A mechanical keyboard makes use of a physical switch under every individual keycap in order to process input as the user actuates a key. As you press down a key the switch soldered to the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) underneath is activated. This registers the key press. The keyboard PCB then sends a signal to the computer telling it a specific key was pressed.
This is what a mechanical keyboard is and how it works in very basic terms. But let’s look a little deeper and find out what makes the best mechanical keyboard, the primary advantages they provide over other keyboard types and why you should go mechanical if you haven’t already.
What are mechanical keyboards?
Unlike many keyboards that uses a rubber dome with a single membrane for all keys that makes contact to form an electrical circuit, mechanical keyboards use an actual switch under each key and a spring mechanism for actuating and returning the key to its original position.
The non-mistakable tactile response and audible click offering real time feedback cannot be found on most of the scissor style and membrane type keyboards. So, irrespective of the type of switch that your keyboard uses, every key stroke feels more impactful than it actually does on a normal rubber dome type keyboard.
Gamers especially have really grown to appreciate the feel and performance of mechanical keyboards. Indeed, most hardcore gamers don’t consider anything less than a true mechanical keyboard. The reason behind this is due to responsiveness, feedback, accuracy and ability to support full N-key rollover. As a result, most high-end gaming keyboards currently being produced use mechanical switches of some form; usually of the linear type such as Cherry MX Reds.
Mechanical keyboards differ a great deal when it comes to the noise level generated. In case you’re sensitive to the clicking sound emitted by the keyboard, pick a switch which makes comparatively less noise such as a linear or tactile switch. Tactile switches have no audible click, but they still provide important tactile feedback for typing. Linear switches have neither. Just a smooth, quiet and easy press with no interference until the key bottoms out. Linear is usually the optimal switch choice for hardcore gamers.
That being said, some enjoy the “clicky” noise factor. Others still want a clear audible response, but not to the point you’re waking the neighbors when you type. On the other hand, some keyboards have the Cherry MX Blue switches that are designed to offer a high audible click noise at the exact point when the keystroke actuates. It’s all personal preference, so best practice is to try before you buy.
While the noise level produced varies depending on the type of switch that your keyboard uses along with your typing technique, generally mechanical switch keyboards are louder than most other types available on the market.
Advantages of mechanical keyboards
As you have got an idea as to what mechanical keyboards are all about, let’s take a look at the advantages of them.
- Mechanical keyboards have better and longer life span than other types of keyboards. Most mechanical switches are actually tested for about 30-70 million key presses. The membrane keyboards offer the life span of just 5 million key presses.
- Mechanical switches provide more tweaking options than the simple rubber dome. So it’s not surprising that there are many types of switches with distinct characteristics. There are some switches that have detectable actuation point while others have extra acoustic feedback. There are also the switches optimized for gaming (Red and Black) and for typing purposes (Blue), as well a general use switches (Brown) that fall between in a happy medium.
- Mechanical switches are built to last and won’t wear out quickly. Even after many years, typing on a mechanical keyboard can feel as if you are using it for the first time.
- Mechanical keyboards in general are a bit heavier than cheap scissor or membrane keyboards. For some this is better as they provide good stability and do not shift that easily.
- The key caps are very easily removed and re-installed either for general cleaning, replacement or modification.
Mechanical switches at a glance
The fact is switches themselves form a huge part of the mechanical keyboard experience. Keeping in mind your intent of using the keyboard and the level of noise you want, travel distance etc, you can easily narrow down your choices and help you determine the best mechanical keyboard switch type for your needs.
Presently the most renowned switches are the Cherry MX brand available in various varieties offering distinct qualities as per your requirements and budget. Always remember that one of the biggest advantages of opting for mechanical switches is the level of customization they provide.
The most attractive and intimidating thing when it comes to mechanical keyboards is that they are not created equal. There are different kinds of switches and each one of them can affect the way these keyboards feel. Cherry MX switches are popular and well regarded. They differentiate their switches by stem color, i.e. blue, red, brown, black etc. Every switch type has its own attributes and purpose.
For instance, people who do loads of typing prefer the blue switches as they provide amazing audible feedback and tactile response so the user knows when they can move towards typing the next letter. These blue switches may give a jarring impression at first for new users as they’re quite a bit louder than a typical keyboard.
Get the best mechanical keyboard
Finding a mechanical keyboard perfectly suited for your needs shouldn’t be too problematic. You can pick practically any model that fits your budget/switch preference and generally get superior results versus a membrane type keyboard. For the most part they are well built and even the most low budget options will perform adequately. If you’re a touch typist, going mechanical could significantly increase your overall accuracy and typing speed. So whether you’re a writer, gamer or someone who spends a lot of time coding, you should definitely reward yourself with quality mechanical keyboard.
When purchasing a mech, always opt for the more highly regarded models from reliable manufacturers who use known switch types with proven performance and reliability; that is if your budget will allow it. You just might regret spending money on an inferior quality product with knock off switches, even if it’s much less expensive.
Of course even the lesser known budget brands have their diamonds in the rough. Gateron, Kailh and Outemu started as simply MX clone switches, but both have evolved their product lines quickly and gone on to produce some of the best switches on the market. Kailh Box switches are especially popular among users who prefer to build their own custom mechanical keyboard.
As everyone has different taste and personal preferences you should test a few models and ensure that you get a good typing experience that fits your own unique needs for gaming, typing, data entry or other uses. Having a reliable keyboard that is comfortable for you will be a great addition to your PC and make your typing experience all the more satisfactory.