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Guidemaster: The best keyboards, mice, and more for your gaming PC

A person whose head is cropped from the photo poses with 6 computer keyboards.
Enlarge / So many fingers have been typing and clicking in the name of journalism…

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we’ll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

Creating the best PC gaming environment to suit your needs is more complicated than just building the ultimate PC from scratch. Once you have your dream machine, you’ll need a mechanical keyboard, a gaming mouse, a high refresh-rate monitor, and other accessories. But deciding on the peripherals to invest in has become more difficult—sure, you have more options now than ever before, but the other side of that coin has birthed a congested world of PC gaming devices.

PC OEMs have embraced gaming with open arms, so much so that most PC companies have their own lines of gaming devices, and those often include desktops and laptops in addition to keyboards, mice, and the like. These new participants, along with the well-known gaming device OEMs, have made the pool of potential peripherals so large that one person alone could not sift through all of it.

So, we did the sifting so you don’t have to—a few Ars writers spent more than two weeks benchmarking, testing, and trying out more than 60 of the best PC gaming keyboards, mice, headsets, and monitors you can buy today. We tested devices from PC OEMs like HP, Lenovo, Acer, and others, as well as offerings from accessory makers like Logitech, Fnatic, and more. We wanted to see what in today’s crowded gaming PC market was worth buying and what should be avoided entirely, and below is our current list of the accessories we think are worth adding to any modern PC gaming rig.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Table of Contents

Best gaming keyboard

Logitech G512 Carbon

Specs at a glance: Logitech G512 Carbon
Price $99
Switch type Romer-G Tactile, Romer-G Linear, or GX Blue
Design Aircraft-grade aluminum-magnesium alloy
Lighting Customizable per-key RGB
Software Free download
Dimensions 17.5 x 5.2 x 1.4 in (445 x 132 x 34 mm)
Weight 2.5 pounds (1,250g)
Extras 1 x USB passthrough

When considering a pre-made mechanical keyboard, you want a device that’s durable, has good tactile feedback, and allows you to customize it in various ways. Logitech’s G512 Carbon mechanical keyboard was the best one we tried that ticked all of those boxes and then some. First and foremost, we appreciate that the G512 Carbon comes in three models that only differ in their mechanical switches. You can get the exact same quality keyboard (at the same $99 price) with Romer-G Tactile, Romer-G Linear, or GX Blue switches, the first two being Logitech’s own switches developed for its gaming keyboards.

Out of all of the switch options, we preferred the Romer-G Tactile switches the most. We preferred it because of its distinct actuation bump and satisfying, clicky sound. Not only did we enjoy gaming with this keyboard, but we liked typing on it as well. It’s certainly louder than other keyboards you could use for general work, but for users who like that style of keyboard, it’s a great multi-use device.

Customizable, per-key RGB lighting gives the G512 Carbon away as a gaming accessory, but otherwise it could pass for an attractive, regular mechanical keyboard. The G512 Carbon has a brushed-finish aluminum-alloy base that helps it visually separate from the solid black keycaps. It’s fairly weighty at 2.5 pounds, but it’s not too heavy to be cumbersome. We also appreciate that it feels sturdy and isn’t prone to slipping and sliding when you use it on a desk.

RGB lighting is a staple in most gaming accessories—much to the chagrin of some, but to the pleasure of others. Logitech’s gaming software lets you customize each key’s lighting, and you can create and save lighting presets and animations onto the device itself thanks to its onboard memory. In a similar vein, Logitech’s software also lets you customize the Fn keys depending on your preferred type of gaming.

The G512 Carbon is a wired gaming keyboard (like most others), so it will take up two USB-A ports on your machine if you want to use the keyboard with its lighting feature. However, one of the back corners of the G512 Carbon has a USB-A passthrough port as well, giving you charging and data-transfer capabilities in a more convenient location.

Gaming keyboards (and gaming accessories in general) can be bogged down with gimmicks, but Logitech’s G512 Carbon isn’t one of those accessories. It’s a keyboard with a sturdy, attractive (but not ostentatious) design that you can make yours by first choosing your preferred switches and then customizing the fun stuff, like lighting and function keys. It also helps that its $99 price tag won’t break the bank.

The Good

  • Attractive gaming keyboard with three switch options, all at a good price.

The Bad

Logitech G512 Carbon product image

Logitech G512 Carbon

Buy Now

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Best budget gaming keyboard

Tecware Phantom 87

Specs at a glance: Tecware Phantom 87
Price $40
Switch type Outemu blue, red, brown
Design Plastic body, alloy backplate, double-shot keycaps
Lighting Customizable per-key RGB
Software Free download
Dimensions 14.2 x 5.3 x 0.89 in (361.5 x 133.5 x 22.5 mm)
Weight 2.09 pounds (950g)
Extras Extra switches

Many things surprised us about the Tecware Phantom 87 mechanical keyboard. For starters, it doesn’t look or feel as cheap as you’d expect a $40 mechanical keyboard to be. It has a plastic body, but its alloy backplate prevents flex and gives it more heft, which helps it stay in place when you’re gaming or typing. The Phantom 87 has double-shot keycaps made by a dual-injection molding process that should help it withstand long-term wear and tear, and these keycaps feel pretty solid when you’re typing.

Each key has customizable RGB lighting underneath, and we noticed less light bleed on the Phantom than on other, pricier keyboards we tested. The Phantom 87 also has more than 18 preset lighting modes, but you can download more and fiddle with customizations by using Tecware’s free software.

The keyboard is available in red (50g linear), blue (60g tactile clicky), and brown (55g tactile bump) Outemu switches. It even comes with a few extra switches as well as a keycap remover for quick fixes and adjustments. We like the smooth typing experience of our Outemu red switches, but we did notice a slight echo when pressing some keys when our environment was relatively quiet. That’s not a deal-breaker, but just be warned that the sound that the Tecware Phantom gives off isn’t as rounded and crisp as other, higher-end mechanical keyboards.

Nevertheless, the Tecware Phantom is a hard mechanical keyboard to beat when it costs just $40. Most other gaming keyboards we tested came in around the $100 mark, and some cost upwards of $200. We believe the tenkeyless model (the one we tested) is best for most people, but Tecware sells the same Phantom keyboard in a 104-key model—and that costs just $50. Regardless of the model you choose, you’ll get a solid mechanical keyboard that you can customize to your switch liking and that works well as a regular typing machine and an efficient and attractive gaming peripheral.

The Good

  • Affordable mechanical keyboard with a solid construction and multiple switch options.

The Bad

  • Slightly echo-y sound when typing.
Tecware Phantom 87 product image

Tecware Phantom 87

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Best tenkeyless gaming keyboard

Fnatic MiniStreak

Specs at a glance: Fnatic MiniStreak
Price $76.49
Switch type Cherry MX Red, Red Silent, Blue, Brown
Design Anodized metal top plate
Lighting Customizable per-key RGB
Software Free download
Dimensions 14.2 x 5.6 x 1.4 in (360 x 142 x 36 mm)
Weight 1.36 pounds (704g)
Extras Removable USB-C cable

Not everyone needs the functionality or bulk that comes with a number pad, and the Fnatic MiniStreak is the best tenkeyless mechanical keyboard for gaming that we tested. While the previously discussed Tecware Phantom also eschews a number pad, it’s not as premium as the MiniStreak and its $40 price tag reflects that.

The MiniStreak’s $76 price tag gets you an anodized aluminum top plate, well-stabilized keys, rubber gripping feet, and a removable leather wrist rest that can adjust into three different positions depending on what you find most comfortable. The bottom plate is plastic, but with the aluminum top plate, the body doesn’t flex at all so you’re getting a sturdy keyboard nonetheless. The keycaps aren’t the most luxurious, but they’ll suit most people just fine and they can easily be replaced if you feel inclined to do so.

You can get the MiniStreak in a variety of Cherry MX switches: Red, Red Silent, Blue, and Brown, and we found the Reds on our review units to be satisfying clicky but not too loud. These particular switches combined with the keyboard’s compact profile make the MiniStreak a good all-purpose keyboard for those that prefer mechanical devices—you could use it around friends and coworkers without disrupting their workflows with too-loud clacking noises.

Like most gaming keyboards, it has customizable per-key RGB lighting and has eight lighting modes preinstalled. Fnatic’s free software lets you customize the lighting even further, and it even has a “competition mode” that lets you turn off the lighting for specific keys (or all keyboard lighting), removing unnecessary distractions that could prevent a win during your next e-sports challenge.

We also appreciate the device’s removable USB-C cable—not only is it encouraging to see a solid USB-C keyboard at a decent price, but this feature also enhances the MiniStreak’s portability. It’s already compact enough to fit into a backpack, and it’s quite easy to move from room to room in your home, but that removable cable makes the entire device less cumbersome to pick up and move whenever you feel like it.

The Good

  • Solid tenkeyless keyboard made better by its compact size, removable USB-C cable, and Cherry MX switch options.

The Bad

Fnatic MiniStreak product image

Fnatic MiniStreak

Buy Now

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

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