Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts can spend hundreds of dollars on boards with limited-run backplates, obscure switches,and bespoke keycaps. Some high-end pre-built models, including the best gaming keyboards and best wireless keyboards, can also pass the $100 mark pretty quickly. But that doesn't mean the joys of mechanical switches are exclusive to the deep-pocketed--there are some budget mechanical keyboards worth buying.
Before we get to our picks for the best budget mechanical keyboards, though, here are a few tips for shopping around.
Choose your form factor. When looking for the best budget mechanical keyboard, many will be either full-sized with a number pad or tenkeyless (TKL) without one. Those who spend a lot of time working in spreadsheets probably can't imagine using a keyboard without a number pad, but those who are more likely to spend their time gaming might appreciate the extra space afforded by a TKL design. There are also 60% keyboards that omit the arrow and navigational keys, giving you the most desk space but appealing to a smaller crowd, due to the more limited functionality.
Choose your switch type. Mechanical switches aren't all created equal. Different switches 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 depress because there’s no tactile bump along the way to bottoming out. Many gamers prefer linear switches because they're easy to press repeatedly quickly and 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 bump in the keypress. These are preferred by people who A) work alone or B) want to subject everyone around them to a cacophony of click-clacks for some reason. These are often Blue, Green or White.
There's a wide range of options within each category, but these categories should apply to the vast majority of mechanical switches. Manufacturers are often kind enough to break down their switches into those categories, and they're usually color-coded as well. Some examples include:
Consider a switch tester. The wide variety of mechanical switches available can make buying a keyboard seem daunting. Although it's possible to change mechanical keyboard switches, it’s a notable hassle. Luckily, there are many switch testers on the market that make it easier to experiment with a variety of switches--the exact mix depends on the tester--before committing to a specific one. It's an added up-front cost but cheaper than replacing a keyboard that features switches you don't like.
Best Budget Mechanical Keyboard You Can Buy Today
The Cooler Master CK552 is the best budget mechanical keyboard for most. 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 includes a good selection of switch types: Gateron Brown (tactile), Blue (clicky) and Red (linear), which are all said to be able to withstand up to 50 million key presses without failure.
My review unit came equipped with Gateron Red switches that proved responsive during gaming--so much so that I occasionally pressed a key I didn't mean to. That also means it stumbled a bit during heavy typing sessions. Choosing a different switch type could help, and Cooler Master makes the keyboard with tactile Brown or clicky Blue switches too, but they aren’t as easy to find online as of writing.
Good for gamers and enthusiasts, the CK552 features on-board 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.
The HyperX Alloy FPS Pro was made with esports in mind, making one of the best budget mechanical keyboards for gamers. It features a compact TKL design, a detachable USB cable and solid steel construction that should allow it to travel well. Those features alone would allow it to stand out from other keyboards on this list, but HyperX didn't stop at the Alloy FPS Pro's portability.
The Alloy FPS Pro is available with Cherry MX-branded linear Red or clicky Blue Switches, and that also helps it stand out from other budget mechanical keyboards. There's nothing wrong with most manufacturers' switches, but Cherry's are still seen as the best of the best--at least in the mainstream consumer market. (Don't worry, enthusiasts, we wouldn't besmirch your Zealios or the new Panda switches from the Glorious PC Gaming Race.)
HyperX also decked out the Alloy FPS Pro with n-key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting as well as red backlighting with a variety of effects. All of these features combined led to some of the best and most comfortable gaming sessions I had during the course of preparing this round-up. The Alloy FPS Pro was responsive, fit perfectly with the rest of my setup and felt like the natural choice for gaming.
It would be nice to see RGB backlighting and some dedicated media keys, but from a pure gaming standpoint, it's hard to beat the Alloy FPS Pro at this price point.
The Logitech K840 Mechanical keyboard features the company's proprietary Romer-G mechanical switches that have proven fairly divisive among consumers. Some people appreciate the switch's tactile feel, which is quite distinct from other tactile switches, while others think it feels a little "mushy. The switches have 3.2mm total travel, actuating at 1.5mm with 45 grams of force, compared to the more traditional Cherry MX Brown’s 4mm total travel, 2mm actuation point and 55 grams of force. I've used Romer-G switches almost daily for the last several years, and it's safe to say that I'm in the former camp.
Little else about the K840 should prove divisive. The keyboard features an anodized aluminum top plate, which helps with durability and a more premium look, plus a 5.9-foot (1.8m) braided cable. Flip-out feet make it easy to adjust the typing angle. Logitech also threw in a 26-key rollover that should eliminate registration errors and features customizable function keys, and the keyboard is compatible with the Logitech Options configuration software available on Windows and macOS.
Unfortunately the K840 doesn't feature any backlighting, which will disappoint anyone who wants to click-clack late into the night, but that's the only true disappointment here. Plus, the lack of RGB combined with its mute design makes it fitting for the workplace. With a numpad, navigational keys and tactile quiet switches, there’s no excuse not to get work done. This is a solidly built keyboard that I found comfortable to type on, even though it's a bit larger than what I'm used to.
The Logitech K840 Mechanical also works for gaming in a pinch, although I found it too wide to use comfortably with my large mousepad. Someone with a smaller mousepad--or, perhaps, just wider shoulders--might be okay. Everyone else would probably be better served with a more svelte option.
The Aukey KM-G14 was the only clicky 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 KM-G14 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 KM-G14 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 griefing their teammates every time they press a key--will find a fine gaming keyboard here as well.
The Havit KB487L doesn't fit neatly into any other category, but it's such an interesting keyboard I 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. I didn’t notice the difference during everyday use--I rarely use either the shortcut cluster or the number pad--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 felt nicer than any of the other keycaps I poked, prodded and pressed in the course of preparing this round-up. They also 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. I 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 still wasn’t my preferred experience, but I liked it more than most linear switch equipped options.