The best gaming keyboards feature mechanical switches, and mechanical keyboards don't often come cheap, with most models from well-known brands usually selling for $100 (especially if they're wireless). And mechanical keyboard enthusiasts are willing to pay much more for limited-run, luxury custom kits like the Rama Works U80-A.
But not everyone wants (or can afford) to spend hundreds on a keyboard, especially when they have other peripherals and components to buy. Luckily, there are plenty of budget-friendly mechanical keyboards on the market that will give you a satisfying typing experience for less than $100 — or even less than $80. And if you end up with a keyboard that's less-than-perfect, these mechanical keyboard mods can help improve what you've got.
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Choose your form factor: Keyboards come in several sizes, but the main distinction is full-size, which has a dedicated number pad, or tenkeyless (TKL) which doesn't. While number pads can be useful for data entry or extra keys that can be customized, many people just can't spare the desk space. And for those with even smaller spaces, there are 60 or 65 percent layouts that ditch navigation and even arrow keys in favor of making more room for sweeping and swift mouse movements.
Choose your switch type: Mechanical switches aren't all created equal. Different switch types feature varying actuation points, travel distances, and types of feedback. There are three main categories of mechanical switches you should know:
- Linear switches are easy to press because there’s no tactile bump along the way to bottoming out. Many gamers prefer linear switches because they can be pressed, repeatedly, quickly, and they tend to be quiet. These are often Red or Black.
- Tactile switches feature a noticeable bump that offers clear feedback before bottoming out and — in many cases — increase the required actuation force. Many typists prefer tactile keyboards because they make it easier to feel each keypress. Common examples include Brown and Clear switches.
- Clicky switches are tactile switches but also make noise when they hit the tactile bump in the keypress. These are preferred by people who a) work alone and love the sound of typing, b) assume the people around them love the sound of typing, or c) don't really care about the people around them. These are often Blue, Green, or White.
There are a range of options within each category, but manufacturers are often kind enough to break down their switches into those categories (and they're often color-coded as well).
Best Budget Mechanical Keyboard You Can Buy Today
The Cooler Master CK552 is the best budget mechanical keyboard for most users. It’s a full-sized gaming keyboard with RGB backlighting, an aluminum top plate, and a 5.9-foot (1.8m) USB 2.0 cable. It comes with Gateron switches in Red (linear), Blue, (clicky), or Brown (tactile).
Our review unit came equipped with Gateron Red switches that proved responsive during gaming — so much so that our review occasionally pressed keys they didn't mean to. This also means it stumbled a bit during heavy typing sessions. Choosing a different switch type might help, but the other switch options are more difficult to find online at this time.
Good for gamers and enthusiasts, the CK552 features onboard memory that can store up to four profiles and on-the-fly controls that make it easy to record macros and control the backlighting. It's also compatible with the Cooler Master Portal utility, which offers more granular controls over many of the same areas but isn’t as robust as rivals, such as Razer Synapse. Still, this dual approach should appeal to people who don't like to install a bunch of software and those who want greater control over their peripherals.
Redragon has a reputation for delivering shockingly capable and well-built devices at bargain-basement prices. And the Redragon K615 Elise continues that tradition, at just $35 (and sometimes much less, as I found it on sale for just $21 on Amazon). The K615 is a compact wired mechanical gaming keyboard with RGB lighting, low-profile tactile Blue switches, and a solid feel that’s aided by a metal band that runs around the entire edge of the device. It even includes a removable USB-C cable and flip-up feet to lift the back of the keyboard up for a better typing / gaming angle.
Of course, there are limitations given the low price and compact form factor. K615 doesn’t come with software, so you’ll mostly have to live with the 18 lighting presets (although you can record a custom light show via a complex dance of key combos). The limitation of just 61 keys means that many common characters and functions (like the arrow keys) get relegated to secondary Fn functions. But that’s a limitation of the space-saving 60% form factor, not a fault of this particular keyboard.
Also on the negative side: Redragon seems to only sell the K615 with clicky blue switches, rather than the red / linear type that most people prefer for gaming. That said, as these are low-profile switches with shorter travel, that may be less of an issue. And amazingly (again, given the price) the low-profile switches can be swapped in for something else. Four spare switches and a key and switch puller are also included in the box. Just know that the switches are Otemu style, with their pins closer together than most others. None of the many low-profile switches I have on hand would fit. So if you do want to replace the blue switches here, you may have to get replacements from somewhere like Aliexpress.
All things considered, Redragon Elise K615 is a bargain for all you get. In my time testing it with games and productivity, the only thing I didn’t like about it was the general limitations of the 60% form factor – primarily the lack of dedicated arrow keys. I use these keys all the time while writing and editing, and also quite often to move the camera around in RTS games. It also would have been nice to have presets that would change the keys to one solid color. But with some patience you should be able to do that via the custom setting if you follow the keyboard’s minimal included instruction sheet.
The K615 looks good and feels solid, is slim enough to easily slip into a bag for travel, and the removable cable aids in its impressive portability. If you want granular control of things like lighting and key binding via software, you’ll have to look elsewhere and likely have to spend at least twice as much. But for basic gaming and typing, the K615 delivers the goods without looking or feeling flimsy or cheap. And it includes some surprisingly premium features as well. There’s a whole lot to like for the $35 price, and if you can find The Redragon K615 Elise on sale for less than $30 as I did, it’s an absolute steal.
Logitech's K845 replaces our previous budget productivity pick, the K840. It costs about $10 more, but adds white backlighting to the keys, which you can configure in one of five patterns, and adjust to three levels of brightness (plus off). For a street price of $59.99, you get a full-sized mechanical layout with an aluminum top plate and your choice of red (linear), blue (clicky tactile) or brown (tactile) switches made by TTC. For $20 more, you can opt for one of the 845ch models, which use Cherry switches (red or blue). The company sent us an 845 with TTC blue switches, and we found them a satisfying substitute over the Cherry MX Blue switches in our Das Keyboard daily driver.
The Logitech K845 also sports an aluminum top plate that both looks good and delivers a more premium feel than you might expect from a keyboard in this price range. That said, if you're used to pricier keyboards with lots of heft, the 1.72-pound weight and plastic shell don't exactly scream 'high-quality keyboard.' Still, the switches are rated to 50 million clicks, and the molded keycaps mean you don't have to worry about the labels fading — though we're not a huge fan of the chunky font.
There are no dedicated macro or media keys, included software, or detachable cable. And the white backlight isn't as snazzy as RGB. But we also wouldn't expect all that in this price range. The flip-up plastic feet at the back do feel a bit more substantial and durable, though, than many other keyboards we've tested with higher price points. If you're after a simple, no-fuss entry level mechanical clacker for productivity purposes (and perhaps some occasional gaming), the Logitech K845 is a great option — especially if you see it on sale for below its $59.99 MSRP.
The Havit KB487L doesn't fit neatly into any other category, but it's such an interesting keyboard that we had to include it here. It's a standard TKL shape, but instead of having the usual cluster of shortcut keys along the right-hand side, it has a number pad. This leads to a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ design that offers the space-saving advantages of a TKL keyboard but doesn't actually consign spreadsheet lovers to using the number row. Our reviewer, who rarely uses the shortcut cluster or number pad, didn’t notice the difference during everyday use — but it’s almost certain to throw off anyone who’s used to a more traditional layout.
Havit also equipped the KB487L with durable PBT keycaps that feel nice and boast a unique black, white, and orange color scheme that allow the KB487L to stand out among the sea of monochromatically faced keyboards currently available. This doesn't look or feel like a budget mechanical keyboard.
Luckily the KB487L’s beauty is more than skin deep. Our reviewer didn’t notice any mis-pressed keys throughout multiple days of playing Valorant or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and those games make it pretty easy to tell when you’re doing something wrong with the keyboard, namely by making what should have clearly been a headshot fly off somewhere between the lost cities of Atlantis and Narnia. It may not be your preferred experience, but it's better than most linear switch-equipped options.
For those who like the look of the Havit keyboard but want RGB and at least the option of other switches, note that Redragon offers an aesthetically similar 94-key K636CL0-RGB. That keyboard offers hot-swappable switches and packs a lot of other niceties for its price (which often hovers around $36). But we think most people would prefer the feel of the Havit, as the Redragon's keys have a surprising amount of variation in their feel, perhaps due to the stabilizers. In our review unit, the right shift key felt drastically different than anything else on the keyboard, and some keys offering a much louder, hollow "thick" than others. It's forgivable given the surprisingly low price. But we'd choose the Havit KB487L for about $9 more.
The MSI Vigor GK50 Elite (along with the low-profile version also on this page) is a great keyboard for typing. It's a cheaper alternative to other favored typing clackers, like the Hexgears Impulse (currently $100). Like the Impulse, the Vigor GK50 Elite offers the excellent Kailh Box White switches. You can also get this keyboard with Kailh Blue switches, so it'll be loud and clicky no matter what.
While the plastic keycaps here aren’t fancy, they did a great job of fighting off fingerprint smudges during our testing. MSI also included a premium top plate, but skimped a bit on the cable, which is rubber that doesn’t have much reinforcement for durability. But this is still a well-priced, albeit simple, keyboard with a premium typing experience.
Gamers will miss out on lavish premium features, like bonus macro keys or onboard memory. Additionally, the Vigor GK50 Elite is only available with clicky, tactile switches that can be exhausting to hit rapidly and repeatedly.
Read: MSI Vigor GK50 Elite review
The Aukey KMG14 ($50) was the only clicky budget mechanical keyboard I tested that didn't make me want to "accidentally" spill something on top of it. The clicks are still pronounced, sure, but they’re closer to the pleasant pinging end of the spectrum than the "unbearable clacking" end. Pretty much everything else about the keyboard was also a welcome surprise, given its price.
Aukey equipped the KMG14 with RGB backlighting and full n-key rollover. It also used double-shot ABS keycaps, which is surprising given how cheap this mechanical keyboard is. Still, the KMG14 comes with a keycap puller to make it easier to swap out the keycaps with something a little snazzier, which was a nice touch and something I wish some other manufacturers had thought to include with their more-unfortunate-looking keycaps.
While this is marketed as a gaming keyboard, I’m recommending it for typing, simply because the clicks proved to be distracting to me and my teammates while I played games like Valorant and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. There are no tactile or linear switch options here that would be less distracting. People who prefer single-player games--or who don't mind grieving their teammates every time they press a key--will find a fine gaming keyboard here as well.
Mechanical keyboards with low-profile switches can come at a premium, but the MSI Vigor GK50 Low Profile (along with the full-sized switch version on this page) offers one of the best budget mechanical keyboard experiences and is on sale right now for about $45. It competes well against pricey keyboards and particularly excels in typing. Its low profile Kailh Choc switches bring back memories of typewriters with its shamelessly loud clicks. We also liked the fast response, which made our fingers want to get moving even faster.
It’s not the perfect keyboard. In fact, we found the stiffer shift key to be a hindrance and the stiffer spacebar to affect our ability to use it rapidly while gaming. On top of this, the accompanying software doesn’t download properly at the moment, so RGB and other customization is limited.
However, this clacker has the speedy switches that gamers need with a design they like, plus a typing experience that made us feel nostalgic and eager to get to work.
Read: MSI Vigor GK50 Low Profile review
Finding Savings on the Best Budget Mechanical Keyboards
Whether you're shopping for the one of the best budget mechanical keyboards or a different model, you may find savings by checking out our lists of the latest Newegg promo codes or Best Buy promo codes.
MORE: Best Gaming Keyboards
MORE: Best Wireless Keyboards
PS- look into Azio mechanical keyboard, maybe they don't make them anymore but it's pretty good too but uses Kahil switches.
can't/won't do no stinkin cords no mo.... :D
Sometimes miss my old blue switches for the feel, though (not the noise!)