Understanding Keyboard Switches – All You Need to Know
When you look at your keyboard, what do you see? Most keyboards have a very similar appearance at first glance: a row of function keys, three rows of letters, and a row of numbers, alongside other punctuation keys.
However, what happens when you press a key can vary widely depending on the type of keyboard you have, and that’s where keyboard switches come in.
So, without further ado, let’s go into everything you need to know about keyboard switches.
What Are Keyboard Switches?
Keyboard switches are the mechanisms under the keys that connect them to the keyboard’s wires. So whenever you press a key, it is the switch under the key that recognizes you have pressed it.
However, there are different types of keyboards with different keyboard switches. Two highly popular types of keyboards are membrane and mechanical keyboards, and what differentiates each is the switches underneath the keys.
Mechanical Switches vs. Regular Keyboard Switches
The regular keyboard switches, also known as membrane keyboard switches, are more common. The switches feature a small rubber dome that sits under each key. The rubber compresses when a key is pressed, allowing the key to connecting with the keyboard’s wires.
Mechanical keyboard switches are noticeably different. Instead of a rubber dome, a more advanced mechanism is in place. It has a stem attached to the keycap held by a spring. When you press a key, the stem’s metal contact touches the electrical contact of the keyboard, which signifies a keypress.
But those are the inner workings. It feels different when using a mechanical keyboard, especially because of the spring that holds the stem and keycap. Press down a key, and you will feel or hear a clear and distinctive click sound, thanks to the spring. You will always know that a key has been pressed because of that click with a mechanical keyboard.
Regular – or membrane – keyboards don’t offer the same feeling as mechanical keyboards. The pressure applied on each keypress only compresses its’ rubber dome. No springs or stems combine to give off that click when you type on a regular keyboard. Errors are more likely with mechanical keyboards because there is no way to feel that a key has been pressed.
However, mechanical keyboard switches work differently. They’re not all the same and can be classified into three groups: linear, tactile, or clicky.
9 Best Keyboard Switch Types
Which type of keyboard switch would you use? Well, that decision can be decided on what sort of feel or comfort you’re looking for, as well as what you’ll mostly be doing with your keyboard.
Some switches are great for gaming, while others are brilliant for typing. Some are popular for their comfort and responsiveness, while others are preferred for their clicking sounds. So, if you’re looking for a perfect keyboard switch for personal use, the best keyboard switch types on the market are either linear, tactile, or clicky how each work can make a difference in your typing or gaming experience.
With a linear mechanical switch keyboard, you need to push the key all the way down as you would a regular keyboard. While this might sound stressful, it offers a smooth and straightforward feeling during use, and that’s what makes linear switches so popular. The point of key actuation with linear switches – the point where the keypress is registered on the computer – is at the end.
Tactile mechanical switch keyboards are noticeably different. Rather than press the keys down, you only need to press for a shorter distance. Tactile switches are popular because they have a small bump that gives your finger resistance when you press the key. This bump is seen as the point of key actuation, so you don’t need to press down fully, leading to faster typing and gaming.
Clicky mechanical switch keyboards are similar to tactile keyboards and offer tactile feedback. They also include a loud clicking sound every time key actuation is reached. Just like the tactile switch, you don’t need to press the key down to the end, thanks to the bump along the way where the keypress is registered.
However, this keypress also includes a loud click, which you – and others in your immediate vicinity – will hear. Although these are great for gaming and typing, using clicky switches in a library will annoy everyone!
The type of switches you want will generally depend on the experience you’re looking for, whether linear or tactile. But how do you pick out these options in the market? The most common switches for keyboards are Cherry MX, and there are different types to suit your tastes and improve your experience.
Without a doubt, Cherry MX switches are arguably the best in the market for mechanical keyboards. The German brand has found popularity and is mostly used as a gaming keyboard and typing. It has continued to provide highly responsive switches that are also comfortable to use.
Which Cherry switch would be best for you? As they are fondly called, Cherries come in a variety of colors that determine everything in a mechanical switch. So these are the most popular colors you will find in a Cherry.
Cherry MX Reds
These keyboard switches are some of the most widespread and popular on the market. They are linear switches that need just 45 grams of actuation force. This means that although you need to press each key down properly, you don’t need to press hard.
Cherry Reds are popular for gamers thanks to their light touch improving speed. Because they are linear, Cherry Reds are also relatively quiet, which will make them easier to use in crowded areas or office and library environments.
If you’re looking for a standard linear mechanical keyboard switch that is soft to touch and easy to use, Cherry MX Red would be a brilliant option.
Cherry MX Blacks
These black keyboard switches are very similar to the Reds in that they are also linear switches. However, the key difference between the Cherry Blacks and Cherry Reds is the amount of force required to reach the actuation point. While Reds are soft and require only 45 grams of force to actuate, Blacks are a little tougher, requiring 60 grams of force to actuate. This means that Cherry MX Black switches will feel more resistant and a little harder to press.
However, because they are linear, you will also need to press them down. This extra resistant feel might be great for some gamers or typists who feel it offers them more accuracy. Blacks are also relatively silent and can be used in offices, libraries, and crowded areas.
Cherry MX Browns
The most popular mechanical keyboard switches in gaming, Cherry Browns, are tactile mechanical switches. Just like Cherry MX Reds, they require just 45 grams of force to actuate, which means they’re quite soft to the touch.
However, they aren’t linear. They are tactile, which means you don’t need to press the keys fully before the key presses are recognized. They’re relatively quiet, as the Reds and Blacks, and they’re popular for how fast each key springs back up after being pressed. This makes it highly efficient for people, especially gamers, who require speed on their keyboards.
Cherry MX Blues
These clicky switches are popular for their audible clicks whenever you press on the keys. Rather than the relative quietness that comes with pressing down on Reds, Blacks, and Browns. This is mostly a preference to some users who find the clicking sounds gratifying or satisfying, but it may be annoying to others. It certainly would cause a little disturbance in offices or libraries, so Cherry MX Blues are best if you work or game in a private space.
Cherry MX Speeds/Silver
These particular mechanical switches are linear but are specifically made for gamers. Like the Cherry Reds, Cherry Speeds require just 45 grams of force to reach the actuation point. However, the key difference lies in the total travel distance each key is required to go before it actuates.
Travel distance is the total length a key can travel from its starting point until fully pressed. While the standard linear Reds have a travel distance of 2 millimeters, Cherry MX Speeds have a total travel distance of 1.2 millimeters. This essentially makes it easier for gamers to press keys much faster than they would on another keyboard with different mechanical switches. If you’re looking to play high-intensity games like League of Legends or World of Warcraft, having a fast keyboard can improve your skills noticeably.
Other Mechanical Keyboard Switches
There are other Cherry colors like Greens and Clears, but these are not as common as the keyboard switches above. Greens are notable for their extra-clicky nature, making them even louder than usual. Clears are popular for their high resistance, requiring more force for each key to be pressed.
Other mechanical keyboard switches include Razer, Logitech, and Topre. However, none of these have gained the popularity that Cherries have garnered over the years.
How to Remove Keyboard Switches
With mechanical keyboard switches, it has become possible for the average user to easily replace the switches in their keyboard, sometimes with a little soldering. Getting a hot-swappable keyboard removes the soldering process entirely, as these keyboards make it more straightforward. But why would you need to remove switches in the first place?
The first reason is maintenance. Cleaning your mechanical keyboard switches is a necessary but fairly simple ordeal. It is important to keep out the dirt or debris stuck between the switches.
The second – and perhaps more significant – reason is experimentation. Without buying a brand-new keyboard, you can simply purchase different switches to see which fits your gaming or typing style.
So, how do you remove the mechanical switches on your keyboard?
If you have a hot-swappable keyboard that requires no soldering, it will come with a keycap puller. The puller makes it very easy to use: Pull the keycaps directly up and off the keyboard while using your other hand to hold the keyboard in place. However, it’s important to be careful when using the puller, so you don’t scratch your keys.
When the arms of the puller slide under the keycap and anchor properly, you should hear a click!. There shouldn’t be any noise or resistance if you pull the keycap straight up, and it should be fairly straightforward. Removing all the keys from a full-size keyboard shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes if done properly.
How to Take a Screenshot on Chromebook
Rubber-domed regular keyboard switches are good, but mechanical keyboard switches are great. You’re less likely to make mistakes with mechanical keyboard switches, and they generally improve your typing or gaming experience in many ways.
Apart from these improvements, they’re easy to remove and replace and offer a different experience depending on which type of mechanical switches you get. With unlimited options in the market, alongside varying Cherry colors, finding a keyboard that suits your needs is possible.
Whether you’re looking for that clear, distinctive click, or you’re looking for something less clicky but faster, there are mechanical keyboard switches to suit your needs.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.