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 G915
The Logitech G915 is the first 9-series keyboard from the company in quite some time, and the wait has been worth it. The G915 is a stunningly thin low-profile gaming keyboard –22mm thick, to be precise – without compromising on the experience and performance that gamers want from a mechanical keyboard.
The body is comprised of a 5052 aluminium alloy top case and a steel-reinforced base to provide a keyboard that is robust, durable, strong and weighty – you don’t want your keyboard skating around your desk during intense in-game moments, do you? And, of course, it wouldn’t be a gaming keyboard without full Lightsync RGB backlighting customisable via the company’s G Hub software.
There’s more to the G915 than the look though; it’s the first Logitech keyboard to feature low-profile CHOC GL switches, measuring in at half the height of standard mechanical keys. The low-profile keys make typing and gaming with the keyboard a more comfortable experience when compared to standard mechanical keyboards, and you’ve got three variants of switch to choose from: GL Clicky, GL Tactile and GL Linear. The Clicky variant provides the audible and tactile feedback that most gamers want from a mechanical keyboard, and simply put, the typing experience is a dream.
Alongside the mechanical keys, you’ll find soft-touch profile switch and media control buttons and a gorgeous ridged metallic volume wheel. Our only complaint is that the function of the wheel can’t currently be customised via G Hub, although we hope that changes in the future. There are five macro keys for you to customise, though!
The G915 is also wireless, boasting Logitech’s proprietary Lightspeed wireless tech that provides 1ms response times, translating to lightning-fast response times during those crucial gaming moments. The keyboard also features standard Bluetooth support, allowing you to connect to a secondary device and switch between the two with the press of a button – ideal for streamers that have separate capture and gaming PCs.
Of course, with all those shiny RGB lights, you might worry about battery life – but you shouldn’t. The G915 lasts 30 hours with RGB backlighting enabled, which isn’t bad, but if you disable it, it jumps up to a whopping 1100 hours. The battery charges from 0-100 in three hours on average, and it can be used while it’s charging too.
If the idea of charging the keyboard is off-putting, we’d recommend the Logitech G815. It boasts the same design and features as the G915 but it’s wired-only (and a bit cheaper too, at £169.99/$199.99).
2. Razer Huntsman
The Razer Huntsman is amongst the company’s most popular gaming keyboards, and it’s not hard to see why. As well as looking the part, the Huntsman boasts Razer’s unique switches that provide an unrivalled typing experience.
The Opto-Mechanical switches used in the Huntsman feature optical light sensors inside each key, and whenever a key is pressed, a path is cleared for the receiver to be activated by the light signal. It sounds very complicated, but the end result is near-instantaneous response times when typing and gaming.
Razer also claims that the optical actuation provides improved durability, with the opto-mechanical switches lasting around 100m keystokes compared to the average 50m on offer by standard physical mechanical switches.
The performance of the keyboard is impressive, offering great travel, no noticeable resistance and that signature mechanical keyboard click. In fact, we’d argue that the Huntsman is amongst the loudest gaming keyboards we’ve ever used, and while we love it, those that work and play around you might not…
That’s further enhanced by stabiliser bars on top of each switch, which help keep keycap motion level and consistent no matter where the keycap is pressed. Thanks to the on-board anti-ghosting tech, the keyboard can register an impressive 10 simultaneous keypresses, perfect for those high-intensity gaming moments.
Though there are no dedicated macro keys on the Huntsman, the keyboard does feature Razer Hypershift, a feature that provides a secondary set of (customisable) functions on top of the existing function buttons with a simple button press. Those functions, along with the per-key RGB lighting on offer, can be customised via Razer Synapse for PC.
Keys-aside, the Razer Huntsman is a gorgeous-looking gaming keyboard that wouldn’t look out of place in an office – and that’s not something you can say about many of the keyboards in our roundup. The lifted keys and gentle glow of the RGB lighting give the Huntsman a premium look, further enhanced by the solid aluminium matte top plate. It’s also available in not one but three colour options to match your setup; Classic Black, Quartz Pink and Mercury White.
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. Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E 4
Following a strong re-entry into the PC peripheral market in 2018, Mad Catz has continued to release high-quality gaming accessories, and the latest is the S.T.R.I.K.E 4. The elegantly simple mechanical keyboard boasts the typical Mad Catz aestethic, complete with Mad Catz detailing along the bottom of the matte-black keyboard, but with enhanced features that should improve your game performance.
The highlight of the keyboard are the keys themselves; they’re matte, just like the body of the keyboard, giving them a nice feel, further enhanced by the concave design of the keys. Beneath the keys, you’ll find Cherry Mechanical switches that provide great travel, but we must admit, it’s not the ‘clickiest’ mechanical keyboard we’ve used. It almost feels like a membrane/mechanical hybrid, but with the performance of a standard mechanical keyboard.
You’ll also find anti-ghosting tech on-board that helps log and process every single keypress, but that’s fairly standard in gaming keyboards at this price point.
Beneath the keys, you’ll notice what the company calls Chameleon RGB Lighting. That’s standard RGB lighting to everybody else, with the S.T.R.I.K.E 4 offering per-key lighting along with 18 preset LED effects that’ll jazz up your PC gaming setup. The lights are fairly muted compared to other gaming keyboards on the market, and while that may sound like a drawback, we see it as a plus – how many times have you been distracted when gaming by the bright pulsating lights on your keyboard when gaming? Exactly.
That can be further enhanced via the F.L.U.X companion app for PC, which allows you to customise not only the lighting setup on a per-game and per-key basis, but allows you to remap keys and create macros to get the upper-hand on your opponents in the heat of battle. The only real drawback is that the S.T.R.I.K.E 4 doesn’t offer dedicated macro keys, although you could repurpose one of the many media/function keys available.
Whether you want a gaming keyboard for the lighting or the performance, the Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E 4 is a great option.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.