You know the different parts of a computer—the monitor, the tower, the keyboard, the mouse. This is all pretty typical, and, while some things may come with special features, they all tend to follow the same structure and design. Of course, that’s only until you get into the world of gaming. When it comes to gaming equipment, everything is different.
The towers and monitors are heavy-duty and high-speed, the mouses and keyboards have special controls, and everything is customized to enhance the gaming experience. Think of it this way—when you’re playing on a console, you have a special controller with special keys and joysticks that all do special things. When you’re playing on a computer, though, you’re stuck with the normal keyboard and mouse functions. You could certainly bind all the different letter keys to a certain function, but it’s not nearly as customized as it could be.
The keyboard, in particular, is often where the most customization comes in. After all, this—as well as the mouse—is what takes the place of the typical console’s controller. While your traditional keyboard might be tolerable for casual gaming, you’re going to want something a bit more specific if you’re getting into some serious sessions. This is why there are whole companies just dedicated to PC gaming equipment.
Keep in mind, though, that a gaming keyboard is good for more than just special keys. When you get into serious gaming, you’re probably going to be giving your keyboard a beating—especially if you have a heavy hand, mash keys or get angry easily. (Gamers know how abused their equipment gets.) You want your gaming keyboard to survive your heavy use for a long time.
What to Look for in a Gaming Keyboard
With so many keyboards out there on the market, it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out which one is the right one for you. What should you look for, and how much will it cost? If you’re on a budget, you may be worried about the particularly high price tags some gaming keyboards come with. It is possible to find a great keyboard with all the features you need for a good price, but you need to know what to look for first.
When you think of a good gaming keyboard, you might picture a futuristic design and a bunch of flashing, technicolor lights. Gaming in style is certainly a plus, but those aesthetic additions won’t do much to help improve the way you play. Your gaming keyboard should have features that improve your experience as a whole. If appearance is important to you, that’s one thing, but there’s a lot more to a gaming keyboard than just that.
Understand the Mechanical Keyboard
The modern keyboard you’re probably used to using is the membrane keyboard. This keyboard is softer, quieter, and provides little to no feedback when each key is pressed. For gaming, this can pose a few problems. Each key on a membrane keyboard is attached to a single “membrane”. A signal is sent to the computer when pressure is applied to a key on the membrane. Because of the way this is set up, however, it’s difficult to process more than one key pressed at a time, and it can also be pretty difficult to replace a key if it stops working.
A mechanical keyboard, on the other hand, is the one most preferred by gamers (and typists). With a mechanical keyboard, each key has its own complete switch system. Each system has a base, a spring, and a stem that sends a signal to the computer whenever the key is pressed down. The switch system provides physical feedback which is great for quick typing and knowing when a key has been fully pressed, which is why gamers and typists love these keyboards so much.
Generally speaking, there are three types of switches, and each produces a different type of feedback when pressed—linear, tactile-only, or tactile with audio. Linear switches provide consistent, smooth resistance, tactile-only gives tactile feedback, and tactile with audio gives tactile and audio feedback. There are other categories used by some brands, however, like the popular Cherry MX switches, which are a bit more specific and separated by color.
Mechanical keyboards come with a lot of advantages, overall. The biggest advantage is how long these keyboards last. Because each key is on its own system, they can all be easily replaced individually, which greatly increases how long you’ll be able to use the keyboard. While membrane keyboards typically only last for around 1 million keystrokes, mechanical keyboards can last for around 50 million keystrokes.
Otherwise, the other advantages are in the experience. Because of the feedback that is given by each keystroke, you’ll start to understand how each key is pressed a lot better. When you know where your fingers are and how each key is being pressed, your typing will improve greatly. The keys on a mechanical keyboard are also highly customizable, thanks to how easy it is to remove each individual key. You can find plenty of unique and personalized keys on the internet to customize your keyboard to look exactly how you want it.
Features of a Good Gaming Keyboard
There are a lot of features that make a great gaming keyboard, but there are a specific few that are pretty much necessary for a good experience. One important feature is Key Rollover, which has to do with how many keys you can press at once. Typically, your traditional keyboards will have either one- or two-Key Rollover. If you press any more keys than that, the strokes either won’t register or other unpressed keys will register. Basically, your keyboard either won’t respond properly or it’ll freak out.
When those keystrokes don’t register, it’s called ghosting. Good gaming keyboards have anti-ghosting features and at least 6-Key Rollover. 6-Key Rollover should be good enough for typists and serious gamers, but more intense or competitive gamers might want to find a keyboard with N-Key Rollover, which guarantees that every keystroke will be registered.
Next, you’ll want to pay attention to macros and software customization. A good gaming keyboard will let you reprogram the functions of any key to personalize and customize your gaming experience. These keyboards would include software that can be used to program whole keystroke sequences and even mouse clicks. Some may also come with blank, unassigned keys that are meant specifically to be programmed for macros.
Backlighting might seem like just an aesthetic feature, but even this could be used to your advantage. Almost every gaming keyboard comes with some type of backlighting, whether it be single-color or full RGB. Single-color backlighting won’t be very customizable other than maybe the ability to adjust brightness. Full RGB, on the other hand, would allow you to select from over 16 million colors and customize each individual key. You could even add special effects like breathe, wave, color shift, and more.
When it comes to improving your gaming experience, however, full, custom RGB backlighting can be used in some pretty cool ways. For example, some software allows you to set up reactive lighting. You could program certain lighting patterns to react at different times to act as a sort of alert system. For people who play games like Counter-Strike or Defense of the Ancients, you could set up these reactions to alert you when cooldowns are up, or even when your respawn timer is done. This can be especially useful for gamers who like to multitask.
You might think that all of these features put together would probably make for a pretty expensive keyboard, but you may be surprised by how easy it can be to get the best of all worlds. Keep in mind that a high price doesn’t always mean a great keyboard, just like how a less expensive keyboard doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality. You don’t always “get what you pay for” when it comes to gaming equipment, but you should still be careful and do your research before making any purchase.
The Best Gaming Keyboard On a Budget
When it comes to determining the best gaming keyboard for someone on a budget, personal preference is going to be the biggest factor. Of course, some keyboards will definitely stand out from the rest, but it all comes down to what you like. Gaming keyboards under $100 tend to have about the same features with only a couple of differences between them all. This is why knowing what you want and knowing what to look for is so important.
Even though the keyboards in this price range do tend to be pretty similar, there are still some that tower above the rest when it comes to quality and performance. If you’re looking for an inexpensive gaming keyboard that gives you similar quality to what you’d get for a high-end keyboard at several hundred dollars, you’re in luck.
- MECHA-MEMBRANE KEYS – Soft cushioned membrane rubber dome with a crisp tactile mechanical click
- MID-HEIGHT KEYCAPS: Custom designed keycaps for quicker actuation without missing a single stroke
- INDIVIDUALLY BACKLIT KEYS: Powered by Razer Chroma with 16.8 million customizable color options
Overall rating: 4.2 out of 5
Out of all the budget gaming keyboards on the market, the Razer Ornata Chroma has definitely received the most praise for various reasons. For $99.99—or for a deal of $79.99 on Amazon, you get mid-height keycaps, individual RGB backlighting, 10-Key Rollover anti-ghosting, and a leatherette magnetic wrist rest. With those core features, plus the many additional others, the Ornata Chroma is a steal, to say the least.
For the Ornata Chroma, Razer developed a fantastic hybrid between a membrane and mechanical keyboard to deliver the best of both worlds—meshing the needs of gaming and typing together. They call this hybrid technology “mecha-membrane”, as it is partially made from a mechanical switch and partially made from a silicone dome. Basically, the mechanical switch pushes down and puts pressure on the dome to complete the keystroke.
Every feature that Razer put into the Ornata Chroma was designed specifically with function in mind, and it just so happened to create a beautiful end result. No sacrifices were made here for the experience or for the features, and that’s definitely something to be appreciated. The mecha-membrane keys and the shorter height of the keycaps allow you to type faster and more efficiently, while the 10-Key Rollover anti-ghosting feature ensures that every key you hit is registered when you need it to be.
They even mix function with beauty in the full RGB backlighting. Like other RGB backlit gaming keyboards, you can choose from more than 16 million colors for your lighting, but, with the Ornata Chroma, you can also customize those lights to react to your gameplay. Then, if you have other Razer Chroma devices in your gaming setup, you can even synchronize your lighting system across all devices for an enhanced experience.
With that said, there are some things that the keyboard is missing, compared to some pricier models. For example, there is no USB or audio pass-through available, so you can’t connect any other devices through the keyboard. If you’ve run out of ports on your computer, you’d be out of luck here. The keyboard is also lacking dedicated media keys for things like volume, macro recording, playback, lighting, etc. Instead, you use the Fn key and a function key to access them.
Even with those few missing features, the Ornata Chroma is still a fantastic keyboard. With 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon, it’s pretty clear that nearly everyone has something good to say about it. Any complaints were minor and had more to do with small issues or personal preferences than anything major. With the Ornata Chroma’s reputation and undeniably great features, it seems like almost a guarantee that you’ll love it, too.
The Value Runner-Up
If you’re on a tighter budget than $79.99 might allow, there are definitely still some great options for you—even under $50. A lot of people say that there aren’t any good mechanical or gaming keyboards under $50, but a lot of brands are proving that statement wrong. Granted, our top pick for value runner-up is a membrane keyboard, but it still takes the cake as a fantastic budget gaming keyboard with great keys, great backlighting, and great software to tie it all together.
- Ultra fast reaction times, tactile feel, and quiet operation
- Splash resistant to everyday spills
- Guaranteed 20-million click lifespan for lifelong durability
- Dynamic five-zone RGB illumination
- Real-time Discord in-game lighting notifications
Overall rating: 4.4 out of 5
The SteelSeries Apex 150 falls just under $50, and it delivers all the basic features you’d need from a good gaming keyboard. Its membrane system uses tension switches to still give you the tactile feel of a mechanical keyboard. Whereas a normal membrane keyboard would be good for 1 million clicks and a mechanical keyboard would be good for 50 million, the Apex 150 quick tension keys will be good for around 20 million clicks, falling right in the middle of the two.
The keyboard is primarily made of plastic, but it still has a heavy, solid feel to it. There are also glossy accents around the outside of the board, which really add to the style of it—something you’d expect to see in a much pricier model. On top of that, the body is liquid-resistant to help protect from the likely splashes or spills you might experience when in the middle of an intense gaming session with a drink in hand.
One of the craziest features that SteelSeries delivers in this budget keyboard is the ability to customize your RGB backlighting to react to things like Discord notifications or in-game events. Did you get a new message? Your keyboard can light up for that. Are you low on ammo? Is the cooldown timer finished? Is your health low? You can customize your keyboard to light up for all that, too. This is definitely a feature that makes the value of the Apex 150 go up, even though the price is still very affordable.
Gaming keyboards, especially less expensive ones, may have pretty similar features across the board, but there are still plenty that stands out among the crowd. Because quality in this department is mostly subjective, it’s important that you look into all your options before making any decisions. You may be surprised by how great a keyboard is that you would never have thought to look at otherwise.
- 100% Cherry MX key switches
- Dynamic backlighting
- Fully programmable
- USB Pass-Through Port
- Weight:2.02 lbs. Keyboard Dimensions
Overall rating: 4.3 out of 5
Corsair is a pretty well-known brand that constantly delivers great quality gaming equipment, regardless of the type. Their keyboards, especially, have consistently impressed critics, and the Strafe is no different. The Strafe is essentially the less expensive version of Corsair’s K95 RGB, which is the updated version of the Vengeance K95.
The Corsair Strafe is a mechanical keyboard with red backlighting that can be customized for each key. It also comes with a USB pass-through and full programming for macros and individual keys. It may not come with the bells and whistles of higher-end models, but it is certainly very affordable, and the customization is out of this world for its price. A lot of the missing features really just come down to special effects and personal preferences, as well. For example, full RGB lighting isn’t really necessary, and some people may not even like wrist rests, anyway.
The mechanical keys use Cherry MX Red switches and have complete anti-ghosting with full-Key Rollover—which is pretty incredible for the price, considering that a lot of more expensive models don’t even have full-Key Rollover. The switches are very responsive but don’t have an audible click, which could be good or bad depending on your personal preference. There may not be special macro-dedicated keys, but every single key on the Strafe is programmable, which is still pretty great.
Another cool feature of the Corsair Strafe is the patterns you can enable for the backlighting. The keyboard makes up for its lack of RGB lighting with the ability to add special lighting patterns. For example, you could have the backlighting ripple out from each key as you press it. You also have the ability to customize your own lighting patterns with the software provided.
Overall, the Strafe is a great keyboard for a great price. It performs well, it holds up well, and its features are good enough that you won’t be disappointed. Of course, if you’re looking for something with a little more oomph, you might not be happy with the Strafe, but it’s still a pretty good keyboard in the end.
- Performance-driven gaming keyboard
- Tactile Cherry MX Brown Mechanical Key Switches
- Easy-Access Media Controls
- Customizable Function Keys and Game Mode
Overall rating: 4.2 out of 5
Logitech designed the G610 Orion for people who want an expensive keyboard without having to pay the price for it. It has a solid build and a beautiful matte finish with the signature Logitech logo in the upper lefthand corner. Overall, it’s a great keyboard with a laid-back design that would be great for anyone looking for a subtle, subdued design to match a more typical office aesthetic.
Perhaps the best part about this model is that it comes in two options, depending on what kind of Cherry MX switches you prefer—the G610 Orion Red and the G610 Orion Brown, named for the type of switch they use. Brown switches are more quiet and tactile, and red switches are more linear and quick. These two options also differ in their programmable key options. The G610 Orion Brown has 12 programmable function keys, while the G610 Orion Red has 12 programmable G-keys. Other than that, the two are completely the same.
Coming in at just under $100 on Amazon, the Logitech G610 Orion does seem to be missing some features that other models in the same price range—even some priced lower—have. You are able to customize the lighting patterns of the backlighting, but they only come in white, which might disappoint some gamers. The keyboard is also missing dedicated macro keys, but general gaming is still possible with programmable function keys and G-keys.
Overall, the G610 Orion is good for someone who isn’t looking for much. If you want something a little fancier, this likely won’t be a good match for you, though. In the end, personal preference is what will ultimately end up being the deciding factor for this keyboard.
In the end, there are plenty of budget gaming keyboards available on the market that can still deliver in the same range of quality that pricier models do. You don’t have to worry about sacrificing too much just to stay within your budget. The Razer Ornata Chroma, SteelSeries Apex 150, and every other solid gaming keyboard for under $100 have definitely proven that. Just stay patient, know what makes a good keyboard, know what kind of features you want, and then you’ll be able to easily identify the deals and steals, regardless of what your budget is.