There are numerous types of mechanical keyboard switches and even more manufacturers producing them. Cheap membrane based rubber dome keyboards may still be the most prevalent, but mechanical keyboards have become extremely popular among gamers and computer enthusiasts over the last decade. Many new companies have been created with the sole goal of filling the gap in mechanical keyswitches. However, one brand was here from the beginning and still stands above the rest. Let’s learn a little about Cherry and their legendary keyswitches.
Cherry MX Switches
Cherry is a German manufacturer of peripherals, switches and other input devices. They’re most renowned for the Cherry MX line of switches. Cherry MX switches, patented in 1983, are the single most commonly installed switch type in modern mechanical keyboards. They also have the ML series; a low-profile, light tactile switch that is less known and underappreciated, even amongst enthusiasts. If you’ve ever owned or used a mechanical keyboard at any point in time the odds are high it featured a switch produced by Cherry. Their MX switch line is categorized into types by stem color:
- Cherry MX Red – Made its debut in Japan in 2008. Has since become the go-to gaming switch. The MX Red is a linear (no tactile feedback), non-clicky switch with light actuation force (45g). Favored by the PC gaming community for its fast response and high performance in FPS games that depend on quick reaction times.
- Cherry MX Blue – Generally considered the best switch for pure typing performance. Tactile switch that also provides a clear audible feedback (clicky), meaning you can both hear and feel when a key is actuated. On the light side with a 50g actuation force (60g peak). Cherry clicky switches have hysteresis, meaning the point of actuation is at a lower position than the key release point. Too much hysteresis could cause problems for games that require a single key to be pressed quickly in rapid succession.
- Cherry MX Black – Another “gaming” oriented switch. Basically a heavy version of the Red. Linear, non-clicky with an actuation force of 60g (80g peak).
- Cherry MX Green – Same specs as the Blue (tactile and clicky), but with a heavier actuation force of 60g (80g peak). This switch is typically used for the space bar.
- Cherry MX Brown – Non-clicky, light tactile bump switch with an actuation force of 45g. A relatively quiet switch good for general use; not specifically targeted to any one task.
- Cherry MX Clear – Non-clicky, tactile bump switch with medium stiffness. Slightly heavier version of the Brown (55g actuation force with a tactile force of 65g) with a larger, more apparent bump. After actuation Clears peak out at a very heavy 95g. This makes the switch harder to bottom out.
Note: Actuation force is the amount of pressure (measured in grams) required for the switch to register a key press.
Cherry MX Copies, Clones and Knockoffs
Cherry’s patent on the MX switch type expired a few years ago. Almost immediately a torrent of MX-mount compatible clone switches were introduced to the market. The build quality of these copies can vary greatly, but the better versions do offer similar feel and performance that was once only available with a authentic Cherry MX keyswitch. And they typically achieve that Cherry-like performance at a much lower price point.
Kailh, Gateron, and Outemu are some of the more known and reputable Chinese manufacturers making MX-mount clone switches. They have gained in popularity among the more budget-conscious crowd who crave for the mechanical keyboard experience without paying a premium price. MX-mount compatible switches have the same cross-shaped stem as a Cherry MX stem, making the keycaps interchangeable. They also use a similar method of categorizing their switch models by stem color to differentiate between switch type (clicky/tactile/linear) and actuation force.
Niche Switch Types: A Rare Breed
Believe it are not other options besides Cherry MX switches do exist. They’re much more rare and niche, but can be found if you look hard enough. A few of these lesser known switches include Alps/Matias and buckling spring for variety in mechanical type switches. Topre’s uniquely designed electrostatic capacitive switch has a cult following. Scissor type switches (found in low profile boards and notebooks) are there for a non-mechanical option.
So yes, Cherry MX switches and the various copies that followed now dominate the market, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid any of the more rarely used switch types. Test them out out if you ever have the opportunity. You may luck into a switch that is more ideally suited for your own personal preferences toward typing or gaming.