What Is a Mechanical Keyboard?

If you are a keyboard fanatic or if you have been following our blog for a while, you already know the answer to this question.

But lots of people don’t know what mechanical keyboards are, likely because they’ve never heard of them or taken the time to research keyboards. And who can blame them? Most computer purchases nowadays include a keyboard, so consumers don’t really have a reason to look for a different one.

However, if you’re one of those consumers who’s not satisfied with these “default” keyboards, and you’re starting to shop around for a different option, this post is for you.

 

The Basics: Switches

When you ask the question, “What is a mechanical keyboard?”, you can answer this one of two ways: simply or thoroughly. As a newcomer to this area, you need to start simply.

A mechanical keyboard is different from other keyboards because they have switches under the keys. These switches are made of several moving parts: a hard plastic “stem” contains two metal contacts and a spring underneath. When a key is pressed, the stem pushes the spring down so the two metal contacts connect, registering your key press to the keyboard’s circuitry and therefore to your computer.

Cherry MX Brown mechanical switch animation
How a mechanical keyboard switch works!

Essentially, these switches are what make mechanical keyboards, well, mechanical keyboards. You could have the same keycaps as a regular keyboard, but it will still be mechanical because of its use of switches.

 

 

The Other Defining Factor: Quality

Because of the durability and construction of these switches, mechanicals are high-quality keyboards that last far longer than regular keyboards. Why? Simply put, regulars are made cheaply.

Because manufacturers tend to give out so many keyboards with computers, they looked for ways to make keyboards cheaper. This resulted in them making membrane keyboards (like the ones on you might have on your microwave), and, more commonly, the rubber-domed keyboards, which are a hybrid of mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards. These domes aren’t made of several moving parts; instead, the domed switches are made of polyurethane underneath a rubber or silicone keypad.

What Is a Mechanical Keyboard? by Das Keyboard
From Wikipedia, used under Creative Commons license

When you press on a key, the rubber/silicone pushes the poly “switch” down to make contact with the circuit board beneath it. Though these dome switches can be made out of metal, you generally receive the polyurethane ones instead in your average keyboard.

And that means they don’t last nearly as long as a metal-domed keyboard, much less a mechanical one.

Why is all this important?

Because mechanical keyboards use switches that are higher-quality, they can cost more, sound different, last longer, and feel heavier. Plus, there are several different types of switches these keyboard can use, which also make a difference in how they’re used. We’ll address the rest of these factors of mechanical keyboards and regular keyboards and how they could affect you in future posts.

Or you can swing over to our handy mechanical keyboard guide if you want a more thorough answer to “what is a mechanical keyboard?” (we don’t blame you — it is quite interesting once you get into it!).

 

7 Comments


  1. Now today I really got quality info about keyboards that how they work. I am a IT person and that kind of information really matter for me.


  2. Agreed, perhaps the first proper description of the difference on the entire internet.


  3. old keyboards were mechanical-sort-off and VERY VERY heavy – I’ve got some before ATX age

    If you open one it’s all covered by actual board not membranes and cheap stuff


  4. What I’ve learned from this article: Mechanical keyboards are a HUUUGE waste of money. My 5€ 10 year old membrane keyboard is still going strong and I am a gamer. Why would I buy a 100€ mechanical keyboard if it is supposed to be more expensive because of its durability? Why would I want to use the same keyboard for let’s say 30 years? If cheap keyboards don’t last, then why not spend 5€ every five years for a new keyboard instead for 100 for a mechanical. Iwould not spend this amount of money for switches and lighting effects. Only for the macros that usually are supported with the accompanied software/drivers.


  5. Hi purple. Although I agree that using a normal keyboard is relatively cheap and easily replaced compare to a Mechanical Keyboard, there are fundamental differences between the two. As a former professional gamer, I can tell you that a mechanical keyboard makes the difference in both casual and professional gaming. I was a top level amateur player with a non-mechanical keyboard – however, I was never able to performance at the highest level for SC:BW and SC:II due to the slow reaction and no NKRO effect a mechanical keyboard had. I bought my first mechanical keyboard while it was on sale – and a year later, I was able to compete at the top level versus Koreans. My ID was Fnatic.hellokitty.

    Personally I do not prefer any lighting effects or macro keys, I just enjoy the feel, response time, and confirmation sound my keyboard makes every time I make a command, it’s like the keyboard is communicating with you rather than being commanded by you.

    Give it a try some time, trust me, it’s worth it.


  6. Oh right, I forgot about the fast response of gaming keyboards.


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