Mechanical keyboards are the next revolution in computing. Surprisingly, they have nearly always been around, even dating back to the now famous IBM Model M. They have had a resurgence in popularity in recent years, reaching audiences from technology professionals to gaming enthusiasts. You might be asking what a mechanical keyboard is, and why it’s so special. Well, a mechanical keyboard is one that uses mechanical key-switches. To understand why this is important, let’s look at most common desktop keyboards.
Check out this post on the best cheap mechanical keyboards in 2017
When you press a key on a standard keyboard, here’s what happens: the key pushes a rubber dome, that then “squished” down to make contact with the plastic circuit board. These are called rubber-dome keyboards. On most laptop keyboards and slim-profile desktop keyboards, they use tiny interlocking plastic tabs that bend when pressed, these are called scissor-switch keyboards. Most keyboards, as you can see, don’t use an actual reliable switch, but instead use these intermediary systems can fail over time, feel “mushy,” and provide inconsistent tactile feedback to the typist. There are a variety of switches that can be found in high-quality mechanical keyboards. They fall into three major categories, Cherry MX, ALPS, and buckling spring.
The Cherry MX style of a switch, which is produced by the Cherry Corporation from Germany, uses different-colored key-stems to denote different key-switch characteristics. Cherry MX Blues which provide a tactile feel and audible click when pressed, Browns provide the tactile feel but have a softer sound for quieter use, and the Blacks lack a tactile feel and use a linear-action for when quick key-presses are crucial.
The ALPS switch is made by the Alps Electric Company from Japan. There are many variations of the ALPS key-switch, the most common of which has two types: Complicated and Simplified. The Complicated ALPS comes in varieties similar to that of the Cherry MX, one with a tactile feel and audible click, one with a tactile feel but a softer sound, and lastly one with a linear-action that doesn’t have the tactile feel of its peers. The Simplified ALPS has four types, Type I, II, III, and IV. The most common modern mechanical keyboards use a further variation on the Simplified Type I. One can find a White version that has the tactile feel and audible click, and a Black version which has a tactile feel, but a softer sound.
The last type of switch, buckling spring, is a throw-back to the infamous IBM Model M that made it famous. As the name suggests, the switch works when the key puts pressure on a spring that is under pressure underneath, until finally the spring buckles under pressure, allowing the key to being pressed. Then upon release, the spring regains its original form. While this type of key-switch is no longer commonly found in modern keyboards, it’s important to understand where all this started.
Modern mechanical keyboards utilize perfectly engineered high-performance switches that help take away the strain of typing and provides you with the tactile and audio cues that will allow you to type faster and more efficiently. The only downside is that after you have used a mechanical keyboard, going back to a cheap “mushy” rubber-dome keyboard will seem like torture