computer keyboard for programmers

7 Best Mechanical Keyboards for Programming

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Last Updated: January 2021

You are a programmer. That probably means that you have sore fingers but love the thing which gives you that pain: your keyboard. Where would a programmer be without an excellent keyboard for coding on?

But, what is that you say? You don’t have a great keyboard?

Well, we are here to help.

A comfortable and responsive mechanical keyboard is a miracle cure for many programmers looking to streamline the most routine parts of their workflow. When you spend all day typing, you need features like ergonomics or programmable keys. Equipped with the right keyboard, your productivity can skyrocket.

Gamers and programmers often need the same features out of their keyboards, so considering a gaming keyboard can not only open new possibilities but can also help your workflow.

Our Top Picks

Das Keyboard 4 Professional Mechanical Keyboard

Connectivity: Wired | Key switches: Cherry MX Blue/Brown | Size: Full-size (100%) | Works With: Windows, Linux, Chrome OS

Sleek, clean, efficient. That is what this mechanical keyboard from Das Keyboard offers. Typing on this keyboard is elegantly quiet, but the tactile experience is still impactful.

This mechanical keyboard is built from high-quality components, down to the tiniest detail. The casing is anodized aluminum and the key switches are Cherry MX, guaranteed to last 50 million key presses each. Even the lettering on the keys is long-lasting, using laser etching to prevent fading over time.

Related: Das Keyboard 4C TKL (Hands-On) Review

The keyboard also includes extra buttons for media control plus an extra large volume knob, so whether you are playing music in the background as you work, or your work itself is musical, you have immediate, precise control at your fingertips. Around the back, you will also find two USB ports so you can plug extra devices like speakers or a mouse right into the keyboard. Finally, the cable to connect to your computer is extra long at 6.5 ft to weave through even the most convoluted workspaces.

If you want a strong-all-around mechanical keyboard that can adapt to any situation, as well as a few uniquely practical features, this keyboard is for you.

Keychron K2 Mechanical Keyboard

Connectivity: Wireless & Wired | Key switches: Gateron Red/Blue/Brown | Size: Compact (60% layout, 61-key) | Works With: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS

Travel gets complicated with a heavy, wired keyboard, whether it is between countries or the rooms of your house. This mechanical keyboard from Keychron solves that with its Ten Keys Less layout and wireless capabilities.

As a primarily wireless keyboard (you can plug in a USB-C cable for heavy use or to recharge), the Keychron needs a good battery. Fortunately, it has one, lasting for up to 72 hours of continual typing. It wirelessly connects with most Bluetooth devices, like your laptop, smartphone, or tablet so you can switch between devices throughout the day with ease.

This mechanical keyboard is also fully Mac compatible, with the F-keys set up for Mac functionality. You can swap between the included sets of keycaps for either Windows or Mac use.

For your money, you get an exceptionally adaptable and ergonomical mechanical keyboard. Combine that with a robust aluminum casing and long-lasting Gateron key switches, and you have an ideal portable keyboard.

KEMOVE 61 RGB Mechanical Keyboard

Connectivity: Wireless & Wired | Key switches: Gateron/Cherry/Kailh (hot-swappable) | Size: Compact (75% layout, 84-key) | Works With: Windows, MacOS

Gaming keyboards can be equally as practical for professional use. Take this mechanical keyboard from Kemove for instance. The keyboard is wireless and features a robust battery, though it can also be plugged in for use.

One of the best features of this mechanical keyboard is how programmable it is. The Kemove has four layers to cycle through and customize, and thanks to the paired software is delightfully painless to program. The layers each save their own lighting configurations for the RGB LEDs behind the keys. If you want even more customization, the keyboard is built for easily swapping parts, particularly the key switches.

You can fold out two support feet from the keyboard to raise it up, increasing ergonomics to prevent strain from repeated use. Additionally, the keys are concave for a comfortable typing experience. With the Ten Keys Less layout, you are set for a full day of typing without any discomfort.

Razer BlackWidow Elite RGB Mechanical Keyboard

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$139.99 $169.99
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Connectivity: Wireless or Wired | Key switches: Razer Green/Orange/Yellow | Size: Full-size (100%) | Works With: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS

Razer is a leader in gaming equipment, but they initially built their keyboards for typing before entering the gaming market. To this day, their mechanical keyboards are robust and a pleasure to use, even for everyday use.

There are several quality-of-life features that make this keyboard great. At the bottom is a padded wrist rest for ergonomic comfort, and it is even magnetized for easy removal and cleaning. Every key is programmable and the whole keyboard has extra layers that can be remapped. You also have a USB port and 3.5mm audio jack on the mechanical keyboard’s side, and media control buttons including a volume knob.

The default Razer key switches have a lifetime use of 80 million key presses and are built with dual layer walls to keep out liquid spills and dust. Between these features and the keyboard’s military-grade metal casing, this is an investment that will last a long time.

ANNE PRO 2 RGB Mechanical Keyboard

Connectivity: Wireless & Wired | Key switches: Gateron/Kailh | Size: (60% layout, 61-key) | Works With: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS

Looking for a mechanical keyboard you can take anywhere? The Anne Pro 2 has all the functionality of a full keyboard thanks to its customizable layers but is small enough to carry with you on the go.

The keyboard has a classy minimalist design, starting with a slim shape. As a 60% key layout, the keyboard is small and compact, perfect for typing use where you would not need extra buttons like arrow keys or the numpad in the first place. The profile of the keyboard is so small it can fit easily into a backpack or carry bag for easy transport.

For wireless use, the mechanical keyboard connects using low latency Bluetooth for extra quick response times. Otherwise it plugs in with a USB-C cable.

You can customize this keyboard with a suite of color options for the RGB LEDs in the keys, thanks to the Obinskit software that it comes with. The software also makes setting up layers a breeze, so programming your keyboard is no trouble.

KINESIS Freestyle Edge RGB Split Mechanical Keyboard

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$208.89 $219.00
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Connectivity: Wired | Key switches: Cherry MX | Size: 95-key | Works With: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS

A perfect example of how gaming kit can overlap with professional use. The Kinesis Freestyle Edge is a mechanical keyboard that brings the dynamic feel of gaming keyboards with the comfort and practicality you want from the keyboard you use for work.

One of the most commonly cited ergonomic ideas for reducing hand strain is a split keyboard. The Kinesis is just that, two keyboards that you can separate on your desk and operate with one hand each. It might take some getting used to, but once you do your hands with thank you after a long day of typing. The cushioned wrist rests also help with comfort.

With the keyboard you get the SmartSet software for painless key remapping. You can program nine profiles each with different layers of key layouts. As a fun bonus in SmartSet, the RGB LEDs come with programs like “wave” or “pulse” for animated lighting effects. For extra flair, you can pay to upgrade to an additional lighting layer for two-tone effects.

Corsair K95 RGB Platinum Mechanical Keyboard

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$154.02 $199.99
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Connectivity: Wired | Key switches: Cherry MX Brown/Speed | Size: Full-size (100%) | Works With: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS

A keyboard is more than just a tool: with the right customization and programmability, it can turn into a full control console. When you need a suite of tools available at a key press, the Corsair K95 really shines.

The casing is aircraft grade aluminum, perfect for a mechanical keyboard you will use every day. Speaking of every day, the keyboard includes a wrist rest to keep your hands comfortable during a typing marathon.

Included are dedicated media control buttons and a volume knob, so your music is always within arm’s reach. With the full sized keyboard layout, you have every button you will ever need, all of which are programmable.

You can program three layouts for custom keys, but what happens when you run out of keys? The Corsair preempts that problem by incluing six extra G keys to the left of the normal letter keyboard. These can be customized for your most common uses to help your workflow run smoothly.

What To Know Before Buying a Mechanical Keyboard?

Ready to enter the wide world of mechanical keyboards? Here are the basics you need to know before you invest in a shiny new keyboard that will serve you for years to come.

What is a Mechanical Keyboard?

A mechanical keyboard is built with small mechanisms under each key which provide light resistance so the user can really feel each keystroke as they type.

These mechanisms are “switches,” a combination of a slider and a spring which registers the keystroke while making a clicking sound. Different switches are available for different experiences. The other defining trait of mechanical keyboards is their deep travel, in which the key moves several millimeters down when pressed to make every keystroke feel crisp.

Cheap and mass-produced keyboards use rubber domes under their keys to provide resistance. The key press folds the dome in on itself, and when the key is released the dome pops back into position. Unfortunately, the feel of these keyboards is very soft and indistinct, unlike a mechanical keyboard which can feel sharper, like an electric typewriter.

The other most common type of keyboard is those built into laptops. These keyboards emphasize a slim profile for portability, which is why they have a very shallow travel accomplished through rubber domes and a scissor switch. There have been previous issues with scissor switches getting stuck through particle build up, so plugging in an external mechanical keyboard is a great alternative.

What is a Switch?

The switch is the mechanism that registers the key push. It is crucial in providing the “feel” of a mechanical keyboard, where each click of a key has impact. What you get is an audible click and a firm push where you need to apply a reassuring amount of pressure to actually press a key. Each keystroke has more weight than those on a rubber dome or laptop keyboard, thanks to the deep travel for each key on a mechanical keyboard.

There are many switches available on the market, but the switches produced by the German company Cherry are one of the most widely used ones. To take Cherry as an example, even within a brand there are many variations. Every kind of switch is multi-purpose to serve any function, but the switches can be grouped into categories for three intended uses:

  • LINEAR (Cherry MX RED switches), light and smooth, intended for gaming use
  • CLICKY (Cherry MX BLUE switches), heavier and dynamic, intended for typing
  • TACTILE (Cherry MX BROWN switches), light and dynamic, intended for all-around use

Watch the video below to learn more about different switch types.

Keyboard Sizes

Any kind of keyboard is available in a range of sizes, mechanical keyboards included. In this context, “size” is how many keys are on the keyboard. The actual size of the keys remains the same.

The full sized or 100% keyboard is your standard layout. It includes a row for F-keys, a numpad, and arrow keys.

The Ten Keys Less or TKL keyboard drops the numpad for a more symmetrical layout. That means the letter keys are more centered, which can reduce muscle strain during day-long typing sessions. It also gives you more room for your mouse which conserves desk space.

The 65% and 60% keyboards cut even more keys for a compact, portable keyboard. Both get rid of the F-keys, and the 60% also leaves out the arrow keys.

Mechanical keyboards tend to be wired, but wireless versions that connect using Bluetooth are also available.

Connectivity

Mechanical keyboards are almost all available in a wired variant. These use USB-C or Mini-USB to connect your computer to your mechanical keyboard.

Many major brands have wireless variants for mechanical keyboards. A wireless option may be right for you if portability is a priority, or if you want to switch your keyboard between several devices.

Construction & Quality

The most common materials for a mechanical keyboard’s casing are aluminum and plastic. Aluminum is naturally sturdier, but the plastic case will be a lighter option.

Related: Logitech K810 Keyboard Review: 6 Years Later

Since the actual mechanical switches on a mechanical keyboard are durable plastic, the keyboard is overall of higher quality than basic keyboards. A mechanical keyboard is designed to be sturdy and long lasting for high use.

A typical keyboard is built as a cheap, basic model for users. These are the keyboards that computer manufacturers often ship with the computer. Rubber dome keys are the standard here, and the rubber or polyurethane domes wear out with use or lose effectiveness as dust builds up. Metal dome keyboards do exist but are much rarer, as manufacturers give out so many keyboards with computers that they usually opt for the cheapest construction.

Mechanical keyboard switches, with their enclosed plastic construction, are not only longer lasting but are less prone to common malfunctions. Additionally, as mechanical switches are already a more expensive option than rubber domed keys, the whole keyboard is in a higher price bracket. Manufacturers of mechanical keyboards therefore often use higher quality materials in the construction.

Layout & Position

You want a Qwerty keyboard, right? Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t.

There are choices out there, and if you can bear to relearn the layout of a keyboard, you may end up being quicker and more accurate. Take a look at the Dvorak and Colemak keyboards and find something which is more intuitive (after all, the qwerty keyboard was developed to stop type-writers from becoming stuck).

The position of a keyboard can be key, and many ergonomic mechanical keyboards are explicitly built for coders. The primary way in which you can change the position of your keyboard is by tilting it. This lets you alter the angle of the keyboard and reduce the risk of injury.

You will also find some keyboards for coders which have the backspace or control keys under your thumb instead of under your pinky. You should also be looking at the position of the number pad, function keys, and arrow keys.

What Else Should You Look For?

Some keyboards come with layers. This means that keys can have more than one function. Think the number keys at the top of your keyboard but spread over more keys. You don’t want to complicate your keyboard, but you also want to get as much from your keyboard as you can. Most keyboards will come with some sort of layers while more functional ones will be programmable.

Talking of programmability, there are also keyboards out there which can be completed remapped, with software downloadable to support your keyboard remapping. You can completely change the layout and even add macros to the keys. Some software allows you to download pre-mapped layouts while others allow you to create your own completely.

The best advice that we can give you is to find a keyboard which is comfortable for you and provides you with the ergonomics to protect your hands and wrists. Great keyboards make happy programmers.

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