Best Keyboards for Programming

Best Keyboards for Programming [Buying Guide 2021]

The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, what are the best keyboards for programming? Every programmer is different from one to the next and this means keyboard performance requirements and preferences will be too.

The keyboard is not merely an input device for hammering out lines of code. Programmers spend the majority of their time typing, therefore, a good keyboard must exhibit the following qualities:

  1. Comfort: one programmer might be comfortable with a high-profile mechanical keyboard, while others might prefer a low-profile, membrane keyboard.
  2. Reliability: a programmer can spend hours typing on their keyboard, and we’d want the keyboard to last for years. So reliability and build quality are very important.
  3. Responsiveness: different keyboards can provide a different level of feedback depending on their switches, keycaps, and other factors. Good feedback is very important so we can spend less time making mistakes in our typing.

However, there are various design aspects that determine the three factors listed above. It’s these design aspects that we will take a closer look at below.

Things to Consider When Buying a Keyboard

Mechanical vs. Membrane

There are two basic types of keyboards available to choose from: membrane or mechanical. The primary difference is based on how the keyboard actuates its input.

A membrane keyboard utilizes a thin, commonly polyurethane film (the membrane) to press on a circuit layer when registering a pressed key. The membrane design allows the keycaps to be much thinner than a mechanical keyboard, so the keyboard is typically more portable.

The membrane is also much cheaper to manufacture than the parts of a mechanical keyboard, so a membrane keyboard is typically much more affordable.

However, a membrane keyboard produces a mushy feel and less overall responsiveness. It is also much more difficult to clean and has a shorter lifespan.

A mechanical keyboard, on the other hand, utilizes mechanical parts, typically spring-loaded switches to actuate the pressed keys. This method offers a distinct response, the ‘click’ that is unique to mechanical keyboards, giving it a much better response than a membrane keyboard.

In most cases, a mechanical keyboard is always better than a membrane keyboard, and the key switches come in many different variations depending on your preferences, which we will discuss below.

Key Switch

In a mechanical keyboard, the key switches will dictate the character of the keyboard itself. Different switches will produce different feel and sound to each keypress and will suit different people.

The most popular keyboard switch manufacturer is Cherry MX, which actually held the patent for the design of today’s mechanical switches until 1984. Since the patent expired, however, many other brands like Kailh, Gateron, and have also copied the design and launched their versions of high-quality keyboard switches.

However, we can typically differentiate the keyboard switches into three major types:

1 – Clicky:

This type of switch has tactile feedback and produces a rather loud click when pressed. Typically they also need the most force to actuate, resulting in a very tactile and responsive typing experience.

Cherry MX Blue is the most popular example of clicky switches, but there are also Kailh BOX White, NovelKey Sherbet, Gateron Blue, and others.

2 – Tactile:

This type of switch also provides tactile feedback and has a relatively high actuation force, but doesn’t produce the loud, clicky sound of the clicky switches. You can think of the tactile switches as the silent version of the clicky switch.

Cherry MX Brown, Gateron Brown, and Kailh Copper are examples of tactile switch keyboards.

3 – Linear:

This type of switch is designed not to provide heavy actuation force, and is intended so that we can press the key as fast as possible, typically for competitive gaming to ensure the fastest input possible.

Again the Cherry MX Red and OUTEMU Black are popular examples of linear switches.

There are other variations of switches, for example, Cherry MX Silent Black, which is an even lighter version of the Cherry MX Red, and Cherry MX Grey, which offers the heaviest actuation point, but they always belong to one of these three categories.

So, when choosing between different switches, typically you have two considerations:

  • Tactile vs. Linear: whether you want tactile feedback with your typing, or whether you prefer light press without any feedback at all.
  • Clicky vs. Silent: if you work alone (i.e. you have your own space or work at home) and you happen to like the clicky sound of the mechanical keyboard, then you should get a clicky switch. However, if you work with other people, you might prefer a silent keyboard instead.

Ergonomics

Keyboards are built in many different designs, including products like the Microsoft Sculpt and Kinesis Advantage2 that provide unique ergonomic designs for additional comfort.

There are also keyboards that offer unique shapes of keycaps, like the Spherical-All (SA) profile keycaps for different typing experience. Some also offer features like wrist rests and other features to help with ergonomics.

Since coders can spend a lot of their time typing on the keyboard, it’s very important to choose the right shape/profile that will be comfortable for you.

Form Factor

Keyboards nowadays come in three main form factors (in a nutshell, sizes): full-sized, tenkeyless (TKL), and compact/mini.

  • Full-sized: you can easily check whether a keyboard is full-sized by checking whether there’s a numeric pad on it. They feature 104 keys in total including F1 to F12 and a full numeric pad. However, obviously, they are also the largest of the bunch and not very portable. Also, a full-sized keyboard will mean less space for your mouse for people who like to move their mouse around (i.e. in gaming).
  • Tenkeyless: there are several different variations to the tenkeyless (TKL) form factor but in general you’ll have all the keys as you would in a standard keyboard except the numeric pad (the numeric keypad is also known as tenkey, hence the name).
  • Compact: a relatively new form factor type, but has been really popular in recent years. Also called 60% layout, this form factor also eliminates F1-F12 and the arrow keys, and to access these buttons we should use the function (Fn) keys. There are also other variations like the 65% layout that still includes the arrow keys and navigation cluster (Pg Up, Pg Dn, etc.)

If you don’t use your numeric pad a lot, you might want to get a tenkeyless (TKL) or compact keyboard instead to save space and get extra portability.

Layout

QWERTY layout is the most common keyboard layout, but not the only one. AZERTY, for example, is used mainly in French-speaking countries. And QWERTZ is used in Germany, Austria, and other central European countries.

DVORAK s another popular layout, named after its inventor, August Dvorak, and some programmers used mainly the DVORAK layout, known for its ergonomics design with 70% of strokes on the home row (compared to only 32% in QWERTY).

ANSI vs. ISO Layouts 

QWERTY, DVORAK, and other layouts are based on logical placements on the keyboard to maximize comfort, while ANSI and ISO layouts deal with different sizes and orientations of specific buttons like Enter, Backslash, and Left Shift.

ANSI and ISO layouts can be an important consideration when purchasing a keyboard since these layouts would also affect replacement keycaps in cases when you need/want to replace some keys.

In general, here are the main differences of ANSI and ISO layouts:

ANSIDifferencesISO
Wide rectangle Enter keyEnterUpside-down L-shaped Enter key
Backslash is positioned above the Enter keyBackslashTo the left of the Enter key, easier to reach and doesn’t need to stretch your pinky finger during touch typing
Same size as the Right Shift keyLeft ShiftLeft Shift key is smaller than the Right Shift key, the same size as the Ctrl key
Left and Right Alt keys have similar functionsRight AltReplaced with AltGr (alt graph) key
104 keys (full-sized), 87 keys for standard TKL form factorTotal number of keys105 keys for full-sized and 88 for TKL
More commonKeycap replacementsLess common

Key Rollover (KRO)

Rollover is whether the keyboard is capable of registering multiple presses simultaneously. High-end keyboards, especially mechanical keyboards, has NKRO or N-key rollover, meaning this keyboard can detect all keystrokes no matter how many keys are pressed at once.

Rollover is important to prevent key ‘ghosting’, where extra keystrokes are registered when several keystrokes are made together.

While rollover is typically only important in conditions where very fast typing are done (i.e. when gaming), having a keyboard with NKRO is a plus point since it means that it will always be reliable at all times.

Are Mechanical Keyboards Better for Programming?

While a mechanical won’t directly help improve your programming skills, a mechanical keyboard does offer a much more comfortable typing experience, which will indirectly help to make the coding experience more enjoyable.

As we know, improving our moods and comfort can significantly improve our productivity, and this is where a good mechanical keyboard comes in.

Obviously, this won’t be 100% true for every programmer. Some, for example, have been using laptop keyboards (that are typically low-profile, chiclet-style keyboard) throughout their programming career, and they find mechanical keyboards uncomfortable to use.

However, newer mechanical keyboards, especially premium ones are built in such high-quality with textured PBT keycaps, responsive switches, robust stabilizer, and other features.

If you haven’t used a mechanical keyboard for a while, we’d recommend trying to type on newer mechanical keyboards before making your judgment. The feel and response might (pleasantly) surprise you.

Are Gaming Keyboards Good for Programming?

Gaming keyboards (at least, real gaming keyboards) typically offer several key benefits:

  • Precision, with anti-ghosting and other technologies to ensure you are getting exactly what you press. In long hours of programming, this can be very useful and improves efficiency.
  • Lighting. If you happen to like the colorful RGB lighting, then it can improve your mood. Obviously, lighting would also help when you work at night or in darker conditions.
  • Durable. They are designed for long-term aggressive use, and typically also easier to clean.
  • Macros. The ability to program certain keys. This can be useful, for example, in cases where you’ll need to repeatedly use a certain string. You can easily macro this string on a key.
  • Extra buttons. Some gaming keyboards offer extra buttons like media playback, volume up/down, and so on. These can be useful to help in aiding your productivity.

So, while gaming keyboards are typically more expensive, you do get some extra benefits, and whether these benefits are going to help your programming/coding experience would depend on your preferences.

Do You Have to be a Fast Typer for Programming?

Fast typing (touch typing) is not really a must-have skill for a programmer in and off itself. However, as a programmer, you should be able to type without interrupting your thought process.

If you too often think of a placement of a key when typing your codes, it can significantly hinder your programming efficiency and productivity in the long run.

Think of it this way: the code you are typing is an interface (and an imperfect interface at that) between what you think and the computer. If you can make the process of translating your thoughts to a typed code faster and more efficient, it can help a lot in this process.

So, fast typing (touch typing), while not an absolute mandatory skill for a programmer, is going to be an advantage for any programmer.

However, it’s important to note that it’s not the typing speed itself that is important, but the ability to type without thinking too much.

Top 10 Best Keyboards for Programming

Now that you have a deep understanding of the different design aspects that go into a keyboard, it’s time to run-down our list of the 10 best keyboards for programming. Starting with #10…

#10. Kinesis Advantage2 Ergonomic Keyboard

 

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Type: Split ergonomics keyboard

Switch Options: Outemu Red

Form Factor: TKL

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY, or DVORAK available

KRO:

Unique Features:

  • Concave key wells and thumb keys for ergonomics, designed so that hands and fingers are placed in a natural, relaxed position to shorten key-reach
  • 20-degree tenting and compact design
  • Fixed split and vertical keys, designed so that hands are positioned at shoulder-width to keep wrists straight to reduce stretch and deviation
  • Sculpted home row and palm supports. Cushioned palm pads to promote neutral wrist position

Pros and Cons

Pros: 

  • Ergonomic shape that reduces wrist repetitive strain injury (RSI)
  • Clusters of keys under each thumb to reduce stretching of fingers
  • Tweaked layout for easier and more comfortable typing
  • Comfortable palm rests
  • Full onboard programmability with Driverless Smart Set engine to allow custom layouts, macro recording, key remapping, etc.

Cons: 

  • Will need a bit of a learning curve at first
  • Quite bulky and relatively heavy
  • Not for heavy shortcut users
  • Expensive

Verdict:

The key benefit of this keyboard is fairly obvious: its ergonomics design. It is also highly programmable so you can customize it to accommodate your daily coding needs. If ergonomics is what you’re after, then this keyboard is a good pick.

This keyboard itself will need some time getting used to, and you might need to spend some time tweaking it according to your preferences, but it may be worth it in the end.

The biggest downside to this keyboard is the price and its awkward design.

#9. Corsair K63 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard

 

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Switch Options: Cherry MX Red (Linear)

Form Factor: TKL

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features

  • Wireless connection with 2.4GHz dongle (faster than Bluetooth) with 1ms low-latency, can also use Bluetooth or USB wired connectivity
  • Cherry MX Red linear switches with Gold contacts for faster typing
  • LED backlighting per-key and large font keycaps for better lighting effects
  • 128-Bit AES encryption mode helps protect your keystrokes from wireless data breaches
  • Portable keyless design for easier storage and transport
  • Up to 15 hours of rechargeable battery-powered wireless use
  • Dedicated volume and multimedia controls

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Affordable price for Corsair brand
  • Reliable and fast wireless connection with the 2.4 GHz dongle, Bluetooth connectivity is also pretty decent and fast
  • Great battery life. Using 60% brightness is enough for everyday use to conserve the battery even more
  • Well-built and durable
  • Compact TKL size but can squeeze in dedicated media keys

Cons: 

  • Design is rather bland compared to other models
  • Groove at the top of the board might collect dust easily

Verdict:

A really good TKL keyboard especially considering its relatively affordable price. Per-key lighting allowing virtually infinite lighting customizations.

Well-built with a pretty decent set of features and also some extra touches like USB passthrough port for mouse or headset, and macro functionality (up to three macro profiles).

#8. Das Keyboard 4 Professional Mechanical Keyboard

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Switch Options: Cherry MX Brown (Tactile), Cherry MX Blue (Clicky)

Form Factor: Full-sized

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features

  • Cherry MX switches with Gold contacts for reliability and quality
  • Rugged construction with aluminum top panel, built to handle 50+ million keystrokes (20-30 years on average)
  • Two USB 3.0 Super hub
  • Volume knob (oversized) and dedicated media controls with instant sleep button
  • Laser-etched key inscriptions with Bumps on the F and J keys for touch-typing aid.
  • Updatable firmware
  • Elevated height at 1.2 inches (3.1 cm)
  • N-key rollover with full anti-ghosting
  • Magnetically-detachable footboard to raise keyboard, can also function as a rule

Pros and Cons

Pros: 

  • Sturdy build, as expected from DAS’s German engineering
  • Cherry MX switch, long-lasting with great typing experience
  • Dedicated media keys and a great, functional volume knob
  • IFTTT protocol support for integration

Cons: 

  • The volume knob is rather hard to rotate
  • Not the cheapest

Verdict:

Sturdy build with the aluminum top panel, also very stable to type upon. Not the most affordable, but it does offer Cherry MX switches, volume knob, rugged build, and other features.

There is also an upgraded RGB option also available if you want your keyboard a little flashier.

#7. Redragon K552 Mechanical Keyboard RGB LED Rainbow Backlit

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Switch Options: Outemu Red

Form Factor: TKL

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features:

  • TKL form factor, small and compact with dust-proof design
  • Outemu Red switches, Cherry MX red equivalent, linear and silent
  • LED RGB backlight with 19 different lighting effects and game modes. 2 user-defined modes, 6 colors, multiple brightness levels
  • Durable with metal-abs construction with plate-mounted mechanical keys and switches
  • Anti-ghosting with N-key rollover feature

Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • Very affordable price of below $40
  • TKL, compact design for portability
  • Adjustable height with stable stands
  • Customizable RGB lighting effects
  • Pretty decent stabilizers with a minimal rattle, considering its price
  • Durable build with aluminum base

Cons: 

  • Non-detachable USB
  • Rubber feet don’t keep the keyboard in place
  • Pretty big Redragon branding, which is very gaming-oriented, not for everyone

Verdict

A very affordable keyboard that offers RGB lighting and pretty decent Outemu red switches. Outemu switches feel pretty similar to a Cherry MX but have a shorter lifespan.

It doesn’t really offer any groundbreaking features or technology, but for its price, it is a really good pick.

#6. Razer BlackWidow Elite Mechanical Keyboard

 

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Switch Options: Razer Green (Clicky), Razer Orange (Tactile, silent), Razer Purple (Linear)

Form Factor: Full-sized

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features 

  • Razer’s zero-compromise mechanical switch for speed and accuracy supports up to 80 million clicks
  • Personalization and gaming immersion with Razer Chroma technology and Razer Synapse software
  • Fully programmable macros with Razer Hypershift
  • Ergonomic and magnetically attachable wrist rest
  • Durable construction with a military-grade metal plate

Pros and Cons

Pros: 

  • High-end design with high-quality RGB backlight, great if you prefer a gaming-oriented design
  • Very stable on your table with rubber pads and various designs
  • Reliable and high-performance Razer switches, some might prefer Razer switches over Cherry MX switches
  • Great magnetically attachable wrist rests for comfortable typing
  • Highly programmable, integration with Razer Synapse software

Cons: 

  • Rather high key heights
  • Lack of macro dedicated key (need to program it on Razer Synapse first)

Verdict:

Razer is obviously one of the most well-known manufacturers of gaming peripherals, and it the BlackWidow Elite comes with various premium features, high-end build quality, and great Razer switches.

This keyboard has a pretty good wrist rest that attaches magnetically to the keyboard and other extra features like dedicated media control, RGB lighting that supports Razer’s Chroma technology, and so on.

#5. Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional2

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Switch Options: Topre capacitive switches

Form Factor: compact

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features:

  • Topre capacitive switches, extreme precision, and efficiency, only require a gentle press to register a keystroke
  • Compact form factor with near-symmetrical design, only 60 keys
  • Key combinations for faster typing experience
  • Top-grade PBT keycaps, never wear off
  • Contoured frame and keys, promoting smoother movements across keys
  • Ergonomic with contoured frame and compact design

Pros and Cons

Pros: 

  • Topre is an amazing switch that feels and sounds great. Not too loud but is very responsive
  • Lightweight and portable with a compact form factor
  • Great location for backspace, although might take some time getting used too
  • Retro look might appeal to a lot of people

Cons: 

  • No arrow keys will take some time getting used to
  • Expensive
  • No lighting

Verdict:

If you are aiming for performance and reliability and don’t really need flashiness, then the HHKP2 is a great choice with really high-quality Topre switches that is very silent. Topre is a fusion between a membrane and a mechanical switch and is really reliable in performance.

#4. Logitech G915 Wireless Mechanical Keyboard

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Switch Options: Logitech GL Linear, GL Tactile, GL Clicky switches

Form Factor: Full-sized

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features

  • Low-profile mechanical keyboard
  • Logitech LIGHTSPEED wireless technology
  • LIGHTSYNC RGB technology with 16.8 million RGB colors
  • 30-hour battery on a single 3-hour battery charge
  • Very thin yet durable build quality with premium materials including an aluminum top plate
  • Custom macros and in-app commands with 5 dedicated G-keys
  • Dedicated media controls to quickly play, pause, skip, and mute

Pros and Cons

Pros: 

  • Low-profile design with ultra-thin body
  • Great Logitech key switches with reliable performance, a lot of people prefer Logitech switches to Cherry MX
  • Great LIGHTSPEED wireless connectivity, very low latency
  • RGB backlighting with Logitech LIGHTSYNC

Cons: 

  • Expensive
  • Skeletal design can trap dust

Verdict

A great choice if you are looking for a mechanical keyboard but don’t like the high-profile switch offered by most of them. Great Logitech switches, very beautiful design, and offers a lot of Logitech’s latest technologies.

#3. Cooler Master MK730 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard

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Switch Options: Cherry MX Red

Form Factor: TKL

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features

  • Cherry MX red switches
  • Anti-ghosting NKRO in PS/2 Mode
  • Laser-etched keycaps
  • Extra keycaps included with a key puller
  • Removable braided USB cable with cable routing
  • Compact and portable TKL design

Pros and Cons

Pros: 

  • Great value for what it offers
  • Genuine Cherry MX switches, great considering its price factor
  • Detachable braided cable with cable routing
  • Good build quality
  • Decent stabilizer, less friction in key motion use

Cons: 

  • No macro and programmability

Verdict:

A great value for its price, since you get an authentic Cherry MX. This keyboard is a pro-grade tenkeyless that will be a great addition to your programming workspace. The RGB lightbar surrounding the keyboard offers lighting for added ambience.

Fully loaded with practical features that include a great price, durability, and top-notch responsiveness.

#2. Drop ALT Mechanical Keyboard – 65%

 

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Switch Options: Cherry MX Blue/Brown, Halo Clear/True, Kaihua Box White/Speed Silver, hot swappable

Form Factor: Compact (65%)

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features

  • Streamlined aluminum build, durable and compact, complements any setup
  • RGB backlighting with shine-through PBT keycaps
  • Removable magnetic feet to adjust to fit your needs
  • How-swappable switches
  • QMK firmware for easier programming for altering the keymap, custom macros, and other customization options to fine-tune your keyboard according to your needs

Pros and Cons

Pros: 

  • Really impressive build quality, best in class
  • Hot-swappable design with easy cap and switch swapping
  • Amazing RGB lighting quality
  • Fully programmable (key mapping, macros, etc.)
  • Magnetic feet

Cons: 

  • No dedicated software (need firmware flashing, which can be clunky)
  • No wrist rest
  • Expensive

Verdict:

An impressive keyboard with impressive build quality, hot-swappable design, and really good aluminum body. Expensive, but if you are really looking for quality, the Drop Alt (or the TKL Drop CTRL) is a great long-term investment.

#1. Ducky One 2 SF (Cherry MX Brown) Keyboard – 65%

 

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Switch Options: Cherry MX Brown

Form Factor: Compact (65%)

Layout: ANSI, QWERTY

KRO: NKRO

Unique Features

  • Dual-color bezel to match all varieties of keycaps
  • 65% compact form factor, include arrow keys (SF on its name stands for sixty five)
  • PBT double-shot seamless keycaps
  • German Cherry MX key switches
  • Detachable USB Type-C
  • 11000Hz polling rate, meaning the keyboard is sending its input signal(s) to your PC 1000 times per second.
  • 3 levels of angle adjustment
  • 3528 SMD RGB LED

Pros and Cons

Pros: 

  • Impressive board with Cherry MX switches for amazing typing quality
  • Full RGB backlighting
  • Macro programmable for all keys
  • Great 65% form factor with dedicated arrow keys
  • PBT keycaps (double-shot) for better longevity
  • Extra keycaps included

Cons: 

  • No dedicated software
  • Included USB C cable is non-braided (detachable so can replace)

Verdict:

The name Ducky has been synonymous with high-quality mechanical keyboards in recent years, and the One 2 SF is their great 65% compact keyboard following the success of their One 2 Mini to include the arrow keys that are often useful in programming.

A great, high-quality keyboard with Cherry MX switches and a very durable build, one of the best in its class.

Conclusion

The 10 best keyboards for programming we have shared above are our top picks after considering the different features offered by many different brands and models available in the market.

Our number one pick here goes to the Ducky One 2 SF for its great overall quality and balance between price and value, but all models presented are great keyboards offering their own advantages and disadvantages.

We hope you’ve gathered enough information from this buying guide, and can make a better purchase decision with what we’ve shared.