Have you noticed that each keyboard feels different? This is due to the keyboard switches. Each key on your keyboard has a corresponding mechanical switch. These switches are the most important aspect of your keyboard, as it determines your comfort level with a particular keyboard.
That said, having a bit of knowledge about mechanical switches will help you choose the right model for you. A comfortable keyboard will improve your productivity, providing you with greater accuracy and speed, whether typing or gaming. Here’s what you need to know.
When analyzing different switch types, it’s helpful to know what some of the terms and specifications for them actually mean. Here’s a handy list of some ways switches are described, to help you better understand what that means for each switch.
- Actuation point: Pressing a keyboard key doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been registered by your PC. For that, you have to hit the actuation point. The height of that differs from switch to switch, but all of them have one.
- Actuation force: All keys require some pressure to press them down, but some switches require more force than others. That metric is known as actuation force and it’s typically measured in grams. While that might be hard to imagine, just know that those with higher actuation force requirements tend to need a firmer press and can tire fingers out sooner when typing for long periods. They can help avoid miss-presses, however.
- Clicky: Some switches make a light click when pressed, others make one that’s much more audible. Clicky switches are much louder.
- Tactile: Some switches come with a tactile bump that lets you feel when you’ve reached the actuation point. On keyboards without it, you might feel the need to bottom out the key to confirm it’s been pressed.
- RGB: RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue, and typically references multi-colored backlighting offered by some keyboards. Most mechanical switches support RGB in some guise, but others have improved features such as clear housings to improve light dissipation throughout the keycap.
Cherry MX – Red, Black, Brown, Blue, Speed
Cherry is a switch manufacturer that was founded in 1953 and is rightly considered by many to be the grandfather of modern mechanical keyboards — because its switches were in all of them at one point or another. Although it does produce some keyboards of its own, it’s most well known for its switches which end up in keyboards from almost every mechanical keyboard manufacturer out there.
Cherry MX switches have a typical shelf life of 50 million actuations, so should last for a number of years before you run into any problems, even if you’re a prolific typist. Gamer favorites include the Red, Brown, and Speed switches, for their light actuation force. The Speed switches are slightly shallower than the others too, allowing for a faster actuation.
Typists tend to enjoy the Brown and Blue switches for their tactile feedback, so a lighter touch is possible when typing. Some like the added click sound of the Blues, but it’s not for everyone.
Cherry MX switches are available in other, more niche guises which offer different combinations of clicks, actuation force, actuation distance, and tactile feedback. The above switches are the ones most commonly available in mainstream keyboards, however, particularly in western markets.
If you care about RGB lighting, buy a Cherry MX board that has clear switch housings, as those provide better illumination throughout the entire keycap.
Logitech – Romer G, GX Blue
Logitech manufactures keyboards with Cherry MX switches in them, but also makes its own switches which it claims are a better fit for competitive gamers. Developed in partnership with prominent Japanese switch maker, Omron, the Romer-G switches all feature shallower actuation points than the Cherry MX switches. They also have a set of redundant contacts inside, which extend the life of the switches to 70 million keystrokes.
The two Romer-G switches are virtually identical, with the only difference being that one has tactile feedback and the other doesn’t. They’re both quiet, fast switches that are great for gaming and typing. Both Romer switches employ a hollow center too, for placement of LEDs for backlighting. These have a much more uniform keycap lighting than other switches, like the Cherry MX alternatives.
The GX Blue is effectively a Cherry MX Blue analog with an almost identical design and the same sort of sound when clicked. It does, however, feature the same 70 million-click lifespan of the Romer G switches.
Razer – Green, Orange, Yellow, Opto-Mechanical
Razer is a phenom in the world of gaming gear and mechanical keyboards are no different. When supply problems with Cherry MX switches hit in the mid-2010s, Razer began manufacturing its own switches, which now make up the bulk of its keyboard lineup, including the stellar BlackWidow range.
Razer switches offer something a little different to the more traditional switch manufacturers out there. While the Yellow switches and Opto-mechanical are light-touch actuation, the others require a slightly heavier actuation force. Most have tactile feedback, and the Green and Opto-Mechanical options are also clicky, with a distinctive sound when actuation occurs. The Green is effectively a Cherry MX Blue analog, while the Orange is a little closer to the MX Brown.
Green, Yellow, and Orange offer 80 million keystroke lifecycles per key and have off-center placement for RGB backlight LEDs.
The Opto-Mechcanical switch is quite different. It employs an optical sensor that’s triggered when the key is pressed. It allows for what Razer claims to be the fastest actuation of any switch and even greater durability. Those switches are rated for up to 100 million keystrokes
Steelseries – QX2 and color variants
Steelseries turned to Kaihua Electronics for the design of its mechanical switches and has taken them through a couple of generations. What started with the QS1 has now evolved into the QX2 and it’s available in a variety of configurations. All of the switches enjoy the same basic design, but you can opt for different configurations for a choice of tactile and clicky functions.
Some important factors of Steelseries’ switches which help them stand out from the pack, include the centrally located LED, which makes for much better backlighting coverage throughout the keycap. They are also all have a 45g actuation force requirement, making them light and snappy compared to some heavier-handed switches out there.
There are clicky and tactile versions in line with Cherry MX coloring, with the Omnipoint enjoying a very low actuation distance of just 0.4mm, making for a faster switch still.
All Steelseries switches are slightly shallower than contemporaries like Cherry MX and Logitec Romer G switches, allowing for slightly lower-profile keyboard designs. They are all rated for 50 million keypresses.
Roccat is a relative newcomer in the custom switch space but it has already made quite an impact with its single Titan switch design. It makes bold claims and could well be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
Roccat claims to use higher-than-average quality components in constructing its Titan switches allowing for a 20 percent reduction in keypress detection time, we’re told. It also enjoys a 1.8mm actuation point, meaning it registers even faster than traditional mechanical switches.
The Titan also employs a central LED-placement, as well as a clear switch housing, allowing for a uniform spread of backlighting for each key.
Kaihua – Red, Black, Brown, Blue
One of the longest-running mechanical switch manufacturers, Chinese-based Kaihua Electronics has helped many western keyboard manufacturers develop their own switches and has a selection of its own to offer too. They are often affectionately termed Cherry MX clones, because they almost entirely ape the classic Cherry MX design and feature set.
As with Cherry MX, Kaihua offers a selection of clicky, tactile, and linear switches, with a variety of mid-range actuation force ratings. All switches are rated for 50 million keystrokes per key and they all have the typical 2mm actuation point.
They do support the same off-center LED backlighting as switches like Cherry MX, offering almost an identical feature set overall. However, they do tend to come in at a lower cost than Cherry switches, so you’ll typically find Kaihua switches in more affordable mechanical keyboards.
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