Macros are great; whether for work or play, they can cut out a lot of repetitive key presses and help you streamline your daily activities. But setting them up can be a pain if your keyboard doesn’t have dedicated macro keys. That’s where the best programmable keypads come in, expanding your input possibilities without the hassle and cost of getting a whole new mechanical keyboard.
From Photoshop shortcuts to Twitch chat emotes, the best macro pads are flexible, multi-purpose tools. Whether you want to record long, complex macros or just need something to use as a dedicated Numpad from time to time, our picks will have you covered.
Our Favorite Macro Pads
|Switch Type(s)||Cherry MX Blue/Brown/Silent|
Programmable macro keypads tend to increase in price relative to how many keys they have. The Max Keyboard Falcon-20 bucks that trend by offering 20 fully-programmable keys for around $50. But it’s not just good value; it’s a solid keypad overall with few compromises.
The Falcon-20 is a relatively no-frills product, with no volume rollers or knobs. But it’s solidly built: you get a range of Cherry MX and Gateron switches, all held in place by a CNC-milled aluminum plate. Small touches, but welcome nonetheless.
The Falcon-20 comes pre-programmed as a standard keyboard Numpad, but you can easily reprogram it using Max Keyboard’s proprietary software. It lets you do basic operations, such as remapping keys, recording macros, and setting individual RGB colors and modes for each of the Falcon-20’s five layers.
The Falcon-20’s best software feature is likely the “program sync” option, which lets you associate any of the Falcon-20’s layers with a specific program. After setting this up, starting the program will make the Falcon-20 switch automatically to the matching layer. You can’t go too crazy since you only have five layers, but it’s still an excellent feature for multi-taskers.
Overall, the Max Keyboard Falcon-20’s affordable price and solid software make it a perfect value-conscious option for the general user. Unless you have very specific needs, this might be the only macro keypad you’ll ever need.
Interested in the Falcon-20 but don’t need as many keys? Max Keyboard also makes the Falcon-8. Given the similar price between the two, though, we think you might as well get the Falcon-20.
|Switch Type(s)||Razer Mecha-Membrane|
|Programming||Proprietary software (Razer Synapse)|
With its ergonomic shape, a generous number of keys, full programmability, and thumb cluster, Razer’s Tartarus V2 is arguably the perfect keyboard replacement keypad for gamers. Need something even smaller than a 60% gaming keyboard? Check this out.
The Tartarus V2 is a well-equipped keypad, boasting 19 keys in the main cluster, an eight-way directional pad, thumb buttons, and a mouse wheel. There are more than enough keys and inputs here for almost any game, although it’s definitely best for FPS and action games centered around the WASD (or ESDF) movement keys.
One aspect of the Tartarus V2’s setup that might catch you off guard is the thumbstick. While it looks similar to the analog thumbsticks on your Xbox controller, the Tartarus doesn’t offer 360-degree analog movement. The thumbstick isn’t a mouse replacement, and it still only moves in eight directions like a traditional d-pad.
Depending on the game you’re playing, you might find more use in mapping the eight movement inputs to extra key commands or macros. Thankfully, that’s straightforward to do via Razer’s Synapse software. All 32 of the Tartarus V2’s inputs are programmable, either with single keys or “unlimited-length” macros.
You get eight profiles, switchable using a dedicated button on the Tartarus V2. Unfortunately, the Tartarus V2 doesn’t have any onboard memory, so you’ll have to keep Synapse running if you want to access any of your profiles.
Overall, the Razer Tartarus V2 is a compelling gaming-focused keypad that works great as a computer keyboard replacement if you’re after a truly compact setup. It’s also a valid option for a productivity macro pad, especially if you like the shape and thumb-access keys.
Razer makes a pricier version, the Tartarus Pro, with analog-input Razer Optical switches. However, the analog inputs seem like a gimmick, with many users having trouble getting them working and registering properly. So we think the cheaper Tartarus V2 is the better buy for most users.
|Keys||15 (plus three knobs)|
|Switch Type(s)||MX-style hot-swap (5-pin)|
Anyone who’s used a keyboard with a volume knob knows how convenient they can be. But surprisingly few macro pads have jumped on the bandwagon. Enter the Spider Island macro pad, a hot-swappable 15-key macro pad with three programmable knobs.
All three knobs on the Spider Island macro pad are endless encoders, with some tactile feedback when turning. In other words, the knobs will rotate endlessly, with no physical “stop,” which is essential when using knobs to control software-based parameters.
Beyond the knobs, the Spider Island macro pad features 15 Kailh hot-swap sockets for switches, making it compatible with almost any Cherry MX-style switch. You can choose from a few different Gateron switches at checkout or opt for a blank unit if you already have switches. You’ll have to supply keycaps yourself, though, as there isn’t an option to buy the macro pad with keycaps.
The Spider Island macro pad uses the open-source keyboard firmware QMK or VIA for programming. It’s a flexible solution, offering you a ton of options and multiple layers (up to 32 layers if you build custom QMK firmware). However, it does have a learning curve that most proprietary solutions don’t have. For instance, QMK/VIA don’t have a macro recording feature; you’ll have to program them yourself.
One common complaint with the Spider Island macro pad is that the hot-swap sockets are slightly loose. This isn’t a problem most of the time, but you might pull the switch out of the socket when trying to remove keycaps; not a huge deal as they’re hot-swappable, but something to watch out for regardless. It might get annoying if you regularly change keycaps.
The Spider Island macro pad isn’t flawless, but it’s an affordable, deeply customizable option that’s perfect if you want knobs with your programmable keypad. Getting to grips with the firmware will take a while, but we feel it’s worth the effort.
The Spider Island macro pad is available in black or see-through white, in RGB and non-RGB versions.
|Switch Type(s)||MX-style hot-swap (5-pin)|
The duckyPad is an open-source, DIY-friendly programmable keypad with a powerful scripting language, hot-swap switches, and an OLED display. It has a bit of a learning curve, but it has a lot of potential if you’re willing to get to grips with it. And no, it has nothing to do with the keyboard company Ducky.
The OLED display is the duckyPad’s most visible standout feature. It’s a simple monochrome display that shows profile and key names, which is essential considering the duckyPad has room for 32 onboard profiles (stored on a microSD card; more on this later).
You can set up your 32 profiles manually or use a companion program. No matter which method you choose, the duckyPad lets you name profiles and keys, set up RGB lighting, and program macros using duckyScript.
While the OLED screen might be an obvious headline feature, duckyScript is arguably where the duckyPad truly excels. It’s a text-based scripting language that lets you write anything from simple hotkey commands to multi-line scripts for executing multiple tasks consecutively.
DuckyScript will take some getting used to, but it makes the duckyPad an incredibly flexible keypad that works with more than just computers. Smartphones, game consoles, and even household appliances are fair game, provided you can figure out the scripting.
The duckyPad stores all your scripts and settings on a removable microSD card. This is slightly unorthodox, but it makes transporting configurations between different duckyPads incredibly easy. It also bypasses the need for pricey onboard memory, keeping the cost relatively low.
PC users will appreciate the profile auto-switcher program, which switches duckyPad profiles based on your currently active window. It’s an incredibly useful program that’s essential for anyone who uses multiple apps concurrently and needs macros for some (or all) of them.
Overall, the duckyPad’s flexibility and OLED display make it one of the best programmable macro pads available. It’s not as straightforward to set up as keypads with proprietary configuration software solutions, which will limit its appeal. However, those who like to tinker will find much to enjoy here.
5. X-Keys XK-60
|Programming||Proprietary software (MacroWorks)|
Most of the programmable keypads on our list are relatively small, and take advantage of multiple profiles to go beyond physical layout limitations. But what if you need a ton of keys for complex workflows without switching between profiles?
X-Keys make two large keypads, the XK-60 with 60 keys and the XKE-128 with 128 keys. We’re discussing the XK-60 here, but almost everything applies to the XKE-128 as well; the only real difference is that the latter has double the number of keys.
X-Keys’ programmable keypads eschew fancy features such as mechanical switches, per-key RGB, and extra controls such as rollers or knobs. Instead, they’re relatively simple, with membrane switches, relegendable keycaps, two-color RGB, and a wholly utilitarian design.
All of X-Keys’ programmable keypads use MacroWorks, the company’s proprietary software, for programming. It looks quite outdated, but it’s a powerful piece of software. Beyond the usual per-key programming, MacroWorks also lets you create custom Visual Basic scripts, assign multiple commands to a single key, and assign different commands depending on the application.
X-Keys’ keypads also have onboard memory, so you can flash a layout permanently to your keypad. This makes the X-Keys products fully portable and almost fully cross-platform. While MacroWorks only runs on Windows, flashing the layout to the keypad means it’ll work on Mac and Linux systems without issue.
Overall, the X-Keys keypads are the best programmable keypads for those of you who need as many keys as possible in a single unit. They’re not cheap, but that’s the price you pay for great software and this many keys in one place.
|Programming||Proprietary software (MacroWorks)|
At first glance, the ELSRA PK-2068 might appear like your average USB Numpad. And while it indeed works as a Numpad first and foremost, the PK-2068 has a fully-programmable second layer. So it’s perfect for a budget setup in need of some extra keys.
The PK-2068’s first layer has a mostly-fixed Numpad layout, except for the four blank keys on the top row. These are programmable using the PK-2068’s software. The second layer is almost entirely programmable, except for the large Enter key. The small LED window at the top shows you which layer you’re on: green for the basic layer and orange for the second.
Two layers isn’t a lot, but it’s enough if you only need a macro pad for one particular program or task. If you only need ten or so keys for managing your stream, you might as well save your money and get this instead of any of the pricier options. Sure, it only has membrane switches and a plastic body, but you have to give something up for the price.
Another limitation is that the PK-2068’s software only supports macros up to 30 characters long. That’s not bad, but it pales compared to the unlimited-length macros of the Razer Tartarus V2 or open-source products. But the ELSRA is less than half the price of the Tartarus V2, so you’d expect that sort of compromise.
That said, it trumps the Razer unit in one aspect: onboard memory. So even if you can only program 30-character macros, you at least don’t have to keep any software running to use your custom macros.
This makes it great for an office environment where you may not have admin access to install the software. In another nod to office and productivity use, the ELSRA PK-2068 also has a USB passthrough, perfect for those who regularly connect USB storage or other peripherals.
The ELSRA PK-2068 isn’t a flashy product, and its limitations mean it’s not for power users who need long macros and a bunch of layers. But if you need something simple and cheap for basic shortcuts, this is worth investigating.
Before You Buy
How Many Keys?
The most crucial part of choosing a programmable keyboard is deciding how many keys it should have. While this will depend entirely on your needs, we can offer some advice that should help you decide.
Start by deciding how many macros you need to have access to at any given time. Do you want to program, say, 20 macros in total but only need 4 or 5 at one time? In that case, you can get a smaller macro pad and rely on its layers to get you all the commands you need.
But if you need all 20 on-hand all the time, you should consider getting a keypad with enough (or more) keys so that you won’t have to juggle all those layers.
There’s no right or wrong here, although the former approach runs the risk of you losing track of your macros. We suggest programming unique backlight colors for each layer to help with that. Or you could just buy the duckyPad and use its OLED display to help you keep track.
Programmable keypads tend to fall into two categories: those with proprietary software and those that use open-source firmware. As with so many things, there isn’t a clear-cut answer about which of the two is better. Each has pros and cons and will likely appeal to different users.
Programmable keypads with proprietary software (like the Razer Tartarus V2 and Max Keyboards Falcon-20) are generally easier to set up and program, with great visual tools for mapping keys and recording macros. However, you’re limited to what the developers had in mind, with little room for tinkering.
On the other hand, open-source firmware and scripting solutions tend to have more significant learning curves. Both QMK and duckyScript rely on scripting to pull off macros, which is harder than just recording a series of keypresses in Razer Synapse. But the payoff is that you can come up with more complex macros that might not be possible with a recording-based approach.
Open-source solutions also tend not to have any telemetry or “spyware” built-in, nor do they intrude on your privacy by asking you to register to use them. Proprietary software solutions such as Razer Synapse are often guilty of this behavior.
Of course, there are always exceptions, but the differences we’ve outlined here apply to most macro pad programming solutions. If you only need simple macros and aren’t much of a tweaker, a macro pad with easy-to-use proprietary software is probably better.
One thing to watch out for with programmable keypads is the software’s OS compatibility. While the keypads themselves will likely work on any OS, many proprietary macro keypads have Windows-only software. So you’ll often still need access to a Windows machine to set up your macro keypad.
For Mac and Linux users, check whether there’s a port of your keypad’s programming software before committing. And be prepared to set up a Windows virtual machine if your keypad doesn’t support your OS of choice.
Note that this tends to be less of an issue with GMK-powered keypads, as it uses a web-based editor that works regardless of OS.
This is a minor point, but one worth mentioning nonetheless. You can orient most smaller macro pads horizontally or vertically, but not all keycaps will fit sideways on switches. If you want to have your macro pad sideways and have the legends face the right way, you’ll have to find keycaps that will go on your switches sideways.
There doesn’t seem to be any way of telling which keycap sets will work sideways and which won’t, so this will involve some trial and error on your part. Of course, this depends on how much you care about aesthetics and your legends being in the correct orientation. But we think it’s worth the effort getting the right caps:
Macro pads are an oft-overlooked addition to a computer user’s arsenal. They’re not as flashy as mechanical keyboards, but they play a vital role in expanding your input possibilities. The best programmable keypads have you covered, whether you’re trying to cut down on those awkward keyboard shortcuts or need instant access to Twitch chat emoticons.
Our picks are just a tiny sampling of the many programmable keypads available. We think the Max Keyboard Falcon-20 is one of the best macro pads overall due to its easy-to-use software and relatively affordable price. But if you’re an enthusiast, you’ll probably want to skip it and head straight for either the Spider Island macro pad or the duckyPad.