who don’t want the headache of pairing, and a backup USB connection for when the battery is low. The focus is on gaming, so the fast Cherry MX Red is the only switch choice, and Corsair sells a special “lap desk” accessory for pairing it with a mouse. But it works well for pure typists so long as you don’t demand a “clicky” feel to your keys, as can be found on Blue and Brown switches. We only wish the bottom row was standardized, so it would play nice with custom keycaps.
Corsair’s K63 comes with only a blue lighting option, there’s no full-sized version, and users note that it only lasts about a week before it needs a recharge. But at least it has some kind of backlighting and uses standard switches, which is more than we can say for the Logitech G613, its only mainstream competition. Logitech’s insistence on its own proprietary Romer-G switches, not to mention a big price increase, mean it’s a distant second.
When buying, note that there are wired and wireless models for the Corsair K63—you want the latter.
Best Budget Mechanical Keyboard: Qisan Magicforce ($40)
The Magicforce, like the Pok3r, is something of a staple of the mechanical keyboard community. Thanks to its low $40-50 price and a compact layout with arrow keys, it’s an excellent starting place for anyone who wants to try out a mechanical board without sinking too much money into it. The switches are “Cherry clones” (low-cost Chinese copies), and they come in Blue and Brown varieties. The board lacks any kind of programming or lighting, but the case uses an aluminum plate and detachable USB cable which are nice premium features. It’s also compatible with standard keycaps, so you can use it to start a collection or just jazz up the basic design.
Best Enthusiast Starter Mechanical Keyboard: Glorious GMMK ($125)
The “Glorious” brand is a little hyperbolic. But the main feature of the Glorious Modular Mechanical Keyboard is, if not glorious, then certainly praiseworthy. The design allows you to easily swap most Cherry-style switches, letting them customize the feel of the keyboard on the fly. You can even mix and match switches across the board—so if you want, say, the WASD keys light and the Caps Lock stiff, you can order the corresponding switches and swap ’em out in seconds. Unlike a normal mechanical board, there’s no soldering necessary to change switches. On the official Glorious PC Gaming Race website, buyers can choose from over a dozen different Gateron and Kailh switch types, full size or compact tenkeyless layout, and pre-assembled boards or do-it-yourself kits (above) for a slight discount.
The board isn’t all-powerful. The fine print says it needs switches compatible with SMD LEDs (tiny lights pre-installed on the circuit board), and more exotic switche types like Topre or low-profile variants aren’t compatible. The board supports RGB lighting, but many users report that the LEDs can vary in consistency from key to key. But for anyone who wants an easy way to check out the wide variety of typing experiences offered in the mechanical niche, it’s a great choice.