Mechanical keyboards come in a variety of sizes, known as form factors, each with their own pros and cons. Choosing the right size keyboard for your needs can make a huge difference in your typing experience and desk setup. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the most common mechanical keyboard sizes and help you decide which is best for you.
Full Size (100%)
The full size keyboard is the most common and classic layout. It features all 104-108 keys including a number pad, navigation cluster, function keys, and full alphanumeric section.
- Includes every standard key, good for data entry
- Widely available from major brands
- Works for all typing styles
- Takes up a lot of desk space
- Requires a lot of mouse movement
The full size keyboard is a safe choice suitable for all typing styles. It’s the way to go if you rely on having a number pad and don’t want to compromise on key count. Brands like Corsair, Logitech, and Razer primarily offer boards in this layout.
The 1800 compact keyboard squeezes the full size into a smaller footprint by bringing the number pad closer to the main section. The navigation cluster moves to the top right. Overall the 1800 layout trims off about 3 columns versus a standard full size board.
- Includes full number pad
- More compact than full size
- Quality options like Leopold FC980M
- Limited selection
- Cramped layout can cause typing errors
The 1800 layout hits a nice balance between full functionality and a smaller footprint. It’s great for number crunching while reclaiming some desk space. However, not many major brands offer this form factor.
Extremely compact 96% boards cram all the keys of a full size into the smallest possible frame. The layout squeezes the number pad, navigation cluster, and main section together without gaps.
- Very small with full functionality
- Space-saving for small desks
- Cramped, hard to navigate
- Limited key spacing ergonomics
The 96% form factor pushes compactness to the extreme. If you want a number pad without sacrificing any keys, it’s a great pick. Just be prepared for tighter key spacing that may impact comfort.
Tenkeyless is a widely popular form factor that removes the number pad for a more compact size. TKL boards have around 87 keys retaining the main QWERTY section, function row, and navigation cluster.
- Improved ergonomics with close mouse position
- Familiar clustered layout
- Market staple with abundant options
- Lacks number pad
Tenkeyless strikes an excellent balance of comfort and functionality for most users. The form factor opens up mousing space while keeping a familiar key layout. As a keyboard market staple, there are tons of quality TKL options from budget to premium.
The 75% form factor condenses the TKL layout removing gaps between clusters. 75% keyboards have around 84 keys including function row, arrows, and some navigation keys.
- Very compact with function row intact
- Arrow keys retained
- Can feel cramped without gaps
- Limited ISO (European) options
With a 75% keyboard you get an impressively small footprint while keeping dedicated arrow keys and function row. It’s one of the most condensed sizes before major compromises are made. You can expect a snug clustered layout and fewer keycaps options though.
65% keyboards ax the function row of a 75% for an even more compact footprint retaining arrow keys and main alphas. The typical 65% has around 68 keys. Famous 65% layout keyboard is gmk67 mechanical keyboard.
- Highly portable and space saving
- Arrow keys retained
- Abundant budget and premium options
- Requires function layer for F-keys
The 65% layout hits a sweet spot of portability and usability. The minimalist form factor looks clean and symmetric while keeping arrow keys. Expect to use layers to access function and navigation keys. Due to popularity, 65% boards are widely available from entry to high-end.
60% boards are an ultra-compact format removing arrow keys for maximized portability. Around 61 keys are crammed into a tiny footprint.
- Extremely compact and portable
- Simple aesthetics
- Lack of dedicated arrows inconvenient
- Heavy use of layers required
With everything pared down to the bare essentials, the 60% layout pushes compact size to the limit. Be prepared to access navigation and function keys through complex layer-tapping. The small size makes it a favorite for minimalists focused on portability.
When choosing your next mechanical keyboard, consider how you want to balance desktop space and key count. Streamlined tenkeyless or 60% boards optimize space while full size and 96% prioritize functionality. For most users, 65% and 75% hit the best balance between the two. Ultimately, deciding on the right size comes down to identifying your must-have keys and ideal typing position.