Getting a gaming keyboard can improve your performance and make gaming more enjoyable -- plus, you don't have to spend more than $100 to get a decent one. We tested out a bunch starting as low as $30, and while you'll find some features missing or cheaper materials used, compared to higher-end models these all performed really well for the money (well, except one).
Just like glossary of keyboard terms, too, to help narrow your preferences., getting the right gaming keyboard has a lot to do with personal preference. For instance, I like tactile switches -- ones where you can feel the actuation point -- but don't care for clicky switches that make a sound when actuated. Also, some keyboards might feel great for gaming, but you might not like it for day-to-day typing. If you have a chance to test out different types of switches before you buy, I highly recommend it. You can check out this
Our picks below aren't definitive as we're still testing. For example, Corsair's $50 K63 and HyperX's Alloy FPS Pro at $70, which were recommended by our readers, are worth checking out in addition to what we have here. If you think I've overlooked any other great sub-$100 gaming keyboard, let me know in the comments. And note that CNET may get a share of the revenue from the sale of some of the products in this guide.
Even on its lower-end models such as the G413, Logitech doesn't cheap out on build quality and components. It uses the same Romer-G Tactile switches found on its more feature-filled models and has the same slim, simple and sturdy design with brushed aluminum-magnesium alloy top case. It has a braided USB cable with a USB passthrough port on the back right and channels underneath for mouse and headset cable management.
The tactile switch is relatively quiet with no click when actuated, just a subtle bump and a short actuation. If you love to hear and feel your key presses, this probably isn't the best switch for you. There's just one color for the backlight -- red -- but it's bright and the key font is easy to read. Logitech includes 12 faceted keycaps, which is nice but we didn't feel much difference.
The G Hub software lets you set up macros and custom functions on the F1-F12 buttons and there's a game mode that shuts off the Windows key. Overall it's a more polished keyboard than the others here, but it's also pricier at around $70
The Cynosa might be a gaming keyboard, but it will likely remind you of an office keyboard. It's a membrane keyboard not mechanical, so the keys are quiet and definitely feel softer than the others here. Some people might find them downright mushy. Oddly, you need to apply quite a bit of force to get the keys down. If you're looking to use one keyboard for both work and play, though, this is a fine compromise for its current $45 price.
This is also the most programmable keyboard here. There are a lot of preset lighting effects to pick from and you can also create your own using the Synapse 3.0 software. There's also Razer's Hypershift feature that lets you set up a secondary set of functions for your keys that are accessed with a "shift" key you choose. You can also rebind keys and set macros with the software.
If you're not a fan of loud clicky keyboards, the Cynosa is worth tracking down to test out.
Aukey makes everything from power banks and chargers to dash cams and yes, gaming keyboards. The $36 G6 uses Outemu Blue switches that are clicky and you'll have no problem feeling the actuation point. They are also loud, so if you're typing or gaming in a shared space be prepared for some side-eye. Also, the keycaps are on the small side, which resulted in a lot of mistakes when typing and gaming. Unless you're really accurate or have slender fingertips (I don't) you'll likely need time to adjust.
It's short on features -- you won't find any macro keys -- and there's no software to install. As for lighting you're limited to a single color per row, but there are nine lighting modes to choose from and you can create two custom lighting effects. That's really it, though, so if you're just looking for a mechanical keyboard with lights, media shortcut keys and a number pad, this hits the spot.
Made from ABS plastic and aluminum, the $40 waterproof K561 (yes, waterproof) feels as solid as it sounds. Like the Aukey, it uses Outemu Blue switches that are tactile, clicky and loud. The keycaps are slightly bigger, though, so if you have rounder, wider fingertips you might find Redragon a better choice. This one is tenkeyless, too, for those who don't want or need a numberpad, but the company makes several other mechanical keyboards and all are less than $70.
The Redragon software is amateurish compared to Logitech's and Razer's. You can set up single-key macros and up to three separate profiles. There's no control over setting per-key lighting, but that's hardly a surprise at its $40 price. You can pick from 19 different light patterns, and adjust speed, brightness and direction of light movement. Whether it's for comfort or you're looking to save space on your desk or in your backpack, the K561 is a good pick.
Wireless gaming keyboards are a rarity because the last thing you want to do is potentially introduce lag into your performance. The G613's Lightspeed wireless performs as good as wired and its battery life is stellar at up to 18 months on two AA-size batteries. That said, the keyboard has no backlight whatsoever, which while understandable for the power savings, really kills gaming in the dark. You do get six programmable buttons down the left side, so that's something.
The G613 uses the same Romer-G Tactile mechanical switches as the G413, so everything I said about that one applies here. I happen to like the feel of this switch for gaming and typing, though I was in the minority for our testing. It's definitely one you should try before you buy if you can.
I'm only mentioning this keyboard because of its high rating on Amazon that definitely doesn't jibe with our experience. It's huge, clunky and generic and won't win any design awards, and you definitely won't mistake it for a genuine mechanical keyboard.
However, the keyboard is only around $25 and does have some decent gaming features for the money though, like RGB lighting (whole keyboard only), a row of five macro keys and three profile/mode keys for up to 15 macro keys total and gray keycaps for the WASD and arrow keys.
While the macro keys are nice to have, the bottom one is directly across from the Ctrl key, so you might end up hitting the macro key by accident. (I did. A lot.) It's not a great keyboard for typing in general, either. Also, there are media control keys, but none for volume only mute, which is just WTF.
In the end, this'll get the job done, especially if it's only for occasional use, but frequent gamers are better off with one of the others here.