Are you looking to try a mechanical keyboard for the first time? Everyone has to begin somewhere, but for newcomers to the hobby it can be overwhelming if you’re not aware of a few basic attributes associated with each of the primary mechanical keyboard switch types.
Let’s start by ignoring the many different brands and variations of mechanical keyboard switches and just focus on the three main switch types you’ll most likely encounter in your search: Clicky, Tactile and Linear.
A clicky switch does exactly as the name implies. They feature a distinct click sound that can be heard when the switch is fully actuated. Clicky switches also offer feedback in the form of tactile resistance that must be overcome to actuate the switch and register a keystroke. They often have hysteresis, which is generally considered an undesirable trait for gaming purposes.
Clicky switches are the preferred switch type among heavy typist and those who want clear indication that a keystroke has fully registered. Those wanting a quiet mechanical keyboard for the office should probably steer clear, but if you’re on a quest for maximum WPM this switch type will suit you well. The Japanese manufactured Filco Majestouch 2 is an example of a premium build full size mechanical keyboard in standard ANSI layout that uses traditional clicky style MX switches (Cherry Blue).
Tactile switches have a small tactile bump that provides resistance which can be felt at the point of key actuation. The switch itself is practically inaudible, omitting the click sound present in clicky switches. Tactile switches are versatile performers that cope well with a variety of different typing tasks.
When playing MMO’s and games that require frequent communication they’re quieter than clicky switches (won’t annoy friends over a mic) and generally offer a better feel than linear switches for pure typing experiences.
Tactile switches usually have little to no hysteresis. No standout strengths, but no glaring weaknesses either. The Durgod Taurus K320 is a high quality Tenkeyless mechanical keyboard available with tactile switches (Cherry MX Brown).
Linear switches are coveted for their quiet, smooth action that’s free of any interference from tactility. The keystroke is a straight downward drop with no tactile bump or click leaf. Linear switches themselves are close to silent, but easy to bottom out depending on the actuation force required from the spring strength.
When a key is bottomed out the plastic on plastic impact results in noise, not the switch itself. This particular noise can be mitigated with the use of O-rings, factory dampened switches and other silencing products; though keep in mind adding dampeners will likely decrease the travel distance of the switch and alter the key feel.
Cherry MX Reds are a light (45g actuation force) linear switch often targeted by gamers looking for a responsive switch with no hysteresis to help with effectiveness when performing rapid, repeated keystrokes. Generally not ideal for heavy typing (though personal preferences vary) as the light actuation force and complete absence of feedback can lead to more frequent typos for users not accustom to a linear switch. The Razer Huntsman Tournament Edition is a mechanical keyboard in TKL form factor that’s built specifically for competitive gaming. It features optical linear switches that deliver ultra fast response times when registering each key press.
Personal Preference Is Key
Just because clicky switches are most often recommended for the best typing experience, linear for fast paced gaming and tactile for general purpose use doesn’t mean those are the switch types you’ll favor in each scenario. Getting experience with all three of the main switch type before making a decision is critical. This can be accomplished with help from a cheap switch tester, a small board with various types of mechanical switches installed that allows you to try before you buy.
Or if you really want the ability to easily replace and try out new switches consider a mechanical keyboard with hot swappable sockets. These types of modular sockets literally allow the switches to be snapped in and pulled back out without having to desolder then resolder the contacts. Replacing hot swap switches is very easy and fast. Anyone can do it.
Switch tester kit with O-rings and keycap puller tool.