The Complete Mechanical Keyboard Buying Guide

This is the complete mechanical keyboard buying guide. Prepare your tea or coffee and sit comfortably because this will be a long journey.

The current condition of the mechanical keyboard universe is like a rabbit hole. There are so many different parts with many different variations.

It could be very confusing for many people to choose the right options for your mechanical keyboard. That’s why this complete buying guide is made.

Without further ado, let’s get into it one by one.

Keyboard Layout

When it comes to buying a new mechanical keyboard, the layout is the first aspect you should consider. There are numerous variations of layouts that you need to be aware of. Let’s explore them one by one.

60% Keyboard:

The 60% keyboard is the smallest standard layout variation. Although there is an even smaller 40% keyboard layout, it is considered too niche for mainstream users. The 60% keyboard encompasses all the keys found in the largest area of a keyboard. However, it does not include arrow keys. If you are a writer or a programmer who heavily relies on arrow keys, this layout may not be suitable for you. Nonetheless, it is an ideal choice for those with limited desk space or those who require a portable keyboard for their laptop.

65% Keyboard:

The 65% keyboard is essentially a 60% keyboard with the addition of arrow keys. However, there are two variations within this size category: the normal 65% layout and the exploded 65% layout. The difference lies in the gap between the main area of the keyboard and the arrow keys. Please refer to the accompanying picture for visual clarification. If you are accustomed to using standard layouts such as Full-Size or TKL keyboards, I recommend opting for the exploded version. The gap can significantly assist you in locating the arrow keys without having to look at the keyboard.

75% Keyboard:

The 75% keyboard is essentially a 65% keyboard with an additional Function (F) row on top. Usually, it maintains the same length and width as a 65% layout, but the 75% layout has greater height or depth. There are three variants within this category: regular 75%, exploded 75%, and TKL layout. I have included the TKL layout within this category for easier identification. If desk space is not an issue for you, the TKL layout offers the most comfortable typing experience in this class. However, if you prioritize portability and compactness, albeit sacrificing some comfort, the regular 75% layout (84 keys) would be a suitable choice. For those seeking a middle ground, the exploded 75% layout is perfect.

Numpad Gang:

This is the final and largest category on our list, as it includes keyboards with a numpad area. There are three layout variations within this class. The 1800 layout is the exploded version of the 96% layout. On the other hand, the full-size layout is the classic layout that encompasses all the keys but is the largest in size compared to other layouts. Interestingly, while the full-size keyboard is the most common layout for standard mechanical keyboards with soldered PCBs or membrane keyboards, it is the least popular choice in the hot-swappable and custom keyboard classes.

My personal favorite layout at the moment is the 1800 layout, as I too belong to the numpad gang.


Wireless vs. Wired Mechanical Keyboard

When it comes to choosing between a wireless and a wired connection for your mechanical keyboard, there are three common options available: wired, Bluetooth (wireless), and 2.4GHz (wireless with dongle).

In terms of priority, the Bluetooth connection is typically the least recommended. It tends to introduce lag when used for typing and gaming, making it unsuitable for most users. However, it does serve a niche segment of individuals who prefer using a keyboard with their smartphones. Despite the lag on smartphones, Bluetooth connectivity eliminates the need to use the USB-C port for keyboard usage.

If you ask for my suggestion, I would recommend opting for the wired connection. This is because a 2.4GHz wireless connection can potentially interfere with other devices if you also use different 2.4GHz wireless peripherals such as a mouse, headset, or gamepad.

When it comes to dealing with interference, my top priority for wireless connectivity is my headset. The ability to move around the house while listening to a podcast or music without the cable getting in the way is a significant advantage. Additionally, the headset is the peripheral that sits farthest away from the table, positioned on top of our heads, which can make dangling cables particularly bothersome.

The gamepad would be my second priority for wireless connectivity since I use it on my lap rather than on the table.

On the other hand, I find the wireless connection beneficial for the mouse. The absence of a cable allows for greater freedom of movement, and a poorly arranged cable can sometimes be distracting and hinder aiming.

That being said, a wireless 2.4GHz connection is of least importance to me when it comes to the keyboard. I rarely move my keyboard, as it remains stationary 99.99% of the time.

Mechanical Keyboard PCB

Switch Installation:

When it comes to the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) of a mechanical keyboard, there are three common variations regarding switch installation available in the market:

1. Universal Hotswap PCB (3-pin or 5-pin):

A soldered PCB requires the switches to be soldered onto the board. This method involves using soldering equipment and is time-consuming. It is not recommended for those who frequently swap or modify switches.

2. Universal Hotswap PCB (3-pin or 5-pin):

A universal hotswap PCB, available in both 3-pin and 5-pin variants, is an excellent choice. With this type of PCB, you can easily remove or install switches without the need for soldering. It offers convenience and flexibility, allowing for quick switch replacement or customization. The 5-pin version is preferable as it provides better stability and compatibility with a wider range of switches.

3. Replaceable Switch Outemu Only:

Certain PCBs allow for switch replacement, but they are limited to Outemu switches only. Opting for this type of PCB restricts your switch options, limiting customization possibilities. It is advisable to avoid this type of PCB, regardless of whether you are interested in modding or not.

North Facing vs South Facing:

Another important aspect to consider when selecting a mechanical keyboard PCB is switch orientation. Currently, there are two types of PCBs based on switch orientation:

North Facing:

A north-facing PCB positions the LED or RGB lighting elements of the switch towards the top of the keyboard. This configuration allows for maximum visibility of the lighting effects, making it suitable for those who prioritize aesthetics and lighting customization. However, it’s worth noting that a north-facing PCB may introduce interference with cherry profile keycaps. Beginners might not notice this interference, but it can be a consideration for more experienced users.

South Facing:

A south-facing PCB positions the LED or RGB lighting elements towards the bottom of the keyboard. This orientation may slightly reduce the visibility of the lighting effects, but it can help avoid interference with cherry profile keycaps. It is important to note that a south-facing PCB is not the only solution to prevent interference. There are alternative solutions, such as using long-pole switches or exploring different keycap profiles (e.g., SA, OEM, XDA, etc.).

In my personal recommendation, if possible, you could consider a south-facing PCB. However, it’s not the top priority to consider since there are other solutions available to avoid keycap interference. For example, you can use long-pole switches or explore different keycap profiles. In my own experience, I tested both a 75% hotswap keyboard with a south-facing PCB and a 96% hotswap keyboard with a north-facing PCB. After three months of trying them out, I sold the 75% keyboard and kept the 96% keyboard.


Mechanical Keyboard Switches

If you haven’t kept up with the latest trends in mechanical keyboards, you might still be familiar with the basic color-coded switches like blue, red, brown, or black. However, nowadays there are hundreds of mechanical keyboard switches available. To simplify things, let’s focus on 5 (+1) main categories of switches that you should know:

1. Linear Switches:

Linear switches are the most popular category. They have a smooth and consistent keystroke without any tactile bump or click. Linear switches are commonly preferred by gamers due to their smoothness and ease of pressing.

2. Tactile Switches:

Tactile switches provide a noticeable bump or tactile feedback when the key is pressed. This bump helps typists to feel the actuation point, which can improve typing accuracy and speed. However, it’s important to note that tactile switches can vary significantly in terms of the shape and height of the bump, making it challenging to find the perfect tactile switch.

+ Linear vs Tactile:

The choice between linear and tactile switches is subjective and depends on personal preference. Some people claim that linear switches are better for gaming, while tactile switches are better for typing. However, this is not a universal rule, and individual preference plays a significant role. It’s recommended to try different switches using a 5-pin universal hotswap PCB to find the most comfortable switch for your own typing or gaming needs.

3. Clicky Switches:

A clicky switch means that there is a clicking sound when you push the switch. Unless you like to annoy people around you, don’t pick this. LOL…

4. Silent Switches:

Silent switches are designed to reduce the noise generated by the switch during typing. They incorporate rubber dampeners to mute the sound produced when the key is pressed. While silent switches can be appealing for quiet environments or shared spaces, some users may find them less satisfying to type on due to a slightly mushier feel.

5. Low Profile Switches:

Low profile switches have a lower height and shallower depth compared to standard switches. These switches are often found in slim or compact keyboards. However, low profile switches may not provide the same tactile feel and satisfaction as standard switches. They also require specific hotswap sockets and keycaps, limiting their modifiability.

Optical Switches:

Optical switches are not technically mechanical switches, but they are worth mentioning. Some brands argue that optical switches offer better durability compared to traditional mechanical switches. However, with the availability of hotswappable PCBs, switch durability is less of a concern. Currently, the variety of optical switches is limited, and their compatibility with hotswap PCBs may be restricted. As a result, it’s recommended to focus on mechanical switches for now.

Checkout my other article: Global Gaming Peripherals Market Predicted to Reach $14,396 Million by 2030


When it comes to keycaps, there are a few things to consider when buying a new keyboard:


The two main types of materials used for keycaps are ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PBT (polybutylene terephthalate). ABS keycaps are often thinner and produce a higher-pitched sound when typing. They are commonly found as the default keycaps on many keyboards, but they may not provide the best typing experience. PBT keycaps, on the other hand, are more durable and have a slightly rougher texture. They are preferred by many enthusiasts for their superior sound and feel. If you have the option, choosing a keyboard with PBT keycaps as the default is recommended.


There are two aspects of keycap compatibility to consider:

This is the standard keycap sizes for all keys

Keycap Sizes: Some keyboards may have non-standard keycap sizes for certain keys. For example, the GK64 keyboard has a 2U Left Shift key, which can be challenging to find replacements for. Another example is the ROG Strix Scope RX, which has a 2.25U Left CTRL key that is difficult to replace. Additionally, some keyboards may feature a 7U spacebar instead of the standard 6.25U size. It’s important to check the keycap size compatibility of a keyboard before making a purchase, especially if you plan on customizing your keycaps in the future.

Another mainstream keycap sizes

Stem Compatibility: While rare, it’s worth noting that there are some switches that have non-standard stem shapes, which can affect keycap compatibility. Examples include the Logitech G Roamer switch, ROG RX switch, all low-profile switches, and certain Topre switches without Cherry MX keycap compatibility. If you want to change your keycaps in the future, it’s important to ensure that the switches on your keyboard have compatible stems.

Keyboard Stabilizers: Plate-Mount vs PCB-Mount

Most of your keyboard’s large keycaps (such as Spacebar, Backspace, Enter, Left Shift, and so on) must have stabilizers beneath them. There are various types of keyboard stabilizers. However, in my opinion, there are only two types of stabilizers worth considering: PCB-mount stabilizers and plate-mount stabilizers. I dislike the Costar stabilizer because it may be difficult to install. So, here are the advantages and disadvantages of PCB-mount versus plate-mount:

It’s easier for me to tune the PCB-Mount Stabilizer to get a clean sound (no ticking or rattling). Because the stabilizers are on top of the PCB, it may be easier to keep it steady. However, if you want to re-lube and re-tune the stabilizer after building or assembling the keyboard, you must completely disassemble it. To re-tweak the stabs could be a time-consuming process.

Meanwhile, getting a clean sound from the plate-mount stabilizer may be more difficult. Because plate measurements (plate thickness or stabilizer hole size) on many keyboards, particularly budget models, lack millimeter precision. However, if you wish to re-lube or re-tune the stabs in the future, you don’t need to disassemble your keyboard. Simply pull the keycaps and switch them first.

Personally, I like plate-mount stabilizers. Because I enjoy having quick and simple access to the stabs.

Mechanical Keyboard: Barebone or Not?

Nowadays, there is an option to purchase a barebone mechanical keyboard, which means you won’t receive the keyboard switches and keycaps in the package. You have to buy them separately.

My suggestion? Personally, I would always choose the barebone option if possible. This is because I rarely find my favorite switches included in the default package, and I would most likely want to replace the thin ABS keycaps that often come with it.

However, if you have no plans to change your switches or keycaps, or if you are just starting out in the world of mechanical keyboards, I would advise against picking the barebone option.

Keyboard Software

I believe that there are still many people who underestimate the importance of keyboard software. However, I strongly recommend finding a mechanical keyboard that provides software access and giving it a try.

With software access, you can easily remap the keys and create macros. Nowadays, these features are not only useful for gaming but also for various tasks such as video or image editing.

One important thing to note is that if you’re planning to purchase a keyboard with software access from Chinese websites like Banggood or AliExpress, make sure to check the description for the software link and verify its reliability. It’s common to find keyboards that claim to have software access but fail to provide the necessary link. Even when a link is provided, it may not work or lead to incorrect software.

Keyboard Mounting

There are various types of keyboard mounting. The most popular one is tray mount. Tray mount means that the keyboard secures the components (plate, PCB, and case) using several mounting posts.

Meanwhile, gasket mount is gaining popularity. A keyboard with a gasket mount uses gasket material (foam, silicon, poron, etc.) between the plate and the keyboard case.

There are other mounting styles that you can read about in this article if you’re interested.

Image credit: Keyboard University

So, what is the significance of the keyboard mounting style? Different mounting styles can result in different typing feels and typing sounds. For example, tray mount keyboards tend to be stiffer, while gasket mount keyboards are more flexible and can produce different typing sensations.

Gasket mount keyboards often have a softer sound compared to tray mount keyboards. The sound of a tray mount keyboard can also vary depending on the area. Keys near the mounting posts may sound more solid compared to keys further away. On the other hand, gasket mount keyboards tend to have a more uniform sound across the board.

It’s important to note that not all gasket mount keyboards are equal. Some gasket mount keyboards may lose their flexibility and soft sound when combined with a really stiff plate or excessively thick case foam under the PCB. Nevertheless, it’s generally preferable to choose a gasket mount when possible.

Image credit: Keyboard University

However, I believe that mounting styles should have a lower priority compared to the keyboard layout. For example, if you can’t live without numpad keys, it’s better to choose a keyboard with a numpad even if it uses a tray mount, especially if there are no other options available.

Keyboard Customization Options (Plates, Case, Cable)

There are keyboards available that offer easy access to customization options, such as different case or plate materials. For example, keyboards from KBDFans usually have separate options for custom plates or cases. This provides good value as you can try out different options in the future.

Another example of great value is the Keychron Q series. Keychron provides the plate file for their Q series keyboards on their website. This is particularly useful as you can use the file to order a custom plate from a local craftsman near you.


In summary, if I were to prioritize the features to look out for, my list would be as follows:

  1. 5-pin hotswap PCB
  2. Suitable layout for your needs
  3. Software access
  4. Keycaps compatibility (avoid keyboards with less mainstream keycap sizes, if possible)
  5. Gasket mount
  6. Anything else
Yabes Elia

Yabes Elia

An empath, a jolly writer, a patient reader & listener, a data observer, and a stoic mentor

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