There are many types of switches used in mechanical keyboards that make these input devices superior to the cheap rubber dome boards most people have on their desk. Let’s take a look at the type of switches that are found in such keyboards.
Mechanical keyboards have separate key switches with a slider and metal spring design. Rubber dome keyboards, which are what the majority of cheap modern keyboards use, have a sheet of rubber with domes over a membrane for tactility and resistance. Rubber domes over membrane provide less than stellar results. Mechanical key switches offer a stronger feedback and smoother feel for typing.
Clicky and tactile switches, like Cherry MX Blues and Greens, provide confirmation each time you type a letter with feedback in the form of a clicky sound and tactile bump as you hit the actuation point. The actuation point is when your keystroke gets registered on the PC. This means you don’t need to bottom out the key for it to register, unlike the rubber dome type. Once you get used to this style it leads to faster, more accurate and smoother typing.
Irrespective of the switch type you choose, mechanical keyboards are well suited for many situations, especially gaming. If you’re more into faster paced games, linear switches may offer you the much needed edge. As there’s an absence of any resistance to engage the slider, you can easily press the key switch in a faster way and register the keystrokes with little to no lag. Linear switches have the simplest of operations, just moving up and down without the need of any extra mechanisms to create tactile or audible feedback. The two common kinds of linear switches are the Cherry MX Red and Black. These switches are great for action games and shooters. There’s no click sound or tactile bump to overcome, meaning they have no hysteresis.
Cherry MX Brown and Clear switches provide a light tactical bump as the feedback with no audible click sound. They are relatively quiet when not bottoming out. Games that require a lot of communication or typing like MMOs, MOBAs or RTS games are good with these switch types. Both these switches have a tactile bump with hysteresis. It’s not nearly as noticeable as Blue or Green switches, but it means that they’re not as suitable for FPS and fast paced gaming. Cherry MX Brown would be a good switch type to consider for your first mechanical keyboard because they are general purpose and decent for a variety of uses, not made to excel at one specific task.
Cherry MX switches have a lifespan of 20-50 million keystrokes depending on the type and age of the switch. On the other hand, rubber domes are just rated to last for only 5 million keystrokes.
Then comes Topre switches. Topre are capacitive switches, meaning they don’t operate based on contact. A versatile switch type that creates much less noise than the average mechanical keyboard. They offer amazing tactile bump feedback with a deep thock when bottoming out. The noise they create is less harsh, not as high pitched which makes them a perfect choice for office environments. However, Topre are not 100% mechanical. They do make use of a spring and slider, but the tactile feel mostly comes from a rubber dome. They don’t use membranes and still function and perform similarly (or better) to full mechanical switches.
Apart from all those previously mentioned, there are some less common switches as well. One of these types is ALPS. This switch came in simplified and complicated ALPS versions. The simplified ALPS switches are less smooth as well as louder than complicated ones. On the other hand, the complicated ALPS are available in a wide array of colours with variations in feel between each of them. They made tactile and clicky, linear, tactile and non-clicky. ALPS switches are no longer produced. Production was handed off to Matias, who now make similar switches based on the original ALPS design.
Matias Click – These are tactile clicky switches. The same principles with MX Blue and Green can be applied to these as well, but the actuation point on Matias is higher than MX switches. These are quite loud as well, so not suitable for an open office environment.
Buckling Spring – Made famous by the IBM Model M keyboard, these switches have a spring which collapses as the keys are actuated. The mechanism features a small hammer which strikes the membrane switch to register each key press.
Mechanical switches offer much longer lifespans and a superior typing experience compared to standard rubber dome over membrane boards. With so many different types of switches available on the market you should have no problem finding a mechanical keyboard ideal for your own personal preferences, whether it be a responsive linear red for the best gaming performance or clicky blues for quick and efficient typing.