In our series of PC peripheral buyers guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended mechanical keyboards. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
Best Mechanical Keyboards: Holiday 2022
Once you have picked your main system components, such as the CPU, the PSU and the GPU, it is also time to have a look at the peripherals. Considering that a PC’s peripherals can easily outlive the main system’s components and usually stay the same even after several main system upgrades, they are often not given the attention they deserve. Keyboards are such a component; it is the main interface with the PC, yet most casual users hardly stop to consider what would be the most practical/comfortable choice for them.
Mechanical keyboards are not a new invention – on the contrary, the first mechanical keyboards were produced back in the 1970’s but slowly gave away their market share to electronic keyboards due to their much lower cost. It was not until a decade ago that mechanical keyboards started reappearing in the market but claimed only a very small share of the market due to their high retail prices. As the manufacturing technologies matured and competition kicked in, mechanical keyboards became more affordable and alluring to advanced users.
Nowadays mechanical keyboards cover a significant share of the market and the sheer number of available products is astonishing. Almost every company in the PC peripherals business is releasing one mechanical keyboard after the other. Each generation brings lower prices, new switches, and (sometimes) unique features. The product design concepts began getting saturated over the last couple of years and most of the released products could hardly differentiate from the competition, yet we did witness some unique features (such as cloud-connected keyboards and/or ergonomic designs). We also saw capacitive switch keyboards shyly coming into the scene.
In this holiday buyer’s guide we are taking a look at mechanical keyboards, aiming to offer suggestions to their two main consumer groups – gamers and professionals. We present this guide from an objective point of view, meaning that we weight the overall features and quality of a device against its current market value. Still, keep in mind that the selection of a keyboard can be highly subjective and prone to individual wants and needs.
|AnandTech Mechanical Keyboard Recommendations: 2022
(Prices are Nov-25 or MSRP)
|Category||Gaming Option||Professional Option|
|Mainstream||Philips G403 Momentum||$29||Logitech G413||$56|
|Advanced||Patriot Viper Gaming V765||$50||Das Keyboard Model S||$120|
|Top-Tier||Corsair K100 RGB||$180||Das Keyboard X50Q||$130|
|Corsair K100 Air||$280||Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB||$200|
Why Do I Want a Mechanical Keyboard?
There are many arguments regarding the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical keyboards: they are far more durable than membrane keyboards and easier to maintain, yet noisier and significantly more expensive. However, what makes mechanical keyboards so popular is, as vague as this sounds, their feeling. It is very difficult to put it into words but if someone uses a mechanical keyboard for a few days, all membrane keyboards will be feeling like a toy afterward.
Membrane-based keyboards have their actuation point at the bottom of the key travel and require maximum pressure force at the beginning of their travel, requiring a relatively large amount of strength to be pressed that will inevitably force the key to bottom down. Mechanical keyboards are very different, with both the actuation point and the pressure point somewhere along the travel distance of the key, with several different switch variations offering better flexibility for the consumers. There are tactile and linear switches, audible and quiet, with various key travel lengths for consumers to choose from.
Meanwhile, mechanical switches are also sometimes favored on the belief that they help you type or react faster because they are easier to actuate and/or because the key does not have to bottom down. In terms of speed, the truth is that the difference is usually marginal at best. Mechanical switches are however much more comfortable (and healthy) for long-term use, making mechanical keyboards a nearly necessary tool for professionals and hardcore gamers who value their tendons. Similarly, many argue about which mechanical switch is the “best”. Simply put, there is no “best” switch. Whether you prefer strong linear switches because soft linear switches are too easy to bottom down or audible instead of quiet switches, it virtually always is a matter of individual personal preference.
Mainstream Mechanical Keyboards
Trying to decide where to even begin with our recommendations this year proved to be particularly tricky. In short, the low-end of the market, at around $35-60, has been flooded with clones. In fact, the vast majority of these budget keyboards are using switches that are not just clones of Cherry’s original switches, but clones of their clones. With so many keyboards of various qualities and questionable parts sourcing, actually reviewing the keyboards is critical; and we haven’t taken a look at very many of these boards thus far.
We did test a few such keyboards over the last couple of years, but the number of boards that we are able to review is barely a drop in the bucket for the number of mechanical keyboards available today. In many cases, “cloned-clone” switches show great force disparity and other quality control issues, resulting in poor behavior and performance that does not justify the upgrade from a typical keyboard to a mechanical one.
Moving up just a bit in the stack, we have “mainstream” keyboards. These cost a bit more but come from better-established manufacturers who aren’t using clone-of-clone switches. Still, this is a similarly packed market.
For users who do not want to break the bank and are content with a fairly basic mechanical keyboard, our recommendation lies with the Philips G403 Momentum (SPK8403). It is a fairly simple and non-programmable mechanical keyboard without any special features other than its colorful backlighting. Some shops claim that the backlighting is RGB but, as stated by the manufacturer themselves, it actually is “multi-color” backlighting with few configuration options. Although there is nothing really special about the G403 Momentum, the $29 sale price for a mechanical keyboard coming from a premium brand is something that cannot be easily overlooked.
For those who favor quality and elegance but still need to follow a tight budget, Logitech brought out the G413 this year. It is a relatively simple but exceptionally well-made mechanical keyboard that is based on Logitech’s own Romer-G switches. Despite its simplicity, it still supports some basic programmability and macro commands can be programmed on the function keys, making them available via keystroke combinations. This may not be a very useful feature to advanced gamers but it will help professionals automate repetitive tasks. The keyboard typically retails for $56, making it a solid deal for this level of quality.
Advanced Mechanical Keyboards
Going above basic, mainstream mechanical keyboards, we have higher-tier “advanced” keyboards. These boards come with additional, specialized features, which are not necessarily required for a keyboard but can come in handy. Keyboards in this range often come with extended programming features and additional keys, or RGB lighting, or simply better aesthetics. Aesthetics in particular is a strictly subjective topic – there’s a good argument to be had that gaming-focused gear is particularly gaudy these days – so we’ve decided to split our recommendation two ways, offering separate suggestions for a gaming keyboard and a professional (productivity) keyboard.
For gamers that want a full set of features without breaking the bank, our primary recommendation would be the Patriot Viper Gaming V765. The V765 is a fully per-key programmable keyboard, with additional media buttons and a volume wheel, as well as per-key programmable RGB backlighting. It also features a magnetic wrist rest and a metallic top frame. The only dubious feature of this keyboard is the Kaihl mechanical switches it is based on, but with a street price of $50, it’s fantastic for the versatility and quality it offers.
For those who prefer to focus on productivity and require a high quality and elegant solution, the Das Keyboard Model S offers the best value within this price band. Its retail price of $120 is high for a keyboard that lacks virtually any advanced features, yet it is a product designed to last for many years regardless of how much usage it has to go through. It is a keyboard meant for professionals that will be doing tens of thousands of keystrokes on a daily basis. The only disadvantage of the Model S that certain users need to take into account is the lack of any programmability, therefore it is not possible to program macros or any advanced commands directly without having to rely on a third-party software.
Top-Tier Mechanical Keyboards
Corsair K100 RGB OPX ($180)
Corsair K100 Air ($280)
Das Keyboard X50Q ($130)
Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB ($200)
When it comes to top-tier keyboards, our focus shifts almost exclusively over quality and features. These are the keyboards that are the best of the best, even if they cost more than the rest.
Our recommendation to advanced gamers and enthusiasts remains the same as last year and it is no other than the Corsair K100 RGB. Ironically, the K100 RGB is not a purebred mechanical keyboard but a hybrid with optomechanical switches. Corsair’s keyboard still outperforms virtually everything available on the market, as it offers a very wide array of features and is supported by Corsair’s Utility Engine (CUE), which is probably the most advanced software currently on the market. And at $180, its extremely broad range of features, quality, and versatility is making it very difficult for any competitor to overcome it.
Corsair has also released a wireless version of the K100, the K100 Air, but the wireless version actually sacrifices the additional macro keys and comes with low-profile keys. Also, the retail price of $280 is steep, yet it currently is one of the very few advanced mechanical keyboards, making it an one-of-the-kind choice for gamers who want or need a wireless mechanical keyboard.
For professionals who would rather stick with the typical key layout, we recommend the Das Keyboard X50Q. Although the colorful marketing images of the X50Q have many mistaking it for a gaming keyboard, the company developed this mechanical keyboard primarily with productivity in mind. It is an extremely versatile product, allowing full per-key programmability over both its functionality and lighting. From simple changes like minor layout adjustments and preprogrammed RGB backlighting effects to complex macros and per-key lighting-based notifications, the X50Q supports it all. Not only that, the keyboard’s software also allows for the installation of applets. Many applets are available for free but the company also offers the API code for developers to build their own applets, making the $130 X50Q perhaps the most versatile professional keyboard currently available and a true tool at the hands of professionals.
For typists that spend many hours using the same keyboard, our recommendation lies with the Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB. Ergonomic keyboards can have a significant impact on the prevention of health issues in the long run, and in the case of the Freestyle Edge, the keyboard itself is excellent. Kinesis offers a slew of advanced features and programming options, which should be enough to satisfy even the most demanding of users of a $199 keyboard. With that said, ergonomic keyboards aren’t for everyone; if nothing else, it is difficult for users who need to switch between different keyboards every day to get used to the unique layout of an ergonomic keyboard. So we do not recommend it for users who switch between workstations.