Best Keyboard for Programming – The Ultimate Guide 2017
Last updated: March 12th, 2017
As a programmer, you know every key, every shortcut, every line of code. Your creative possibilities are limited only by your Words Per Minute. That’s why choosing the best keyboard for programming that’s reliable and well designed is crucial.
You need a keyboard that will stand the test of coding, so we put together the ultimate guide to help you in choosing the best design, layout, ergonomics and switches.
What's the Best Keyboard for Programming and Coding?
To be fair, we think that all of the keyboards on this page are excellent options, but some are better in certain areas than others. Below you'll find the 6 best keyboards for programming and why they’re great for coders.
Best Programming Keyboards for Coding
Best All Around Programming Keyboard
Best Switches and Compact Design
Best Layout Support and Backlight
Best Budget Mechanical
Best Membrane Keyboard
1. Das Keyboard 4 Professional
The Das Keyboard 4 Pro is our pick for the best keyboard for programmers, with top notch switches, stylish design, good price point and durable build quality.
Cherry MX Blue/Brown
Best All Around Programming Keyboard
The Das Keyboard 4 Professional is a german-engineered high-performance keyboard made for both function and durability.
For coders, it offers a very prominent volume control knob as well as dedicated media controls, which can come in handy whether you are playing music in the background, testing out audio for your site/app or on a video chat with a client. For data transfer, the Das Keyboard 4 Professional offers a USB 3.0 hub with 2 separate 5 GB/s ports that make transferring large groups of images or videos a snap, meaning less downtime on your project waiting to transfer media from an external hard drive or other USB device.
However, the biggest upside for developers comes from the gold-plated mechanical key switches that provide another level of tactile and audible feedback. One missed character can be the difference between the perfect design or function and a completely warped end result. Depending on the project and the coding software you’re using, as well as how long you spent coding before recognizing the issue, one missed character can mean a lot of lost time searching for the error. This keyboard’s feedback can help eliminate that problem, making completing a project just a little easier.
Another amazing feature for coders includes full n-key rollover via USB, eliminating the need for a PS2 adapter. Plus, if you have a highly customized setup (like a dual or triple-monitor stand), this keyboard comes with a cord over six and a half feet long, so it can fit almost any setup.
The Das Keyboard 4 Professional is also known as the thinnest mechanical keyboard in the world, making your fingers happy by not being uncomfortably angled for long coding sessions.
Some users have reported that even though the product has laser-etched lettering on the keys that the most heavily used keys can show wear in a short amount of time. Plus, if you are new to a mechanical keyboard setup, the feel may take a little getting used to. One common complaint is that if the spacebar isn’t struck right in the middle of the bar that it can create a “mushy” feeling where the bar doesn’t pop straight back up.
2. Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2
The HHKP2 is the best compact keyboard that features an uncommon 60 key layout. Featuring topre switches, this keyboard is loved by coding enthusiasts for it's unique feel, space saving size and alternate layout support.
Best Switches and Compact Design for Coding
The Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 is far by the best keyboard for programmers that love comfort. It combines a compact design with full size smooth Topre switches that give it a feel like no other. Be warned, the exceptional switches and ergonomic design will spoil you and you'll never be able to go back to another keyboard.
While many of the upper-tier coding keyboards use mechanical CherryMX switches, the Happy Hacking Professional 2 uses topre switches that produce the same (or depending on preference, greater) level of tactile feedback without quite as much noise, which is definitely something to consider if you don’t favor audible feedback. This means it's easier to listen to music and co-workers will be less annoyed by the amount of “clicking” coming from your desk.
Of note, this keyboard is extremely compact, especially compared to other keyboards on our list, with very efficient and minimalist key set. Great for saving space on your desk or travelling light when you need a keyboard that won't let you down. It comes with an uncommon 60 key layout and is available with lettered or blank keys. Notable changes to keys include the Ctrl key replacing Caps Lock and the Delete key moved down a spot closer to the Enter key. Some keys, like the delete key, can be reprogrammed to suit a different need (such as backspace instead).
This keyboard may not seem like the ideal choice if you are a Mac user, but many fans of this keyboard have noted that there a numerous function commands that allow the user to adjust screen brightness, volume, etc. Noticeably missing from this keyboard is a number pad, so if your programming efforts require a lot of computing, or in general you favor a number pad for numbered entry, you’ll need a separate attachment.
Unlike some of the newer competitors, this models built-in USB ports are only USB 2.0, providing somewhat slower file transfer speeds.
The HHKP2 is made by a small Japanese keyboard company called PFU Limited. It's not only known for it's exceptional build quality, unique design and amazing switches, it's a status symbol that will make any keyboard enthusiast jealous.
3. Kinesis Advantage 2
The Kinesis Advantage 2 is an ergonomic contour keyboard designed to alleviate finger and wrist pain, perfect for long coding sessions.
Cherry MX Brown
Best Ergonomic Coding Keyboard
If you suffer from keyboard related pain or injuries, look no further than the Kinesis Advantage 2 for the best ergonomic relief.
While the Kinesis Advantage 2 is a CherryMX keyboard that provides great feedback, both tactile and audible, the main selling point of this keyboard is its combination of ergonomic layout and unique contoured shape. The idea behind this layout is that it makes life as easy as possible on your hands and helps to prevent strain and tension in your wrists. So if you spend a great amount of time coding in batches, this keyboard is designed to prevent hand and wrist fatigue, carpal tunnel symptoms and arthritis exacerbation.
The unique placement of the keys puts your thumbs to work on more than just mashing the space bar all day. It might take a few days to get used to, but your hands will thank you in the long run.
Another nice feature is that the keyboard is completely programmable without any clunky software downloads. So if the unique layout isn’t quite to your liking, you can switch it up for a system that works best for you and also eliminates the major health risk factors of long-term typing.
The biggest drawback to this keyboard would be the learning curve, because unlike other keyboards for coding the layout of this design take a lot more getting used to.
4. Code Keyboard by WASD
The code keyboard is a minimalist keyboard with great layout support and excellent quality design from WASD Keyboards. It features white adjustable back-lighting and NKRO/6KRO capability.
Cherry MX Green/Clear
Best Coding Layout and Support
The Code Keyboard brightens our list as the only model to sport back lit keys which are reminiscent of the elegant macbook. Designed by coder Jeff Atwood through WASD Keyboards it features a simple design that comes in full size or tenkeyless.
The most unique aspect of the CODE line of keyboards is that their Cherry MX Clear switches provide all of the tactile feedback, with none of the clicking sound, for a one-of-a-kind experience. The key output is customizable and it has NKRO capabilities so that as many keys as are necessary can be pressed at once (great for those who like to use the keyboard as a navigation instrument as much or more than a mouse.)
In addition to the unique sound and feel of this keyboard, it is also very well backlit, meaning those late-night coding session will be a little bit easier, which stands out among many of these third-party keyboard options. Plus, there are media controls, and the keyboards come with the option for a number pad or a more compact layout.
Some users note that the actual feel of the key tops have somewhat sharp edges and aren’t very comfortable on their fingers for long periods of coding. However, other users have (very carefully) flipped the keys around to find that the bottom edge on top provides a much more comfortable feel.
With great feel and easy access to alternate layouts such as Dvorak or Colemak the Code Keyboard is a great option for any programmer. If you like to use custom keycaps, you should be warned that the back lighting and availability could limit your choices.
5. CM Storm QuickFire
The CM Storm Quickfire is the best budget keyboard that features mechanical Cherry MX switches and durable construction. The Quickfire comes in Full or TKL sizes and is easy to customize to your liking.
Cherry MX Blue/Brown/Green
Best Budget Mechanical Keyboard
The CM Storm QuickFire XT is a great bang for your buck keyboard and our pick for the best keyboard for programming under $100. It has a slim ergonomic design and steel back plate for durability. It also comes in Tenkeyless design (QuickFire Rapid).
The CM Storm Quickfire XT is primarily billed as a gaming keyboard, but the Cherry MX keys work extremely well for programmers as well, providing solid feedback and sitting themselves on top of a steel plate that provides a ton of stability. The company markets the keys as being able to withstand 50 million keystrokes each over their lifetimes.
This keyboard is also backlit, which comes in handy in low-light situations such as late-night coding sessions or airplane rides. It also has multimedia controls and comes with a detachable, braided USB cord that is perfect if you like to travel with your keyboard (say, between home and office computers). However, the biggest selling point might be the price point. While some mechanical keyboards can cost north of $200 or even $300, the CM storm quickfire can be found for under $100, making it a great keyboard for users who are unsure about a heftier investment into their first mechanical keyboard.
It was a hard choice deciding whether to put the QuickFire or the Filco Majestouch 2 on this list, but in the end we felt the price point was the tipping point. The QuickFire is made OEM by Costar, the same company that makes Filco. As with most technology, paying double doesn't always mean double the quality. In the end though, it comes down to feel and personal preference.
6. Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000
The Microsoft 4000 features an ergonomic sculpted design and membrane switches, making it a good keyboard that won't break the bank.
Best Membrane Keyboard
The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 get's a special mention as the only membrane keyboard to make the cut.
The first thing that’s going to stand out about the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 is the price tag. At under $40, it’s a bargain compared to the other keyboards on this list. However, it is also an ergonomic keyboard with a design engineered for better hand, wrist and forearm position. It also comes with a number pad attached with a backspace key above the number pad for more efficient data entry.
If you are a person with a few common functions every single day, like email clients and opening coding programs or previewing files in a browser, this keyboard has customizable hot keys to make your experience your own.
Many users complain that the actual keystrokes are not as great as they would like, not being mechanical, you won’t get much different feedback than a standard issue keyboard. In addition, there is the sense that you may get what you pay for, as several reviewers have noticed that the Ergonomic 4000 doesn’t take much wear and tear before starting to malfunction. If you’re simply looking to trade in a standard keyboard for an ergonomic model, this will serve you well. However, for power users, you may find that it’s not as complete as some of the other models.
The Microsoft 4000 is a great option if you need a spare keyboard around the house or office. What it lacks in mechanical switches, it makes up for in ergonomics and a great price point that anyone can afford.
How to Choose the Best Keyboard for Coding
Your choice of keyboard says a lot about you as a coder. Many programmers take pride in choosing a well designed quality keyboard that will last for years to come.
As the piece of gear that you’ll be doing most of your work on, it makes sense to get the best possible typing experience to help you become more efficient and productive.
Every programmer will have different needs and wants for their keyboard. Before buying a new keyboard, you should make a list of all the features that you use the most and make those a priority.
Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, but they can be categorized by the number of keys that they contain. The three main categories are Fullsize (100%), Tenkeyless (80%) and Compact (60%).
A full sized keyboard has a standard 104 keys. Many of the popular keyboards such as the Code Keyboard or the Das Keyboard Professional will have an option for “Tenkeyless” design. This means the number pad on the right hand side has been removed, resulting in only 87 keys.
This allows the keyboard not only to be smaller and more ergonomic, but it lets you move your mouse closer together so you don’t have to reach so far. Compact or 60% designs take this a step further and can be great for travelling light when you need a keyboard.
Why Keyboard Ergonomics Are Important for Coders
Keyboard ergonomics are an important aspect for coders who need to sit at a desk typing for long hours. A keyboard that isn’t ergonomically appropriate or adjusted can result in discomfort or pain. It can lead to serious conditions such as RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or carpal tunnel syndrome.
If you have suffered an injury in the past or are currently recovering an ergonomic keyboard can be a life saver.
Contoured or Sculpted Designs: The most common type of ergonomic keyboard features a sculpted design. These special curves and contours allow your hands to rest gently at angles that prevent strain, and often make the keys easier to reach. Examples of these ergonomic coding keyboards include the Kinesis Advantage 2, as well as the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 and Sculpt keyboards.
Split Keyboards: Over there years there have been a number of attempts at unconventional keyboard designs especially made for the use of coding and ergonomics. A keyboard that has been split into two sections allows both hands to distribute your typing evenly as well as allow a proper distance between your arms. Good examples of split keyboards include the ErgoDox EZ, Keyboardio 01, and Ultimate Hacking Keyboard.
Of course, these ergonomic designs aren’t without their drawbacks. Ergonomic keyboards are often radically different than what you’re used to, featuring things like split designs or contours. It can take time to get readjusted to a new layout, and they aren’t cheap. All those fancy curves and pads will often cost you a lot more than other keyboards. Many people who decide to pay the extra cash often view it as an investment for the future.
Your keyboard can often get a bad rep for causing injuries, but it’s important to do your part and make sure you are well informed and do things right. A poorly designed work space, incorrect body positioning or bad habits are all factors that can negatively affect your health.
Using a Wrist Rest for Improved Comfort
A simple way to improve the ergonomics of your keyboard is by using a wrist rest. This allows your palms to be raised while typing which eliminates the strain on your wrists. This is a simple way to improve the comfort of your keyboard and alleviate pain if you don’t want to switch to a more ergonomic design.
Wrist wrests come in all different shapes sizes and material, and you may need to check the height and length to see whether a specific model will work for the keyboard you choose. The best wrist wrests are often made out of finished wood or rubber and fit snugly against the bottom of your keyboard.
Mechanical Keyboards: Should You Switch?
Keyboards are classified by the system they use to register your key presses as you type. There are a number of different types that you can choose from, but the two most common are membrane and mechanical keyboards.
Membrane keyboards which most people are familiar with have rubber layers underneath the keys that connect when pressed. This cheaper manufacturing process results in a shorter lifespan and a feel which most people call mushy or spongy. Some believe these keyboards are harder on your fingers since you don’t know how much pressure is required before you “bottom out” or fully press the key.
Mechanical keyboards are known for their great build quality, durability and speed. They use a system called switches which consist of a small piece of plastic with a spring. Switches require controlled force to activate, which let you hear and feel exactly when the key has been pressed. This creates a unique feel and sound, and has benefits such as cutting down on unwanted typos. Any keyboard enthusiast will tell you that mechanical is the way to go.
What’s the Best Switch Color for Coding?
Common switch colors are Black, Red, Blue, Brown, Green, Clear, and Topre. While there might not seem to be a lot of difference between switch colors at first glance, the subtle changes can make a big difference in sound and feel.
For sound levels we recommend Blue switches for coding at home and Brown switches if you are a programmer who works in an office work setting. Topre switches have a unique sound and feel, and should be fine for any situation. As a general rule of thump Black and Red switches are often too soft for good typing performance.
The difference in feel and required pressure is completely up to personal preference, so we recommend testing a variety of colors before buying.
Blues are favored by fast touch typists for speed and precision. Blue switches provide a tactile bump and an audible “click” so you can feel and hear when the key has been pressed. They are often louder than other switches.
Brown switches are for both typing or gaming and require slightly less force to press than blue switches. Like blues the tactile bump is felt when pressed, but the click noise is not as loud. This makes them easier on the ears in an office setting, but this can also be solved with o-rings.
Topre switches are less common but highly regarded for any situation. Topre keys combine the switch spring design with the rubber layer of a membrane keyboard. This lets them have the speed of a switch with a smoother and quieter sound. They provide a strong tactile bump when pressed, but are surprisingly quiet and smooth.
Typing Noise and Office Coding Etiquette
Have you ever heard someone typing on the iconic IBM Model M Keyboard? Your first thought might have been that they were having a gun fight in the next room. There’s no question that mechanical keyboards are significantly louder than their rubber counterparts.
While all that click and clack might be okay at home it can be distracting when working in an office. When deciding on the right switch type, you should definitely consider the environment in which you’ll be working.
But don’t despair, if you don’t want to trade in your Cherry Blues just yet there are some alternatives that you can try. An easy way to silence clacky keys is by using o-rings to dampen their impact when pressed. This process can change the feel of your keys so you might need to do some experimenting to get them just right.
Alternate Keyboard Layouts for Programming
The design and placement of the keys is a big deciding factor. Don’t you hate it when you have to hold FN to use the function keys? Or maybe your fingers always slip because the backspace or enter key isn’t big enough. Don’t get distracted by all the flashing back lights and switches, if a key layout is bad, it’s bad.
While many prefer the common QWERTY layout, there are other options for programmers that use Dvorak, Colemak, etc. These layouts can have ergonomic benefits, as an example the Dvorak layout (shown below) helps minimizes hand movements by trying to keep you closer to the home row.
It’s important to choose a keyboard that will support and tailor to what you’re used to, including supported layouts and adjustable keys that let you switch them around. Sometimes the angles will be skewed when moving keycaps, so you should double check before you mix and match.
You might have heard of the term N-Key Rollover before, often abbreviated as NKRO. This term simply means that there is no limit to how many buttons you can press at one time, all of the key presses will register and be carried out. NKRO is often used by gamers or mistakenly perceived as useless by typists since only one key is pressed at a time when writing. There are some benefits though for programmers due to the extensive shortcut combinations that are often used.
Before USB connectors became the norm keyboards used PS/2 cables to plug into your computer. These old school cables naturally allowed NKRO and there was never any problems registering key presses. Nowadays, the standard USB keyboard normally only allows 6 keys to be pressed at once, not including modifiers like shift or ctrl. Full USB N-Key Rollover is available on some modern keyboards such as the Das Keyboard Professional 4 or the Filco Majestouch 2 if needed.
Programming Keyboard FAQs
Here’s a quick collection of some common frequently asked questions and useful resources for coding keyboards. If you have a question you’d like answered please leave a comment below and we can add it into the guide.
Key Remapping Software for Better Coding Layouts
One of the most underused features of your keyboard is the ability to remap and customize the keys to your liking.
Programming your keyboard is simple and easy, and only takes a few minutes. By doing so you can get rid of buttons that you never use, remap keys so they are more convenient, and make faster shortcuts. You can even create custom mappings for specific applications or editors if you don’t want your changes to be global.
Another great remapping feature is the ability to key bind custom macros to your keyboard. This allows you to automate tedious commands or string together a serious of actions.
Windows Software: AutoHotkey
Mac Software: Karabiner
There are endless ways that you can customize the look of your keyboard. Changing the keycaps on your keyboard literally only takes a few minutes, and can have stunning results. Some keyboards come with the option for blank keycaps that have no lettering, or you can achieve this look by replacing the keycaps yourself. This can help if you want to code faster and are struggling to master touch typing.
If you like to custom map your key binds, change layouts or prefer the feel of a certain key type then look into your options for available keycaps. Not all keyboards offer blank lettering out of the box though, and some keyboards with curved designs or back lighting are limited in the custom keycaps you can buy.
Why Should I Spend So Much on a Keyboard?
How much you spend on a new keyboard depends entirely on your level of enthusiasm for the product. Each keyboard has unique features and selling points which make it better for certain situations. Many people have multiple keyboards which they customize to their needs.
If you don’t care about quality and simply want to get the job done there are many cheap membrane keyboards on the market. If you want a keyboard that is durable, will last for years to come and will become part of your coding identity you’ll need to pay a bit more for a quality product.
Travelling with your Keyboard
Programmers who are always on the go need portable gear that’s easy to take with them. If you travel frequently buying a Tenkeyless or compact (60%) keyboard can save a lot of space in your bag.
Taking your keyboard to the office or on a trip is a relatively simple task. While you can buy a case for added protection, it’s rarely needed. Simply throwing it into your bag (or even a briefcase) to keep the board dry and out of the elements is all you’ll need.
Keyboards are some of the hardiest pieces of equipment you can own and travelling with them is easy. You can bang and scratch them with little effect, just don’t try throwing them against the wall when your projects goes sideways or your code won’t be the only thing that’s broken.
Making Your Choice
Now that you have a better idea what to look for in a keyboard and have seen our top picks, it’s time to make your choice. Hopefully this guide has helped you in finding the best keyboard for programming that will suit your needs. A great keyboard can make a huge difference in your work, but you should also think about pairing it with a powerful monitor specifically designed for coding.
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