You don’t really need a number pad, anyway.
Updated: July 2018
You’ve decided it’s time to join the big leagues and dump that old, cheap, dome-switch keyboard and upgrade to a quality mechanical gaming keyboard. Congratulations. Now you must consider whether or not you want a standard keyboard with a ten key number pad on the right, or one without? The ones that forego the number pad are referred to as “Tenkeyless” (TKL) and sometimes “compact” keyboards, and they’re all the rage with professional gamers and in eSports these days for several reasons.
The first reason is simple; they’re more portable. Their compact size makes them easier to throw into a bag to take to a LAN party or tournament. Second, since they’re several inches shorter on the right side, they offer more space for your mouse to move around (if you’re right-handed) and allow you to rest your arms in a more natural position when your fingers are hovering over the keys instead of being slightly to the left. If you frequently play in cramped spaces—shoulder-to-shoulder at a long table with other players—these keyboards give you a little more room to breathe without invading your neighbor’s space.
What they don’t do, usually, is save you a lot of money, despite their smaller size. Yes, TKL gaming keyboards are a little less expensive than their full-size counterparts, but only by around $20 or so. Over the life of the product, that’s not all that much. They also often sacrifice dedicated buttons for macros and media control in favor of a smaller footprint.
If you’ve decided that a TKL keyboard is the your next gaming upgrade, here is our list of the best current models based on our extensive hands-on testing.
The Best Tenkeyless Keyboard – Corsair K65 LUX RGB
Corsiar’s K65 LUX RGB is expensive, but you get what you pay for. Fundamentally, it’s like so many other TKL mechanical gaming keyboards: a plastic base with a metal frame and keyboard deck, Cherry MX switches, 1000Hz polling rate and low-latency response, and full RGB lighting.
But Corsiar goes the extra mile with a few niceties that you usually only find in larger full-size keyboards. It’s got dedicated buttons for volume (sadly, not an analog dial), mute, lighting level, and Windows key lock. It also includes a removable wrist wrest, which is considered heresy by some tenkeyless manufacturers. And it’s got a USB pass-through port on the back.
What’s more, Corsair’s software, while awkwardly designed, is very flexible and powerful. You get extensive control over lighting and key assignments along with the ability to easily download community-made profiles. There’s just one caveat: Corsair uses transparent Cherry MX Red switches to allow the LED lights to shine through. If you don’t like MX Reds (linear action without the “click”), you’re out of luck. That’s the only available switch type.
More Great Keyboard Options
Maybe you don’t like Cherry MX Reds. Maybe you don’t want to spend all that dough on a TKL keyboard. Maybe you value a more compact design over dedicated buttons. No problem! There are plenty of other TKL mechanical gaming keyboards to choose from. These are some of our favorites.
Best Tenkeyless Keyboard With Custom Switches — Logitech G Pro
Logitech’s G Pro uses the company’s own custom Romer-G key switches. They have a low activation force and a high activation point, with no clicky “bump” to them. They’re a lot like the seldom-seen Cherry MX Speed Silver. I personally find them to have a bit of a “mushy” feel, relative to Cherry MX Reds or my preferred MX Brown switches.
The keys are also recessed into a plastic keyboard deck, rather than floating up above a flat metal deck as with most of its competitors. It’s not flimsy—there’s a metal frame inside and plenty of heft to it—but it feels like a small step back. This has the benefit of allowing the RGB lighting to shine through the keycaps only, instead of glowing all around the edges, so it’s a tradeoff.
Logitech’s keyboard software is excellent, though. It gives you expert control over lighting, key mapping, and macros. It’s intuitive, cleanly laid out, and powerful.
Best Low-Priced Tenkeyless Keyboard — HyperX Alloy FPS Pro
If you want high quality with no frills and an attractive price, the HyperX Alloy FPS Pro is the way to go. It’s hefty and durable with a solid metal deck and Cherry MX switches on top (available in Red, Brown, or Blue) and won’t break the bank. The key action is responsive and reliable with n-key rollover and a 1ms polling rate.
The footprint is exceptionally small and the braided cord removable, making this a great “toss it in your bag” keyboard for tournament players and LAN party enthusiasts. You do give up some features for its reduced price though. There’s no software at all, no macro recording, and no advanced lighting customization. The backlights are only red, and you can merely select from a handful of brightness levels and lighting effects.
But if you don’t want anything fancy, just a really well-built TKL gaming keyboard with Cherry MX switches at a really attractive price, Kingston’s latest is the way to go.
Razer BlackWidow X Tournament Edition Chroma
Razer doesn’t use Cherry MX switches like so many of its competitors do. Just like Logitech, it has designed its own custom switches. The “Green” Razer switches (the only type available in this keyboard model) are nearly identical to Cherry MX Blue in sound and feel. That’s the “tactile and clicky” model, so yeah, it’s noisy. It’s “I’m typing an angry manifesto demanding the return of my favorite television show” noisy. If you like noisy keyboards, it’s great, but it’s a shame the company doesn’t offer its Orange switches on this keyboard, which have a similar feel without the loud clicking.
Razer’s keyboard is well-built, with a metal keyboard deck and keys floating above it. The braided USB cable is permanently attached, which isn’t the case with most TKL keyboards, but at least there are routing guides on the bottom so you can make the cable run out the left, right, or back of the keyboard.
You get plenty of flexibility with Razer’s Synapse software. You can fine-tune the lighting, reassign keys, and create or tune macros. But Synapse looks and feels old and out-of-date. The new Synapse 3 software coming soon brings with it a whole new design, and it can’t come soon enough.