Condensing your performance has become a hobby for many modern PC enthusiasts. In a deviation from the “bigger is better” mindset of ages passed, we’re seeing a trend in preference for the downright compact, and frankly we couldn’t be more thrilled (as evidenced by our review of SFF cases here).
Continuing in the vein of small-form factor PC builds, we have one of the ultimate accessories: the 65% mechanical keyboard. These tiny beauties are designed to take up less space on your desk but deliver an optimised experience. Whether you’re gaming, writing, editing, or coding, there is a compact keyboard out there for you.
In fact, to help you find that keyboard, we’ve put together a review of the best 65% mechanical keyboards 2021 has to offer us.
Table of Contents
- What is a 65 Keyboard?
- The Best Hot Swappable 65 Keyboard: Drop’s Alt High-Profile
- The Best Small Gaming Keyboard: Ducky’s One 2 SF
- The Best Wireless 65 Keyboard: Keychron’s K6
- The Best Office 65 Keyboard: Leopold’s fc660c
- The Budget Best 65 Mechanical Keyboard: Qisan’s Magicforce 68
- The Best of the Best 65% Mechanical Keyboards: KBD67v2 MKII by KBDfans
What is a 65 Keyboard?
Consider a standard keyboard. While there are many variations thereupon, there are a few things each one has, regardless of its intended use. There are the letter keys, the line of numbers atop the board, the spacebar and arrows, special commands like Function, Command, or Alt, and usually here is a number pad on the right-hand side.
In total, the number of keys on these boards adds up to somewhere between 101 and 104 keys. When you’re trying to conserve desk space, many argue that number is far too many to contend with. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that many people opt for smaller keyboard options.
By removing the number pad on the right of the board and using Function or Alt keys more, manufacturers can reduce the number of keys necessary for the board to work. When reduced to 65% of their size, these boards are left with 68 of their keys. That saves a whole lot of valuable desk space.
Interestingly, some people choose to go with full-sized keyboards even when trying to save space, simply because they don’t want to contend with the higher prices and reduced flexibility offered by a 65 keyboard. In the end, the decision comes down to the one hitting the keys.
Hot-Swappable vs. Soldered Keys
Many mechanical keyboards have a unique quality to them, and 65 mechanical keyboards fit easily into this group. With hot-swappable mechanical keyboards (65% and full-sized), the user can remove the board’s key switches or caps and replace them with their perfect combination. All this without going near a soldering iron. Soldered keys, on the other hand, require you to break out your tools to remove and replace key caps.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Many people find that hot-swappable keys are a great way to customise their keyboards to fit their workstation aesthetic and typing feel, but struggle with the limited layout offered on a 65 keyboard. Others enjoy the solid feel and durability of soldered key caps, but long for the customisability offered by hot-swappable keys.
Stay tuned, because we’ll be showing you the best of the best 65 keyboards with both variations.
Without any further ado, let’s get into it. If you’re after something quick, check out our gear table below.
|Keyboard||Price (USD)||Case||Key Caps||Hot Swappable?||USB-Style||Dimensions (mm)|
|ALT High-Profile||$230||Aluminium||PBT||Yes||USB-C||322 x 112 x 40|
|Ducky One 2 SF||$109||Polycarbonate||ABS or PBT||No||USB-C||325 x 108 x 40|
|Keychron K6||$69||Aluminium||ABS||Version available||USB-C||313 x 104 x 37|
|Leopold fc660c||$239||Polycarbonate||PBT||No||Mini-USB||328 x 111 x 40|
|Qisan Magicforce 68||$40 and up||Plastic||ABS||No||Mini-USB||335 x 103 x 14|
|KBDfans KBD67v2 MKII||$235||Aluminium or Polycarbonate||Your choice||Version available||USB-C||313 x 108 x 29|
The Best Hot Swappable 65 Keyboard: Drop’s Alt High-Profile
- Tall case is ergonomically crafted
- Minimal size with maximum impact
- Hot-swap switch sockets with plate-mounted cherry-style stabilizers for ultimate dependability
- Additional Drop Skylight key cap sets available on purchase
- Swappable with plate-mount switches (Cherry MZ, Kaihua, or Halo) only.
- Angle is potentially too much for some, may require a wrist rest.
- Among the most expensive on the market at $230 USD.
- Limited RGB lighting modes
Drop’s motto is “passions lead here”, and if you’ve got a passion for hot swappable 65 keyboards, that couldn’t be truer. At its core, Drop is a company that builds PC peripherals for their community, using data and insights from their passionate customer base to tailor each new drop. Now, their community is 7 million people strong, and their products are better than ever.
So, why did we choose their High-Profile ALT keyboard instead of the original? We’re in love with the tall CNC-aluminium case. It’s been machined to a 6-degree angle (nothing too insane), which makes typing out an essay or crushing an FPS session that much easier. Not only that, it’s heavy enough to handle the stress of a highly immersed writing or gamer banging away at their keyboard.
We chose this keyboard for its hot-swappable potential because it incorporates all the benefits of switching out your keys with none of the downsides. QMK firmware on the board means you can assign macros to accommodate for the absence of function keys as well.
Overall, we enjoy this keyboard for its attention to what the user may need or want. Offering ultra-customization, this board is made for those who want some control over their workstation’s aesthetic and functionality, and we’re here for it.
The Best Small Gaming Keyboard: Ducky’s One 2 SF
- OEM profile keys means they’re easy to swap out
- Full macro support
- RGB, and each key has its own customisable LED
- Includes arrow keys for gamers who can’t live without them
- USB-C cable is detachable
- Durable, compact, great for gaming.
- Pretty expensive (but we think it’s worth it)
- Marginally bigger than the Ducky One SF due to the arrow keys
- Generic USB-C cable can detract from the look of it
- Not hot-swappable
If we’re talking small gaming keyboards, it’s impossible to look past Ducky. As one of the first companies to break SF keyboards to the world, these guys know what they’re doing when it comes to 65 mechanical keyboards of any kind (workstation or gaming, you pick).
The Ducky One 2 SF is the ideal gaming keyboard for a huge number of reasons. The compact board puts the keys close together, making it easy for gamers to switch with minimal movement while gaming. You can keep your mouse close to the body and prevent tired arms or wrists with the minimal size of the board. The German Cherry MX keys are macro-enabled, and despite its minimal size you’ll still have full use of arrow keys, delete, page up, and page down keys.
The keys are PBT double-shot with a seamless feel, so not only are they durable enough for an intense gaming session, they’re smooth to the touch. In addition, the anti-ghosting dual layer PCB can handle any number of simultaneous key presses with the option of N-key or 6-key rollover. Never watch your avatar die from a lost key command ever again.
As every gaming keyboard should, this SF board has diversified RGB with fully customizable hardware. In other words, the thing breathes colour, lighting up your station when the lights go down and the headset goes on. We love this board for its size, for its function, and for its attention to the specific needs of a gamer. If you fall into that class, you won’t find a better SF gaming keyboard.
The Best Wireless 65 Keyboard: Keychron’s K6
- Wireless or wired (comes with detachable USB-C cable).
- Awesome battery life
- Hot-swappable version comes with Gateron switches pre-fitted
- Compatible with both Mac and Windows
- Connects to up to 3 devices via Bluetooth.
- Fantastic for lower budgets (either for gaming or workstation)
- Built-in remapping options for the macro afficionados
- Cranked to 9-degrees with a really tall case, so can be tough to type or game on
- Soldered versions used slippery ABS caps
- Very light and easy to shift while typing or gaming
- No remapping software as of yet
The K6 is Keychron’s first foray into SF mechanical keyboards, and they decided to focus on functionality in the workspace. This beautifully designed keyboard has a minimal desk footprint, and ergonomic design, and contains all the necessary multimedia and function keys (through simultaneous key presses). Keychron paid particular attention to the arrow and shift keys, grouping them into the bottom right of the keyboard to provide full functionality without taking up anymore space.
Now, we’re calling this the best wireless 65 mechanical keyboard for a reason. The battery capacity on this little beauty is 4000mAh, which translates to up to 9 days of normal use (or 72 straight hours if you’re feeling crazy). Connect to three different Bluetooth devices with ease (no need to worry about any drains on battery, they’ve accounted for that). They don’t skimp on the RGB to save battery life. In fact, they go in the opposite direction, offering 18 RGB modes alongside a static white backlight.
Finally, we love the attention to detail! Most SF keyboard enthusiasts are searching for the perfect intersection between space saving and typing feel, and the K6 hits the nail on the head. Choose from three switch options – the Gateron Mechanical, LK Optical, or Hot-swappable. The hot-swappable version comes with Gateron switches pre-installed (an awesome bonus). Not to mention, you can choose from red, blue, and brown switches for each version to customise your ideal typing feel.
If you’re building a mega-portable SFF build (like the Velkase Velka 3), we couldn’t recommend anything better.
The Best Office 65 Keyboard: Leopold’s fc660c
- Plate-mounted Topre capacitive switches give a solid feel.
- Layout makes keyboard navigation a breeze.
- Re-mapping is available for people who prefer a different layout to the standard ANSI.
- PBT dye-subbed keycaps, heavier case, and rubber footing all indicate a high-quality build.
- Very pricey ($239 USD).
- Aesthetic is fairly one-dimensional.
- Not hot-swappable, so break out the soldering iron for any customisation.
The fc660c from Leopold differs from the other keyboards on this list in a few ways. Most notably, it uses premium Topre capacitive switches to deliver one of the smoothest, most responsive typing experiences around. They’re the reasons this board’s price is so high, but we think it’s worth it if you’ve got the budget. Unfortunately, this one isn’t hot-swappable, so changing the key caps will require you to break out the soldering iron.
That said, the key caps are beautifully made. Dye-subbed PBT keycaps are smooth to the touch and you can be confident the lettering isn’t rubbing off any time soon.
So, why is this the best office keyboard? Well, the feeling of typing on this keyboard is almost incomparable, and the presence of a full suite of remappable function keys is hard to beat. A satisfying ‘thock’ rings out after each keystroke, delighting mechanical keyboard enthusiasts everywhere. A solid case anchors the keyboard to your desk, so you don’t have to worry about it shifting while you’re banging out that novel.
While the keyboard does lack some aesthetic choices (RGB lighting and multi-coloured keys are nowhere to be seen), we think that works well for anyone after a minimalist at-home setup.
The Budget Best 65 Mechanical Keyboard: Qisan’s Magicforce 68
- White backlighting for a clean look
- Rubberized feet for stability
- Detachable mini-USB cable
- Standard bottom row layout, including the function keys
- Key switches are plate mounted. Options for Gateron, Cherry, or Oetemu.
- Incredible price for an SF keyboard.
- Minimal appearance
- Cheap price means cheap materials
- Slippery ABS keycaps
- No customization or remapping software
- Keys rattle while typing or gaming
- Minimal options
- Switches aren’t hot-swappable
If you’re just breaking into the world of 65 mechanical keyboards and you’re looking for something budget friendly, Qisan’s Magicforce 68 is the model for you. At just $40 USD (with the Oetemu Brown switches) you can pick up this minimal, beautifully streamlined keyboard and give the compact 65% layout a try. In fact, the standard bottom row helps anyone new to this layout transition from a full keyboard into a 68-key suite.
We obviously love this keyboard for its budget, but we’re also very impressed with how much it does within the cost restrictions. While the materials used to create the board aren’t as high-quality as most would like, Qisan has done what they can to optimise the board’s layout and design to compensate.
Available in a Gateron, Cherry, or Oetemu switch versions (each eith Blue, Brown, and Red) you can choose your typing experience. This number of options is rare on budget keyboards, and it’s definitely something we enjoy. You can also customise the keycaps for your desired aesthetic, but the minimal white and silver of the original board is great for any home office as it is.
Overall, this is a great entry-level mechanical 65 keyboard, and further iterations from Qisan will hopefully be even better.
The Best of the Best 65% Mechanical Keyboards: KBD67v2 MKII by KBDfans
- Many iterations for you to choose from
- High-quality brass plate and weight alongside your aluminium case.
- Detachable USB-C for easy portability.
- Purchasing components separately lets you build the perfect keyboard for you.
- Choice between hot-swappable and soldered.
- Rubber feet for stability.
- Kit doesn’t feature switches, key caps, or stabilizers, so you’ll have to buy them separately.
- Expensive to buy the case and plate, and other components on top of that will rack up the price.
- Availability. You’ll need to be quick to pick one up!
And now, for something unique. The best 65 mechanical keyboard on the market right now ( at least according to us) is the KBD67v2 MKII. KBDfans is the mechanical keyboard-lover’s Mecca, a place where builders and SFF enthusiasts flock to find the latest and greatest DIY kits, fully assembled boards, switches, key caps, and more. From their vast spectrum of high-quality keyboard assembly kits, we couldn’t help choosing the KBD67v2 MKII.
This is not a pre-assembled keyboard, it’s a do-it-yourself kind of job. The MKII comes in a variety of iterations, so you can order the case and plate that suits your needs best. While the price is definitely up there, it reflects the premium quality of the case to a tee. This is the case and plate you use to build a keyboard you’ll keep with you for the rest of your life.
Their high quality anodized aluminium cases come in Black, Silver, Grey, Rose Gold, and White, or a PCB case in those same colours. The case is beautifully weighty, and the plate for mounting key switches provides the best possible foundation for any switch you choose (soldered or hot swap). Make sure you budget for the switches, key caps, USB-C cable and stabilizers to be bought separately. Happily, this allows you the freedom to customise on a high-quality foundation. Whether you’re a music producer, a gamer, a video editor, or a novel writer, this is a keyboard that will undoubtedly go the distance.