A mechanical keyboard is a high-performance keyboard with individual switches under each keycap. A mechanical keyboard provides superior performance with tactile and audio feedback to execute every keystroke with superior precision and superior speed. The individual switches allows your computer to register every key as you hit it making it a necessity for fast typists, gamers, programmers or anyone who appreciates a premium built product. Mechanical keyboards have a longer lifespan than membrane keyboards because of the durability and construction of the mechanical switches.
A mechanical keyboard is a high-performance keyboard with individual switches under each keycap. A mechanical keyboard provides superior performance with tactile and audio feedback to execute every keystroke with superior precision and superior speed. The individual switches allows your computer to register every key as you hit it making it a necessity for fast typists, gamers, programmers or anyone who appreciates a premium built product. Mechanical keyboards have a longer lifespan than membrane keyboards because of the durability and construction of the mechanical switches.3 key advantages are:
The most inexpensive keyboards, like the ones that come with computers, utilize a flexible membrane layer beneath the keys. When you press a key, it causes the membrane to press down and make contact with a bottom layer. An issue with this type of keyboard is that the key must be completely pressed, also known as “bottoming out”, in order to register. There is also little to no tactile feedback. Without tactile feedback it is very difficult to type without bottoming out every keystroke. Mechanical keyboards, however, use a switch underneath every key. Depending on the type of switch, they have a variety of response and travel times. The differences amongst them include the tactile feel and audible click each produces. Switches on a mechanical keyboard are made to last to 50-60 million keystrokes. Compared to membrane switches, which typically last around 1-10 million keystrokes. A mechanical keyboard is the only keyboard with the capability to register all keys at one time, also known as full N-Key Rollover. This is helpful for fast typists that need to hit keys in quick succession and gamers who need to mash key combos quickly. Plus, not having to bottom out with each key allows you to type faster with less energy, significantly improving typing and gaming speed.
|Keys||Membrane strip on each row of keys||Individual switches under each key|
|Lifecycle||1-10 million keystrokes||50-60 million keystrokes|
|Keys registered per key press||1 key||All keys (NKRO)|
|Sound||Quiet||Audible click when typing|
Actuation Point is the point at which the contact mechanism registers a key press. Key Blocking is when multiple keys are depressed simultaneously, your keyboard will not recognize future keystrokes until the original keys are lifted. Keyboards have a maximum number of keys it can register at one time and if you depress more than its limit, it won’t register the other key presses. Key Ghosting can occur when three keys are pressed at once and a fourth keystroke you did not press is registered by your computer. Key Rollover is the number of keys that can be pressed in succession without having to lift a finger from any of the previous keys. Keyboards use the term KRO to represent the maximum number of keys you can press without experiencing any key blocking. NKRO refers to N-Key Rollover, the ultimate in keyboards. A keyboard with N-Key Rollover can register as many keys as you can press at once without any key blocking issues. Reset Point is the point when the mechanism ceases to register the key press. Tactile Point is the point during the keypress at which the bump occurs to indicate to your finger that the key has been actuated.
There are many different types of switches found in mechanical keyboards. Switches differ in how they close the circuit, signal a key depression, the amount of tactile bump, and the loudness of the click when the key is depressed.
Cherry MX are mechanical switches that consist of a spring and two metal contacts. When depressed, it causes the plastic stem to go down, at which point a steel spring inside closes the switch, signaling the key has been depressed. One of the benefits of Cherry MX switches is the gold-plated contacts. The gold prevents the contacts from rusting, increasing the lifespan of the switch. There are a variety of switch constructions for these types of keys, and they can be differentiated by the color of the stem.
The Brown switches are about halfway between a typing and a gaming switch. Unlike the black switches, the browns have a soft, tactile bump about halfway through the key press. The Brown switches have tactile feedback, but the audio feedback isn’t quite as noticeable as Blue switch. The Brown switches have a softer click when depressed and require less force to actuate. The Cherry MX Brown switches have an actuation force of 55cN.
The Blue switches are popular within the typing community because of the “clicky” tactile bump when the activation point is hit. The overall experience of Blue switches is very similar to typewriters allowing typist to hear the audible feedback when the key is registered and feel a nice tactile bump. This helps to increase typing speed and reduces bottoming out. The Cherry MX Blue switches have actuation force of 60cN.
Cherry MX Black switches are linear, or non-tactile, this means that Black switches don’t have a loud click or a bump that is felt when a key is depressed. Gamers like these because of the smooth feel and the fact that the actuation and release points are at the exact same position, making double tapping easier than other switches. The Cherry MX Black switches have actuation force of 60cN.
Cherry MX Red switches are similar to the Cherry MX Blacks in that they are both categorized as linear, non-tactile. This means that their feel remains constant through each up-down key stroke. Where they differ from the Black switches is in their resistance; Red switches require less force to actuate. The result is a feel that most perceive as “smoother” and “faster,” making them especially popular among gaming enthusiasts. The Cherry MX Red switches have actuation force of 45cN.
Cherry MX Clear switches are a bit harder to find in keyboards, but many users consider them to have more of a tactile feel than the Browns without being as clicky as the Blue switches. The clear switches have a higher actuation force than the Brown switches and a more pronounced tactile bump. Also, Clears tend to have the most friction among mechanical key switches, this is due to the size of the tactile bump. The Cherry MX Clear switches have actuation force of 65cN.
Greetech mechanical key switches last up to 60 million keystrokes. These high-performance, gold-plated switches provide the best contact and typing experience because of their highly durable gold plated cross point contacts. The Greetech switches contain more gold than standard mechanical key switches to prevent corrosion and increase the lifespan of the switch.
The Greetech Brown switches have a soft, tactile bump about halfway through the key press. The Soft Pressure Point switch technology makes the mechanical keyboard less clicky while providing a tactile experience. The Greetech Brown switches have an operating force of 45 gf and a tactile force of 60 gf.
The Greetech Blue switches have a “clicky” tactile bump when the activation point is hit. This feedback helps to increase typing speed by reducing effort needed to push the keys all the way down. The Greetech Blue switches have an operating force of 60 gf and a tactile force of 60 gf.
Alpha-Zulu mechanical gaming switches have a 1.7mm point of actuation, .3mm faster than standard switches. The high-performance, gold-plated switches offer the best reliability with an improved cross point contact technology. The newly formulated and thicker gold plating creates a corrosion-resistant electrically conductive layer improving the switch lifespan to 60 million keystrokes. The Alpha-Zulu switches are optimized for gaming because of the switch type options and point of actuation.
The Alpha-Zulu Gaming Switch with Linear Experience is a non-tactile switch and remains constant with each key press. The switches have a smooth and fast feel making them popular amongst gamers who prefer to have a quiet keyboard while gaming. The Alpha-Zulu Linear switches have actuation force of 45g.
The Alpha-Zulu Gaming Switch with Tactile Experience has a soft, tactile bump halfway through the keypress. The switches are preferred in games when double-tapping is critical for survival and having a soft tactile bump is preferred to know when each key is registered. The Alpha-Zulu Tactile switches have actuation force of 45g.
Buckling Spring switches contain a spring that buckles when the key is pushed. This mechanism controls a small hammer that strikes a membrane switch to signal the key has been depressed.
Topre switches are almost a hybrid between a mechanical switch keyboard and a rubber dome keyboard. Topre switches are capacitive switches that use a spring underneath a rubber dome. When you depress a key, it depresses the spring, causing a capacitive circuit underneath to sense that the key has been depressed.
There are a few commonly available types of ALPS switches: complicated and simplified. Complicated ALPS come in a variety of colors with slight differences between them. You can find tactile and clicky, tactile and non-clicky, and linear versions of Complicated ALPS. Simplified ALPS switches are considered by many to be less smooth and louder and are often found in newer keyboards.
To learn more about mechanical keyboards, visit our detailed Mechanical Keyboard Guide on the Das Keyboard Blog.