No matter how hard they try, keyboards today aren’t the iconic, mechanical IBM Model M of the ’80s. Whereas most keyboards used to rely on buckling spring mechanisms and mechanical switches under every key, many modern keyboards have taken a more affordable route, introducing scissor switches and cheap membrane sheets to reduce keypress distance and optimize keystrokes. Somewhere along the way we lost the satisfying click and a few other things that was once the hallmark of the standard computer keyboard.
Yet, the aforementioned click belonging to mechanical keyboards is merely the beginning of the deprivation. Mechanical keyboards have been known to feature more durable designs and components far easier to maintain than their rubberized, membrane-equipped counterparts. Typos, the undeniable enemy of any affluent keyboardist, are also reduced using mechanical keyboards thanks to the tactile feedback they offer. Below are a few of our favorites, so you resurrect the thrilling keyboard sensations lost over the last decade.
CODE Keyboard ($150)
We’ve talked about the CODE keyboard before — and for good reason. Designed by software developer Jeff Atwood and Weyman Kwong of WASD Keyboard, the device revels in both design and functional simplicity. Its squared-off shell dons a jet-black appearance, with either 104 or 87 Helvetica-adorned keys depending on the model, and features the ability to press up six keys simultaneously in what the company refers to as “6-key USB rollover.” Adjustable LED backlighting illuminates the keys and steel backplate beneath in dark or dim settings.
However, looks aside, it’s the Cherry MX Clear mechanical keyswitches that make the keyboard worth noting. The MX Clear remain some of the most rigid and difficult keyswitches to find on the market, offering a high actuation force and tactile bump with every keystroke in addition to the their surprisingly quiet click activation.
The keyboard includes a detachable standard Micro USB cable, along with a string of keys that double as intuitive multimedia shortcuts, and features the standard 1mm LED indicators lights informing you when the caps lock, number lock or scroll function is activated.
The CODE Keyboard isn’t going to blow you away with robust functionality or programmable macro commands, but the equipped MC Clear keyswitches offer some of the most pleasing and tactile feedback of any keyboard on our roundup. That, combined with the LED backlighting and fingerprint-resistant surface, make it worth the considerable price tag.
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate ($130)
Razer has made itself a cornerstone of the PC-peripheral market with products like the Razer Naga, but gamers often forget that a solid keyboard is just as crucial as a terrific mouse. The top-of-the-line BlackWidow Ultimate is a mechanical keyboard that prides itself on its neon-green, LED backlighting, and equipped Cherry MX Brown keyswitches. The latter are currently some of the most popular on the market, providing a soft tactile bump that’s considered a welcome hybrid between key switches specifically engineered for gaming and those for typing.
The keyboard features anti-ghosting — which essentially means it will recognize and register up to 10 keys being pressed simultaneously — in addition to ten macro profiles that can be accessed within a mere two keyboard clicks. The device also touts five programmable macro keys, easily recordable through the bundled Razer Synapse 2.0 software or the included macro recording button housed on the keyboard, and sports an anti-fingerprint finish that actually holds up during extended use.
We admit the BlackWidow is likely overkill for the everyday typist. We have our qualms regarding the lack of backlight customization and proper port shielding, but it’s still a viable and extremely-capable option for someone looking for comprehensive macro commands and diverse keyboard customization.
Rosewill RK-9000 ($100)
Not everyone wants a fancy-schmancy keyboard with all the bells and whistles (or the price tag associated with). The RK-9000, one of eight in the company’s mechanical lineup, showcases the same 50-million-click keystroke lifetime as others on our list at price that’s far more enticing. The design is compact and narrow — with 104 keys and durable metal inner chassis — and is equipped with Cherry MX Blue keyswitches that are ideal for the day-to-day given their strong tactile feedback.
Like the BlackWidow Ultimate and CODE keyboard, Rosewill’s features anti-ghosting for pressing up to six keys simultaneously, but it lacks the welcomed backlighting and macro commands found on higher-priced models. Still, it’s bundled with a high quality braided cable and gold plated USB and PS/2 connector, helping to ensure lower latency, and features blue indicator lights that illuminate when the caps, number or scroll locks are active.
Although we recommend the model with Cherry MX Blue keyswitch, the same keyboard is available equipped with black, brown, or red Cherry MX keyswitches if you prefer alternative feedback options.
Das Model S Professional ($140)
American-made but German-engineered, the Das Model S Professional is one of many in the Das lineup. The enhanced 104-key layout houses all the standard multimedia buttons — mute, volume, pause, next, etc. — within a traditional design. It flaunts anti-ghosting capabilities for up to six keys, along with an external PS/2 adapter, and is available with three different Cherry MX key switches (brown, blue and red).
Additionally, the Model S Professional’s gold-plated key switches are rated to endure more than 50 million keystrokes, now a mechanical keyboard standard, and the company even offers custom Linux caps for those looking to replace the Windows caps that don the keyboard by default.
Like the RK-9000 and the CODE keyboard, Das’ basic offering is study, iconic, and classic. The ergonomics and aesthetics remain intact regardless of which keyswitches you choose, but the tactile feedback and active response rate are entirely up to you. I prefer the Cherry MX Blue keyswitches given that satisfying audible click, but check out the brown or red keyswitches if you’re looking for something a bit quieter with less action.
Matias Tactile Pro ($150)
The Apple Extended Keyboard, sold alongside the Macintosh II in 1990, was the Cupertino-based company’s answer to the IBM Model M. The mechanical keyboard was a laudable landmark in the computing industry, so much that so Matias decided to resurrect the model with a updated components and great Mac OS X integration. Each laser-etched key is built on an Alps mechanical keyswitch and features a sculpted keytop optimized to reflect the curve of your fingertips, while offering the same, great tactile sensation that donned the Apple Extended Keyboard more than 20 years ago. Additionally, the new model of the Tactile Pro features a myriad of function keys designated for tasks such as adjusting screen brightness, volume, and various aspects of iTunes.
It’s equipped with a three-port, high-speed USB 2.0 hub for connecting and syncing accessories — though it won’t charge them — while n-key rollover keeps ghosting to a minimum regardless of how quickly you manage to punch out copy.
Though the Matias Tactile is the only keyboard on our list that ditches the Cherry MX keyswitches in favor of the Alps mechanical keyswitches, it doesn’t make it any less capable. The keys offer a fair amount of resistance and are far more pleasing than those currently found on Apple offerings, making it a solid choice for Apple enthusiasts and everyday typists alike.