best mechanical keyboards for programming

7 Best Mechanical Keyboards for Programming

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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.

Top Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboards

1. Dygma Raise

Connection: Wired | Key switches: Multiple| Size: 60% | Works with: Windows, MacOS, Linux| Programmable: Yes

Read our hands-on review: Dygma Raise Ergonomic Split Mechanical Keyboard

This stylish, fully programmable split keyboard is taking the computer world by storm. Built for enhanced performance, health, and comfort, this low-profile keyboard will improve your posture, reduce body pain, and prevent long-term injury.

The Dygma Raise is fully configurable, able to be used as a joined or split keyboard, and with 100% remappable keys. Program up to ten layers of superkeys, macros, and shortcuts, and enjoy eight thumb buttons, six of which can be programmed as shortcuts for any keys you struggle to reach. Programmable LEDs can be used for visual feedback, and every key on the keyboard can be set to the color you like.

This keyboard will revolutionize your workspace with its programmable keys, hot-swappable mechanical switches, and integrated detachable palm pads, improving your work speed, and creating a more comfortable environment.

Whether you’re a gamer, a programmer, or just someone who works at a desk all day, this keyboard will change your life. The firmware and configuration software are both open source, and the keyboard comes with six languages programmed in. Included in your purchase are your Dygma Raise in matte black or silver white, two washable palm pads, a compact travel case, and an enhancement kit.

If you need the last bit of convincing, the keyboard comes with a two-year warranty, a 30-day return period, and free express worldwide shipping.

2. ZSA Moonlander Mark I

Connection: Wired | Key switches: Multiple | Size: Compact | Works with: Windows, MacOS, Linux | Programmable: Yes

ZSA’s Moonlander Mark I is a next-gen, ergonomic, modular split keyboard that can work with 10 different types of hot-swappable mechanical key switches. Any part of this keyboard can be removed or swapped out, and the manufacturers encourage creative users to design and print their own add-ons and accessories.

The community of creative Moonlander users often share their designs and ideas with each other, so there’s no shortage of interesting ways to mod this keyboard to your specific needs. The Moonlander is fully backlit by RGB LEDs with smart animations, and the LEDs can be programmed individually to light up certain keys on your current layer. Up to 32 different layers can be programmed, ensuring that no matter how many different software programs you use, you will most likely be able to program a different key set for each one. If all the programming of keys sounds a bit too complicated, don’t be concerned – the keyboard comes with access to their live training tool, as well as limited-time access to the typing game, Epistory.

This keyboard comes in two colors, black and white, and is one of the thinnest mechanical keyboards in existence. It can come with blank or printed keys, the blank ones having just a dash for the light to shine through – this option is for hardcore typists, and definitely not those of us who have to look at the keys when we type! Each side of the keyboard has 3 status lights, and the device has a buzzer for audio notifications that can be turned on and off at will. The keyboard comes with a neat Neoprene carry case, and the thumb wings fold underneath for ease of transport. A major selling point of this keyboard, aside from its looks and diversity, is the fact that it comes with a no-questions-asked two-year warranty with no fine print.

3. KINESIS Freestyle Edge RGB Split Mechanical Keyboard

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Connection: Wired | Key switches: Cherry MX | Size: 95-key | Works With: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS | Programmable: Yes

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 Freestyle Edge 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.

Top Mechanical Keyboards

1. Das Keyboard 4C TKL

Connection: Wired | Key switches: Cherry MX Brown | Size: TKL | Works with: Windows, MacOS, Linux | Programmable: Yes

Read our hands-on review: Das Keyboard 4C TKL Review

This compact Tenkeyless mechanical keyboard comes with high-quality, German-made Cherry MX Brown gold-plated key switches, that are built to last up to 50 million keystrokes, and offer tactile and audio key feedback. The compact design means there is no number pad, but it makes the keyboard easier to transport, handle, and place.

The 87-key design makes for a versatile and comfortable workstation, and the integrated two-port, high-speed USB hub ensures that you can copy files or use accessories without having to reach for your computer. The keyboard comes with a two-meter USB cable, for versatile use in your home or office.

The Das Keyboard 4C TKL has a black, anodized aluminum top panel, and accented charcoal keycaps, for a sophisticated look. The dark gray letters can be a little difficult to see on their slightly lighter gray backgrounds, so this keyboard is more useful for those who have already practiced touch-typists, or those wishing to learn. Rather than little rubber feet that tend to come off and get lost over time, the Das has a magnetically-detachable footbar that raises the keyboard to four degrees, and doubles as a 16-inch ruler!

2. Keychron K2 Mechanical Keyboard

Connection: Wireless & Wired | Key switches: Gateron Red/Blue/Brown | Size: Compact (60% layout, 61-key) | Works With: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS | Programmable: No

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 tenkeyless 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 K2 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.

3. Corsair K95 RGB Platinum Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

Connection: Wired | Key switches: Cherry MX RGB Speed | Size: Full-size (100%) | Works With: Windows | Programmable: Yes

With a frame made from aircraft grade, anodized, brushed aluminum, the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum is lightweight (2.9 lbs), rugged, and durable, and is built to last through a lifetime of hard work. It comes in black or gunmetal, and each key is individually backlit by an RGB LED, every one programmable to your personal taste. 8 MB of onboard storage allows you to record up to 3 lighting profiles for the keys and the 19-zone top edge light bar, so play with the look to your heart’s content.

The Cherry MX Speed RGB Mechanical Key Switches allow for super-fast 1.2 mm actuation of the durable gold contact mechanical keys, and 6 programmable G keys can be used to record your most useful key combinations. A dedicated volume roller and media controls can be found on the top right corner of the keyboard for ease of access, and a USB pass through port keeps the cable out of your way. A detachable, double-sided, soft-touch palm rest, along with height adjustability of the keyboard make for maximum comfort, while a 2-year warranty provides peace of mind.

4. ANNE PRO 2 RGB Mechanical Keyboard

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

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 Anne Pro 2 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.

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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