The keyboard is one of the most important peripherals to a gamer. Without a proper keyboard, you will have a hard time even enjoying your games.
Now, mechanical keyboards have invaded the market. Gone are the days where you have to use one of those rubber dome “membrane” keyboards that although does the job, it lacks that nice feel that the mechanical switches offer.
If you browse over the internet for a great keyboard for gaming, you will find that the majority of the keyboards now have some sort of mechanical switch.
There are now a lot of mechanical switches out there and it can be hard for the layman to choose which one is best for them.
In this article, I will talk about the different mechanical key switches that you can find in most gaming keyboards nowadays. I will only talk about the most popular ones.
But before I talk about the switches, I will first talk about the different terms used by companies to describe different mechanical switches.
Important Mechanical Key Switch Terms
1. Actuation Point- refers to the distance required for the key switch to travel so that the input will register on the screen.
2. Actuation Force- the term used to refer to the force required to actuate the mechanical key switch. Usually denoted by cN (centinewton) or grams (1cN=1g)
3. Total Travel- refers to the maximum distance the key switch can go. Once you reach the bottom, you will “bottom out.”
4. Reset Point- the opposite of actuation point; refers to the distance it needs to go before you can press the key again.
5. Hysteresis- refers to the term wherein the reset point and actuation point are not in their supposed order.
6. N-Key Rollover- When you press N number of keys at the same time, all of them will register on the screen. (N refers to the number of keys pressed).
7. Polling Rate- is a term used to refer to how frequently your computer checks for incoming USB data (in this case, inputs from your keyboard). Keyboards usually have a few polling rate options. 1000Hz (1ms) seems to be the standard amongst gamers because of zero latency.
Mechanical key switches also have two different characteristics: Linear and Clicky. Linear switches go unhindered as there is no tactile bump when you press down the key. Clicky switches, on the other hand, have a tactile bump as well as an audible click when you reach the middle of the total travel distance.
A mechanical key switch is an intricate thing; there’s more than meets the eye. The key switch has a spring, metal contacts, slider, a stem, and a keycap. For more information about how a mechanical key switch operates, PCGamer has made an article about it. You can check it here.
The Cherry MX Dominance
The very first mechanical switches were made by a German company called “Cherry Corporation” back in 1983.
Since they pioneered their so-called Cherry MX Switches, they have put a patent on it so that no other company can copy it.
The company has enjoyed long years of success since most gaming peripheral companies use their patented Cherry MX Switches.
Until such time that the patent has expired, most of the peripheral companies have resorted to other mechanical key switch manufacturers to help reduce the cost.
Despite their patent having expired a few years ago, the Cherry MX switches are still quite popular to this day.
Now, there are many kinds of Cherry MX switches and they are usually differentiated by colors to denote their physical properties.
For the purposes of this article, I will just talk about the five most popular Cherry MX Switches. Although there are a lot of different kinds of Cherry MX switches, I find that these five are the most commonly used.
So, without further ado, here are the most popular Cherry MX Switches you can find in most modern gaming keyboards:
1. Cherry MX Reds
Great for: fast-paced games
Not good for: typing
The Cherry MX Reds were once touted as the best gaming mechanical key switch mainly because of its low actuation point and actuation force required.
This particular key switch is a linear switch in that it doesn’t have a tactile bump and thus, is perfect for fast-paced games since double-tapping will be done with ease.
Cherry MX Red switches have an actuation point of only 2mm and it only requires 45 grams of actuation force to activate.
Although this is the once “go-to” mechanical switch for gaming, it is not really that great for typing. That is because of its linear nature and also due to the fact that it will only require a small amount of actuation force for the key to activate.
Some typists report that they often do some accidental double taps when typing a huge report, for example.
2. Cherry MX Blacks
Great for: RTS (Real-time strategy) games and other genres that don’t require fast-twitch key presses.
Not great for: Typing
Another linear switch, Cherry MX blacks are great for real-time strategy games because of its unhindered movement when pressing the key.
It is not a popular switch for first-person shooters due to the fact that it requires 60 grams of actuation force to register on the screen. It does, however, have the same actuation point to that of the Cherry MX Reds which is at 2mm.
The key switch is also not great for typing because of its higher actuation force required. Because of its lack of popularity in recent times, most of the gaming peripheral companies today do not use this particular key switch anymore.
3. Cherry MX Browns
Great for: Typing and Gaming
Not Great for: People who want an audible click when typing
The Cherry MX Browns are considered to be a compromise between a good gaming and typing key switch. That is because it has a tactile bump and it only requires 45 grams of actuation force for the key to register.
Furthermore, Cherry MX Browns are silent switches in that they do not produce a lot of noise, at least, when compared to the clicky switches.
A lot of gamers really like this particular mechanical key switch because it is not only light, but that tactile bump helps them know that they pressed the key.
4. Cherry MX Blues
Great for: Typing and some games
Not Great for: people who prefer a silent switch, fast-paced games
If you are a typist, then you definitely have to consider getting a Cherry MX Blue. These switches are part of the “Clicky” variety because you will hear a clicking sound when you press the key beyond its tactile bump.
This switch is a bit heavy for gamers as it would require about 60 grams of actuation force to activate.
But, the good thing is that you really do not have to bottom out the keys because of how this switch works.
Once you hear that satisfying clicking sound, you can release your finger so that you can press another key and so on.
The Cherry MX Blues are primarily used by typists because of that satisfying audible click and some gamers also use them because of the same reason.
However, this particular switch is one of the loudest in the market and may not be suitable if you live in a house with people who are going to be annoyed by that clicking sound.
5. Cherry MX Speed
Great for: Gaming, especially fast-paced games
Not Great for: Typing
The Cherry MX Speed switches is a relatively new switch and its purpose is to cater to gamers who require a switch that is not only fast, but also silent as well.
It still requires the same actuation force to that of the Cherry MX Reds with the exception that its actuation point is just 1.2mm as opposed to the Red’s 2mm.
This translates to rapid-fire key presses which can help gamers beat opponents in online games, for example.
Because of its low actuation point, this mechanical key switch is not suitable for typing. If you do type using this switch, there is a high probability that mistakes will be plenty and accidental double taps are prevalent.
Still, the Cherry MX Speed is quite promising and I can see that this particular switch will be so popular that it will be the default key switch in mechanical gaming keyboards in the future.
Other Mechanical Switches
Since the Cherry Corporation lost its patents a few years ago, it was the go signal for other companies to create their very own mechanical switches.
A lot of prominent gaming peripheral companies like Razer and Logitech, for example, have employed the help of these third-party manufacturers to create mechanical switches for their respective gaming keyboards.
In the next section, I will highlight some of the most popular mechanical key switches that are used by the different gaming peripheral companies.
Let’s start with a very popular company: Razer.
Razer Mechanical Switches
There was a lot of controversy surrounding Razer mechanical switches. You see, old Razer mechanical gaming keyboards sport a Cherry MX Switch but the company has since moved to another key manufacturer.
First, they employed Kaihua Electronics; a mechanical key switch manufacturer based in China. The first batch of Razer switches is, well, mired in controversy because of its quality.
Apparently, the Razer switches before didn’t have a stringent quality testing procedure which meant that some keys were inconsistent.
Since then, they’ve employed other manufacturers to create the Razer switches for them. The company also went on to add that the companies they’ve hired to create the switches are only tasked with the production; the original design is from them.
Anyway, the company didn’t disclose the names of the new manufacturers but some people have uncovered one manufacturer: Greetech. They’ve done this by taking off a key and looking at the back side of it with the word “Greetech” on it.
The new Razer mechanical key switches feel different. They are more robust, they are nice to the touch, and they do not produce a lot of noise compared to other mechanical key switches (particularly the Cherry MX Blues).
If you are interested to know the quality assurance protocols that Razer uses, here is a nice article from Tom’s Hardware.
Anyway, there are two main Razer Switches already present in Razer’s new Mechanical gaming keyboards: the Razer Green and Razer Orange.
1. Razer Green
Great for: Gaming and typing
Not Great for: People who prefer a more silent mechanical switch.
Razer Greens are akin to that of the Cherry MX Blues in that it is also a clicky switch. There are some differences, though. For one, the Razer Green’s actuation point is 1.9mm and it only requires 55 grams of actuation force as opposed to the Cherry MX Blue’s 60 grams’ actuation force required and 2mm actuation point.
Furthermore, Razer greens have a much crisper feel, although the clicky sound is much more pronounced on the Cherry MX Blue switches.
The company has stated that Razer Mechanical key switches are meant for gamers because it has a much lower actuation point and it only requires minor taps for it to activate due to the lower actuation force the mechanical switch needs.
But, what really impresses me with Razer’s switches is that it is rated to last up to 80 million keystrokes PER key. That’s right, every individual key will last up to 80 million clicks before it dies.
2. Razer Orange
Great for: Gaming and typing without that loud clicking sound
Not Great for: people who want the clicking sound of a mechanical key switch
If you do not want the loud clicking noise of the Razer Greens, then the Razer Orange switches are for you.
Some people say that the Razer Orange switches are like the Cherry MX Browns but that is not really the case.
That is because these switches have the same exact actuation point and actuation force required for the key switch to activate.
Although, I must say that the Razer Orange is a silent switch like the Cherry MX Brown; it just feels different when you actually press the key.
3. Razer Yellow
Great for: Fast-paced games
Not Great for: Typing
Now, Razer announced their newest Chroma keyboard called the “Razer Blackwidow Chroma V2”. This particular gaming keyboard will have either of these switches: Razer Green, Orange, and the new Razer Yellow switches.
What are the characteristics of the new Razer Yellow switches? Well, this switch is a silent one and this mechanical key switch is made with gamers in mind.
The Razer Yellow has a low travel distance of only 3.5mm (other key switches have 4mm), requires an actuation force of 45 grams only, and the actuation point is at 1.2mm (the same with Cherry MX Speed switches).
This means that the Razer Yellow switches are great for fast-paced games but it might not be a good switch for typists.
Ever since the Cherry Corporation lost its patents over mechanical key switches, Kaihua Electronics was one of the companies that created their own key switches.
Because of their resemblance to Cherry MX Switches, Kailh Switches are deemed as “Cherry MX clones”. They have nearly identical characteristics and identical color schemes that one might not distinguish one key switch over the other.
Unfortunately, the first batch of Mechanical key switches made by the company were subpar and some of them even have quality control issues.
The company has since rectified how they manufacture their key switches and the controversy that surrounded their products was a thing of the past.
So, which Kailh switches are popular in today’s mechanical gaming keyboards?
1. Kailh Brown
Great for: Gaming and Typing
Not Great for: People who want a clicky mechanical switch
The Kailh Brown is nearly similar to the Cherry MX Browns with the exception that it requires 50 grams of actuation force as opposed to the Cherry MX’s 45 grams.
It has the same actuation point at 2mm and it also has the same total travel distance of 4mm. This is a silent switch if you will, but there is a noticeable tactile bump when you press the key.
2. Kailh Red
Great for: Gaming
Not Great for: Typing
The Kailh Red switches are nearly the same as the Cherry MX Reds except that it requires 50 grams of actuation force for the key to activate instead of 45 grams.
It is also a linear switch and it also has nearly the same sound output when compared to the Cherry MX Reds.
Some people love the Kailh Red switches for typing, but the vast majority would veer away from it if you’re going to use it for work as it would be too prone to accidental key presses because of the nature of the switch.
3. Kailh Blue
When the two aforementioned keys are somewhat identical to their Cherry MX counterparts, the Kailh Blue switch IS identical to the Cherry MX Blue.
It does require the same actuation force at 60mm and it also has the same actuation point at 2mm.
Some people, however, do not like the sound of these switches and they would much rather prefer the original over this one.
Still, the feel and other aspects of the key switch are the same to its Cherry MX equivalent.
Romer-G Mechanical Key Switch
Great for: Gaming
Not Great for: Typing
The Romer-G mechanical switches are found in Logitech’s new gaming keyboards and they are actually quite nice to the touch.
At first, people did not receive it well mainly because its feel is somewhat reminiscent of the old rubber dome “membrane” keyboards.
But, this switch is actually a good one and experts recommend this particular mechanical key switch for people who are transitioning from the old membrane keyboards to a mechanical one.
This particular mechanical key switch has a “box” design and it has a slight tactile bump to it, although, mechanical key switch aficionados barely even notice the said bump.
Anyway, this key switch has an actuation point of only 1.5mm and it requires 45 grams of actuation force.
Before the Cherry MX Speed switches were born, the Romer-G Switch was touted as the fastest mechanical switch for gaming.
It also has only 3mm total travel distance which means that you can bottom out the key switch pretty quickly. This also means that you only need light taps for the key to register which is great for fast-paced games.
Because of its low actuation point and also due to the fact that this switch feels light, the Romer-G Switches are not ideal for bulk typing.
Still, if you’re on the lookout for a great gaming key switch, then Romer-G switches should be considered.
QS1 Mechanical Key Switch
Great for: Gaming
Not Great for: Typing
Steelseries, another prominent peripheral company, has also made their own key switches (of course, with the help of Kaihua).
The QS1 switches were made for gamers in that it is also a very fast key switch. It has the same characteristics to that of the Romer-G Switch in that it has an actuation point of 1.5mm and requires 45 grams of actuation force, and the travel distance is the same at only 3mm.
Like the Romer-G Switches above, the Steelseries QS1 switches are specifically designed for all genres of games, but this switch is mainly used for fast-paced games due to the nature of this particular mechanical switch.
Although they have the same characteristics to the Romer-G Switches, the sound and the feel of the QS1 switches are different.
The key press sounds mushy and it doesn’t have that satisfying clicking sound that a typical mechanical switch does. Thankfully, this key switch doesn’t feel mushy at all, only the key press sounds mushy.
If you want the company and you want a gaming keyboard from them, then the QS1 switch is definitely for you.
The Topre switches are not as popular as the aforementioned switches mainly due to the fact that keyboards that have them have a premium price tag.
What is interesting about the Topre Switches is that they actually have a variety of different actuation forces.
There are four different Topre switches that have varying actuation forces such as 30g, 35g, 45g, and 55g.
They do have the same actuation point of 2mm and they also have the same total travel distance of 4mm.
The great thing about the Topre switches is that it is a versatile switch, which means that it is suited not only for typing but also for gaming.
And, add to that the fact that it has different actuation forces to suit your needs, this mechanical key switch is just a joy to use.
This mechanical key switch is not only fast but it is also silent as well, almost as silent as the rubber dome membrane keyboards.
Note: There are still a lot of mechanical key switches on the market but the ones that I mentioned in the article are the popular ones.
Should I buy a Mechanical Gaming Keyboard?
Probably the biggest question asked by people who still use rubber dome keyboards to this day is, “should I buy a mechanical gaming keyboard?”
Personally, I would definitely recommend a mechanical gaming keyboard over the conventional membrane keyboard.
Below are the pros and cons of using a mechanical gaming keyboard:
· Have a fantastic feel on every key press
· Different mechanical key switches to suit different needs
· Some have amazing lighting mechanisms
· More expensive
· Noise (on some mechanical key switches)
· Heavier than Rubber dome keyboards
Mechanical gaming keyboards are taking the market by storm. I can safely say that the vast majority of “gaming keyboards” you can find today have mechanical key switches.
I was once a proud owner of rubber dome keyboard (Logitech G15). I thought that it was already the best gaming keyboard I could ever own, but that quickly changed when a friend of mine introduced me to the Corsair K90, which had a Cherry MX Red switch.
I was instantly in loved with the mechanical key switches from then on. I can safely say that if you have the money, definitely go buy one of the Mechanical gaming keyboards.
Although they are pricier than conventional rubber dome keyboards, nothing can beat the gaming and typing performance mechanical key switches offer.
I hope that this article has helped you make a decision on which mechanical key switch to choose when buying a mechanical gaming keyboard in the future.