Editor s Note: This article was last updated September 10, 2015.
In past decades, mechanical keyboards were king. If you've ever typed on an old keyboard from the '80s or earlier, it likely had mechanical switches underneath the keys. Mechanical keyboards are accurate, responsive and extremely durable. The distinctive click and solid feel of every stroke on a mechanical keyboard are elements that are glaringly absent in newer membrane keyboards. Membrane keyboards overthrew their mechanical counterparts in mass production because they are considerably cheaper to manufacture. While this shift is certainly understandable (business is business, after all) membrane keyboards rarely live up to the standards mechanical keyboards set.
In the last few years, mechanical keyboards have gained more attention as gamers and typists look for higher-quality keyboards. Gaming keyboards have become quite sophisticated and often feature mechanical switches. The dominance of membrane keyboards is slowly being called into question as more people rediscover this classic technology. So what exactly are the benefits of using a mechanical keyboard?
Precision and Speed:
Many mechanical keyboard users claim they can type faster and more accurately than they can on membrane keyboards. Most mechanical switches only need to be pressed halfway before registering a keystroke, which means less work for your fingers. Essentially, mechanical keyboards facilitate an economy of movement that membrane keyboards simply cannot mimic. The actuation force required to register a keystroke on membrane keyboards is often considerably lower than that on mechanical keyboards, which can lead to typos and slips of the finger. Mechanical keyboards are often more accurate than membrane boards. Reliability is especially important in gaming keyboards, when players must count on each and every keystroke.
Perhaps the most attractive, and yet also most intimidating, thing about mechanical keyboards is that they are not all the same. There are many types of mechanical switches and each can greatly affect the way a keyboard feels. Cherry MX mechanical switches are commonly found in mechanical keyboards and they differentiate the types by their color. The colors range from black and white to green and red. Each type of switch has specific attributes. For example, people who do a lot of typing often prefer Cherry MX Blue switches because they offer excellent feedback and typists instinctively know when they can move on to the next letter. Blue switches are not for everyone, however, because they are also quite loud.
Finding the right switch type isn't always easy. Some stores sell mechanical keyboards and allow test typing, but the majority of mechanical keyboards are found online. Friends and acquaintances who have high-quality keyboards are also an excellent resource. Proper research and testing will lead you to an excellent keyboard that feels right. It's difficult to describe just how right a proper keyboard can feel.
The different Cherry MX switches have varying levels of feedback. This is due to the way a mechanical switch works. Most mechanical switches will register a keystroke when the key is only halfway depressed. Once the key reaches the halfway point, the distinctive mechanical click can be heard and felt. This is more than an audible byproduct of a mechanical process. It tells users when they can move on to the next letter, and it quickly becomes second nature. However, some mechanical switches, like Cherry MX Reds, do not offer as much feedback. The Red switch has a linear feel, which means no clicking sound or feel. The Red switch is also very sensitive, which is important in gaming keyboards because it allows for very fast response times.
Cherry MX switches are rated for a life cycle of 50 million keystrokes. With such a long switch life, something else in the keyboard is liable to break before you have problems with the switches. Stock membrane keyboards are often rated for a life cycle of 1 to 10 million keystrokes, sometimes reaching 20 million. Even at 20 million, membrane switches simply do not last as long as mechanical switches. So if you're a power user or you work in front of a computer every day, investing in a mechanical keyboard will pay off in the long run. Just make sure that you like your keyboard because it will be with you for a long time.