Best gaming keyboard 2018: Our top mechanical, membrane and RGB picks for PC

Best gaming keyboard 2018

Your keyboard is one of the most important parts of your entire PC, so to help you decide what your next one’s going to be, we’ve put together a list of all the best gaming keyboards we’ve tried and tested in the RPS treehouse. We’ve got everything here from top of the range mechanical keyboards right down to the very best that membrane keyboards have to offer as well, the latter of which are both a bit easier on your ears and, more importantly, your wallet.

If none of that makes even the slightest bit of sense, then fear not, as we’ll also take you through everything you need to know about all the different keyboard types on offer, as well as all the various kinds of switches that go with them. By the time you’re done, you’ll have everything you need to know about buying the best gaming keyboard for you and your budget. Naturally, this list will continue to evolve as and when we get new keyboards in for testing that we think deserve a place on this list (wireless keyboards are also forthcoming), but for now, let’s get to it.

Mechanical or membrane?

The first thing you need to know about buying a new gaming keyboard is whether you want a mechanical one or a membrane one. Generally, a lot of people who play PC games prefer mechanical keyboards due to their sharp, clean movements and short, fast actuation points (when the keyboard actually registers you’ve pressed down a key). Personally, I couldn’t give two hoots about whether I use a mechanical keyboard or a slightly spongier membrane one. I’ve liked and used both types of keyboard without much complaint, and as long as I can type well enough on it, that’s good enough for me.

Each type of keyboard has its own ups and downs. Membrane keyboards are usually a lot cheaper than their mechanical counterparts because they’re made from less expensive materials, but this in turn makes them more prone to breaking and are generally a bit of a pain to fix. Given their low price, the solution nine times out of ten is just to buy a new one.

Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, are generally a lot more expensive – with most demanding at least £80/$100, if not significantly more – but they’re also more durable and easier to repair. They are, however, a heck of a lot noisier than membrane keyboards, and the loud CLACKEDY CLACK sound they make means they’re a bit anti-social for shared living spaces and are generally best suited to bedrooms and places where you’re the only person who’s got to put up with all the noise.

Fnatic Streak keyboard side

The reason for this is because each key on a mechanical keyboard has its own individual spring-loaded switch underneath it. Some are clackier than others depending on what type of switch you go for, but more on that in a minute. Membrane keys, meanwhile, are comprised of several small domes on a single layer of plastic – a bit like bubble wrap. This, naturally, deadens any excess sound they might make, and tend to be much easier on the ears.

Now I’ve used many a membrane keyboard over the years and found them perfectly suitable for games that don’t require mad esports reflexes in fast-paced FPSs. They can, however, feel a little unresponsive at times when you’re pressing lots of keys together, and often require you to press each key all the way down in order for it to register – which isn’t the case if you go mechanical. As such, most of the keyboards you’ll find on this list are, indeed, mechanical keyboards, but some you’ll also find some  that offer the best of both worlds – so-called ‘membranical’ keyboards, the best of which I’ve also picked out below. Your ears will thank you later.

What’s the difference between red, blue and brown switches?

If you do opt for a mechanical keyboard, the next decision you’ll need to make is ‘What colour?’ For there isn’t just one type of mechanical keyboard, oh no. There are several, and each one comes with its own type of switch that makes them ever so slightly different to type on.

Most keyboards tend to use Cherry’s MX switches. Other manufacturers occasionally use their own switches or other types that come in different colours, but you’ll mostly find keyboards that broadly fall into the following three Cherry categories: red, blue, and brown. To see how they work in practice, HyperX have a handy primer with animated GIFs showing each one in action, but we’ll also tell you what keyboards come in what colours in our rankings below.

Red: Often considered the fastest type of mechanical switch, these have a linear action and go straight up and down when you press them. They don’t provide as much tactile feedback as other switches, but the wider hivemind will say these are usually the best type for playing games.

Blue: The loudest of all mechanical switches, these ‘click-style’ switches are a bit slower than red ones due to their higher reset positions, and generally require a bit more force to press before they register (although in practice it’s basically tiny and doesn’t affect your typing style whatsoever). These are generally considered the best for typing because they provide a good sense of tactile feedback, but they’re pretty good for gaming as well.

Brown: For those after the ultimate in tactile feedback, brown switches are a sort of half-way house between linear and click switches. Press one of these down and you’ll feel a noticeable little ‘bump’ halfway through, giving you a bit more physical confirmation that, yes, you have indeed press it correctly. They’re still pretty noisy, but not quite as much as blue ones.

Fnatic Streak keyboards

Best mechanical keyboard: Fnatic Streak / miniStreak

Key features: Mechanical (red, blue, brown Cherry MX switches), RGB, USB passthrough (Streak only), dedicated media keys

You’ll probably have heard of Fnatic from their esports endeavours rather than their hardware manufacturing chops, but the Streak (and by extension its accompanying compact cousin, the miniStreak) is easily one the best mechanical keyboards I’ve ever used. Fnatic will rave about it being the world’s thinnest mechanical board, but really, it’s just a pleasure to use and comes with the comfiest wrist rest on the planet.

Their respective designs are surprisingly tasteful for an esports company, too, featuring the bare minimum of logos and excess branding to keep everything nice and clean and not at all embarrassing to have on your desk. There are a few nods to the more esports-inclined among us, such as the removable magnetic RGB header plate on the very top of the keyboard you can see in the picture above (but not in everyday use because it’s facing away from you) that you can use to insert your own gamer tag platers and other such gubbins, but overall its smooth, rounded corners and plain, aluminium chassis are pretty inoffensive.

The detachable wrist rest, though, is the Streak’s main attraction. Soft, plush and very easy on my old, weary bones, it can be lifted up and re-positioned into one of three grooves on its accompanying base, allowing you to pitch it as near to the keyboard as you like while still giving you the flexibility to have it a bit further away depending on the size of your hands. It’s immensely practical and a lot comfier than the hard plastic rests you tend to see on other mechanical keyboards, and just makes using the Streak feel like an absolute dream.

Even better, it’s one of the cheapest RGB keyboards around, too.

Read more in our Fnatic Streak / miniStreak review.

UK price:
Fnatic miniStreak: £90 from Amazon UK
Fnatic Streak: £120 from Amazon UK 

US price:
Fnatic miniStreak: $100 from Bestbuy
Fnatic Streak: $130 from Bestbuy

HyperX Alloy Elite

Runner up: HyperX Alloy Elite

Key features: Mechanical (Red, blue, brown Cherry MX switches), LED (RGB model also available), USB passthrough, dedicated media keys

Until the Fnatic Streak rode into Castle Shotgun, the HyperX Alloy Elite would have been my top gaming keyboard pick. That’s not to say it’s no longer a good mechanical keyboard, of course. Aside from the large HyperX logo in the top right corner, this is still a very attractive keyboard that keeps things nice and understated in its overall design.

The sharp, angular corners may not be to everyone’s taste, but all of its keys are sensibly laid out, and its dedicated media keys and volume roller are actually more accessible and easier to use than those found on the Fnatic Streak. This particular model is the red LED version, but it’s also available in a more expensive RGB model with full rainbow attire if that sort of thing floats your boat. Still, for those after a more tasteful take on LED backlighting, the regular red model of the Alloy Elite certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The Alloy Elite only comes with a plastic detachable wrist rest, but its textured surface was still perfectly comfortable for everyday use and its pair of fold-out feet gave it just the right amount of elevation for quick and accurate typing. It also comes with eight replaceable textured key caps for the WASD and 1234 keys in the box if you prefer a different grip on your favourite gaming keys.

Read more in our HyperX Alloy Elite review.

UK price:
£96 from Amazon UK

US price:
$110 from Amazon US

MSI GK80

Best RGB keyboard: MSI Vigor GK80

Key features: Mechanical (red, silver Cherry MX switches), RGB, USB passthrough, dedicated media keys

The MSI Vigro GK80 is a great mechanical keyboard in its own right, but one of its stand-out features is its highly customisable RGB lighting. You’ll need to download MSI’s corresponding Mystic Light software to make the most of it (much like any keyboard with RGB lighting), but MSI go one step further than most RGB keyboards out there, as you not only get a multitude of extra buttons to help configure it to your liking, but you also get specific RGB game modes for Overwatch, League of Legends and CS:GO. That’s in addition to its 14 separate RGB profiles that you can sync across all your compatible MSI peripherals and components.

The dedicated soft-touch wrist rest is another highlight. Unlike other mechanical keyboards, this doesn’t attach to the main keyboard itself. Instead, you can place it wherever you like on your desk, its firm grippy underside keeping it in place at all times. This makes it much more flexible than most other keyboard wrist rests out there, but for me, the grooves on the Fnatic Streak still have the edge – if only because I don’t need to keep re-positioning it every time I need to move my keyboard.

The GK80 is certainly one of the more expensive keyboards out there at the moment, but at least it comes with several extras to help justify the price. These include four metal caps for the WASD keys (you also get regular textured rubber ones as well), plus an extra space bar, back space, a further eight regular-sized key caps and two Ctrl/Alt-sized caps in case you ever need a replacement. Even better, you can pop them all inside the wrist rest for easy transportation to make sure they don’t get lost.

Read more in our MSI Vigor GK80 review.

UK price:
£160 from Scan

US price:
$149 from Amazon US

Asus ROG Strix Flare

Runner up: Asus ROG Strix Flare

Key features: Mechanical (red, brown Cherry MX switches), RGB, USB passthrough, dedicated media keys

Another rather tasteful take on both mechanical keyboards in general and RGB variations, the Asus ROG Strix Flare is another fantastic mechanical keyboard that’s worthy of your consideration. Its plain chassis cuts a fine, sophisticated profile on your desk, and its elegent, dual matt and brushed finished design that sheers diagonally down the right side of the keyboard helps give it a bit of personality that’s both refined and understated.

It also doesn’t go overboard with its plentiful supply of RGB LEDs – of which there are plenty. Not only have you got them on the keys themselves, but there are also two strips underneath the keyboard as well as another couple shining out of the top, transparent cut-out that can be used for slotting in 3D-printed gamer tags or the bundled plastic ROG logo (as shown above).

Again, you’ll need to download Asus’ Armory software to start customising the ROG Strix Flare down to a per-key lighting level, but you get plenty of options once you do so. The underglow strips are also surprisingly subdued for those who prefer a more subtle approach to their rainbow-coloured light shows, and I didn’t find them particularly distracting when playing games either.

Read more in our Asus ROG Strix Flare review.

UK price:
£140 from Amazon UK

US price:
$180 from Amazon US

Roccat Horde Aimo palm rest

Best membrane keyboard: Roccat Horde Aimo

Key features: ‘Membranical’, RGB, dedicated media keys

Okay, so this technically isn’t quite a proper honest-to-goodness membrane keyboard, but it’s arguably the best type of membrane keyboard you’re going to find for playing games. While the term ‘membranical’ is horrible and a crime against the English language, it does sort of capture what the Horde Aimo actually is – a halfway house between a full-blown CLACKY mechanical keyboard and a quieter, less ear-grating membrane keyboard.

It’s not entirely silent, but it’s certainly a lot less sociable than any of the other mechanical keyboards on this list – namely, you can use it within ear shot of another human being with functioning ear lobes and not run the risk of having something thrown in the general direction of your head. Each key still offers a pleasing degree of precision and tactile feedback as well, and the subtle RGB lighting doesn’t get up in your face, either.

What really separates the Horde Aimo from the rest, however, is that nice, chunky media bar along the top, complete with revolving volume knob. It’s a wonderfully tactile bit of design, and it can be used for all sorts of functions depending on which media key you press alongside it. It also has built-in support for Microsoft’s fancy Surface Dial peripheral. The only thing the Horde Aimo doesn’t have, unfortunately, is USB passthrough support. But hey, this is still a fine keyboard in its own right, and doesn’t demand too many of your hard-earned pounds/dollars, either.

Read more in our Roccat Horde Aimo review.

UK price:
£80 from Overclockers

US price: 
$90 from Amazon US

30 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    While I have no intention on spending anywhere near this much money on a keyboard, I enjoy reading these articles in a sort of human interest kind of way. It’s neat to see something people are interested in, and read all about the thing I’m not interested in but that other folks are.

    So in short, neat list, thanks for continuing to produce a wide variety of content, RPS!

    • Brexit_Ralph says:

      actually a good mechanical keyboard can be had for much less than the prices listed here. I was like you, interested in the concept but scared by the price. Search youtube for a Linus Tech Tips video titled “Cheap $45 Mechanical Keyboard Round Up!” I purchased the DREVO Gramr for less than $40 on Amazon (I’m in the US btw) as a try out for mechanical keyboards. I have to say I am so happy I switched. I love my DREVO actually a lot more than I thought i would and have no plans on replacing it any time soon. But now that I have the experience I know that next time I will not be so intimidated by the price. I know it sounds like a lot for a keyboard but I took a chance and it’s just so much better.

      • HiroTheProtagonist says:

        I was going to say something similar. There are plenty of mechanical boards for less than half the price of these listed ones. Velocifire makes boards with Brown switches for less than $50 (if you can live without a tenkey), Tomoko has a Blue switch board for less than $30, plus Redragon does some cheap boards.

  2. ColonelFlanders says:

    Reds don’t have less tactile feedback, they have no feedback at all. The only thing you get with them is the click when they bottom out, but the key has long since actuated by that point.

  3. zrb77 says:

    Another decent option is the GMMK, its modular, so you can get whatever switches you want(without soldering) and put on whatever keycaps you want. I have a TKL one at work with Kailh Browns and some Vortex keycaps I bought from mechanicalkeyboard.com. I prefer clears, but it’s decent and I could always swap them out later.

  4. WCG says:

    The only thing I care about a keyboard is that the letters don’t rub off with use. Unfortunately, that’s happened with every keyboard I’ve ever used.

    Maybe a more expensive keyboard is the answer? Buying a new keyboard every year or two is cheap enough, I guess. It just seems like such a waste.

    • Brexit_Ralph says:

      what you’re looking for is key caps that are “double shot”. this means that rather than using a sticker or ink there are actually two pieces of plastic for each keycap, one for the key cap itself and one for the letter. I mentioned a cheap mechanical keyboard I purchased in an above comment, the DREVO Gramr, and even it has double shot key caps

    • Stone_Crow says:

      Well, it’s either a back-lit keyboard (where the letters are translucent plastic embedded through the entire key not printed on the top) for a wad of cash, or a bottle of clear Nail Varnish for a hand full of coins. Either will sort your problem out.

    • ObiDamnKenobi says:

      How much, and hard! are you typing?! I’ve had a not-very-fancy logitech keyboard for over 8 years and havne’t worn off any keys yet! wow.

  5. setnom says:

    I’d rather have a Varmilo or some other keyboard with PBT keycaps.

  6. mooz says:

    I just don’t see how mechanical got set to go with gaming. They are noisy as all hell, and really distract from the sound (and immersion for that matter) of games for a non-headphones player. And I never had a membrane keyboard wear out on me, so mechanical’s longevity isn’t really a selling point. For typing, sure, mechanical can feel great. But for gaming, other than most mechanicals sporting “n-key rollover”, they just seem a very over-hyped trend.

    • fish99 says:

      If you get browns or silents and fit o-rings, they’re really not loud at all, especially during gaming. Personally I use blues (and rarely use headphones) and the sound has never bothered me, and they’re super satisfying to type on. In comparison, membrane feels like typing on a sponge.

    • Linkblade says:

      There are a few silent mechanical keyboards. And it depends by far not only on the switches! I’ve put much effort into this issue of finding a silent gaming keyboard. I wrote a review also featuring the Fnatic Streak. Check it out:

      link to reddit.com

    • ObiDamnKenobi says:

      I really don’t see the point for FPS and similar, where you’re mainly pressing the 4 movement keys and a few others. I do like it for starcraft 2 though, since it involve hitting lots of different keys quickly, and accurately.

    • Zenicetus says:

      A back-lit keyboard will avoid the problem of worn-out markings.

      I’m a heavy enough typist to have worn off markings on other keyboards, but now that doesn’t happen with the one I’ve been using for the last couple of years: a Razer Black Widow Ultimate with green backlighting. It’s mechanical key but I can’t remember what type. A bit on the “clacky” side but a very good feel if you like mechanical keys, and I don’t have to worry about the noise in my home office/gaming room.

  7. caff says:

    As a HyperX Alloy Elite owner here, I can confirm it’s an excellent keyboard. Far better than the previous clunky/spongey silent Corsair I used to own. The volume dial and mute buttons are really handy, especially for someone like me who routes their sound through an amp.

    The only slight issue is the amount of dust that collects under the keys and remains pretty visible. But it is easy to pop a few keys off to clean with a toothbrush.

  8. fish99 says:

    Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t see a list of which keyboards were tested.

    • 7hink says:

      Just these were tested. They just happened to be the best as well. On a more serious note: I would very likely rate any Filco board above anything mentioned above. Especially given the price of some of these boards. That said, I don’t have hands on experience with any of these boards and it also depends on what you want from a keyboard. If you’re looking for pretty lights and extra buttons these might very well be the best.

  9. Killy_V says:

    Still have my G15 from 2007 kicking ass. I’d like to upgrade to another keyboard, but none has a secondary screen (which is a life saver especialy for Mumble/TS) and that much programmable buttons…

    • MaxMcG says:

      Me too. I love that screen. It’s the main reason I haven’t bought a new clickity keyboard.

      • Risingson says:

        And I understand you guys because I did not think I could live without lcdsirreal. But yes, a mechanical keyboard is a good thing and you will thank how easy most of them are to clean. Because I don’t know about yours, but my G15 was so difficult to clean and, hence, was so dirty that sometimes it called me mama.

  10. syllopsium says:

    I have a Unicomp Endura Pro buckling spring keyboard (similar to an IBM Model M) customised with a Dvorak layout. Don’t tend to use it for gaming though, as games usually assume a QWERTY world (some don’t even allow remapping..)

    Instead I use a Logitech G13, fits nicely under the hand, has a display, and automatically supports the major game titles.

    For typing a decent keyboard with tactile feedback is essential. For games I’m less bothered.

  11. Don Reba says:

    The Microsoft Ergonomic line is the pinnacle of keyboard science. I still fancy the 4000 more than the newer models. I actively use the extra keys.

  12. televizor says:

    I wish you’d provide more options, especially on the membrane side of things.
    I’m interested in the most silent membrane one but with some media and macro keys.

  13. genosse says:

    Tenkeyless (80% Layout), mechanical, wireless 2.4 ghz connection (no Bluetooth!), long battery life and it does not look like a children’s toy and/or the Batmobile. Someone make it happen, please.

    I looked over so many keyboards in the past few days and there is nothing that fits this niche. Couch PC-gamers get no love it seems.

    • Bremze says:

      Logitech G613 ticks every box except tkl but that’s it. I even thought about compromising and running a wire through the room as long as I could get a tkl keyboard with usb passthrough but that has been a similarly futile search.

  14. MaxMcG says:

    Having programmable keys on the left side of the keyboard would be a bit of a pre-requisite for me, I don’t know why more manufacturers don’t use them – only the last keyboard in that list had them.

  15. CelestialSlayer says:

    I have been using a razer nostromo keyboard and naga mouse for years and with those two i have a compfortable set up and lots of customisable keys. I could never imagine gaming on a real keyboard anymore.

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