What are Mechanical Keyboards ?
In the early times of the computer era, it was pretty obvious that a person had entered a room of computers or typewriters by the sound of keys when pressed on the keyboard. Those were the days!
Throughout the late 1900s, mechanical keyboards were as popular as the floppy disks which were used only by people who knew what they were meant for.
All this came to a halt after the expansion of home computers. Mechanical keyboards lost the battle to the new keyboards as they are cheaper and also easy to manufacture on a large scale, which brought Personal Computers to every house in the world. Companies profited immensely, and mechanical keyboards became obsolete, not entirely but the fan base of these keyboards couldn’t be compared to that of the regular keyboard.
Until recently, in the past decade, mechanical keyboards have sprung into existence again. They have placed themselves in the popular choice of many individuals who like to listen to the clicking sound or want to feel a sturdy and strong base while typing. I have to agree, mechanical keyboards are far more reliable than the everyday keyboards. They can handle a lot of damage, and withstand stringent environments that many people put their keyboards into.
Alright, enough about its history. Let’s start with the basics.
The main difference between the regular keyboards and mechanical keyboards is the type of key switch present in the keys. Most of the modern keyboards use dome-switch technology, the key is registered when the key is pressed down and a silicone dome type structure connects the two circuit board traces. This technology is very cheap and easy to manufacture, but it lacks a special touch of auditory feedback, also called the clicking sound. The keys are relatively harder to push which feels a little heavy on the fingers. In addition, the keys have a life span of about 5 million keystrokes or less, which means that they fail to work entirely or work erratically, rendering one’s typing uncomfortable, and forcing the user to erupt in anger resulting in a broken keyboard and a loss of trust in these types! Mechanical keyboards win every time!
Mechanical keyboards do not use silicone switches rather, use an actual switch much like the switch for turning on the fan. The parts used for making the switch are much more considerable than silicone, resulting in a higher life span of about 50 million keystrokes per switch. That is equivalent to 2 or 3 generations of personal computing. One could use the keyboards for a very long time. All these features make mechanical keyboards heavier, thicker, sturdier, and not to forget; expensive. Which is probably the reason why many people buy them as a long term investment. Quite prudent, if you ask me.
While looking for a keyboard, make sure to look for the type of switch used in the keys, and whether it offers any auditory feedback, like a click, and not a weak, pathetic bump. Also, check for the amount of pressure it takes to press a key. The easier to press, better it gets.
Types of mechanical keyboards
Most of the current mechanical keyboards use Cherry MX switches. These include Cherry MX Black, Cherry MX Red, Cherry MX Brown, Cherry MX Blue, Cherry MX Green, and finally Cherry MX Clear. Let’s get through them one by one.
Cherry MX Black
These switches have a smooth, linear press all the way down. No tactile bump before the part reaches the bottom. The switch registers the press in the middle and the actuation point is at the last, where the key is registered. Mostly gamers see the full potential of this type of switch as double tapping is far more responsive and accurate. A downside is that the key has to be pressed all the way down to get itself registered. Some find this annoying.
Cherry MX Red
Same as the Black version but requires less force to go all the way down. Easy on the fingers as there is less force required and the operation is smoother and less tiring than in MX Black. It is mostly incorporated in gaming-cum-regular work keyboards but many gamers choose this type because of its smooth functioning, and an absence of the tactile bump which lets one know whether a key has been registered before it goes all the way down to the bottom.
Cherry MX Brown
This switch is basically a hybrid for functioning in gaming environments and daily usage. It registers the switch at the middle of the distance, so as to not spend much time in pressing the key to the very last bottom which could potentially increase typing speed. It does have the tactile bump to let us know whether a key has been registered or not.
Cherry MX Blue
This switch is perfect for a hardcore mechanical keyboard fan. It offers a tactile click as soon as the actuation point is hit. Not very good for double-typing as the release point is above the actuation point rendering the part to take some time to come back to its original place. Very much like a piston in an engine.
Cherry MX Green
A tougher version of the MX Blue. It has a tactile bump and an audible click at the actuation point, and when it hits you’ll surely like the sound of it. The release and actuation point are at the same place which is not like the MX Blue. Made for tough and sturdy pressing.
Cherry MX Clear
This type of switch is very rare. They are hardest of them all. It takes quite a bit of force to push it down all the way to register a key; high actuation force. Compared to the MX Brown, they are stiffer and bulkier but similar in structure. Most heavy typists prefer the MX Clear because they have the best tactile feedback when compared to the rest of the switches.
What to look for when buying a Mechanical keyboard?
Choose boards that make less noise. Yes, many keyboards make a lot of noise because the auditory feedback was one of the reasons why people wanted to buy mechanical keyboards in the first place. So, many companies upped their noise making capabilities.
Select switches which feel comfortable to type in. Don’t just throw a dice and choose based on chance. Mechanical keyboards are expensive, so naturally buying it the first time makes it an important decision if you’re concerned with money.
That’s it. Happy keyboard hunting.