What to Look for When Buying a Gaming Keyboard

What to Look for When Buying a Gaming Keyboard
At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.

So, you’ve finally put together your first gaming PC and are now looking to grab some peripherals. Or maybe your current keyboard is on its last legs, and your WASD keys just aren’t as responsive as they once were. In any case, grabbing a gaming keyboard might seem like an easy thing to do, but there are a few things you need to be aware of before buying one. Do you know the difference between a red and blue switch?

Here’s what you need to know about picking up a gaming keyboard, along with a few suggestions of what you should get.

What to consider when buying a gaming keyboard

Mechanical vs. membrane vs. optical

Image: Darren Orf/Gizmodo

Mechanical is the standard keyboard style, with sturdy switches underneath each keycap. You’re probably typing on one right now. Membrane keyboards have, as their name suggests, a rubber membrane underneath their keycaps. Using one of these feels more spongey and is considerably quieter when compared with a mechanical keyboard.

While you can get a membrane keyboard for gaming, you’re better off with a mechanical one, as they’re more durable and responsive to your keystroke.

Over the past few years, a new type of keyboard has been making its mark when it comes to gaming. While a mechanical switch involves physical contact with its actuation point, an optical switch registers keystrokes through an infrared signal. Overall, an optical switch is much faster than a mechanical one.

Different sizes

A tenkeyless keyboard (Image: Gizmodo Australia)

Full-Size: Your standard keyboard design, with all the keys that you could ever want, like F4, Page Down and Caps Lock.

Tenkeyless: Technically 17-keyless, a tenkeyless keyboard is missing the entire number pad section that’s usually found on the righthand side of the board. Depending on the kinds of games you play (and if/how you use your keyboard when not gaming), you might not need those extra keys, so you can manage without them.

75%: Similar to the tenkeyless model, a 75% keyboard is missing the number pad. Unlike the tenkeyless model, all of the keys on this keyboard have been smushed together so there’s no negative space between them. These are good for portability and if desk space is an issue, but you also increase your chance of accidentally hitting the wrong key with your meaty fingers because everything is so close together.

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Switch colours

Image: Sam Rutehrford/Gizmodo

AKA how clicky-clacky do you want your mechanical gaming keyboard to sound? The type of switch determines how much force you’ll need to apply for it to register, its tactility and how noisy it’ll be.

Here are some of the most common switch types that you’ll encounter:

  • Cherry MX Black: This durable switch uses a linear switch system, which makes it ideal for gaming. It has a high actuation force, making it a good option if you want to cut down accidental key presses.
  • Cherry MX Blue: This tactile and clicky switch is better suited for typing, not gaming.
  • Cherry MX Brown: You’ll find these tactile switches on keyboards that are designed for both gaming and typing. A middle-ground option if you need a keyboard you can use for work and for pleasure.
  • Cherry MX Clear: Another middle-ground option, the MX Clear switch requires less force for a keystroke to register than the MX Brown switch.
  • Cherry MX Red: Similar to the MX Black switch, this switch type is linear and best used for gaming. The MX Red is much lighter and requires less force to operate.

You can check out Mechanical Keyboards’ FAQ for a more detailed description of these switch types, including how much force you need to apply.

Switch preference varies from person to person. Some people have a heavier hand so they don’t mind switches that require a bit more force to register, while some prefer a certain level of response to their button presses. When in doubt, go with what feels the most comfortable for you.

Some brands have their own switch colours, which makes trying to pick the right one a bit more difficult, so double-check their tactility, clickiness and whether it’s a linear switch or not.

What gaming keyboards do we recommend?

Corsair K100 RGB

Corsair K100 RGB keyboard
Image: Corsair

The Corsair K100 RGB is a hybrid optical-mechanical keyboard, with an actuation distance of only 1mm that promises hyper-fast inputs. In other words, it’s extremely responsive, making it a worthwhile investment if you play a lot of games where hair-trigger accuracy is essential.

In our review of the Corsair K100 RGB, we were impressed by its sturdy design and the pinpoint sensitivity of its key switches. Considering its high price point, that quality is definitely expected but the good news is that you’ll be getting what you paid for.

If RGB lighting is a big selling point for you, the K100 comes with per-key lighting across 44 configurable zones, so you can set some mesmerising scenes and patterns while gaming. Its iCue control wheel also allows you to cycle through a series of pre-programmed functions too, although its use is mainly non-gaming.

Where to buy the Corsair K100 RGB mechanical gaming keyboard

Amazon Australia ($339) | JB Hi-Fi ($399)

HyperX Alloy Origins Core

hyperx alloy origins core tenkeyless keyboard
Image: HyperX

If it isn’t apparent from looking at some of the prices of these recommended keyboards, this can be an expensive peripheral. If you’re looking to grab yourself a mechanical gaming keyboard while on a budget, HyperX’s Alloy Origins Core is a sturdy, comfortable and reliable option. In Gizmodo’s review of the HyperX Alloy Origins Core, we were impressed with this tenkeyless keyboard’s no-frills attitude, “It doesn’t need bells and whistles to impress you because its grasp of the fundamentals is so strong.”

It comes with all of the basics you’d expect from a mechanical gaming keyboard – a spectrum of RGB lights, different switch types, adjustable orientations – and does exactly what it says on the tin. For the price you’re paying, you’ll be pretty happy with the results. The same can be said for the full-size Alloy Origins model too.

Where to buy the HyperX Alloy Origins Core mechanical gaming keyboard (Red Switches)

Amazon Australia ($99) | Dick Smith ($169) | Mwave ($169)

Logitech G915 Lightspeed

Logitech G915 Lightspeed Wireless
Image: Logitech

The Logitech G915 Lightspeed gives you the best of both wireless and wired gaming keyboards. Not only can it connect via Bluetooth and Logitech’s Lightspeed, which is a low-latency 2.4GHz connection, but it’ll also let you use it while plugged in to charge.

The mechanical G915 also comes with three onboard switchable profiles, along with five programmable G-keys, so you can tailor it to the different kinds of games you’ll be playing. It’s pretty thin with low-profile keys, so you won’t need to bend your wrists as much to reach those higher up keys. This wireless keyboard is available with clicky, tactile and linear keys, although you’ll most likely want the latter two for gaming. There’s also a tenkeyless version available.

Where to buy the Logitech G915 Lightspeed wireless gaming keyboard (Linear)

Amazon Australia ($295) | Bing Lee ($289) | eBay ($329)

Razer BlackWidow V3 Pro

razer blackwidow v3 pro keyboard
Image: Razer

When it comes to wireless gaming keyboards, some people are usually put off by them due to a potential lag through the Bluetooth signal. The BlackWidow V3 Pro puts those worries to rest, as it uses Razer’s signature low-latency HyperSpeed Wireless tech to keep the accuracy between keystroke and action as good as a wired keyboard. It also has Adaptive Frequency Tuning, so you won’t have to worry about signal interferences robbing you of control at a crucial moment. You can also use it while charging via USB-C.

Its yellow switches have a fairly low actuation point of 1.2mm with sound dampeners and no tactile feedback, making it a smooth experience. Its RGB lighting is also programmed to dynamically react with over 150 games and it also comes with a plush leatherette wrist rest, which is always a nice, ergonomic bonus to have.

Where to buy the Razer BlackWidow V3 Pro wireless gaming keyboard (Yellow Switches)

Amazon Australia ($246.86) | eBay ($305.91) | Mwave ($279)

Steelseries Apex Pro

steelseries apex pro keyboard
Image: Steelseries

If input speed is the name of your game, this mechanical keyboard won’t disappoint. The Steelseries Apex Pro uses OmniPoint adjustable mechanical switches, which means you can change the actuation depth for every single key, from .04mm to 3.6mm. Along with its aluminium alloy frame, this gaming keyboard is one of the sturdiest and most responsive options around.

The Apex Pro also comes with a magnetic wrist rest and USB passthrough feature, so you can plug devices and flash drives directly into your keyboard. One of its more unique features is that it includes a small OLED display screen above the number pad, which can display info from both games and apps.

Where to buy the Steelseries Apex Pro mechanical gaming keyboard

Amazon Australia ($269) | Bing Lee ($299) | eBay ($359)

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At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.