mechanical keyboard switch selection

Mechanical Keyboard Switch Basics and Selection

For many computer gamers, particularly those who play games that involve numerous keyboard pushes, one vital component on the keyboard itself is the key switches being used. Referring to the elements directly underneath each of your keys, one that registers keystrokes and sends information to your computer based on them, the key switch is vital for all keyboard communication to the device – and there are a few different key switch formats used today, with a type called mechanical switches considered the most popular and common.

At Xidax, we’re here to offer not only a huge range of custom gaming computers, from gaming desktops and laptops to workstations and many other themes, but also expertise on vital accessories like keyboards, monitors, mouse options and more for any gamer looking to finalize their setup. What are mechanical switches, how do they compare to newer keyboard membranes, and what are some of the top options out there for quality mechanical switches for your keyboard? Here is everything you need to know in this realm.

Understanding Mechanical Switches

As we noted above, mechanical switches refer to the mechanism that sits right underneath each of the keys on a standard computer keyboard. Every time one of these keys is pressed, the switch is the item that actually registers this behavior, then sends the message to the computer that the button has been pushed.

Today’s key switches are significantly varied, with numerous options available. They have different response times and actuation speeds, travel times, noise levels and other factors, meaning you have several variables to think about when choosing a keyboard. One of the most well-known key switch manufacturers is Cherry, which is also known for tailoring its switches to gamers and typists – we’ll go over some of the top Cherry key switch options in just a bit.

Switches Vs. Membranes

Now, it’s important to note that mechanical switches are not the only option available today when it comes to computer keyboards. In particular, recent years have seen a rise in what are known as membrane switches, short for membrane rubber dome switches. These options are made from three layers of flexible material, with a conductive trace at the bottom registering each button-press. The rubber dome sits directly underneath the key, compressing when it’s pressed and activating the second layer, which in turn activates the trace.

When it comes to computer gamers, however, membrane keyboard options usually aren’t ideal. They’re quieter than mechanical switches, yes, but they’re also far less responsive and accurate – largely because they’re cheaper and built for quantity, not quality. They may have a mushy or spongey feel rather than the tactile feel you get from a mechanical switch. While mechanical switch keyboards are more expensive, this comes with good reason: They’re simply more effective, especially for those who type a lot and need accurate, timely results.

Cherry MX Red and Brown Options

As we noted above, the top player in mechanical switches today, particularly for gamers, is a company called Cherry. Their Cherry MX line is the latest in mechanical switches, featuring a number of different options. Two of the most popular are the Cherry MX Red and Brown, which are separated by a few characteristics:

  • Cherry MX Red: The more popular of these two options is also the newest, with Cherry MX Red switches debuting back in 2008 and setting the standard that many gamers still adhere to today. They were the first to introduce the linear feel, which comes with much less actuation force required than other tactile models on the market – this makes the Red switch extremely responsive and smooth. These keyboards won’t tire out your fingers if you type a lot, plus bring great speed. They do come with slightly higher mis-click risks than some other switch types, however, which is a concern for certain gamers and might lead them to investigate other options. MX Reds are also quieter than MX Browns, though they do still make some noise.
  • The much earlier Cherry option is the MX Brown, which was introduced all the way back in 1994. Browns have a similar travel distance to Reds, and both are non-clicky, but that’s about where their similarities come to an end. Browns are tactile and audible, with slightly better response times and better precision than Reds. They’re a bit louder than Reds, sure, but this isn’t a huge factor for most gamers. Both these options are often viable considerations for gamers, depending on needs.

Other Cherry MX Switches

Now, there are also several other Cherry MX switch types you might consider:

  • Clear: Non-clicky switches that come with low operating force, these also have low pre-travel and above-average actuation, making typing simple.
  • Green: This is a clicky version that offers high operating force, plus a noticeable click characteristic for those who prefer it.
  • Gray: For those who want all the characteristics of the Cherry MX Green without the clicking, the MX Gray is the way to go. It has identical operating force and similar traveling distance, but no clicks.
  • Speed Silver: For extremely competitive gamers, the Speed Silver switch comes with rapid actuation and non-clicky functioning, plus the lowest pre-travel distance featured among Cherry’s products.
  • Silent Red: For those who prefer silence and want a great keyboard despite this, the Silent Red option comes with a low travel rate while also operating without noise.
  • Blue: There are also “quieter” forms of clicky switches, such as the Cherry MX Blue. These have good actuation and operating force, with an audible actuation, but they’re not so loud that they become issues in an office space or similar area.

For more on mechanical keyboard switches and which to choose for your gaming computer needs, or to learn about any of our custom gaming PCs or other services, speak to the staff at Xidax today.

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