Entertainment Technical Sample Post: Best Mechanical Gaming Keyboards Of 2017

This post was written by Matt M., who was Verblio’s (formerly BlogMutt) spotlighted freelance writer in August 2017. He specializes in posts on technology, operations, and video games, and oftentimes explores crossovers among them, resulting in posts like this, which, in our longest-length post of 2,000 words, details top picks for gaming keyboards in 2017 based on a variety of factors. A similar post would serve as great gated or long-form downloadable middle-of-funnel content for a gaming or entertainment company or product.


 

If you love to play video games (and we know you do or you wouldn’t be here), then nothing matters more than the responsiveness and feel of your keyboard. Whether you prefer shooters, adventure, puzzle games, or platformers, you have honed your skills to press the keys precisely when you mean to and you live for the moment your skill earns a victory. Every keyboard gamer plays differently. Some prefer for their fingertips to float across the keys while others need that visceral click to know for sure that they’ve sent the command, but there is one thing almost every gamer can agree on. Membrane keyboards just can’t cut it. To get the combination of precision, responsiveness and tactile feedback, our keyboards need to be distinctly more mechanical.

Today we’re here to talk about gaming and the joys of mechanical keyboards. We love mechanical keyboards and have since our fingertips touched our first actuated key. There are smooth keyboards, tactile keyboards, and keyboards that click mightily when pressed, but the one thing that all mechanical keyboards have in common is that they are not membrane keyboards.

Mushy Membranes: A Gamer’s Worst Nightmare

Unless you have gone out of your way to buy a mechanical keyboard or have been given one by an enlightened friend, you probably own a membrane keyboard. Most standard keyboards are membranes and almost all laptop keyboards are membranes. In this constant exposure to membrane keyboards, we’ve all noticed the problems inherent to them. The fast wear-down, the keys that stop pressing; everyone’s dealt with a bad membrane keyboard. It’s just that most people don’t realize that there’s a better way.

Membrane keyboards get their name from the way the keys work. Underneath the keycaps are rubber/silicon domes that provide that soft resistance you’re used to and hit a stack of membranes to register the keypress. The problem is that after a few hundred thousand keypresses (not that many for gamers and keyboard professionals), the silicon domes and membranes underneath wear out and become too soft.

This creates a sensation known as ‘mushy’, where the keys need more pressure and become less reliable about actuating. Mushy keys are the culprit for missed shots, slow jumps, and a good bit of carpal tunnel syndrome as you press hard on the keys to bottom them out. In other words, membrane keyboards just don’t have what it takes to withstand gamer levels of keypresses.

What Makes a Keyboard “Mechanical”?

Mechanical keyboards are also named for the way the keys press. Each individual key sits on a switch which controls exactly when the key actuates in the journey down. In a membrane keyboard, the dome is the switch mechanism. But with mechanical keyboards, there are no soft parts. Instead, the keys rely on simple machine switches to trigger, contact, and register your keypress.

The vast majority of mechanical keyboards use variations in a line of switches called Cherry MXs. Each color of Cherry is a different kind of key mechanism that provides a slightly different keypress experience. There are also a variety of other switch types including types developed by individual keyboard manufacturers which are comparable and often preferred. Every mechanical switch has an exact point in the journey down where the key actuates and the keypress is registered. Unlike a membrane that gets softer over time, mechanical keyboards have switches that can be counted on to press the same way every single time.

Why Gamers Love Mechanical Keyboards

When it comes to keyboards, gamers need three things—durability, resistance, and feedback. Durability allows you to press the same keys millions of times without a change in performance. Resistance is how hard you have to hit the key to get the desired result, and feedback is what lets you know for sure that the key has been pressed. With membrane keys, the only resistance available is the dome itself and the only feedback is the key bottoming out and slamming against the backplate.

Gamers love mechanical keyboards because each vital factor of keyboard responsiveness and feel can be fine-tuned. Each switch has been crafted to offer a satisfying keypress experience and a point of actuation you can count on every single time. No more mistaken keypresses that kill a buddy or fail to jump a chasm.

The Right Switch for the Job

There is no single best mechanical switch, or even a best switch for each style of gaming. The right switch for each gamer really depends on you, your fingers, and what is the most comfortable way to game. However, there are favorites in the community and general trends for which switch is preferred for different activities.

Switches are generally judged on three separate criteria—the feel, the click, and the actuation point.

The Feel

The feel of a key is how hard you have to press it down and how nicely it goes ‘thunk’ under your finger. Many people learned to type on ancient membrane keyboards that bottomed out with a mighty clunk and now their fingers rely on the feeling of an impact to be confident the key has been pressed. Others like a smooth spaceship feel of the keys gliding under their fingers.

Smooth switches are called Linear. Cherry MX reds and blacks are the most popular linear switches. Impact switches are called Tactile. Buckling spring switches along with Cherry MX browns, greens, clears, and blues are the favored tactile switches. Some prefer the rarer Topre variation.

That Clicking-Clacking Sound

Where gamers who like tactile switches prefer the feel of bottoming out, other gamers have come to rely on the clicking sound that traditionally comes with membrane keyboards featuring hard plastic keys that click as you type.

Unsurprisingly, this type of switch is known as ‘clicky’ and achieves a click with an extra mechanical switch on the inside that occurs at the exact same moment that the key actuates. Popular clicky switches are the Cherry MX blues, greens, and buckling spring switches.

The Actuation Point

Finally, there’s the actuation point, which is how deeply you have to press a switch before it registers a keypress, which is directly related to how much force is necessary. ‘Light’ switches require very little force and the actuation point is near the top of the full possible depth of the keypress. This make multi-presses easier for twitch-style games but also makes accidental presses more possible. Deep actuation points, especially combined with high resistance and a strong tactile response, make every keypress feel like a spaceship launch button and you can’t press one by accident, which is better for other play styles.

Most MX Cherries travel 2mm to actuation and 4mm to bottom out. Most other switches tend to be deeper except for specialty gaming switches like the Logitech Romer Gs, which are shallower.

The Right Number of Keys

The other major variation that becomes available when you start shopping for mechanical keyboards is key layout and how many keys are on the board. Both desks and gamers are becoming more mobile and huge full-sized keyboards with a half-dozen programmable keys, cool as they are, are not the only popular style. The options here are generally associated with what percentage of the full-sized keyboard you want to use.

The common variation is known as “Tenkeyless” TKL, or 80% keyboards. Your tenkey is the numpad and the special calculator style keys that come with it. Simply by removing this block of keys from your board, it has 20% fewer keys and is significantly shorter. You still have all these keys with the function layer of your number row and many people learn to do all their number and calculator functions without moving their right hand over to the tenkey.

Other variations get even smaller, 75% keyboards are missing the special function block including Home, End, Pg Up and Pg Down, with or without the arrow keys. 60% is another layout and only keeps the central block from escape to right control.

What most people don’t realize about the smaller boards is that pressing your function key unlocks a second layer that can easily handle every ‘missing’ key. They aren’t less functional, they just take up less space and require a few more keypresses.

It’s all about your priorities.

The Best Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

But all these details aside, you’re probably just waiting for us to tell you which of the top mechanical gaming keyboards is going to delight your fingers and unlock the true top of your game.

While there really can’t be a single best mechanical keyboard because the choice is so personal, preference also runs in patterns. We are happy to share some amazing recommendations based on what we and other gamers have found to be true when comparing the dozens of contenders out there.

How We Chose Our Top Gaming Keyboards of 2017

Everyone has their personal preference for the right configuration of mechanical gaming keyboard, but there’s no denying that some keyboards are higher quality, more diversely capable, and more popular in the mechanical keyboard community than others. In our top picks for the keyboards of 2017, we decided to focus on a few key factors that are important to most gamers.

Here’s how we rank them:

  1. Switch Options
  2. Quality and Warranty
  3. RGB Backlighting
  4. Awesome Bonus Features
  5. USB Passthroughs for Accessories
  6. Macro Recording for Hotkeys
  7. Key Rollover (KRO) For Multi-Press and Combos
  8. Price—Affordability

First, we know you care about your switches and the switch options for each keyboard matters a lot. Next, we’ll take a look at the quality of the board and any warranty for broken parts or heavy use that come with them.

Then there’s RGB lighting. While there are some great unlit keyboards out there, let’s face it. We’re gamers and we like the pretty lights. Most of all, we want those lights in our signature color to match the glow of your USB gadgets and your LED computer fans.

Keyboards get bonus points for having cool extra features that make gaming more fun and easy like USB passthrough ports for your headphones and external game saves drive. Hotkeys are practically a must for any serious gaming and for the best combo responsiveness, we’ll take a look at key rollover (KRO) as well.

Finally, we’ll judge each keyboard by affordability compared to other keyboards that have about the same features and quality. Keyboards that give more bang for your buck are naturally going to rank more highly.

Our Top Picks:

Best Overall Keyboard

G.Skill Ripjaws KM780 RGB Gaming Keyboard

Price: $130, Amazon

Description: If you want the full-scale mechanical gaming keyboard with RGB lights and all the bells and whistles but don’t want to pay more than $150 for a new piece of equipment, the Ripjaws is a dream come true. The Ripjaws is proof that sometimes unknown brands really can make the charts, this keyboard has detailed RGB modes, macro keys, media keys, and a full suite of pass-throughs. Add that to genuine Cherry reds or browns and this is an incredible deal.

Switch: Cherry MX Reds, Blues, and Browns

Quality: These boards are considered to have an excellent build quality

Backlight: The Ripjaws have superb RGB spectrum and you have full control of the colors for every key plus ten red and grooved key caps to highlight your most important hotkeys.

Features:

  • Media keys—audio scroll
  • 6 Macro keys
  • 10 red bonus keycaps
  • Audio and microphone passthrough
  • USB passthrough
  • Mouse cable holder
  • Detachable palm rest

KRO: N-KRO or 6-KRO

 

Best MMO Keyboard

Corsair K95 Platinum RGB

Price: $170, Amazon

Description: Corsair can always be counted on for high-quality boards but it is generally agreed in the MMO circles that they have really outdone themselves with the K95 Platinum. The six additional macro keys alone are a great addition to any MMO gaming style but the large memory of profile makes this keyboard incredibly apt for multiple games or characters. The wrist rest is also praised for unusually high comfort and the soft pad is connected by magnet for easy cleaning.

Switch: Cherry MX Brown and Speed

Quality: High quality with magnetic wrist rest

Backlight: Full spectrum and control with 8MP profile storage

Features:

  • Media keys—audio scroll
  • 6 Macro keys
  • USB Passthrough
  • Wrist rest

KRO: N-KRO on USB

 

Best FPS / CS:GO Keyboard

Logitech G910 Orion Spark RGB

Price: $95, Amazon

Description: Logitech’s choice to create custom key switches is polarizing the community but everyone can agree that the G10 Orion keyboards are excellent for FPS play. The keycaps themselves are actually designed for gaming with angled sides to prevent accidental key presses. The Spark doesn’t come with every bell and whistle but it’s fully equipped for gaming macros, complete spectrum backlighting, and is under $100 which is pretty incredible for any keyboard that comes with a wrist rest.

Switch: Logitech Romer Gs

Quality: Very high build quality

Backlight: Full spectrum RGB programmable backlight

Features:

  • Media keys—audio scroll
  • Custom lighting profiles and light key
  • 9 Macro keys
  • Wrist rest

KRO: 113-KRO

 

Best DOTA / MOBA Keyboard

Razer A16 Black Widow Tournament Edition

Price: $170, Amazon

Description: The Razer Black Widow has been a long-time favorite of the gaming community and Razer’s dedication to making unique high quality switches has gotten them a lot of favor with DOTA and MOBA players in particular. The shorter actuation means faster keypresses with the same feature variety as keyboards that sport Cherries. When you pair that with fast on-the-fly macroing, Razer’s notorious full spectrum RGB controls, and the sleek easy to transport design this is a fantastic keyboard for gaming in general and DOTA style games in particular.

Switch: Cherry MX Blue and Razer Green, Orange, and Yellow

Backlight: Full spectrum and control with multiple modes

Features:

  • USB Passthrough
  • Audio and Headphone Passthrough
  • Macro recording software
  • Gaming mode
  • Cable management
  • Wrist rest

KRO: 10-KRO

 

Best Mechanical Gaming Keyboard on a Budget

Velocifire VM01

Price: $45, Amazon

Description: The vast majority of mechanical gaming keyboards are well over $100 but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is your only option. For a starter mechanical keyboard or something cheap to carry in your backpack, you can’t beat the Velocifire VM01. While it doesn’t have a lot of the flashy features of other keyboards, the savings is undeniably passed on to you. The Velocifire comes in under $50 with highly rated off-brand MX browns and blue backlight that enhances visibility.

Switch: Outemu MX Brown

Quality: Medium-high quality

Backlight: Soft Blue LEDs behind keys

Features:

  • Backlight brightness key

KRO: N-KRO

 

Best Wireless Keyboard

Logitech G613 Lightspeed Wireless

Price: $110, Amazon

Description: Logitech has been perfecting its wireless keyboard and mouse technology for decades and they have finally turned their knack for affordable wireless accessories to the mechanical gaming world. The G613 Lightspeed is the first wireless mechanical gaming keyboard on the market. Sporting Romer G switches, game mode, USB, bluetooth, and media keys, and Logitech’s signature 6 macro keys, this little keyboard packs a punch. Though it has a slim profile, it features the full 100% keyboard layout and a built-in wrist rest.

Switch: Logitech Romer G

Quality: Lightweight and high quality

Backlight: While we normally try to stick with full RGB because it’s awesome, for wireless we’ll have to settle for unlit keys (for now).

Features:

  • Media keys
  • Game mode and light key
  • Bluetooth and wireless USB
  • USB receiver extender cable
  • 6 Macro keys
  • Wrist rest

KRO: 10-KRO

 

Best Tenkeyless Keyboard

Corsair K65 Lux RGB $130

Price: $130, Amazon

Description: If you’re looking for a compact TKL that doesn’t sacrifice any of the awesome things about gaming keyboards, the Corsair K65 Lux is everything you could dream of. It’s pricey for a tenkeyless but it also has a USB passthrough, full RGB programmability, and a few extra keys slotted in for volume, light level, and windows lock. Not to mention the wrist-rest for gaming comfort anywhere you take this compact board.

Switch: Cherry MX Reds

Quality: Considered a high-quality board with brushed aircraft quality aluminum.

Backlight: Full spectrum and control programmable RGB

Features:

  • Standard key spacing
  • Macro programming software
  • Gaming Keycaps for WASD
  • Wrist rest (reported small)
  • USB Passthrough

KRO: N-KRO on USB

 

No one can tell you what you need from your mechanical gaming keyboard, but starting with a fantastic baseline is a great way to figure yourself and your gaming needs out fast. Whether you’re looking for a keyboard for on-the-go gaming or building your ultimate streaming inner sanctum, one of these mechanical keyboards or perhaps a more obscure board you find along the way is sure to transform your entire gaming experience.

 

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