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 form Microsoft or Logitech? See all keyboard and mouse reviews
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In a word, yes. Different keyboards have different features, of course, but all gaming keyboards come with a battery of extra options and features and have the potential to improve your gaming experience dramatically.
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 their more expensive and bulky nature versus 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.
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 they way you play.
G.Skill RipJaws KM780 RGB Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
- RRP: £150
The G.Skill Ripjaws KM780 RGB is a fully customisable RGB mechanical keyboard that has RGB Cherry MX switches.
The reason we chose the KM780 in our round up, is due to its versatility. The keyboard is available in the Cherry MX Brown (tactile), MX Red (soft) and MX Blue (clicky) variants and, if you’re not a fan of the RGB colours, you can save yourself some money and buy the non-RGB variant. This give you plenty of options to choose from and better still, the keyboard is well-priced at £150 given its features.
No matter which Cherry MX key switch you opt for, the German brand behind the switches guarantees 50 million keystrokes and alongside the RGB lightning provides 16.8 million colours to choose from!
The KM780 also features NKRO and anti-ghosting, meaning you can press and hold as many keys as you like, as they'll all be registered.
The KM780's package contents is impressive. Inside the box you'll find a wrist rest, an additional 10 gaming keycaps (which are red in colour and have a texture on them) and a key puller that comes in very handy when you want to clean your keyboard.
The software itself works flawlessly and allows you to fully customise the keyboard with custom macros and keystrokes - this will allow you to open programs, give you an edge in games and even be used to play/pause your music.
If you're looking to control your music, the KM780 has dedicated media keys on the right-hand side, a live volume LED slider, three programmable profiles and six dedicated macro keys. The keyboard doesn't stop there, it has an additional USB port and headphone/mic jacks so that you can plug your flash drive or headset directly into the keyboard, rather than at the back of your PC - a nifty feature!
From top to bottom the KM780 keyboard is a fantastic all-in-one ultimate keyboard and we would recommend it, as long as your pockets are deep enough
SteelSeries Apex M800
- RRP: £139.99
The SteelSeries Apex M800 is a gaming keyboard, announced back in 2015 and is one of our favourite (and most expensive) gaming keyboard in this roundup. Let’s talk first about the design before we delve into the specifics – it has a low profile design, based lightly on the design of the original Apex gaming keyboard. It’s been built at an ergonomic low angle for extra comfort, and the linear key layout cuts down on finger travel. This means that you’ll be able to reach the keys you need, when you need them, and thus speed up your reaction times.
However, it isn’t the ergonomic design that pleases us most about the M800 – it’s the illumination it offers. It doesn’t just offer standard keyboard backlighting like Apple’s Mac laptops, but offers individual key illumination in a choice of 16.8 million colours. This means that, using SteelSeries software, you can design your own custom lighting schemes for various different games. For example, you can turn off the illumination for all keys apart from the ones you’re using, and make all damage-related keys red, health-related keys green, etc. It definitely makes a difference to the overall gameplay experience, especially with new games where you’re unsure of the keyboard layout.
As well as custom designs, the M800 also comes with a handful of pre-set light effects including Breathe, Colour Wave, Cooldown Timers and Reactive Keys. These really give the M800 the wow factor it deserves, any we can pretty much guarantee that every person that see’s the keyboard lit up will comment on it.
Apart from the aesthetics, the M800 packs some serious technology that’ll give any gamer the edge he/she needs. Firstly, the M800 boasts dual processors, with one CPU dedicated solely to key presses, which effectively stops any ghosting issues. In fact, the M800 can handle up to 256 keys to be pressed at once with no issue – but considering we don’t have 256 fingers or 256 keys on the keyboard, you’ll never have to worry.
The M800 also boasts switch technology specifically designed for this keyboard. SteelSeries paired up with experts in switch technology to create the QS1 switch. The improved QS1 switch provides a smooth linear action, as well as 25 percent faster actuation than standard mechanical switches. The keys only require 45cN of force to register a key press, which allows for lighter key presses and faster reactions.
And if that wasn’t enough for you, it even features a USB 2.0 hub and a series of Macro keys which can be programmed via SteelSeries’ software for both PC and Mac.
This is the ultimate in gaming keyboards, in our opinion, and is really only for hardcore gamers. It’s quite a chunky keyboard despite its ergonomic design, but in return you get a powerhouse of a keyboard that can provide lightning fast responses when you need them most. The individually lit keys are also a bonus, as they allow a higher level of customisation than standard gaming keyboards.
Razer Blackwidow Chroma
- RRP: £164.99
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 Anansi in this list but we've replaced it with the frankly amazing BlackWidow Chroma.
A key feature of the Chroma is Razer's own mechanical switches which feel great to both type and game on. They use a 50g actuation force and have a whopping 60 million keystroke lifespan so you'll be good for a while. You can buy the keyboard in a silent keys option, too.
Lighting has been a staple in the gaming world for a long time, so you can be just as cool at your desk as when driving your modded Citroen Saxo down the highstreet with its underlights.
As the name suggests, the BlackWidow Chrome 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 advances things.
Reactive mode is pretty cool where keys you kit individually light up but you can also set out templates for different types of gaming. For example, FPS mode highlights the 'WASD' keys and you can customise it for your personal set up.
Pretty lights aside, the Chroma comes with a number of features which will help your gaming. A gaming mode stops you quitting to your desktop by disabling the Windows key and can be expanded to Alt+Tab and Alt+F4 (you can use the Chroma on Mac, too)
There is a lot you can do with macro keys. There are five dedicated macro keys on the left side and this keyboard supports on the fly macro recording. The Chroma also has 10 key roll-over anti-ghosting.
The keyboard features a braided fiber cable which requires two USB ports. This is so you can utilise the USB port on the side of the keyboard itself which saves you diving under your desk to plug things in. There's are also headphone and microphones ports which could come in very handy.
Roccat Ryos MK Layout Mechanical
- RRP: £89.99
It’s painfully evident that Roccat’s strength lies in its range of mice after using the Ryos MK (part number ROC-12-602-MK). For starters, there is no backlighting, a feature now common throughout gaming peripherals. This is disappointment particularly as certain small elements of the keyboard are lit, leading us to question why the rest of it wasn’t. There is a fully illuminated version of the Ryos MK, but it's £120.
The Ryos MK is huge, largely due to the built-in wrist rest. While it’s quite ergonomically comfortable, it increases the size of an already-bulky device – you’ll need a lot of desktop space for this. The keyboard also feels oddly hollow and flimsy, a side-effect of which is that the sound of the Cherry MX black switches is amplified by the echoey body to old-school typewriter levels of clackyness. The overall build quality is average and the plastic feels fairly cheap. The lack of a braided cable also makes the price seem a tad high.
A common feature of gaming keyboards (and many others for that matter) is having multimedia controls bound to the function keys. For gaming, there's the standard set of multiple profiles and the ability to switch between them. It also has a column of five macro keys on the left of the keyboard and thumb modifiers below the spacebar, similar to the Anansi. However, the Ryos has three thumb keys rather than seven, which we feel is a more sensible amount.
Should you feel that this is insufficient, Roccat’s EasyShift[+] technology allows you to assign a second function to every key, accessed by holding down what would otherwise be the capslock button. However, with over 100 programmable keys already available, we can’t conceive of any situation that would necessitate almost doubling your keyboard’s functions.
Unfortunately, the macro and configuration interface is less comprehensive than some we’ve seen, and it’s definitely less intuitive – programming macros is something of an ordeal. It’s also separate to the Roccat mouse drivers, so if you’ve got multiple devices it’s not easy to share settings between them. We also couldn’t find any option for changing the resolution of the software, which appeared as ridiculously tiny on our monitor, forcing us to squint at the settings.
The Roccat Ryos MK is a decent keyboard, provided you don’t mind the lack of backlighting and the prospect sounding like a 1950s typist. However, there are better options out there, so unless you particularly need the option to have around 200 key bindings, look elsewhere.
CORSAIR K70 RGB Mechanical
- RRP: £149.99
We’ll say this for the Corsair K70 RGB keyboard: it’s a beautiful piece of kit. Constructed from aircraft-grade brushed aluminium, it’s both reasonably light and impossibly sturdy, on top of looking absolutely fantastic. The design itself is simple and square and a little dull, but we can live with that. It also comes prepackaged with a detachable soft-touch wrist rest, which is a bonus.
It looks even better switched on, too. The chief selling point of this model is the backlighting, boasting 16.8 million colours per key and virtually limitless combinations. Corsair’s cross-device software allows you to build an endless variety of pulse, ripple and wave effects in vibrant rainbow colours, as well as colour-coding specific keys, such as movement controls in green, skill keys in blue and combat buttons in red. You can also assign timers to the lighting, such as having your spell keys change colour when they’re ready to use. The lighting interface is a initially confusing, but makes up for it with sheer unbridled flexibility, and looks absolutely breathtaking in action.
However, although macros and timers are supported within the software and can be bound to any button, the K70 RGB has no dedicated macro keys, forcing you to reassign any macros you build to an existing key. The key switches themselves are Cherry MX models, and the red versions that we used are nice and responsive. There’s not a huge amount of physical feedback and they’re pretty clacky (although not as loud as the Roccat Ryos), but whether that’s a plus or a minus is entirely down to personal taste. For the record, we’re fans.
Rather than assigning music and video controls to the function keys as most other keyboards do, Corsair has opted to give them special little buttons all their own. There’s also a special volume roller, for instant and precise audio control. It’s a small detail, but for some reason, we’re absolutely in love with it.
One thing we’re not in love with though is the two USB ports required to run the keyboard. In this case we can understand why it’s necessary, given the intensiveness of the backlighting, but it’s still a little awkward. The braided cable is also unexpectedly chunky, which is odd.
While it’s not as densely packed with hardware features as some of the other models on this list, in terms of purely aesthetic value it’s the clear winner by an absolute mile. If you desperately need macro keys it’s probably not ideal, but it’s just so damn pretty that we can’t help but recommend it.
- RRP: £99.95 inc VAT
The HyperX Alloy is mechanical keyboard aimed at FPS gamers. The keyboard uses Cherry MX Blue switches, which are light when pressed and only require 50 cN of force to actuate.
The Cherry MX Blue switches make the keyboard quite loud, so if you'll be bashing keys while gaming, or want to be silently gaming, then the HyperX Alloy will be on to avoid. However, the reason this reasonably expensive keyboard makes in our round-up is due to its front-panel metal body, allowing you to bash keys on your HyperX Alloy without fearing about any keyboard flex (where the keyboard saves in from force).
Its build quality is really a stand-out feature and for the extra investment in it, over other keyboards that offer the same functionalities, the HyperX Alloy is a well-built piece of kit.
The keyboard also has red blacklit keys that can be customised through the FN+Arrow keys - no software is needed, making it easy to plug and play.
The HyperX Alloy also has a few extras which are to be admired: It features a soft carrying pouch, extra 1234 & WASD key caps, where the WASD keys also have a different texture, a key puller (useful for cleaning the keyboard) and a removable braided USB cable, which is excellent for transportation.
It should be noted that the cable is connected through a mini-USB to two USB ports - one of which is used to provide extra power to the keyboard's USB port, where you can plug in a phone directly into your keyboard to charge it.
Finally the keyboard also has media keys that can be accessed by using FN and one of the F6-122 keys. FN+F12 enables game mode, disabling the Windows key.
SteelSeries Apex M500
- RRP: £94.99
The Apex M500 is the latest tournament-grade mechanical keyboard from the guys at SteelSeries, the same company that also manufactured the M800 keyboard, also present in this roundup. The M500 isn’t quite as extravagant as the high-end M800, but is still a great option for PC gamers – and especially those looking to hone their skills and get involved in eSports in some capacity.
The SteelSeries Apex M500 features the sleek and minimalistic design famous across the SteelSeries gaming keyboard range, and while it’s still larger and heavier than a standard keyboard, it’s extremely durable. Why? It’s made from ‘tough plastics’ according to the company and if that wasn’t enough, it features a steel back plate for extra durability.
Featuring universal blue LED illumination, the keyboard is evenly lit with varying levels of brightness and a ‘breathe’ mode, where the keyboard pulses, which can be activated/customised via SteelSeries Engine – but we’ll come to that in more detail below. Those looking to customise the colour of the LED illumination should look elsewhere though, as there’s no negotiation on colour with the M500.
So, what makes this keyboard so great? It’s mainly down to the keys. More specifically, the SteelSeries Apex M500 features Cherry MX Red switches for better performance and added durability, providing an average of 50 million clicks before issues arise – 5x more than a standard membrane keyboard, apparently. For those that aren’t aware, the low force and actuation point enables faster and more responsive gameplay, and is a standard candidate in any high-quality gaming keyboard. The best part is that because the M500 features Cherry MX Red switches, users can buy custom keys online and swap them out at a moment’s notice.
We love gaming and generally typing using the Apex M500 – the response time is minimal and it’s extremely comfortable to use over long periods of time. Key presses are effortless, and we’ve not experienced ghosting once during our time with the keyboard – an issue for gamers the world over. When we’re not gaming, we use this as a keyboard at work. In fact, we’re using it to type this up right this second.
Taking the customisation one step further, gamers can download SteelSeries Engine (for PC and Mac) to personalise their keyboard. SteelSeries Engine offers users the ability to not only create custom macros to be used when gaming, but the ability to reassign the keys as you see fit. Apart from being a hilarious prank, this is used to change the keyboard mapping for specific games, making it easier to play and quicker to respond. It features an unlimited number of ‘profiles’ too, allowing gamers to customise the keyboard for every game in their collection, then have it automatically selected when the game is started.
Tesoro Excalibur G7NL
- RRP: £69.99
The Tesoro Excalibur is not an especially pretty-looking keyboard. It’s chunky and square, with the most basic matte-black design possible. It features no fancy aesthetic flourishes, no extraneous wrist rests and no lighting gimmicks – this is 100 percent functionality.
If you’re looking for something that’s going to make your setup look high-end and impressive, this is not it. To the untrained eye, the plastic body and rubber cable make this look like something you could buy in Maplin for under a tenner. The font used is also quite impressively ugly, in that obnoxiously self-conscious sci-fi sort of way. The build quality is better than one would expect from looking at it though; the plastic is good-quality, and it’s solid and weighty without being overly brick-like.
While it doesn’t use Cherry MX switches, the Kailh models used instead come in similar blue, brown and red variations. We tested the blue keyswitches and we have to admit, they’ve got beautiful action. They’re a lovely balance between resistances, with more feedback than the Cherry red switches, but not as much as the black. They also appeal to our soft spot for sharply clacky keys.
As with most others, the Excalibur’s media controls occupy function key slots and there’s key shortcuts for switching between the five available profiles, all of which is fairly unremarkable. However, like the Corsair, the Excalibur features macro support without having dedicated macro keys, which could get frustrating if you’re someone that relies on heavy macro use while gaming.
The macro software is pretty simplistic, and it doesn’t look especially flashy, but it does its well enough, and we’ve got no complaints. You can also rebind various keys, should you so wish. The configuration software handles the keyboard backlighting as well, which is rudimentary but serviceable. There’s no option for setting up cycles or patterns, but there’s various colours available, and you can switch between various levels of brightness and configuration, including a ‘breathing’ effect and specifically lighting individual sections such as the WASD keys for gaming.
This keyboard is about as middle-of-the-road as they come; it’s not going to win any beauty contests, but it’s not an eyesore. It’s not dripping with features, but it does what it needs to. And while it’s not going to cost you pocket change, it’s not going to break the bank. It’s unlikely to wow anyone, and dedicated keyboard enthusiasts might resent the things it lacks, but unless you’ve got very specific requirements in mind, the Tesoro Excalibur should suit you just fine.
Coolermaster CM Storm Quickfire TK
- RRP: £79.99
When we took it out of the box, the first thing we noticed about the Cooler Master CM Storm Quickfire TK was the absolutely tiny size. The Quickfire TK was the smallest keyboard we tested by a fairly considerable margin, but it felt a bit wrong. For a while, we couldn’t put our finger on the reason, until we realized that in order to save space, Cooler Master has combined the right-hand numpad with the arrow and command keys to the left.
On paper, this seems like a great idea: a lot of those buttons are fairly redundant, and there’s a substantial amount of wasted space in that area. However, muscle memory plays a huge part in keyboard operations, both in terms of gaming and when just generally typing, and by smashing those two sections together and shortening the form factor, our muscle memory was thrown off in a pretty major way. After spending some time with it, we were able to (mostly) get used to the smaller dimensions, but it’s initially counter-intuitive and uncomfortable.
We really can’t understate how small it is, though. You’d have to struggle not to fit this onto even the smallest of desks, and it’s extremely portable. The braided cable is also detachable for even more flexibility, and connects via miniUSB enabling you to swap it out for a longer or shorter wire as needed.
Like the Excalibur, it’s incredibly basic in terms of design, opting for the basic matte-black square shape. The plastic material of the body feels a little low-quality, but the keys themselves are really quite nice, and the inbuilt steel plate gives it a fantastic rigidity, albeit at the expense of a slightly disproportionate weight. It’s unassuming, but for some reason, we found it more attractive than the similar looking Excalibur.
One feature it is unfortunately lacking in is macros. We couldn’t find any configuration software, so if you want to rebind any keys or assign any long macro combinations, you’re out of luck with this particular keyboard. This also means that there’s no lighting customization. While it is backlit, the Quickfire TK only has one colour option (depending on which switch type you opt for), with three lighting modes (including lighting the most common gaming keys) and five brightness settings. It’s also got a brace of media controls, once again assigned to the function keys. It’s not the most impressive set-up in the world, but it’s at a decent basic level.
The keys used in the Quickfire are Cherry MX switches, available in red, blue or brown. We used the red switches as also seen on the Corsair K70 RGB, and the action isn’t quite as crisp as we’d like. It’s also not quite as noisy as Corsair’s keys, but both these things are very minor quibbles. One bonus it does have is a tool for detaching the keys included in the packaging, allowing you to take them out for cleaning or maintenance.
This keyboard is perfect for gamers that have to juggle their hobby with work or education, as it won’t dominate your desktop real-estate and is uber-portable. On the other hand, the lack of modification options and macro support is a little irritating for those of us that like to tweak our settings. Overall, though, this is a great all-rounder for both fast, responsive gaming, and for acting as a typing workhorse.
Also read: 10 best PC keyboards
Logitech G213 Prodigy
- RRP: £59.99 inc VAT
The Logitech G213 Prodigy is a non-mechanical fully membrane keyboard. However, unlike most membrane keyboards, it feels very much like a mechanical Cherry MX Brown switch keyboard.
As a fully membrane keyboard it does come in a little expensive at around £55 in the UK (depending on your key layout), however it does offer zonal RGB lightning - which means you cannot individually customise the colour of each key, but you will be able to display a RGB-like wave colour and light up sections of your keyboard (such as the Number Pad).
The switches have a 50g actuation force and require 4mm of travel distance in order to be registered - this makes them very good to game on, versus other rubber-dome membrane keyboards out there.
The G213 is also a very thin keyboard, which does play against it when it comes to keyboard flex (if you're a heavy typist or gamer you might prefer a more sturdy keyboard) - but it does look sleek and stylish on a modern desk.
At the top-right hand side of the keyboard, there are dedicated media keys allowing you to quickly change or stop media on your PC. There is also a game-button, which disables the Windows key - better still the F1 to F12 keys can be fully reprogrammed through Logitech's Gaming Software. You'll be able to set macros or even open up your favourite programs through the software - this means that you don't have dedicated macro keys, but have the option to set some in place of the F keys that you might not use often.
If you're not looking to spend too much money, want a mechanical-keyboard feeling with zonal RGB lightning, then the G213 is a great choice.
Sumvision Sonic Wave
- RRP: £26.99 inc VAT
The Sumvision Sonic Wave is a cheap, yet feature-rich membrane keyboard. Its hybrid key switches mimic a mechanical switch-feeling, making it pleasant to type and use for gaming and typing purposes.
The keyboard has RGB lighting, where you'll get good zonal illumination, but remember the keys are not individually lit so you can't fully customise the look of the keyboard. Nevertheless, the RGB lighting is a real treat at this price point (£26.99), especially with its nine LED modes at your fingertips.
The most unique mode is the music equaliser LED mode, where the keyboard reacts to sound and music. Despite needing a high volume to be receptive, the key are illuminated in a fun fashion and offer something rather unique from a keyboard.
It features 19 anti-ghosting keys, allowing you to game comfortably, without worrying about any keys not registering. There are accessible media keys, and specific program shortcuts (such as opening the calculator by pressing FN+F12).
Due to being made out of a full-plastic body, it does suffer from a little bit of keyboard flex, but this is minimal.
All things considered, the Sumvision Sonic Wave is an excellent budget gaming keyboard that offers a lot for its price tag!