The world of keyboards went retro a few years ago as the prevalence of the mechanical switch made its way back into fashion. Mechanical keyboards used to be the standard approach until rubber dome took over, allowing for really cheap and reliable keyboards to be manufactured. What was lost in the transfer was that delightful tactile feeling that a mechanical switch brings to typing and thankfully it has made its way back into the limelight. Even for gaming, a mechanical switch can really help give you that extra feeling of control in intense situations.
Mechanical keyboards can maybe seem a bit daunting at first with all of the different switch manufacturers and types but it is relatively straightforward once you learn what each switch does and what they have to offer. One of the best visual representations of what different switches can do, is this very informative post from Keyboardco.com. For under $50, Cherry MX Switches may be out of the equation but alternatives operate very similarly to the Cherry switches for a fraction of the price.
Not too long ago, mechanical keyboards were seen as a high end piece of equipment but nowadays there is an abundance of choice for a very reasonable price and as such I couldn’t fit them all in this list. If you have any recommendations that have been missed out, feel free to post them in the comments below.
1. Red Dragon – $34.99
Although Lingbao aren’t a household name, this mechanical keyboard is an absolute steal for the price. It features eleven colour LED backlighting with a metal panelled construction. It is quite a compact keyboard due to the lack of numpad. The Jiguanshi uses Gateron Blue switches, meaning you get a nice tactile bump and click sound as you type. These switches don’t necessarily feel worse than a Cherry switch but you will find the noise to be a lot louder. For those that don’t mind that, this keyboard is a real steal for the price and a great introduction into the world of mechanical keyboards.
2. MechanicalEagle Z-88 – $54
Now, I know this keyboard comes in a litter over the $50 quoted in the title but that extra five dollars really goes a long way with the MechanicalEagle Z-88 from Granvela. Unlike the Jiguanshi the Z-88 comes with a nice numpad for those that can’t live without it. The switches used are Outemu, a very popular alternative to the Cherry switch. A nice feature is that the Z-88 allows you to completely remove every single switch and replace it with any colour you want (included with this keyboard are blue switches). A great addition for such a cheap keyboard. Similarly you can replace all of the key caps with standard cherry sized ones, so there is wide variety for you to choose from if you don’t like the default styling.
Most amazingly for the price, the inclusion of full RGB lighting is available, quite the addition with how popular RGB is nowadays. This keyboard will really allow you to tailor it to your own stylistic tendencies, turning what is a budget keyboard into something a lot more impressive for a fraction of the price.
3. Velocifire T11 – $45
This keyboard has a really distinct look, the white front panel will look great for those that prefer white to black for their electronics and the transparent case gives you a great look at the innards of the keyboard. Unlike some of the other keyboards on this list, the T11 is a full sized keyboard that has a really nice and understated look to it despite the transparent casing, which could be considered tacky, the key caps in particular are not garish (though can be replaced with Cherry MX keycaps if you want to).
There is multi coloured backlighting but no RGB, though I think the keyboard looks a lot nicer with all of the fancy lighting turned off. The T11 comes with Zorro Brown switches (Blue is available too for a couple of bucks cheaper), this means that you get the nice tactile bump with a lot less noise than the Blue Switches. One thing I really like about the design is that the case is one big bit of plastic with no flimsy components. Eliminating the possibility of broken keyboard risers of which is all too common even in high end boards.
4. DREVO Tyrfing 87-Key – $40
The Drevo is geared more towards the gamer, with its use of Outemu Red Switches. These switches are often the most common in gaming keyboards due to the short actuation times. The keyboard has a really nice understated look with white backlighting, compact too, with the missing numpad. The only issue is the really poor looking typeset used for the key caps but with a nice custom set, I think this keyboard could look and feel a lot more expensive than it is. A nice inclusion (though not essential by any means) is the braided cable, really helps make the board feel just a bit more solid in construction.
5. James Donkey 619 – $50
Despite the odd name, this keyboard has some really great features that aren’t found elsewhere, especially for a keyboard of this price. Firstly, the James Donkey 619 has a colour scheme that is not found on many keyboards, a pleasant yellow/orange theme is quite a nice change of pace. The design reminds me a lot of a sports car, something like a Lamborghini, especially with the yellow trim on around the sides of the case. This keyboard also comes with Red switches, though this time from Gateron, meaning this keyboard is geared mainly towards gamers.
What is especially interesting is the fact that it comes with its own software to customise the board to your liking. From the software you can change the lighting pattern and brightness and even customise what certain keys to, there is even the ability to create your own macros. Very useful for those that play a lot of MMOs.
6. Ajazz Firstblood AK52 – $50
What really stands out first about the Firstblood AK52 is the really nice Aluminium construction. A really nice feature for a keyboard of this price, it isn’t flashy but the metal case helps the keyboard feel solid and pleasant to type on. It is accompanied by black switches, these aren’t the best for gaming but are great for typing due to the heavy presses needed to actuate the keys, meaning you’ll know which keys you have pressed.
The keyboard also comes with backlighting but it’s faux-rgb, it looks a lot better without the light show. It comes with a numpad too which is a nice addition for those that need one. The floating effect of the keys is also a nice touch, I don’t think it necessarily improves the way you type but it makes the keyboard look really premium. The understated look of it means it won’t make you feel embarrassed to take it outside with you, it would fit perfectly in an office environment for example.
7. Corsair Vengeance K65 – $110 (Premium Choice)
Now, this is a ways over the $50 budget but that ten dollars gets you a solid keyboard from a very reputable manufacturer. The K65 is a compact keyboard, eschewing the numpad. It comes with Red Cherry MX Switches, ideal for the gamer. All of this is enclosed in a high quality aluminium case, giving a really sturdy feel to the keyboard. A nice extra is the ability to detach the USB cable to the keyboard, making transporting it an easy affair. The key caps are of a really high quality, the space bar coming with a nice textured look and feel.
One of the only downsides is that there is no backlighting, so for those that require that feature, you will have to look elsewhere. Overall though, a really well built keyboard for the price.
As you can see, there is an absolute abundance of great mechanical keyboards for very affordable prices. There is a great variety between the boards too, many different switch types and designs so you are sure to find something that fits your needs.
The quality may not be exactly on par with the Corsairs, Duckys and Logitechs of this world but what you get is a mechanical keyboard at a fraction of the price with much of the same functionality. These keyboards are a great introduction to mechanical switches for those that are sceptical of the benefits that they bring or those operating on a tight budget.