Mechanical Keyboard Zoomed in

An introduction to mechanical keys

Mechanical keyboards are popular within the gaming community. I do not use a keyboard for gaming very often, but increasingly find that the keys on all my other devices feel stiff and clumsy in comparison. Most keyboards are membrane keyboards and keys activate only at the bottom, so you have to press them down all the way to the bottom.

Mechanical keyboards uses real switches, one per key, that activate before you bottom out, requiring much less force to work. The amount of force required to press the keys on a mechanical keyboard is about 40 – 70 grams, depending on the type of switch, making them ideal for anyone who struggles to hit standard keys all the way to the bottom.

Switch Types

There is a variety of mechanical switches on the market and when looking at mechanical keyboards, if you don’t like the switch, you won’t like the keyboard. The table below lists the most valued characteristics of the switch, what type, does it provide tactile feedback, how clicky is it (caps lock text means very loud), how much force is required to actuate the switch and how far does the key have to be depressed to actuate (first figure) and to hit bottom (second figure).

The information below is a summary of Overclock’s introduction to common key switches. The full article can be found here.

Key Type Tactile Clicky Force Key Travel
Cherry MX Black Linear Switch No No 60g 2mm/4mm
Cherry MX Red Linear Switch No No 45g 2mm/4mm
Cherry MX Brown Tactile Switch Yes No 45g 2mm/4mm
Cherry MX Clear Tactile Switch Yes No 55g 2mm/4mm
Cherry MX Blue Tactile & Clicky Switch Yes Yes 50g 2mm/4mm
Buckling Spring Tactile & Clicky Yes YES 65-70g 2.3mm/3.7mm
Black Alps Tactile Mechanical Yes No 60-70g 3.5mm
White Alps Clicky & Tactile Yes Yes 60-70g 3.5mm
Topre Key Switches Tactile Capacitive Yes No 30-55g 4mm

Most gamers prefer non-clicky keys combined with tactile feedback that lets you know when the key actuates so that they can be sure that the key did go off without hitting rock bottom and as a result prefer Cherry MX Brown and Clear switches, which are unfortunately, quite rare.

The Razer BlackWidow Stealth edition uses Cherry MX Brown switches, the Razer Black Widow Ultimate Gaming Keyboard and theCherry G80 Click Action Keyboard uses Cherry MX Blue. The Corsair Vengeance K90 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard uses Cherry MX red switches.

The all bells and whistles keyboard of this type is probably theKinesis Advantage Ergonomic Contoured Keyboard USB – Black with its ergonomic design, Cherrry MX Brown switches and optional foot switches.

Buying a mechanical keyboard: Things to look out for

  • Check what type of switch is used and make sure it’s the one you want. Some sites will only list that it has “Cherry MX” switches, but there are 5 different Cherry switches with significant differences, so find out the specifics and buy the keyboard with the switch that works for you.
  • Check which keys are mechanical. Most mechanical keyboards do not provide mechanical switches for every single key.
  • Make sure your keyboard has the correct layout. Mechanical keyboards are often shipped internationally so make sure you don’t end up with an American or German layout.
  • #KRO (Key Rollover): Gaming keyboards often list this as “anti-ghosting”. #KRO stands for the maximum number of keys you can press before key blocking kicks in. On most keyboards the number is 6 plus 4 modifier keys, but occasionally its less and that’s a problem for gaming.
  • Ignore polling rates: Anything above 200 Mhz is wasted and not used. Although great for gaming mice, it does nothing for gaming keyboards other than put a bit of extra strain on your CPU.

Mechanical keyboards are worth their weight in gold. Their light weight sensitive keys and easy action makes them ideal for gaming and once you have used one, you will never want to touch a membrane keyboard again. Most come with frills, some worthwhile others not so much and it is worth spending some time researching before deciding which switch is for you. Before you give up on keyboards, try one and it will make you wish that all USB devices came with Cherry MX switches.

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