Peripherals are the essential components of any computer build. They allow the user to communicate with the machine that they purchased or built, whether it be for work, study, or gaming. Now that gaming has become more than just a fun pastime – as it has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry with many successful competitive esports divisions – peripherals have advanced significantly. Manufacturers are investing more and more into research and development to stand out and provide increasingly better features. This evolution has benefited more than just gamers with the overall increase in quality, value, and variety that has made these peripherals even more suitable as instruments for both business and pleasure.
There are two main categories of keyboards: rubber dome and mechanical. Despite the affordable and economic nature of rubber dome keyboards, they are unreliable, difficult to clean, mostly non-customizable, and unable to register multiple simultaneous keystrokes (known as N-Key rollover) – the most significant drawback in gaming applications. Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, have interchangeable keycaps, and in some cases, interchangeable switches, allowing for easy cleaning and customization. Therefore, despite the price differential, mechanical keyboards are far more useful and advantageous than their rubber dome counterparts. Both types of keyboards can be backlit, which is genuinely useful when working or playing games in low light, so RGB lighting is far more beneficial here than in other PC hardware.
Keyboard lighting isn’t just useful when in dark surroundings, for there are other benefits with RGB. RGB lighting allows for different lighting effects, from light, soothing, wave effects, to colorful swirling rainbow patterns, and gives you the ability to light only specific keys, which adds utility to their style. Strategically lighting keys can be beneficial for gaming (i.e., only lighting the keys used by each specific game) or for learning touch typing (as you can light the resting finger position keys). Of course, you can also do this by switching keycaps, but lighting allows for flexibility without the need to purchase separate components.
The heart and soul of mechanical keyboards are their switches. Switches are the mechanical components that register keystrokes and make all the difference in the feel of a mechanical keyboard. There are three main types of switches:
Tactile switches have a signature “bump” in the travel of the keypress, usually right at the actuation point (where the keystroke registers).
Linear switches are smooth, quiet, and consistent throughout the keypress. They usually have a high actuation point, meaning that the keystroke has to travel less to register.
Clicky switches have an audible “click” at the actuation point, instead of a tactile bump, meaning you receive an audible confirmation with each keypress, rather than feeling the confirmation like with tactile switches.
Note, there is a fourth primary type of switch which combines tactile and clicky, so you receive an audible and tactile confirmation with each keystroke.
Now, determining which switch is going to be best for you depends solely on your preference, as any switch can serve any purpose, whether that be typing, gaming, or otherwise. To help you choose the best RGB mechanical keyboard for you, we have selected an option for each one of the three types of switches, making sure that the actual switch inside is one of the best of its category. For the sake of some user’s wallets, we have included an entry-level pick for the Tactile+Clicky option as well.
Best RGB Mechanical Keyboards – Our Recommendations
|Best Tactile RGB Keyboard||Roccat Vulcan 122 Aimo RGB||$120 (regularly $160)|
|Best Linear RGB Keyboard||Thermaltake TT Premium X1 RGB Cherry MX Silver||$98 (regularly $140)|
|Best Clicky RGB Keyboard||Drop ALT Mechanical Keyboard||$200|
|Best Entry-Level RGB Keyboard||Redragon K552-RGB||$45|
Best Tactile RGB Mechanical Keyboard
Probably the most stylish of all the keyboards listed here, the Roccat Vulcan 122 Aimo RGB makes use of low-profile keycaps that allow you to see the RGB lighting and clear housing of their Titan switches underneath. It also has a volume knob on the top right corner next to its other three dedicated buttons for volume and its FX software. The Roccat also has an anodized aluminum top plate and a removable ergonomic palm rest.
The switches on this keyboard are Roccat’s own Titan tactical switches, which have “debounce mechanics,” meaning that the switch is much less likely to bounce or chatter on the electrical contacts, which would usually cause the keystroke to register multiple times or not at all. Together with Roccat’s optimized firmware, the keystroke actuation can register 20-30% faster. These tactical switches have slightly less pre-travel distance than their Cherry MX counterparts, which have only 1.8mm (vs. 2.0mm), and have a 3.6mm full travel distance. The reinforced switch housing also eliminates wobble and is dust resistant, but the keyboard’s switches are therefore not hot-swappable.
The included AIMO lighting system allows for full customization of the lighting colors and effects, a full remapping of all individual keys, as well as 512 KB of macro and settings memory. All-in-all, the Roccat is a reliable (and beautiful) option for those looking to purchase a mechanical keyboard with tactile switches.If you’re interested specifically in the low-profile aspect of this keyboard, check out our guide to the best low-profile mechanical keyboards!
Best Linear RGB Keyboard
The Thermaltake TT Premium X1 RGB Cherry MX Silver is almost everything you could ask for from a keyboard. First off, this full-sized keyboard has an extra set of buttons for music and multimedia software, like Spotify, including stop, rewind, pause/play, fast forward, and mute, on top of a volume scroll-wheel. The X1 RGB also has three separate buttons to enable/disable gaming mode, to turn the RGB lighting on or off, and to open the Windows App store. Furthermore, it includes a magnetically attached wrist rest, as well as a 3.5mm audio jack and USB 2.0 pass-through, which can prove to be extremely useful for connecting other peripherals. The RGB lighting has 12 different effects to choose from and is capable of displaying 16.8 million colors.
The switches in this keyboard are Cherry’s MX Silver Speed RGB, their fastest switches yet. They have an incredibly low actuation point travel distance of 1.2mm and a total travel distance of 3.4mm. Also, these switches are amazingly light, as an actuation force of only 45g is necessary for keystrokes to register, and 65g of force to bottom them out. These switches can handle 50-100 million actuations. Also note that, aside from being smooth and responsive, these switches are incredibly silent, and are only audible as you bottom them out.
Where the TT Premium X1 excels is how its software integrates with the hardware. The X1 RGB software allows you to choose from 12 different lighting options, light individual keys with any RGB color of choice, and switch these settings between six different profiles that you can choose either via the program or a keyboard shortcut. Additionally, you can place different key assignments to each button, or select one of its preset gaming profiles for 11 different preselected games, including CS: GO and World of Warcraft. These gaming profiles have gaming functions that you can assign to different buttons. Other than assigning keys, with the use of this same program, you can also create and assign macros as well. But that’s not all; this keyboard is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and allows for voice commands that range from lighting pattern customization, all the way to increasing or decreasing fan speeds in your case. You can also control the X1 RGB via your smartphone, where another feature there allows you to make a virtual controller on your phone (which looks like a console gaming pad), which you can use to control games on your PC, wirelessly.
The only downsides worth mentioning are that the magnetic palm rest is not the most comfortable, and like most keyboards, the switches are not hot-swappable, so you cannot remove and replace them at will.
Best Clicky RGB Mechanical Keyboard
The Drop ALT Mechanical Keyboard is all about quality. Full solid aluminum frame, magnetic legs, PBT keycaps, and, most importantly, hot-swappable switches, allowing you to change the switches without needing to replace the keyboard. Meaning you can keep this keyboard for life and remove the (plate-mounted) switches when they fail or when you feel like trying something new. The ALT is a 65%, compact keyboard, meaning that it does not have the F1-F12 buttons and Numpad keys, though it still has a full set of arrows keys. The ALT uses QMK firmware to light the keys, is fully customizable with per-key lighting, and also has an RGB illuminated strip running around the keyboard’s frame. The lights for which operate at 100 Hz, so there is no visible flickering. There are also two USB-C ports on the right and left sides of the board.
The switches included in this keyboard are the Kailh Box White switches, which are arguably the best clicky switches you can find. They have 1.8mm of pre-travel to their actuation point and a total travel of only 3.6mm; needing 50g of force to reach the actuation point, and 60g to bottom out. These switches click both on the downstroke and upstroke, so there is ample audible feedback. There is also a very subtle tactile bump to the keystrokes as well. Note that the Kailh design is devoid of hysteresis, which means there is no delay between multiple single-key presses, which is common with clicky switches. With gold-plated contacts, as well as IP56 water and dustproof certification, these switches can survive over 80 million keypresses.
The downsides to this keyboard are the missing keys (a benefit to those looking for something compact), the lack of multimedia buttons, and its $200 price point – though, to be fair, this keyboard very much justifies its price with its quality of materials and hot-swappable capabilities. A definite buy for those in search of a keyboard with some longevity, or for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts looking to use a variety of different switches.
Best Entry-Level RGB Mechanical Keyboard
If you are looking to buy a new keyboard but can’t afford to spend upwards of a hundred dollars, then the Redragon K552-RGB has you covered. The K552 is an RGB mechanical keyboard featuring Outemu Blue (Tactile + Clicky, Cherry MX Blue clone) switches, in a TKL (tenkeyless) model, meaning that the only buttons missing, in comparison to a full-sized keyboard, are those for the number pad. It has a splash-proof design (water-resistant), with adjustable rear feet, and five lighting modes and brightness levels. The K552 has a metal-alloy frame and ABS keycaps, which are not as good as aluminum and PBT but are just fine considering the price. Though it has 12 multimedia keys, these are all incorporated into the F1-F12 keys, so they are not dedicated buttons.
Outemu Blue switches have a 2mm pre-travel distance and a 4mm bottom-out distance, with a 50g and 60g actuation and bottom-out forces, respectively. These switches generate a loud clicking sound, sort of like a typewriter, and also have a pronounced tactile bump. The downside to these switches is that the click sound and bump are located slightly before the actuation point, meaning that is it possible to reach the click/bump travel point, yet not reach the actuation point. So you might hear the click without actually having the button press registered. Of course, this should be very rare.
The lighting modes and backlight brightness can be adjusted via the FN key only, as this keyboard does not come with integrated software. For those looking for a keyboard on a budget, this keyboard is our best recommendation.