For some PC gamers, having the right keyboard attached to your computer can be almost as important as the hardware inside it. However, for the uninitiated, it can be hard to see what all the fuss is about. Is there really any difference between fancy gaming keyboards and a basic £10 keyboard from Microsoft or Logitech?
Don't worry; here, we explain the different features you should consider when on the market for a gaming keyboard, along with a selection of the best gaming keyboards available in 2019.
What to consider when buying a gaming keyboard
Not all gaming keyboards are born equal, and there are features that you should look out for when on the hunt for a new one.
Membrane vs mechanical
One of the principal differences is the keys themselves, and whether the keyboard is mechanical or membrane-based. Membrane keyboards use a layer of conductive plastic underneath the keys which forms an electrical contact when pressed. Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, use physical switches underneath each key, which are actuated when pressed.
Mechanical keyboards are generally said to be more crisp and responsive and keyboards using the high-quality Cherry MX mechanical switches are a firm favourite of PC gamers, allowing for faster, more precise keystrokes.
The principal downside of mechanical keyboards is that they're more expensive and bulky, versus more streamlined membrane models. There are also a variety of mechanical switches, such as the Gateron, Kailh, Romer-G and QS1 switches others in the market today - however, the Cherry MX switches are still the most popular switches out there.
Of course, how a keyboard feels is only part of its appeal; you want it to look good as well. Many gaming keyboards now come equipped with backlighting, allowing you to see what your typing even in the dark, as well as often enabling you to program specific colours or patterns for aesthetic appeal.
There are two types to look out for; per-key and zones. The former allows you to customise the colour for each key, and usually comes with a range of stunning RGB effects and can be used to highlight specific keys when gaming, while the latter only lets you customise lighting on a per-zone basis.
Layout and macro keys
Layout is also an important aspect of gaming keyboards. Many games rely on lightning-fast reflexes, and a split-second can mean the difference between glorious success and humiliating, abject failure. For this reason, gaming keyboard layouts are optimised for maximum efficiency, with ergonomic layouts, programmable keys and numerous shortcuts meaning that everything you need is always right where you need it.
Part of this is macro keys: programmable buttons to which you can assign long, complicated strings of keystrokes. This enables you to execute complex commands and manoeuvres with a single button press, saving time and effort and letting you focus on your gaming strategy. You can even create multiple profiles with separate macros, allowing you to tailor your macro sets to specific games.
Many additional factors can influence a gaming keyboard's appeal - the design and build quality, the convenience of its configuration software, additional multimedia keys and so on. You may find that if you're only an occasional gamer, you're perfectly happy with the most basic of peripherals. But for those of us that consider gaming a serious hobby, upgrading to a dedicated keyboard will change the way you play.
Best gaming keyboards of 2019
1. Logitech G513
The Logitech G513 has had a major upgrade compared to older-gen keyboards, sporting per-key RGB lighting, a soft, supportive palm rest and a brand new linear switch.
It’s comprised of a sturdy plastic frame topped with a sheet of aircraft-grade 5052 aluminium that, impressively, isn’t a fingerprint magnet. And despite the added tech, the G513 manages to stay compact and streamlined with a frameless design that makes it stand out from the sea of RGB-enabled gaming keyboards on the market. It also features floating keys that make it much easier to clean up all those crumbs that find their way beneath keycaps.
The per-key RGB lighting system is bright and vibrant, like many of Logitech’s other high-end peripherals, and LightSync technology integration means that you can synchronise lighting effects with the likes of the Logitech G560 gaming speakers for incredible effects.
That’s not the most impressive thing about the keys though; it’s the introduction of the Romer-G Linear Switch. Logitech claims that it delivers a quieter and 25 percent faster keystroke than its competitors, and after using the keyboard for some time for both gaming and working, we can safely say that it’s a huge improvement on the Cherry MX Red. It’s firm without providing too much resistance, and provides even actuation thanks to the boxy design of the mechanism.
Aside from the new switch, the Logitech G513 comes with a leatherette palm rest padded with memory foam. It’s large enough to support all kinds of hand sizes and is comfortable enough, though we must admit we prefer Razer’s Ornata Chroma palm rest; it’s softer to the touch and features magnets that make it snap into place, something not featured on the G513.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are no dedicated macro keys on the G513, though the Logitech Gaming Software provides the option to remap every key on the keyboard, including all 12 Function buttons. There aren’t dedicated media keys either, offering toggleable function keys as an alternative (we imagine this decision was made to keep the keyboard as slimline as possible).
You’ll also find a USB passthrough on the keyboard that comes in handy, but it’s limited to USB 2.0 and not the faster USB 3.0.
2. Razer Ornata Chroma
Razer is well known in the gaming world for its peripherals, and a Razer keyboard is the first choice for many. We previously had the BlackWidow Chroma in this list but we've replaced it with possibly the most comfortable keyboard in our roundup, the Ornata Chroma – a hybrid mechanical membrane gaming keyboard.
A key feature of the Chroma is Razer's all-new hybrid Mecha-Membrane provides gamers with the soft cushioned feeling of a membrane dome with the tactile click of a mechanical keyboard and the result is nothing short of amazing. Combined with a mid-height keycap that reduces the time taken to register keypresses, our fingers fly across the keyboard with ease and never miss-click. After trying out Razer’s Mecha-Membrane, it’ll be tough for us to go back to a standard mechanical keyboard – and that’s saying something.
However, it’s not just the Mecha-Membrane that provides the comfort, as the Ornata Chroma also comes with an ergonomic soft leather wrist rest. This means that you don’t need to hover your hands above the keyboard, or rest your wrists on the desk and stretch to reach keys just out of reach. The wrist rest means that your hands are always correctly positioned to reach all keys on the keyboard in a split second without getting tired, ideal for hardcore PC gamers that game for hours on end.
As the name suggests, the Ornata Chroma supports 16.8 million customisable colour options so you can basically do whatever you want with it. You can simply set it to a single colour to match the colour scheme in the room but also much more advanced things, like assigning specific colours to particular keys on the keyboard to help you locate it at a glance when gaming, or add cool ripple light effects.
Pretty lights aside, the Ornata Chroma comes with other features that’ll improve your gaming experience, including a gaming mode that’ll stop you quitting to your desktop by disabling the Windows key, and can also be expanded to Alt+Tab and Alt+F4. The only real omission from the keyboard? A lack of programmable keys, although you can customise macros via Razer Synapse for use within certain games.
3. Fnatic Streak RGB
The Fnatic Steak is a mechanical gaming keyboard that's right up there with the best of them. If you're coming from a bog-standard membrane keyboard (think bundled versions of the cheap Microsoft and Logitech keyboards) then you might have to spend a short while adapting to the slightly stepped rows of keys but they are a joy to use.
With the Streak you have a few options, mainly the type of Cherry MX key: Brown, Blue, Red and Silent Red. If you don't need RGB lighting, then you can save a good chunk of cash by opting for the Rush model which has red backlighting and lacks a few of the extra keys you get on the Streak.
Above the numberpad, you'll find three extra buttons - mic mute, competition mode and speaker mute - plus a metal volume control. Press the competition button and the backlighting switches to a constant orange glow at 25 percent brightness, plus the Windows key is disabled. This minimises distractions and ensures you don't accidentally bring up the Start menu when playing a game.
On the rear is an illluminated Fnatic logo but this is on a removable plate: Fnatic says you'll be able to order a custom aluminium plate with your gamertag on it. Obviously this isn't going to be seen unless you play at LAN parties so may well be a moot point for many.
Possibly more useful is the USB port to which you can connect and charge your phone. It isn't a USB 3 port, though, so isn't really for transferring large files to and from memory sticks or hard drives.
By default, the F keys do their usual jobs, but press the padlock button or hold the FN key and they take on other jobs including changing the keyboard lighting and brightness, media playback (when the app is in focus) and there's even a Task View button to switch between apps.
Again, likely to be more useful are the six customisable F keys, F1-F6. You can program what these do in the Fnatic OP software, such as macros, opening apps, opening files and remapping them to other keys. OP also lets you choose the lighting effects, including pulse, fade, gradient, rain and reactive, where keys light up when you press them.
The per-key lighting is excellent and you can customise the exact brightness you want and also the colour you want in competition mode. You can also disable any other keys you like. Overall the software is easy to use. It's just a shame there's no integration with other RGB systems from Asus, MSI, Corsair and others, so your keyboard won't automatically match the colours in your PC.
If there's a slight niggle it's the palm rest. It's far from bad, but it can be a little tricky to reconnect it with the keyboard when it becomes detached. At least the faux-leather padded top is removable and can be placed in three different positions to suit those who prefer it closer or further away from the keyboard.
It isn't the cheapest, but the Fnatic Streak is a great gaming keyboard.
4. Hexgears Venture
The Hexgears Venture is one of the least gaming-y gaming keyboards in this chart, but don't hold that against it: this is a phenomenal mechanical keyboard with per-key RGB lighting - it's just one that also wouldn't look out of place in an office.
The most unique feature here is that it uses low-profile Kailh Choc mechanical switches, which give a typing profile closer to a laptop than a classic mechanical board. That means the Venture is compact, comfortable if you're used to a laptop or membrane keyboard, and is lightning fast to type (or game) on.
You get a choice of three key switches: brown, red, or white. Our review unit uses the white switches, which are the clickiest and clackiest of the lot. If you fancy something quieter consider the brown, but for gaming you're really best off with the red, which use a linear switch for consistent response.
Beyond simply being a mechanical board, the main 'gaming' feature is the lighting. There's not only per-key RGB lighting, but also an RBG light ring that runs around the underside of the keyboard's edge. The two sets of lighting are controlled separately - so you can have them synchronised or clashing - though they're only controllable from the on-board controls, with no current software option to customise things.
The Venture is also missing out on gaming luxuries like extra programmable keys, and that's in part because it's designed to appeal beyond the gaming market. The slimline, minimalist aesthetic makes this just as appropriate to an office as a gaming rig, so it's the perfect keyboard for anyone who needs to game and work from the same machine.
There's Bluetooth support if you want to use the Venture wirelessly, with hot-switching between up to four connections. Battery life varies though - you'll get a few weeks of use without the lighting, or just 16 hours of active time if you stick the RGBs on. Still, for gaming you might prefer to use it wired anyway, and Hexgears includes a braided USB-C cable for charging the rechargeable AA batteries or just using the whole thing wired.
The Venture won't be the right keyboard for you if you want a comprehensive set of macro keys and extra features - there isn't even a palm rest. But if you just want a mechanical keyboard with RGB lights, the option to run it wirelessly, and a design that you wouldn't be embarrassed to show your mum, the Venture is very hard to beat.
5. MSI Vigor GK80
MSI are known for building fantastic products from gaming mice and keyboards through to motherboards and graphics cards. The MSI Vigor GK80 is no exception to this and offers an exceptional keyboard at a competitive price point.
From just a glance at the GK80 it's impressive to see how many keys MSI have placed on the board relative to its size. If you're looking for a premium keyboard but you're conscious of desk space, then you will struggle to find a design that makes better use of space.
Sixteen additional keys are dotted around the board, in addition to the 4 media buttons at the top right corner and 8 function buttons along the Fn keys.
The RGB lighting system on this board is extensive even in the realm of premium keyboards, and the two different bits of configuration software you'll need to operate them are a bit of a nightmare to get to grips with, certainly an area with room to improve.
14 different RGB modes means that there is almost certainly a mode to cater for your specific need, and with game modes for CS:GO, Overwatch and League of Legends the hardcore among us will be well catered for. With MSI's software you can also sync the RGB lighting of your keyboard up with your mouse and GFX card, if they're all MSI branded of course.
The board I tested comes with the Red Cherry MX switches which strike a solid middle ground between gaming and typing. The board can also come with Silver switches, which are faster and have to travel less distance before registering a key press (a difference between 4.0mm and 3.4mm).
The board also comes with metal WASD caps but comes with rubberised replacements if they're not your thing. There is space within the wrist rest to store these extra keys too, which is a nice touch.
Speaking of the wrist rest, it doesn't actually attach to the keyboard which took me a while to get my head around. Having said that, it does allow you to position your wrist rest more personally and so is more customisable, which can't be a bad thing.
If you're a huge fan of RBG customisation, then you're in for a treat here. If you're looking for a solid, well made mechanical keyboard by a reputable manufacturer then look no further. The extra keys and detached wrist rest make this a fine choice for your next board.
6. Roccat Vulcan 120 Aimo
If you’re looking for something a little more premium than Roccat’s Horde Aimo, then look no further than the Vulcan 120 Aimo. It’s the premium model in Roccat’s latest keyboard range, complete with a premium design that would work well at home or in the office and features we’d love to see introduced on other gaming keyboards.
The Vulcan 120 Aimo features an anodised aluminium top plate that is robust and fingerprint resistant, helping to keep the keyboard looking slick during long gaming sessions. This is paired with raised keys, giving the keyboard a unique design while also making it much easier to clean the bits of dust and food that tend to build up beneath them. That’s not the most impressive feature of the keyboard, though.
The shining feature of the Vulcan 120 Aimo is the Titan Switch Tactile, a new switch exclusively developed by Roccat for use in its keyboards. The switch provides quicker response times – up to 20 percent faster according to Roccat – without having to apply much pressure on the key, and it’s noticeable in use when both gaming and typing in general.
The switch is housed in a transparent cover that allows the backlit LED lighting to shine through brightly, as well as provide a glimpse at Roccat’s engineering prowess. While the lighting on Roccat’s Horde Aimo left a lot to be desired, the lighting on the Vulcan 120 Aimo is much more vivid and responsive.
The keyboard boasts several built-in lighting modes, all adjustable via the dedicated FX button and the dial in the top-right of the keyboard. The dial has several uses, from adjusting volume to tweaking the colour pattern on the keyboard, and can be customised for other uses via the Roccat software for PC.
Our one complaint? At almost £150, we’d have liked to have seen the inclusion of dedicated macro keys for more advanced gamers.
7. Roccat Sova
While every other gaming keyboard in our roundup is designed for use at a desk, the Roccat Sova allows you to take the keyboard and mouse experience to the couch. The Sova is technically a lapboard with an integrated keyboard, allowing you to play your games on the big screen without having to compromise and use a controller, and while it doesn’t come with a built-in mouse, you can plug your existing mouse into one of the two integrated USB ports.
The design is simple; you have a choice of a mechanical or membrane keyboard in the top-left of the lapboard, with enough space below to rest your wrist, and a large mousepad on the right. You’ll find a cable channel on the rear to keep your mouse cable nice and tidy, and large cushions on the bottom help alleviate pressure on your legs during those intense gameplay sessions. It’s also thin enough to slot down the side of the sofa when not in use - so far, so good, right?
The unique design of the Sova makes it a perfect accessory for console gaming (for which it offers plug-and-play support) as well as PC gaming, especially now that a growing number of PS4 and Xbox One games offer keyboard and mouse support alongside traditional controller support. You’ve also got a range of customisable options available via not only the Roccat Swarm software for PC but the companion app for smartphones too, allowing you to change your gaming configuration on-the-fly – even when playing on console.
So, what is it like in use? We’ll admit that it does take a bit of getting used to, especially the keyboard as it is a little smaller than most gaming keyboards we’ve used in the past. We received a membrane model for review so we can’t comment on the performance of the mechanical switch variant, but the membrane keyboard performs surprisingly well.
While you may question a membrane switch on a gaming keyboard, you have to take noise into consideration – this is designed to be used on a big-screen, and for most that will be in a communal area like a living room. The membrane switches of the Sova are a lot quieter than those a mechanical gaming keyboard, and while you may not mind the clicky-clacky sounds generated from mechanical keyboards when gaming alone, it can be annoying to those around you. Roccat is looking out for your friends and family’s sanity!
In essence, it’s the perfect accessory for keyboard and mouse gaming on the couch.
8. Asus ROG Claymore
There's a lot to love about the Claymore, the latest addition to Asus's Republic of Gamers line, which boasts RGB lighting, Cherry MX RGB switches, and a detachable numpad - you've just got to get past the price first.
And at £199.99, that price is a bit of a sticking point, making the Claymore the most expensive keyboard in our round-up. You can save £50 and grab the Claymore Core, which doesn't include the numpad, but then you miss out on one of the keyboard's coolest features. You see, not only can you detach the numpad for a more compact keyboard, but you can also attach it to either side of the main board. That means you could have it numpad-less for travel, attach the numpad to the right side for work, or stick it on the left for quicker access to macros and the like during games.
That's not the only trick that the Claymore has up its sleeve though. As you'd expect for the price, it features RGB lighting with a variety of different effects, customisable down to every single key. More impressively, the Aura Sync feature means that you can synchronise the lighting effects with your other Asus peripherals. That doesn't just mean your mouse though - you can also sync it to a compatible motherboard or graphics card, and even link the lighting effects to your CPU temperature for constant visual feedback, or control fan speed directly from the keyboard. It's worth mentioning that we didn't have a compatible board to test out the Aura Sync features though, so we can't confirm how well they work.
Getting beyond the gimmicks, the Claymore is a very solid keyboard, for gaming or otherwise. The metal body feels solid and sturdy, and the minimalist black finish looks great, with a subtle 'Mayan' effect engraved into the body. The numpad does feel a little loose when it's connected, which slightly detracts from the build quality, but as long as you don't plan to move the keyboard around too much you'll be fine.
The Claymore is equipped with Cherry MX RGB switches, and is available in Red, Blue, Brown, or Black, so it really covers every base. The key spacing is comfortable, despite the keyboard's compact size, so it won't take most users long to get used to it. In the interests of compactness, there aren't any dedicated macro keys either. The biggest downside, especially given the price, is that there's no wrist rest included, so bear that in mind if you struggle without one.
The ROG Claymore may be pricey at £200, but for anyone already in the market for a premium gaming keyboard, this might just be versatile enough to justify the price. Between the selection of four types of Cherry switches, and the variable numpad positions, there's some configuration of the Claymore that will be ideal whatever your needs. It also comes with two velvet travel pouches (one for the numpad), making it easy for tournament travel too.
9. SteelSeries Apex M750
The Apex M750 is the latest tournament-grade mechanical keyboard from SteelSeries, offering eSports-grade performance and a gorgeous design. It's ideal for those that want to get into the world of eSports, or those that simply enjoy the feel of a good mechanical keyboard beneath their fingers.
The SteelSeries Apex M750 features the sleek and minimalistic design famous across the SteelSeries keyboard range, boasting improved durability and a lighter body than previous keyboards. Why? The M750 is crafted from 5000 Series aluminium alloy, a similar alloy to that used in Apple's iPhone 7, famed for being robust without adding any weight.
There's a step-up in the LED department when compared to older SteelSeries keyboards like the M500, as the M750 boasts dynamic per-key RGB lighting. It boasts a number of LED profiles, from those that react when keys are pressed to something a little more impressive: GameSense.
GameSense integration provides game-specific LED animations based on in-game events like low health or grenade explosions, although it's limited to only three games at the moment.
And, of course, you can customise the LED patterns/colours via SteelSeries Engine for PC and Mac.
So, what makes this keyboard so great apart from cool LED effects? It’s mainly down to the keys. More specifically, the SteelSeries Apex M750 features QX2 Mechanical Switches for better performance and added durability, providing an average of 50 million clicks before issues arise.
For those that aren’t aware, low force and actuation point enables faster and more responsive gameplay, and is a standard candidate in any high-quality gaming keyboard. The M750 offers an impressive 45cN force and a 2mm actuation point, providing instant response for the competitive gamers out there.
We love gaming and generally typing using the Apex M750 – the response time is minimal and it’s extremely comfortable to use over long periods of time. The only downside? There aren't any programmable macro keys, a possible downside for those that rely on macro commands when gaming.