Best Gaming Keyboard of 2021
The Corsair K95 RGB Platinum is a fully loaded keyboard. This peripheral comes with customizable LED-backlit keys, a number pad, 6 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" 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 Cooler Master MK730 is a compact 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, 9 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") 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.
The tenkeyless Redragon K552 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, 8 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.
Unfortunately, the K552 does not have supportive software and it lacks stand-alone macros keys. Additionally, there are no dedicated media keys, USB passthrough ports, nor a 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" ) given the hardware it houses. Overall, we feel this model balances size and performance well, especially given its minimal price tag.
The Razer Cynosa 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 arraignments, 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.
The economic SteelSeries Apex 3 is a full-sized keyboard with 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. Lastly, we found the manufacturer's Engine3 software to be a bit challenging to download and we had trouble saving the changes we made to the key functions. Yet, this keyboard is incredibly functional, easy to use, and comfortable to boot, especially at the price.
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"). 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 6 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 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 6 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 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 will store up to 5 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.
While the Huntsman Elite is certainly action-packed, it isn't without some shortcomings. Most glaring is the absence of dedicated macro keys, an odd omission considering everything else loaded onto this 17 ⅝" x 5 ½" x 1 ⅜" unit. Additionally, the board 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 to be sure.
The full-size Logitech G513 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 9 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 HyperX Alloy Core RGB is a limited keyboard with a performance that is reflected in its low cost. We appreciate its 6 preset key lighting arrays and 3 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.
Why You Should Trust Us
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.
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.
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, setting macros, and remapping the key layout. The depth of complexity and customization supported varies considerably. However, the Razer's Synapse, Steelseries' Engine3, and Cooler Master's Portal 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 allowed 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 Synapse 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. Engine3 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 with in the GUI is a little small and hard to see, at least for our bespectacled eyes. Conversely, the Portal 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 has bugs and requires some work to unlock the 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, Redragon K552, or 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 is ultra customizable, plus the palm rest lights up. Both of the Razer models have expansive lighting options that facilitate layering effects and nearly unlimited color/ key assignment.
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. Pretty cool, eh?
If you are all about backlight customization, without breaking the bank, then look to the Cooler Master MK730 and, to a slightly lesser degree the SteelSeries Apex 3, as they are the best in the class. The main reason for their prowess is that they allow customization down to individual keys. 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, Ducky One 2 Mini, Razer Cynosa V2, and 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 3 and the Cooler Master MK730 were our favorites. See below for details and comparisons.
The SteelSeries Apex 3 garnered accolades because its rest is magnetically attached to the board (so you can easily reposition it as needed), and because it is tapered and thin. Its simplicity is the key to its success. 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 comfortable 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. Finally, the magnetic Logitech G513 LIGHTSYNC uses memory foam and offers very cushy support in comparison to others in the class.
Macro keys are perhaps the most important feature on a gaming keyboard. For this metric, we focus on the ease in which they can be set up, what keys can be reassigned, and the complexity of the function assigned. Without a doubt, the Cooler Master MK730 is our 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 Razer Cynosa 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, Razer Cynosa V2, Corsair K55 RGB, Corsair K95 RGB PLATINUM, HyperX Alloy Core RGB, and SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB all have dedicated keys for this purpose. Other models, such as the Redragon K552, Ducky One 2 Mini, Cooler Master MK730, and 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 K95 RGB PLATINUM, 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. Game on!
— Nick Miley and Austin Palmer
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