Mechanical keyboards have been around almost as long as personal computers, and the basic switch technology we’re still using first popped up in the 1980s. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that mechanical boards have never been as popular, or as stunningly variable, as they are right now. If you’re just getting into the craze, you might feel paralyzed by the number of options available.
Allow us to remove some of the questioning and doubt. Below are the best mechanical keyboards we’ve reviewed, in a variety of categories—best overall, on a budget, for gaming, wireless, et cetera. Not everything makes the list — for example, though G.Skill’s KM250 is a shockingly good deal, we can’t say the same for the larger and very different KM360 design. Though they excel in different areas, each mechanical keyboard pick is absolutely the best in its class, and well worth both your attention and your hard-earned dough.
If you’re looking for even more options, be sure to check out our roundup of the best gaming keyboards as well.
Keychron Q Series – Best mechanical keyboard overall
Excellent wireless performance
We’ve singled out the Q1 Pro for its wireless prowess, but really, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the Q series. Fantastic build quality, near-endless customization, and a surprisingly fair price (at least compared to keyboards with similar features) make it the brand to beat if you want a high-end mechanical board. Q boards come in a variety of sizes and layouts, from tiny 40% all the way to a massive 108-key layout. And all of them include awesome aluminum frames, RGB lighting, hot-swap switches, internal sound damping, and easy programming with QMK or VIA.
Keydous NJ80-AP – Best typing experience, best wireless
Amazing typing experience
Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless
Long battery life
A bit heavy
This unassuming little board is packing a shocking amount of high-quality hardware, like exotic BOX switches, PBT keycaps, a brass switch plate, tons of internal foam, and hot-swap switch sockets. It’s easily the best typing experience out of the box of any keyboard on this list, but you can customize it even further if you want, and it also comes with both Bluetooth and 2.4GHz support, which makes this our pick for the best wireless mechanical board. The plastic case and odd non-standard programming software aren’t great, but it’s also significantly cheaper than similarly equipped boards, so the bargain helps even things out.
Razer BlackWidow V4 75% – Best mechanical keyboard for gaming
Comfy wrist rest
“Thocky” typing feel
Synapse software only
Warranty void if opened
Razer’s latest high-end board successfully fuses the world of gaming keyboards and custom boards, thanks to excellent switches, hot-swap sockets, and tons of tweaks and high-quality materials. It even includes the community favorite “tape mod” out of the box. The super-comfy magnetic wrist rest doesn’t hurt, either. While lacking the heft of some premium mechanical designs, the BlackWidow V4 75% hits all the right features gamers want while offering enough customization options to scratch the itch for those who need to tweak their build. Note that despite the similar names, Razer’s larger BlackWidow V4 Pro is missing many of these features, including the hot-swap sockets.
Keychron K3 Pro – Best low-profile mechanical keyboard
Great size and layout
VIA programming is a little tricky
Keychron’s K Pro series has most of the features of the Q Pro keyboards, but with a fraction of the size and weight. The K3 Pro is an ideal combination of compact layout and comfort, requiring no extra programming or muscle memory for most users. Despite fewer options for switches and keycaps at this size, the K6 Pro also offers at least some customization choices: Its RGB lighting and programming can be tweaked in VIA software, and its switches are hot-swappable. The same features are available in 65%, tenkeyless, and full-sized layouts, but we like this one for its excellent travel capabilities.
Keychron C3 Pro – Best mechanical keyboard under $50
Fantastic price for a mech board
Decent switches, internal foam, gasket mounting
VIA and QMK programming
Only red lighting
USB-C cable is a little stiff to plug in
Keychron dominates at the high end of the mechanical keyboard game, but this new entry proves they can slug it out in the budget category, too. While it lacks hot-swap switch sockets and has only red lighting, advanced features like oh-so-comfy gasket mounting and programming with VIA and QMK make the $35 C3 Pro punch above its price tag. Despite the internal foam, it’s a little noisier than most of its stablemates, but the TKL layout is great if you want a straightforward design with no frills. Easy swapping between PC and Mac modes is a particularly nice option. For an alternative budget pick that offers hot-swap sockets and a more gaming-focused design, check out the G.Skill KM250.
No tenting kit available (not even as an optional accessory)
Keychron’s on this list again thanks to the company’s dedication to offering as many form factors as possible. The Q11 offers the same features as the rest of the Q series (fantastic aluminum body, hot-swap sockets, PBT keycaps, VIA programming), plus a split layout that’s essential for users who need ergonomic customization. It’s also a fraction of the price of other high-end ergonomic mechanical boards, with the only real downside being that it doesn’t offer a tenting kit.
Model F Ultra Compact – Best old-school mechanical keyboard
Excellent typing feel
Classic layout is instantly familiar
Durable die-cast metal chassis
Easy to repair and customize
Heavy key feel isn’t great for fast-paced games
Lacks modern hardware and software features
Arguably the most famous keyboard among mechanical enthusiasts is the IBM Model M, thanks to its unique and incredibly tactile (and noisy!) buckling spring switch mechanism. Some of these keyboards have been in continual use for more than 40 years, but if you’re looking for something a little more accessible, Model F Labs is making reproductions with exactly the same tank-like build and modern USB connections. the typing experience is like no other, just don’t be surprised if it’s a little harder than you’re used to—on both your fingers and your wallet.
If all you want from a keyboard is a laser light show, then Roccat’s Vulcan II delivers. Super-bright LEDs, transparent switches, and “floating” keycaps, plus a shiny brushed aluminum deck, make this thing almost brighter than the monitor on your desk…and possibly more distracting. Super-smooth lighting animation is a natural fit, and the board’s included wrist rest and handy media controls round out the package. Just be aware that beyond the LEDs, this board is light on customization options with no hot-swap sockets. You could replace the keycaps, of course, but who would hide those lights under a plastic bushel?
If you’re just getting into mechanical keyboards, then you’re probably most interested in how it “feels” to use one. In short, mechanical switches offer a deeper and more satisfying press on each key, which is preferred over standard inexpensive keyboards by heavy-duty typists and gamers. (Not all of them, of course, but most people seem to favor at least a certain level of clickiness.) But there are a lot of different variables that can affect how those keys feel.
Modern mechanical keyboards come in a staggering array of switch varieties, from smooth and linear to loud and clickly, with tons of options for mechanisms and spring strength. The only real way to know which one you prefer is to try ’em out (retail store displays are great for this). That being said, more expensive keyboards tend to come with nicer, high-quality switches from name brands like Cherry and Gateron. For the ultimate in customization, track down a keyboard with hot-swap switches, which let you swap out the switches for new and different ones whenever you want.
Keycaps are the little pieces of plastic that sit on top of the switches—what your fingers press down on. Switching out the keycaps for a set of nicer ones, maybe made of better PBT plastic or themed after your favorite TV show, is a popular and easy keyboard mod. Some keyboard makers even sell their own upgrade sets. Keycaps with a Cherry MX-compatible stem will work with almost all modern mechanical switches, just make sure you find a set that matches the layout of your keyboard.
The layout of the keys on your keyboard varies more than you might think. Full-sized keyboards include a 10-key area to the right of the arrow cluster, but gaming models often omit this in order to make more room for mouse movements, calling this the “10-key-less” layout. Some keyboards go even smaller, with 60% being the smallest that mainstream brands use, chopping off the Function row, 10-key area, and even the arrow keys (which have to be accessed via a Fn button). A few designs go even larger than the full layout, with an extra column or two of programmable keys for custom bindings or macros. Which one you want comes down to use-case, available space, and, perhaps more pertinently, taste.
These general layouts shouldn’t be confused with country- and region-specific key layouts, like ANSI and ISO. Most popular designs are available in at least those two variants.
Mechanical keyboards start with a standard wired USB connection, which may or may not be detachable from the keyboard itself for easier cable routing. Wireless boards tend to default to Bluetooth these days, since pretty much all PCs and mobile devices can use it. More premium models offer both Bluetooth and the faster, more reliable USB wireless dongle, typically on a 2.4GHz connection. Gamers definitely want to stick to wired or dongle options as Bluetooth’s susceptibility to input lag and interference can hinder gaming.
Even budget gaming keyboards come with LED backlights these days, though they might not be the fully programable, device-synced lightshow that companies like Razer and Corsair delight in. Unless you’re constantly playing in the dark and you can’t touch-type, it’s entirely cosmetic. It’s fun, that’s about it.
Keyboard makers are forever trying to one-up each other with extra features. For a mechanical board you can generally expect a removable USB cable (maybe a braided one for nicer boards), and possibly an included keycap puller and wrist rest. Larger boards usually include dedicated media controls, and the nicer ones get a fully programmable wheel or knob, as well as hot-swap switch sockets that let you experiment with different types of key switches. An especially nice option is on-device memory, allowing you to keep key layout programs without running a driver program on each new computer.
Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.