Mechanical keyboards are the hot thing in peripherals today. Thanks to their durability, functionality, versatility, and aesthetics, they’re the best choices for gamers, writers, encoders, programmers, graphic designers, and everyone who uses computers.
Keyboard switches are the core components of amechanical keyboard. These switches make typing faster, more accurate, and even more enjoyable.
Let’s find out more about these wonderful keyboard switches.
A mechanical keyboard is made up of mechanical keyboard switches. Each switch is a small self-contained system that registers a key press.
Each key switch has a hard plastic stem under the cap. The stem has two metal contacts as well as a spring right under it. When you press a key, the stem pushes the spring down, allowing the two small metal points to connect. The connection initiates a signal---unique to every key---to your keyboard’s PCB (printed circuit board) which is then transmitted to your computer’s CPU (central processing system). The CPU then processes and displays the key press as a character or an action on your monitor. When you release the key, the spring pushes the stem back up, returning the keycap to its original position.
The entirety of the components is installed in a tough housing. The sound, tactile feedback, and the required force to register a key press depend on the type of keyboard switches in your peripheral.
While there are many brands, varieties, and designs of mechanical keyboards, virtually all models use one of three main types of mechanical keyboard switches.
A linear switch produces a smooth and uninterrupted actuation without any sensory or auditory feedback. That means when you press the key, it travels down without you feeling bumps or hearing clicks. If you prefer quiet and smooth typing, then a mechanical keyboard with linear switches is the right one for you.
Because they’re smooth and easy to use, gamers and people who type fast like using mechanical keyboards with linear switches.
How do you know you’re buying a mechanical keyboard with linear switches? Easy! Check the label if it has “red switches keyboard.”
When you press on a tactile switch, you’ll feel a tiny bump that provides resistance. It also produces a small but still quiet sound when you press on a tactile key. The feel and sound of the keypress allow you to feel the point of key actuation.
A mechanical keyboard with tactile keys is perfect if you are a touch typist (i.e., you don’t look at your hands while typing). Therefore, they’re perfect for writers, encoders, secretaries, and the like. Also, because typing on tactile switches is almost similar to typing on a standard membrane keyboard, it’s a great choice if you decide to upgrade from your old keyboard.
Finally, tactile switches are also labeled as “mechanical keyboard brown switches.”
Mechanical keyboard manufacturers use popular key switch brands such as Cherry MX, Gateron, Razer, Kailh, Matias, Outemo, and Logitech.
Sometimes called “blue keyboard switches,” clicky switches generate a loud clicking sound, accompanied by a tactile bump, whenever you press a key. The click and the sensory feedback make it easy for you to know that the keypress is registered.
A mechanical keyboard with clicky switches is fun to use, giving a satisfying typewriter-like clatter as you type. Because of the massive sensory feedback, a keyboard with blue switches is perfect for fast and touch typists.
Note that the clicks are quite noisy and annoying, so it might not be a good idea to use them if you’re sharing your workspace or if you’re in a library.
One of the nicest features of mechanical switches is that they are designed so that you can replace them. If one of your keycaps gets damaged, you can simply order a new keycap and push it to the stem. No need to buy an entirely new keyboard. In fact, there are people who 3d-print their own custom designed keycaps to replace hotkeys, function keys, media keys, and more.
Also, because the keycaps are removable, you can easily clean the keyboard, dusting areas that are unreachable if you’re using a standard membrane keyboard.
Finally, mechanical switches are swappable. So if the key itself is somehow damaged, you can take out the faulty switch and replace it with a new one.
Here are some advantages of typing on mechanical switches.
* Mechanical switches are very durable. Each switch is good for 30 to 100 million key presses. That’s way more durable than normal membrane keys, which wear out after 5 million key presses.
* Mechanical switches wear out very slowly. Even if your mechanical keyboard has been with you for years, it will still feel brand new when you type on it.
* Due to their design, mechanical switches are very responsive, allowing each keystroke to be accurately registered.
* As mentioned above, the keycaps of mechanical switches are removable, allowing you to replace damaged caps and install custom ones. It also allows you to access difficult-to-reach parts to clean the keyboard thoroughly.
* You can remove switches to replace damaged ones or clean the contacts.
* You can choose between linear, tactile, and clicky keys, depending on your typing style, intended use, and personal preference.
Some disadvantages of mechanical switches include
* The mechanism of each switch is more complex than membrane keys. This translates to a higher cost, which makes mechanical keyboards expensive.
* Keycaps tend to break off or dislodge from the stem, especially if you’re a heavy typist. The switch probably won’t be damaged, but replacing the keycaps can be a hassle.
* Regular cleaning is needed. If dust and debris get into the switch itself, the switch’s accuracy, registration, and overall performance may be negatively affected.
So, which kind of key switch---and subsequently, mechanical keyboard---is best for you? Here’s a quick guideline:
* If you like a quiet keyboard or if you’re sharing a workplace with others, go for quiet linear switches.
* If you’re a gamer, you would probably want keys that are smooth, stable, and consistent. Linear switches fit these criteria.
* If you’re a fast typist or if your work involves a lot of typing, a keyboard with tactile switches would be good since it allows you to feel each keystroke.
* If you want to feel assured of your typing precision, a good match would be clicky switches since you can precisely experience both auditory and sensory feedback as you type.
* When you buy a mechanical keyboard, check the keyboard specs in the manual or packaging. Whatever kind of key switch the keyboard is installed with, you’ll often read figures that indicate their actuation points.
If you have big hands or fingers, choose a keyboard with a high actuation point---usually around 2mm or even higher. This allows you to type accurately without having your fingers tangling on each other.
The reverse is true with small hands; choose a keyboard with a low actuation point, which is around 1.4 mm. You can also opt for low actuation keys if you’re a light typist.
Here are some frequently asked questions about key switches for mechanical keyboards.
In a mechanical keyboard, switches are self-contained mechanical systems that allow you to register a key press when you use the peripheral. There are several advantages of mechanical keyboard switches over silicone membranes used in standard computer keyboards.
Mechanical keyboard switches are often classified into linear, tactile, and clicky. These are further sorted out through varying actuation forces, tactile forces, actuation points, and total keypress distance.
The ideal kind of key switch---and mechanical keyboard---for you depends on your preference, typing style, how you’re using the keyboard, and even the environment you’ll be using the keyboard in. For example:
* If you want to experience the real charm and essence of mechanical keyboards, clicky switches would be great. The clattering sound is very satisfying.
* For gaming purposes, linear switches are ideal for precision and consistency.
* If your work involves a lot of typing or if you’re a touch typist, tactile keys are perfect for you.
Keyboard switches truly give mechanical keyboards a great advantage over normal membrane ones. Yes, you may be paying a little more, but you get a huge amount of value. Durable, precise, great feedback---those are a typer’s dream.