Upgrading from your old laptop or membrane keyboard to a mechanical keyboard can be overwhelming for beginners. With so many sizes, switch types, and customization options, it’s hard to know where to start. Follow this easy guide to choose the perfect first mechanical keyboard.

Choose a Keyboard Size and Layout

The first step is picking a keyboard size and layout that suits your needs. The most common options are:

  • Full Size (100%) – Has number pad and full set of keys. Good if you need the number pad.
  • TKL (Tenkeyless, 80%) – No number pad, but has arrow keys. More compact.
  • 60-65% – Very compact with no number pad or arrow keys. Access those keys via function layer. Good for small desks.

Also consider ISO vs ANSI layout based on your region.

Get a Hot-Swappable Prebuilt Keyboard

As a beginner, get a prebuilt hot-swappable keyboard. This means all the switches and keycaps come pre-installed, but you can open it up and swap switches later. Buying custom is more complex and expensive.

Pay Attention to Base Color

Keycaps are easy to swap, but the keyboard base color remains fixed. Pick a base color that matches your desired keycap set.

Learn About Switch Types

Main switch types are:

  • Clicky (e.g. Blue) – Loud, click sound. Fun but noisy.
  • Tactile (e.g Brown) – Bump feedback when pressed. Good for typing.
  • Linear (e.g. Red) – Smooth press, no bump. Fast for gaming.

Good Beginner Brands for $80-$120

Top starter keyboards in the $80-120 range:

  • Keychron – Well built, wired + wireless. Great value.
  • Royal Kludge RK84 – Budget plastic build but solid performer.
  • GMK67 – Premium aluminum case and build quality.

Customize Later with Switches and Keycaps

Once you pick a board, customize by swapping switches for different feel and sound. Add fun keycap sets to match your style.

Following these tips will lead you to the perfect starter mechanical keyboard. Don’t be afraid to start small and customize later as you develop your preferences. Happy clacking!

Consider Wired vs Wireless

Most custom mechanical keyboards are wired via USB cable. But some prebuilt options offer wireless connectivity via Bluetooth or a USB dongle. Go wireless if you don’t want to be tethered to your computer.

Check for RGB Lighting

Many mechanical keyboards now include RGB backlighting, allowing you to customize colors and effects. Make sure to view keyboard lighting tests on YouTube to see the effects. Always option to turn off lighting if not needed.

Research Software and Customization

Some keyboards come with configuration software to customize settings like macros and keybinds. Do some research to see if the software fits your needs, but it’s not critical for most beginners.

Join the Mechanical Keyboards Community

The mechanical keyboard community on Reddit and YouTube is passionate and helpful. Join forums, watch build videos, and ask questions to learn more about these fun hobbyist keyboards! It’s an endlessly customizable world.