Mechanical keyboards have long ruled over the PC gaming space, but they can carry quite the cost for the privilege of having one of the best gaming keyboards to hand. While they do excel in their feel and durability, they are by no means the only keyboards that players can use. In fact, there are some significantly cheaper options out there, still offering fast response times, additional macros, and all the RGB your eyes can handle.
Of course, mechanical switches are nice to have. They’re generally crisper, and offer a touch more speed in every press. If price is no barrier, and you’re after a tournament-ready deck, then they’re a go-to. However, for everyday play, you can get away with spending far less, without dropping too much from your experience.
Membrane gaming keyboards swap those individual switches for a rubber underlay serving all the keys on the deck. These can feel a little “mushy”, but today’s models can hold their own on the battlefield. You are still hitting all the other features you need to be looking for in a keyboard, as well: a comfortable actuation force (the amount of pressure you need to apply to register a keypress), nice response times, macro programming options, some key rollover support (to allow for multiple keypresses at the same time), and volume controls.
Mechanical vs membrane keyboard: what’s the difference
- Uses cheaper rubber dome switches
- Keys can feel softer
- Significantly cheaper
- Rubber can wear out over time
- Uses individual mechanical switches
- Keys are crisp and snappy
- Can get pricey
- Switches are more durable
The fact is, you don’t need a mechanical gaming keyboard to play, and play well. If you’re looking for a budget model to see you through casual play, a membrane (or hybrid) device will do the job just fine.
How much is a membrane gaming keyboard?
In general, a membrane deck isn’t going to cost you more than $60 / £50. The cheapest membrane gaming keyboards that we would recommend are the Roccat Magma and Razer Cynosa V2, and both are regularly available for well under that price threshold.
Roccat, in particular, makes a wealth of budget-friendly PC gaming accessories that we love. The Magma keyboard is a highlight at an MSRP of just $59.99 / £49.99. Replacing those mechanical switches doesn’t make so much of a dent in your experience here. There’s still a nice level of resistance with each tap, and a soft landing for the sound-conscious among us. There is a little extra weight and effort in each keypress compared to a more expensive model, but considering you’re also getting 26-key rollover, plentiful macro options, and a unique RGB effect there’s some excellent value here.
Meanwhile, the Razer Cynosa V2 is regularly on sale for far less than its already low $59.99 / £59.99 MSRP. We’ve seen this membrane keyboard available for as little as $45 / £39.99 in the past. The only feature the Cynosa V2 drops from mechanical decks is that faster response and actuation. However, you’re still getting a nippy set of keys here, something we found particularly surprising in our own testing. On top of all that, there are dedicated media controls, spill-resistance, and n-key rollover as well. Those are features far more commonly found on premium mechanical kits, all sitting at the low price of a membrane deck. Razer keyboards can hit some eye-watering price tags (the latest Razer Huntsman V2 Analog costs more than $200 / £200), but there’s an assurance of quality in that name that can’t go unnoticed here.
How much is a cheap mechanical gaming keyboard?
Of course, mechanical keyboards do remain the best planks for gaming, thanks to their speed and durability. While the everyday player might not need such super low response times, competitive players may well do. You’ll be spending a little more to pick up even a cheap mechanical keyboard and, because of the added cost of those switches, you might not find the same plethora of additional features in budget models. However, it is still possible to get a set of these keys on your desk for under $100 / £100.
The first model we would point you towards is the $79.99 / £89.99 Roccat Pyro. Just as the brand excels in its budget membrane options, those looking for that extra competitive edge will also find plenty of value in its entry-level mechanical set. The TTC switches under each of these keycaps are still nice and speedy for a budget buy, and while you’re sacrificing dedicated media keys for that low price, there’s still a volume dial to play with. We’ve seen this model hit prices as low as $59.99 / £59.99 in previous sale periods.
You can find plenty more cheap gaming keyboards with mechanical switches for under $100 / £100 if you do want to stretch above that $60 / £60 membrane budget. However, it is worth noting that at this price point, you’ll likely be dropping other features like dedicated controls and higher quality keycaps, to achieve such a rock bottom cost.
The verdict: do you need a mechanical gaming keyboard?
From our own hands-on experience and the feature sets of membrane decks, we can safely say that you don’t need a mechanical keyboard to jump into everyday games. If you’re working with a smaller budget, these membrane keyboards can still offer the speed, macro programming, and key rollover required for PC gaming today. However, there are going to be outlier cases here, and the majority of those stem from the fact that you are dropping a little speed to save cash.
Mechanical keyboards are the fastest (and most reliable) in the game, which means the few of us who are looking for a tournament setup may need to spring for something a little more geared towards twitch reflexes.
For a full setup, take a look at the best gaming mouse models (and the best cheap gaming mice under $50). You can also check out exactly how we test gaming keyboards to make all our recommendations as well.