How much time do you spend thinking about your keyboard? Most people don’t really give much thought to this essential peripheral, but switching to a mechanical keyboard can transform your PC use. So how do you choose the best mechanical keyboard for you?
What’s that? You’ve never heard of “mechanical keyboards”? OK, for those of you who are wondering what the fuss is all about, here’s a quick summary of what a mechanical keyboard is.
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A Mechanical Animal
Most average or cheap keyboards these days use something called “dome switch” technology. Under each key is a metal dome that you compress when pressing down. It brings two contacts into touch and you get a tactile feel of when the button has been depressed.
Dome switches are super common and quite reliable. They are also cheap, but feedback is not of a high quality.
When it comes to computer keyboards you’re more likely to own a scissor switch unit. This is a mix of mechanical and hybrid technology where the dome is augmented with a scissor-shaped switch. This gives the clicky keyboard feel we’re all used to while staying affordable.
Rolls Royce Writing
Which brings us to fully mechanical keyboards. Each key on such a keyboard is a fully mechanical and independent switch. These keyboards provide the greatest and most precise feedback on any keyboard technology. They are a premium choice by professional writers and serious gamers.
The two main reasons mechanical keyboards are simply not the default technology comes down to price and noise.These keyboards are much more complex and expensive to make, so they cost much more than scissor-switch units. They also make a loud clicking noise when typing on them, which is not a good tradeoff for some.
Mechanical keyboards are also not as compact as other types of keyboard technology, but in the end, they represent a no-compromise approach to typing quality.
Why You Want a Mechanical Keyboard
If you’ve ever thought to yourself that you hate how “mushy” a scissor switch keyboard feels or find yourself constantly making typos because of botched key presses, a mechanical keyboard may be for you.
That’s not all, though. Membrane keyboards (of which scissor switches are an example) generally only offer one typing experience. They all pretty much feel the same.
Mechanical keyboards are however not all made equal. There are various different switch designs that feel very different to type or game on. So you can choose a keyboard switch design that suits your needs and tastes.
For gamers, another key advantage of mechanical keyboards is how much they can handle. These keyboards can keep up with rapid key presses and many simultaneous keystrokes in a way that cheap membrane tech simply can’t.
If you choose well, a mechanical keyboard will also last you for many years to come. Generally, you only need to replace the keycaps themselves as they wear out, but the actual keyboard is pretty much bulletproof.
Apart from that mechanical keyboards are simply great for gamer street cred. It separated the hardcore from the casual gamer if you care about that sort of thing.
No More Writer’s Block
Professional writers who have to churn out thousands and thousands of words every day have long sworn by classic mechanical keyboards such as the classic IBM Model M.
Apart from the cacophony that high-speed typing on a mechanical keyboard induces, it’s one of the best tactile experiences a typist can have. Fast and accurate, if you do any significant amount of writing you owe it to yourself to at least try a mechanical keyboard.
Finding the Best Mechanical Keyboard
So now that you have hopefully decided that getting into the mechanical keyboard club is worth it, how do you go about finding the best mechanical keyboard for you?
All mechanical keyboards are not made equal and choosing a cheap and nasty one may turn into a major waste of time and money. So prepare yourself for a price tag of a few hundred dollars, depending on the brand and features.
Quality aside, one aspect of finding the best mechanical keyboard is finding one that fits you personally. There are a number of different switch designs that all feel and act a little differently. Understanding these is crucial to your quest to find the best mechanical keyboard for you.
Cherry MX Black Switches
The MX Black switches use a design that gives you a smooth and linear keypress. There’s no click or “bump” feedback before the switch has actually hit the bottom of its travel.
When you press an MX Black you can never be confused as to whether a key has been pressed, but you can still rapidly tap the key easily.
That’s why mechanical keyboards aimed at gamers use MX Black switches, but typists tend to dislike them.
Cherry MX Red Switches
The MX Red switches are a good compromise between the gamer-centric Black design and something that you can also use to do office work on. They have the same sort of smooth feel as the Black switches but don’t require as much force. So they end up being less fatiguing.
On the scale of gamer to writer, however, they still lean more towards the gaming side of things.
Cherry MX Brown Switches
The Brown switches have a mid-travel bump before the key actually registers, which a lot of people like for various reasons. Many gamers and writers favor the Brown switch design, but it can take some getting used to before you stop mistyping with them.
Cherry MX Blue Switches
If you’re a pure typist then these MX Blue switches are where it’s at. If writings your one and only thing, start here.
Cherry MX Green Switches
Like the Blues, but tougher and need more force to depress. These are more like the classic mechanical keyboards of yore.
Cherry MX Clear Switches
A rare switch, but if you can find them you’ll be greeted with what is essentially a very stiff switch that takes a beating and slaps you in the face with tactile feedback
Man vs Machine
Lead Image by Sinchen Lin via Flickr (CC BY)
MX Blue Image by Jesus Rodriguez via FLickr (CC BY)
Topre Realforce 105U by Adrian Perez via Flickr (CC BY SA)