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Best cheap gaming keyboards to rev up your work-from-home experience

Improve your stats "in the office" and after hours with a good gaming keyboard that's less than $100.

You don't have to spend more than $100 to get a gaming keyboard that will improve your performance and make gaming more enjoyable. We tested out a bunch starting as low as $36 and found that all but one performed really well for the money (and, yes, it was the cheapest that we'd skip). Whether you're working from home or simply spending more time PC gaming than you were a couple of months ago, a new game-friendly keyboard can make a big difference.

Just like picking out a new gaming mouse, getting the right gaming keyboard has a lot to do with personal preference -- from ergonomic design (hello, wrist rest) to whether you prefer RGB lighting, mechanical keys, tactile feedback, programmable keys, dedicated media keys, or so many other features that we can't even begin to list. You can check out this glossary of keyboard terms, too, to help narrow your keyboard design preferences.

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If you're most comfortable doing your office work on a membrane keyboard, the Cynosa might be the gaming keyboard for you. It's a membrane keyboard, not mechanical, so the keys are quiet and definitely feel softer than the others here and some might find them mushy. Still, if you're looking to use one keyboard for both work and play, this is a fine compromise for its $60 price.

Many of the original Cynosa's features carry over, including per-key RGB lighting -- a rarity at this end of the market -- and durable spill-resistant design. What's new is a set of media keys added to the upper right corner. Razer also added cable routing under the keyboard so you can keep your desk a little tidier. 

This is also one of the most programmable keyboards 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.

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The G12 is a fully programmable mechanical keyboard, though not as polished as the Razer when it comes to setup. There are seven color presets and 12 lighting-configuration presets that can be switched without any software. You can also use the company's G-aim software to control lighting as well as set up macros or change key functions. Lighting can even be synced between other G-aim-supported devices like the KM-P6 RGB mousepad, which looks good paired with this keyboard's RGB band around the base. 

The only real potential turn-off, aside from its metal top and plastic bottom, is the Outemu Blue switches. I like them for both typing and gaming but they are clicky and loud and make an echoey spring sound within the body -- not great if you have to share an office space. Considering it's less than $60 and can be combined with the company's ultralight GM-F3 mouse and RGB mousepad for less than $100, the G12 is a bargain. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even on Logitech's lower-end models such as the G413 backlit gaming keyboard, the company 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 durable keyboard 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 key 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 keypresses, this probably isn't the best switch for you. There's just one color for the backlight -- red -- but the backlighting is bright and the key font on this full-size keyboard is easy to read. Logitech includes 12 faceted keycaps, which is nice but we didn't feel much difference.

The G413 is programmable with Logitech's G Hub software, letting 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 mechanical gaming keyboard than the others here, but it's also pricier.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The $40 G6 mechanical gaming keyboard uses Outemu Blue mechanical key switches that are clicky and you'll have no problem feeling the actuation point as you go through your keystrokes. This cheap mechanical keyboard is also very loud, so be prepared for some side-eye if you're typing or gaming in a shared space. 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.

The keyboard is short on features -- you won't find any macro keys -- and there's no software to install for programmable buttons. 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 budget mechanical keyboard with lights, media shortcut keys and a number pad, this hits the spot and saves you some money for a good gaming mouse.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you want a wireless gaming keyboard and lights, consider the K57. This budget wireless keyboard uses rubber-dome switches with a pronounced actuation point, which gives it more of an office-keyboard feel like the Razer Cynosa. Gaming on it requires a touch more force than the mechanical keyboards here and rollover is limited to eight keys. Aside from those, the experience is just fine.

The K57 wirelessly connects to your PC via low-latency Bluetooth or Corsair's 2.4GHz Slipstream technology that uses a tiny USB-A adapter for lag-free gaming. It can also be used wired with the included Micro-USB cable, which charges up the keyboard, too. While it doesn't have the longevity of the Logitech when you're using the per-key RGB lighting, you can get through several days of gaming without needing to charge it up.

A row of dedicated macro keys on the left and discrete media controls on the right round out the features. Plus, Corsair's software is straightforward to use, which makes creating custom keyboard lighting and setting up those macro keys pretty painless. At $80, however, you're definitely paying more for those features.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Finding a good wireless gaming keyboard can be difficult. These babies 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, no keyboard backlighting really kills the gaming experience 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. This wireless keyboard is definitely one you should try before you buy if you can.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Made from ABS plastic and aluminum, the $40 waterproof K561 (yes, waterproof) mechanical gaming keyboard 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 if you're looking for a full-size keyboard that can play double-duty as your regular keyboard..

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 backlighting, 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 mechanical gaming keyboard is a good pick.

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Originally published last year and updated periodically.