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What Is A Mechanical Keyboard?

So you’ve heard about mechanical keyboards, but you’re not entirely sure what they are or what sets them apart from regular keyboards. Well, let’s shed some light on the subject. A mechanical keyboard is a type of keyboard that uses individual mechanical switches for each key, as opposed to the rubber dome membrane found in standard keyboards. These switches offer a unique level of tactile feedback and actuation force, making typing and gaming experiences more precise and enjoyable. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits and features of mechanical keyboards, helping you understand why they have become a favorite among keyboard enthusiasts and professionals alike. A mechanical keyboard is a type of keyboard that uses individual mechanical switches for each key. Unlike the rubber dome or membrane keyboards that are commonly found in most laptops and desktop keyboards, mechanical keyboards provide a distinct and tactile feedback with each keystroke. The keys of a mechanical keyboard are typically made of higher-quality materials, such as plastic or PBT keycaps, and they offer a more durable and satisfying typing experience.

History of Mechanical Keyboards

Early Developments

The history of mechanical keyboards can be traced back to the early days of typewriters. In the late 19th century, typewriters began to incorporate mechanical switches to register each keystroke. These switches utilized a metal spring and a metal contact point to create a physical connection when a key was pressed. This system provided a more reliable and accurate typing experience compared to the previous technologies.

Popularization in the 1980s and 1990s

Mechanical keyboards gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s with the rise of personal computers and the introduction of the IBM Model M keyboard. The Model M was widely regarded as one of the best keyboards ever made and featured a buckling spring mechanism that provided a distinct tactile feedback. Many computer enthusiasts and professionals favored the Model M for its durability and satisfying typing experience.

Resurgence in Recent Years

In recent years, mechanical keyboards have experienced a resurgence in popularity. This can be attributed to a few factors. First, gaming communities have recognized the advantages of mechanical keyboards, such as their responsiveness and durability. Mechanical keyboards have become a staple for gamers who require precise and quick inputs. Second, there has been a growing appreciation for the tactile feel and audible click of mechanical switches among writers and typists. The resurgence of mechanical keyboards has resulted in a wide range of options and an increasing number of manufacturers entering the market.

Mechanical Keyboard Anatomy

To understand the inner workings of a mechanical keyboard, it is important to familiarize yourself with its various components.

Switches

The switches are the heart of a mechanical keyboard and determine its feel and sound. There are numerous types of switches available, each with its own characteristics. Some switches are linear, meaning they have a consistent feel from top to bottom. Others are tactile, providing a bump or click when activated. The switch determines the actuation point, which is the point in a key’s travel at which the input is registered.

Keycaps

Keycaps are the physical buttons on a keyboard that you press to input characters or commands. They are typically made from high-quality plastic or more durable materials like PBT (polybutylene terephthalate). Keycaps can be customized and replaced to suit personal preferences or to add a touch of individuality to your keyboard.

Plate

The plate is a rigid piece of material, usually metal or plastic, that holds the switches in place. It provides stability and prevents the switches from wobbling or moving excessively during typing. The plate also helps distribute the force applied to each key evenly.

PCB

The printed circuit board (PCB) is the electronic component of a mechanical keyboard. It acts as the central hub that connects the switches, keycaps, and other components to the computer. The PCB contains the necessary circuitry to register and transmit keystrokes.

Backplate

The backplate is a metal or plastic piece positioned beneath the PCB. Its primary functions are to reinforce the keyboard’s structure, add rigidity, and protect the PCB from impacts or flexing.

Case

The case is the housing that encloses all the components of the mechanical keyboard. It can be made of various materials, such as plastic, aluminum, or wood. The case provides protection, enhances the aesthetics of the keyboard, and contributes to its overall durability.

Types of Mechanical Switches

Mechanical switches can be categorized based on various factors, such as their feel, actuation force, and noise level. Here are some distinctive features of mechanical switches:

Distinctive Features of Mechanical Switches

Linear vs. Tactile

Linear switches provide a smooth and consistent keystroke without any bump or click. Tactile switches, on the other hand, have a noticeable bump or feedback when the key is pressed. The choice between linear and tactile switches is largely based on personal preference and typing style.

Actuation Force

Actuation force refers to the amount of force required to activate a switch and register a keystroke. Lighter switches may actuate with as little as 35 grams of force, while heavier switches may require 80 grams or more. The actuation force can greatly impact typing speed and fatigue.

Noise Level

Mechanical keyboards can be divided into three categories based on noise level: clicky, tactile, and silent. Clicky switches produce an audible click sound when pressed, tactile switches have a tactile bump without the click sound, and silent switches provide a quiet typing experience.

Common Mechanical Switch Brands

There are several well-known manufacturers of mechanical switches, each offering their unique designs and characteristics. Some popular mechanical switch brands include:

Cherry MX

Cherry MX is one of the most renowned and widely-used mechanical switch brands. They offer a range of switches, including the Cherry MX Red (linear), Cherry MX Brown (tactile), and Cherry MX Blue (clicky). Cherry MX switches are known for their reliability and consistent performance.

Gateron

Gateron is another reputable switch manufacturer known for producing high-quality switches. Gateron switches are often praised for their smoothness and affordability. They offer various options such as Gateron Red, Gateron Brown, and Gateron Blue.

Kailh

Kailh is a Chinese switch manufacturer that has gained popularity in recent years. Their switches are often seen as more affordable alternatives to Cherry MX switches, but still offer competitive performance. Kailh switches come in a variety of options, including Kailh Red, Kailh Brown, and Kailh Blue.

Different Switch Colors and Actuation Forces

Mechanical switches are often color-coded to represent their characteristics. Here are some commonly used switch colors and their corresponding actuation forces:

  • Red (45-55g): Light and linear switches suitable for fast typists and gamers.
  • Brown (45-55g): Tactile switches that provide a bump without a click, making them ideal for typists who prefer a quiet tactile feedback.
  • Blue (50-60g): Clicky switches that offer a tactile bump and an audible click sound. They are favored by typists who enjoy the prominent feedback.
  • Black (60-80g): Heavier linear switches designed for users who prefer a more substantial typing experience or require higher actuation force to prevent accidental keystrokes.
  • Clear (65-75g): Tactile switches that require more force to actuate, providing a more pronounced tactile bump compared to the Brown switches.
  • Silent Switches: These switches, usually identified by “silent” in their name, are designed to minimize noise while still providing a tactile or linear feel.

The choice of switch color and actuation force depends on personal preferences, typing style, and the desired level of feedback and noise.

Benefits of Using a Mechanical Keyboard

Using a mechanical keyboard offers several advantages that can enhance your overall typing and gaming experience. Here are some of the key benefits of using a mechanical keyboard:

Tactile Feedback and Improved Typing Experience

The tactile feedback provided by mechanical switches allows for a more satisfying typing experience. The distinct bump or click with each keystroke provides a sense of confirmation and helps you develop a rhythm while typing. This feedback can result in increased accuracy and reduced typing errors.

Durability and Longevity

Mechanical keyboards are built to last. The quality materials used in their construction, such as the metal or plastic switches and sturdy keycaps, make them highly durable. Unlike rubber dome keyboards that may lose their responsiveness over time, mechanical switches are designed to withstand millions of keystrokes without losing their tactile feel.

Customization Options

Mechanical keyboards offer a wide range of customization options. You can personalize your keyboard by changing keycaps, adding custom keycaps with unique designs, or even creating your own keycap sets. Some keyboards also allow for custom lighting effects, allowing you to personalize the aesthetics to match your preferences.

Reduced Typing Fatigue

The tactile feedback and improved typing experience of mechanical keyboards can contribute to reduced typing fatigue. The distinct actuation point and responsive nature of mechanical switches can help prevent bottoming out (pressing the key all the way down) and encourage lighter typing, reducing strain on your fingers and wrists.

Drawbacks of Mechanical Keyboards

While mechanical keyboards offer numerous advantages, they also come with a few drawbacks that are worth considering:

Higher Cost

Compared to membrane keyboards, mechanical keyboards tend to be more expensive. The cost of mechanical keyboards can vary depending on factors such as the brand, switch type, and additional features. However, many enthusiasts argue that the benefits and long-term durability of mechanical keyboards justify the higher price.

Larger Size and Weight

Mechanical keyboards are often larger and heavier than their membrane counterparts. The construction of mechanical switches and the additional components required make mechanical keyboards bulkier. This can be a disadvantage for individuals with limited desk space or those who prefer a more compact keyboard for portability.

Potential Noise

One of the most common concerns associated with mechanical keyboards is the noise they produce. Clicky switches, in particular, can be notoriously loud, which may be disruptive in certain environments. However, it is important to note that there are quieter switch options available, such as tactile silent switches or linear silent switches, which significantly reduce the noise level.

Popular Mechanical Keyboard Brands

When it comes to mechanical keyboards, there are several well-established brands known for their quality and innovation. Here are some of the most popular mechanical keyboard brands:

Corsair

Corsair is a leading brand in the gaming industry, and their mechanical keyboards are highly regarded for their performance and customization options. They offer a wide range of keyboards tailored for gamers, professionals, and enthusiasts.

Razer

Razer is another prominent brand in the gaming community, known for its sleek designs and advanced features. Razer’s mechanical keyboards are well-regarded for their responsive switches and customizable RGB lighting effects.

Logitech

Logitech is a renowned name in the computer peripherals industry, and their mechanical keyboards are known for their quality and reliability. Logitech offers a variety of keyboards suitable for different needs, including gaming and productivity.

SteelSeries

SteelSeries focuses on delivering high-performance keyboards for gamers. Their mechanical keyboards often feature advanced software integration, customizable lighting effects, and robust build quality.

Ducky

Ducky is a Taiwanese brand that has gained a loyal following among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. They are highly regarded for their build quality, extensive switch options, and minimalist designs.

Cooler Master

Cooler Master offers a wide range of mechanical keyboards suitable for gamers, professionals, and casual users. They are known for their solid build quality, affordable prices, and a variety of switch options.

Choosing the Right Mechanical Keyboard

Choosing the right mechanical keyboard is a personal decision that depends on several factors. Here are some considerations to help you find the perfect keyboard for your needs:

Identifying Your Typing Preference

It is important to consider whether you prefer linear, tactile, or clicky switches. Experiment with different switch types to determine which one feels the most comfortable and suits your typing style.

Considerations for Specialized Use

If you have specific requirements, such as gaming or programming, consider keyboards that are tailored for these purposes. Gaming keyboards may have features like programmable keys, customizable backlighting, or macro functionality, while programming keyboards often prioritize ease of use and efficiency with dedicated shortcut keys.

Connectivity Options

Consider the connectivity options that best suit your needs. Mechanical keyboards are available in wired and wireless configurations. Wired keyboards tend to offer a more reliable and responsive connection, while wireless keyboards provide the convenience of freedom from cables.

Additional Features and Aesthetics

Think about any additional features or aesthetics that are important to you. Some keyboards offer customizable RGB lighting, detachable wrist rests, USB passthrough ports, or dedicated media controls. The design and aesthetics of the keyboard, including its size and keycap material, should also align with your preferences.

Maintenance and Cleaning of Mechanical Keyboards

To keep your mechanical keyboard in optimal condition, regular cleaning and maintenance are essential. Here are some tips for maintaining and cleaning your mechanical keyboard:

Regular Cleaning

Regularly remove keycaps and use a soft brush or compressed air to remove dust, debris, and crumbs from the switches and the base of the keyboard. You can also use a damp cloth or disinfecting wipes to clean the keycaps. Avoid using excessive moisture, as it may damage the electrical components.

Dealing with Keycap Stains or Damage

If your keycaps are stained or damaged, you can remove them and soak them in warm soapy water for a few hours. Gently scrub the keycaps with a soft brush or toothbrush to remove any stains. Ensure the keycaps are completely dry before reattaching them to the keyboard.

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Mechanical Keyboards

Mechanical keyboards have garnered a lot of attention and have gathered some myths and misconceptions along the way. Let’s debunk a few of these:

Mechanical Keyboards Make You Type Faster

While mechanical keyboards can improve typing accuracy and speed for some individuals, they do not guarantee faster typing. Typing speed is primarily dependent on individual skill, practice, and familiarity with the keyboard layout. The tactile feedback and responsive switches of mechanical keyboards can certainly contribute to a better typing experience, but they are not a guaranteed solution for typing faster.

Mechanical Keyboards Are Only for Gamers

Although mechanical keyboards have gained popularity among gamers due to their performance and responsiveness, they are not limited to gaming. Mechanical keyboards are equally beneficial for professionals, writers, and anyone who spends a considerable amount of time typing. The tactile feedback and durability of mechanical keyboards make them suitable for various applications.

All Mechanical Switches Are Noisy

While it is true that certain mechanical switches, such as clicky switches, produce audible click sounds, not all switches are noisy. There are numerous mechanical switch options available, including tactile and linear switches, that offer a quieter typing experience. If noise is a concern, it is advisable to choose switches specifically designed for silent operation.

In conclusion, mechanical keyboards have a rich history and have become increasingly popular in recent years. Their superior tactile feedback, durability, and customization options make them a preferred choice for many typists, gamers, and enthusiasts. By understanding the different types of switches, considering personal preferences, and properly maintaining the keyboard, you can find the perfect mechanical keyboard to suit your needs and enhance your typing experience.