Looking to take your gameplay to the next level with a gaming keyboard? We bought and tested the 14 best machines available today to help find you the best. The following review delves deep into the weeds of switch type, macro set-up, software, lighting, and even palm rests. We've doused the hype surrounding gaming peripheries with practical performance tests and simplified the selection process with clear comparisons of the products. So, don't worry about sorting all the product specs in a spreadsheet before you buy because we've done all the nitty-gritty work for you in this comparative analysis.
The unrestricted customization in profiles, macros, and lighting in combination with a bevy of proprietary features make the SteelSeries Apex Pro the ultimate full-sized gaming keyboard. From the nearly infinite lighting effects that one can program, to the adjustable actuation sensitivity mechanical OmniPoint keys, to the onboard memory and quick profile switching "Meta" button, and on-the-fly macro programming — this machine can do it all with style. The SteelSeries Engine software that aids the user in making detailed and complex customizations is intuitive, too. Everything in Engine is plainly laid out including keybindings, meta bindings, key actuation adjustment and illumination, OLED, and Settings. What is an OLED? It's an integrated screen on the keyboard that displays information such as profiles, and macros settings — it's pretty handy. Moreover, the Apex Pro has 100% anti-ghosting with 104-key rollover.
Though this was our favorite keyboard, there are still a couple design aspects that weren't to our liking. For starters, the dedicated media keys are a bit strange. There is a mute/volume and then an unmarked button that requires you to memorize a click sequence for pause/play, forward/skip, and backward/previous track. It's not morse code, but it is annoying. Additionally, the roller is small and has a large amount of resistance, and the keyboard doesn't come with extra keycaps. We know that's nitpicky, but it is a courtesy that costs the manufacturer very little. That said, the included keycaps feel great, with a slight, almost grippy texture. All told, this is a well-thought-out and well-executed machine that will help to up any gamer's level of play.
The Cooler Master MK730 is a compact gaming keyboard with a plethora of dazzling preset LED light displays, on-the-fly key-binds, and a comfy magnetic palm rest. The machine comes with the option of Red, Blue, or Brown Cherry MX mechanical switches, nine extra keycaps, and standard caps with large transparent lettering that lights up for easy reading. The board also has a hybrid key rollover, where the N-key rollover works in tandem with a 6-key rollover.
The compact size of the MK730 (14-1/16 x 5-1/8 x 1-9/16 inches) is helpful for gamers looking for more mouse pad space. However, the extra real estate comes at the cost of several convenient features, like dedicated media keys (play/pause, forward and back, etc. are accessed via function keys), dedicated macro keys, and of course, a tenkey pad. Additionally, the MK730 lacks USB passthrough ports. That said, if you are looking for a pared-down mechanical gaming-specific keyboard with a variety of switch options, aesthetic backlighting, and a Windows key lock, this is the board for you.
Key Type: Rubber Dome | Macro Keys (#): No dedicated keys
REASONS TO BUY
24 key rollover
Some water resistance (IP32)
REASONS TO AVOID
No USB passthrough
The economic SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB is a full-sized gaming keyboard with a tenkey pad, dedicated media keys (including mute and a volume roller), 10-zone RGB lighting, and a super comfy magnetic palm rest. The proprietary Whisper-Quiet rubber dome switches are rated by the manufacturer to 20 million actuations and greatly reduce the clicking common to mechanical keys. Moreover, the board allows for quick and easy impromptu key remapping on a well-laid-out pad. As a bonus, the unit has a water-resistant rating of IP32 which claims to be good enough to withstand some minor moisture but not a significant spill.
Unfortunately, the low price of this peripheral comes at the cost of a few features that could be a deal-breaker for some users. Specifically, the board has relatively weak light effects and limited customization. Additionally, the Apex 3 lacks a USB passthrough port and dedicated macro keys. Yet, this keyboard is incredibly functional, easy to use, and comfortable to boot, especially at the price.
The tenkeyless Redragon K552 Mechanical uses Outemu Blue Key mechanical switches. For gaming applications, we found the Outemus to be superior to rubber domes switches, though less consistent from one key to the next when compared to Cherry switches. The keys are backlit and the unit comes with 19 preset light modes. Of these presets, eight light modes are color-coded to gaming-specific key groupings. Additionally, one can customize which keys stay lit and save them to one of two profiles.
The downside is the K552 does not have supportive software and it lacks stand-alone macros keys. Additionally, there are no dedicated media keys, USB passthrough ports, or palm rest. That said, the model has 12-key rollover and relatively compact dimensions (13-15/16 x 4-7/8" x 1-1/2 inches) given the hardware it houses. Overall, we feel this model balances size and performance well, especially given its minimal price tag.
There are a lot of features missing on the Ducky One 3 Mini, but that's the point of a 60 percent gaming keyboard. These minimalistic keyboards clear up a lot of room on the desktop for sweeping mouse gestures that are the hallmark of FPS gameplay. However, the Ducky isn't just a simple machine — it is an exceptionally well-built minimalistic machine. Most telling of its quality is its key action which makes it a pleasure to type on. The keys' action is smooth, solid, and has a satisfying click at the bottom end that is all but silent. This is a nice feature for your friends as they won't have to listen to incessant key strikes over their headsets when you join up for a fight. Additional odds and ends include extra keys, N-key rollover, a 5-foot, 11-inch braided USB cable, and onboard memory that stores up to six profiles. The keys' backlighting is customizable, too.
Saving space on your desktop comes with a tradeoff. Practically all of the keys on the Ducky One 3 Mini serve dual purposes, including arrow keys and media keys — dedicated macro keys are absent altogether. A USB passthrough and a palm rest are also lacking. These omissions are all understandable given the nature of the device. But, what really got our goat was the lack of software. The Ducky has six profile settings, detailed lighting customization, and macros, all of which require manual programming. Additionally, we experienced some firmware issues that further complicated the programming, and Ducky did not respond to our SOS email. We eventually got everything up and running, but it was not fun. Or at least it wasn't fun until we got to enjoy the solid, high-quality feel of the Ducky in action. In the end, the programming frustration was worth the effort.
The Corsair K95 RGB Platinum is a fully loaded gaming keyboard. This peripheral comes with customizable LED-backlit keys, a number pad, six programmable "G" keys, and dedicated media keys for stop, back, forward, pause/play, mute, as well as a volume roller for quick adjustments. Despite the massive amount of input possible with this board, it has 100% anti-ghosting with full key rollover. Add to this suite of features a USB passthrough port and a unique "X" cord organization channels on the underside and it becomes clear why testers favored this gaming godsend above the competition.
While we found few issues with this keyboard, we were surprised that an on-the-fly macro programming option is absent. Another concern is that the board's 18-5/16-inch width might be a bit much if one is looking for the room to run their mouse on an ultra-low DPI/CPI. Additionally, we did not find the iCUE software to be very intuitive or useful. Despite these limitations, we found the reversible (smooth/diamond texture) palm rest to be quite comfortable, and the Cherry switch options of MX Speed and MX Brown to be satisfactory — though we know switch selection is a matter of preference.
The Ducky One 2 Mini packs a punch for a board of its size (11-3/4 x 4-1/4 x 1-1/2 inches). This 60 percenter — meaning it uses 60% of the keys of a full-size unit — has N-key rollover, mechanical Cherry switches, multiple light options, and it comes in a variety of key colors. The model version we tested came with MX Brown switches and backlit keys that have six preset light profiles. The model also included extra keycaps for added flare and digit orientation.
While we love this machine for its sleek look and compact size, it is not the best for performing mundane computer work. Unlocking the full potential of this gaming keyboard requires the use of function keys for basic tasks like scrolling through text. Additionally, we were unable to find any supporting software. This lack means that keybinds must be set on the keyboard, a task that we found to be confusing and, at times, ineffective. Nonetheless, the desktop real estate saved with this compact machine will outweigh the limitations for the space-conscious gamer.
If you're ready to try out a full-size gaming board but still want to make rent, then the Corsair K55 RGB is the ticket. This machine has six dedicated macro keys, programmable RGB backlighting, 8-key selective rollover, as well as number and media keys. The macro keys are easy to program with the keyboard but the unit also comes with iCUE software which, while not the easiest to navigate, is certainly better than no software at all.
The K55 RGB brings a lot to the table, not least of all its low price. However, the savings do not come without compromises. For example, the key lights are relatively bland compared to higher-end models. Additionally, there is no USB passthrough, relatively limited NKRO, strange fonts on some key faces, and no extra keycaps. However, the machine makes a good stab at covering all the functionality of a top-shelf full-size keyboard and does so at a very reasonable price.
The Corsair K100 RGB is a full-sized keyboard with a host of customization options that make it useful for a variety of gaming genres. The Corsair uses proprietary OPX (Optical-Mechanical) switches that are supposed to reduce bouncing — though we didn't notice a difference from standard mechanical switches. The K100 RGB has dedicated media keys (stop, pause/play, forward/back, and a volume roller) located above the number pad. We found the volume roller's action to be smooth with low resistance. There are six dedicated macro keys as well, conveniently located along the left perimeter of the keyboard. Adding a bit of flair to the unit are customizable perimeter lights that create an underglow effect that we thought was pretty cool. The keyboard also includes extra keycaps for commonly used keys and a puller. The unit sports full N-key rollover with 100% anti-ghosting, a built-in USB-A port, USB passthrough, and a braided 6-foot cable. Last but certainly not least, is the super easy-to-use iCUE software that efficiently aids the user in programming profiles, macros, and lighting.
Although there is plenty to love, we felt the manufacturing and construction were subpar. For instance, the control wheel felt loose and wobbly, and the keys had inconsistent resistance. Some were noticeably stiffer than others, while their action was loud enough to distract from the experience. The key faces also felt slippery, and we didn't love the angle of the palm rest — it made our hands arch high and pointed our fingers nearly straight down. Admittedly, this is subjective. However, our testers could not ignore it. Finally, the unit lacks on-the-fly macro set-ups and the RGB lighting on the keys is quite dim, primarily serving to illuminate the letters as opposed to adding light effects. Along with all these technical complaints, this model is expensive. Yet, the K100 RGB comes packed with nearly every feature desirable for high-end gaming, making its value a matter of feature preferences.
Key Type: Linear optical or Clicky optical | Macro Keys (#): No dedicated keys
REASONS TO BUY
Fully customizable lighting
REASONS TO AVOID
Extra cable for under lights
No USB port
The Razer Huntsman Elite isn't cheap but you get a lot of functionality for the dollars spent. For instance, the awe-inspiring light system allows the user to essentially individually color-code each key. Underglow lighting adds some extra pizazz, though it will require an extra cable. The Razer Synapse software is easy to use and offers features such as key remapping, programmable lighting, and storage for up to five of these profiles on a hybrid onboard/cloud storage. Additionally, this model features 10-key (simultaneous) rollover with anti-ghosting. Add to these features a number pad, media controls (including a big volume dial) as well as fold-out feet, and you will likely be more understanding of the hefty price tag.
The action-packed Huntsman Elite isn't without flaws. Most glaring is the absence of dedicated macro keys, an odd omission considering everything else loaded onto this full-size unit. The board also lacks a USB port. Absent features aside, this model allows for simple and flexible on-the-fly macro recording and the optical switches boast a whopping 100,000,000 actuation lifespan — a bold claim for sure.
The full-size Logitech G513 Carbon Lightsync keyboard offers users a whole lot of customization in key remapping, lighting, and color-coding as well as with keycaps and user modes. While it lacks dedicated macro keys, all the F-keys are available for this use. Combined with the simple G-shift function, these keys can take a second set of programs, making for 24 macros in total. Logitech's proprietary G-Hub software is intuitive and offers preset commands that can be dragged and dropped into F-keys or you can set them manually. The backlighting is also fully programmable, though nine preset arrays are available.
As one might guess, the main gripe about the G513 is that one can only assign macros to the F-keys where other top-shelf machines have dedicated macro keys and most of the keys can be remapped or have functions assigned to them. While this is an anecdotal complaint, we were forced to physically twist our unit's aluminum body as it wasn't straight end-to-end causing it to rock when we typed. Surprisingly, this action worked and we were able to proceed with our tests. Despite these issues, we remained impressed with the level of complexity and iterative action that one can build into the macros functions. This unit is a highly-functional gaming peripheral.
The Razer Cynosa Chroma V2 is a decent quality gaming keyboard with the user-friendly, feature-packed Synapse software backing it up. It has fully customizable backlighting as well as 11 preset light arrangements, and it also boasts dedicated media keys for keeping sound effects and music dialed just right. Additionally, the unit has N-key rollover with anti-ghosting as well as the Hypershift function that allows the user to seamlessly move between customizable keyboard layouts.
On the downside, we were a little surprised that, given the other features packed into this keyboard, theV2 lacks a palm rest and USB passthrough ports. Perhaps these were omitted to keep the cost down. An additional concern is the initial stiffness of the keys. While they did break in over the course of our testing, the fact that their action changed in such a short period left us wondering about their long-term durability. That said, we think that this model offers consumers considerable value as the keys are completely remappable, and binds may be set on-the-fly.
Key Type: Membrane | Macro Keys (#): No dedicated keys
REASONS TO BUY
Adjustable LED brightness
REASONS TO AVOID
No palm rest
No USB passthrough
The HyperX Alloy Core RGB is a limited keyboard with a performance that is reflected in its low cost. We appreciate its six preset key lighting arrays and three brightness levels, as well as its dedicated media keys, including volume. Additionally, this keyboard has multi-key anti-ghosting and a "gaming mode." This latter feature is just a lockout of the Windows keys but it's useful nonetheless.
Unfortunately, this machine has significant limitations. Specifically, it lacks the ability to set macros. Yeah, you heard right. No macros. If this isn't bad enough, the unit lacks extra keycaps and software to aid in keyboard remapping and color-coding. Additionally, the membrane keys lack the durability found in their mechanical counterparts. All told, this machine is a far cry from the most capable gaming peripheries but it'll get the job done if need be.
The Corsair K70 RGB TKL is a tenkeyless unit that has a host of customizable features in a relatively small package. Aiding the user in the programming of the unit is Corsair's excellent iCUE software that makes profile, macro set-ups, and lighting adjustments (of which there are numerous effects) quick and easy. The unit boasts a profile button and dedicated media keys, too, with a conveniently located volume roller that can be locked to prevent accidental adjustment during heated gameplay. There is also a "tournament mode" switch that locks macros and lighting for focused gameplay. Finally, the keys have full N-key rollover with 100% anti-ghosting.
The Corsair K70 RGB TKL lacks several features we would like to see the manufacturers include. For starters, there are no on-the-fly macros, which could be a deal-breaker for some adaptive or creative players. The unit also lacks a palm rest, making the keys feel high and awkward and ultimately resulting in premature finger fatigue. The keys themselves are relatively loud, and they're also slick-feeling when fingers are sweaty. Truth be told, there are better tenkeyless boards on the market at a comparable price.
Why You Should Trust Us
To cut through all the hoopla surrounding gaming devices, we bought the top gaming keyboards on the market and put them through a rigorous but practical series of tests that cover all aspects of performance and reliability. Specifically, we looked at software supporting the devices, lighting, palm rest comfort, macros set-up, and media keys. All these features were evaluated while playing hours of MMOs, MOBAs, RTSs, ARPGs, and FPS.
Senior Research Analyst Austin Palmer is a dedicated gamer in his free time and an electronics specialist during the workweek. Over the last half-decade, he has been on the leading edge of testing everything from VR headsets to smartwatches. All told, Austin spends the majority of his waking hours with his fingers dancing across a keyboard. Likewise, Senior Review Editor Nick Miley uses a keyboard for work and recreation. While not a passionate gamer, Nick uses macros for administrative work and having typed millions of words in the course of his career, knows quality switch action and well laid out features when he uses them.
Analysis and Test Results
To determine which keyboards are the premier models in the class, we spent hours banging away on them in frenzied gaming fashion. We looked at every aspect of product performance ranging from comfort to ease of operation to customization capacities. The results of this deep dive are detailed below with descriptions of which product performed well and why.
Many of the products in this review come with proprietary software that helps the user set up the key backlighting, set macros, and remap the key layout. The depth of complexity and customization supported varies considerably. However, the RazerSynapse, the SteelSeriesEngine, and the Cooler MasterPortal are our favorites simply because they are effective.
The main criteria for high-ranking software are that the program is relatively easy to learn and operate, that it allows for a high level of complexity (such as assigning macros with multiple commands with timed delays), and that the GUI is well laid out with large text and graphics. The RazerSynapse software has a great deal of functionality with straightforward remapping and light coding of any key though the interface is a bit confusing at first.
SteelSeriesEngine offers a lot of guidance to the user with instructional videos to get things rolling. Once one is familiar with the tools, it is easy to assign keybindings, key illumination, and general settings. Our main complaint with this software is that the keyboard illustration that you work within the GUI is a little small and hard to see, at least for our bespectacled eyes.
Conversely, the Cooler MasterPortal software was great though it seemed a bit redundant since the keyboard it supports has seamless on-the-fly programming. Nonetheless, Portal is simple to operate, has easy-to-read text and graphics, and has a good guide.
All of the software that we reviewed have bugs and require some work to unlock their full capabilities. That's the nature of any software. The issue we had was in the limitations imposed on key assignments, remapping, and lighting, which will be discussed below. It should be noted that we could not find software supporting the Ducky One 2 Mini, the Redragon K552, or the HyperX Alloy Core RGB.
Key backlighting is not only a cool feature but practical for user orientation. However, when all the key lights are programmable, both the manufacturer and the user can produce some pretty sweet effects to enhance the gaming experience. The Razer Huntsman Elite, the Razer Cynosa Chroma, the Corsair K70 RGB TKL, the SteelSeries Apex Pro, the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum, and the Logitech G513 Lightsync are ultra customizable. These models have expansive lighting options that facilitate layering effects and nearly unlimited color to key assignment. The Huntsman Elite and the Corsair K100 RGB are notable for palm rest lights in the prior's case and perimeter lighting in the latter's.
The Cooler Master MK730 has an abundance of really cool preset light profiles such as rainbow, reactive fade, stars, rain, breathing, ripple, reactive punch, and fireball, to name just a few. Additionally, the Logitech G513 Lightsync allows one to sync their Logitech mouse and headset to display the same lighting displays.
If you are all about backlight customization but don't want to break the bank, then look to the Cooler Master MK730 as it is highly rated but is relatively inexpensive. The main reason for this prowess is that it allows customization down to individual keys. The Ducky One 3 Mini, the Ducky One 2 Mini, and the Redragon K552 are the next tier down as they have some restrictions. For example, the K552 allows the user to turn on/ off individual keys, but not change color.
Palm Rest Comfort
Admittedly, the palm rest analysis is subjective because it has to do with the anatomy of each user. However, some boards do not come with a rest at all, and those that do have different attachments, construction materials, and depths.
The Redragon K552, the Ducky One 2 Mini, the Ducky One 3 Mini, the Razer Cynosa V2, the Corsair K70 RGB TKL, and the HyperX Alloy Core RGB do not come with palm rests and will not be discussed further in this part of our evaluation.
Conversely, the SteelSeries Apex Pro, the SteelSeries Apex 3, and the Cooler Master MK730 were our favorites. See below for details and comparisons.
The SteelSeries Apex Pro and SteelSeries Apex 3 garnered accolades because their rests are magnetically attached to the board (so you can easily reposition it as needed) and because they are tapered and thin. Their simplicity is the key to their success — we found them to have a nice, supportive angle that allowed us to comfortably reach all the keys. Likewise, the Cooler Master MK730 utilizes magnetic attachments and minimalistic pleather (polyurethane leather). One tester found that it was a little too close to the keyboard but with the magnetic attachment it was easy to pull it off and scoot it back to a suitable position.
The Corsair K95 RGB Platinum has a reversible palm rest cover with a smooth side and a diamond textured side that gives the undecided user options. Both the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum and the K55 RGB use a physical attachment, which is annoying if you want to make adjustments frequently but nice when you want to pick up the board and rest with one hand. The magnetic Logitech G513 Lightsync uses memory foam and offers very cushy support in comparison to others in the class. Finally, the Corsair K100 RGB also uses a magnetic attachment system but with the addition of guiding tabs. The padding is thin, which is fine, but the angle of the rest put our hands at an uncomfortable angle.
Macro keys are perhaps the most important feature of a gaming keyboard. For this metric, we focus on the ease with which they can be set up, what keys can be reassigned, and the complexity of the function assigned. All the Corsair models lead the pack in this evaluation simply because the iCUE software they use simplifies and streamlines the remapping process via its revamped user interface. However all of these machines all lack on-the-fly programming and, it should be noted that the Corsair K70 RGB TKL lacks dedicated macro keys.
The Cooler Master MK730 is also a favorite because it is easy to set macros on-the-fly while maintaining a level of complexity that requires the use of software in other units. Although this model lacks dedicated macro keys, one is not limited in where the macro can be assigned on the keypad. The SteelSeries Apex Pro has comparable performance to the MK730, but we found it just a touch more demanding to program despite the Engine software's well-laid-out interface.
The Razer Cynosa Chroma V2 and the Razer Huntsman Elite have a similar level of functionality. While the Huntsman Elite lacks dedicated macro keys, both units' macros are easy to set up on-the-fly. Additionally, you can assign them to any key you wish or rebind any key. If having dedicated macro keys is a must, check out the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum and the Corsair K55 RGB but be aware that the K95 RGB cannot set them on-the-fly.
Strangely, the HyperX Alloy Core RGB and the Redragon K552 lack macro functionality altogether. This left us wondering if they are truly gaming units given this omission.
Media keys consist of controls such as play/pause, back, forward, and volume. Several models such as the Razer Huntsman Elite, the Razer Cynosa V2, the Corsair K55 RGB, the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum, the HyperX Alloy Core RGB, the Corsair K70 RGB TKL, the Corsair K100 RGB, the SteelSeries Apex Pro, and the SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB all have dedicated keys for this purpose.
Other models, such as the Redragon K552, the Ducky One 2 Mini, the Cooler Master MK730, and the Logitech G513 LIGHTSYNC, access these controls through the F-keys.
Whatever your media key preference happens to be, we found the models with dials or rollers controlling the volume to be best suited to gaming. This is simply because rollers allow for fast and precise adjustments that limit the interruption of one's gaming experience. Models using volume rollers or dials are the Corsair K100 RGB, the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum, Corsair K70 RGB TKL, SteelSeries Apex Pro, SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB, and Razer Huntsman Elite. The Huntsman has a big dial at the top right corner of the board and at its center is a mute button that testers found to be pretty slick.
Our comprehensive evaluation of gaming keyboards looked at all the key components that collectively make for a smart and effective peripheral. Specifically, we looked at the software for programming and customizing the machine, the types of switches used, the media and macro keys, the palm rest, rollover, and, of course, backlighting. High-performance gaming requires a great deal from a keyboard, so don't get caught off guard with limited macros or ghosted keystrokes. The above review has all the information you'll need to pick the best board to fulfill your gaming performance expectations while meeting your budget. If you need a mouse to complete your gaming setup, we've tested those too in our our gaming mice review.
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