If you’ve cruised around your local tech store lately, then you may have noticed mechanical keyboards on sale. Mechanical keyboards, at first glance, don’t look too special – until you see the price tag.
So why are mechanical keyboards so expensive? And what makes them different than an average keyboard? Today, I’m going to explain the advantages and disadvantages of a mechanical keyboard and help you decide whether or not to buy one:
What is a mechanical keyboard?
Keyboards are separated into two broad categories: synthetic keyboards and mechanical keyboards. Synthetic keyboards are the keyboards you’ve probably used all your life.
The main difference between a synthetic keyboard and a regular keyboard is the way in which keystrokes are registered by the device. With a regular synthetic keyboard, the user presses down the keys in order to push a conductive membrane onto the circuitry below, which tells the PC to register that keystroke. Most synthetic keyboards have several layers between the face of the key and the circuit below.
The layers in a synthetic keyboard lead to a squishier feel. It’s tough to describe this squishy feel until you put your hands on both a mechanical keyboard and a synthetic keyboard.
Mechanical keyboards throw out the entire concept of conductive membranes. Instead of squishy bits of rubber, mechanical keyboards have physical switches under each key. There’s no rubber membrane that gets compressed onto each key. Instead, pressing the key down completes the circuit.
That means the mechanic keyboard registers the keystroke as soon as a small amount of pressure is applied to the key. Users don’t have to squish through the layers of membrane in order to make the keystroke register.
Who likes mechanical keyboards?
Mechanical keyboards are particularly popular with gamers and PC enthusiasts – which is an indirect way of saying they’re for people who like to spend lots of money on their PCs.
However, it’s not just high-performance PC users who like mechanical keyboards. More and more average PC users are also enjoying the advantages of the mechanical lifestyle.
Pros of a mechanical keyboard
Higher N-Key rollover: You may not know what N-Key Rollover means, but it’s the number of keys you can simultaneously press down on the keyboard while still registering each key. An average keyboard has an N-Key Rollover between 3 to 6, for example, while mechanical keyboards can have a rollover of 10 – which is good because that’s all the fingers you have and I don’t know what else you’d be using to press the keys. Test your keyboard rollover today here.
Durability: You may not know this, but most synthetic keyboards are only designed to withstand 10 million keystrokes. ‘Only’. That may seem like a lot, but if you spend a lot of time typing emails or articles, then those 10 million keystrokes can add up quickly. Mechanical keyboards are designed to last up to 5 times as long – for 50 million keystrokes. Check out the crazy durability test for one of CoolerMaster’s mechanical keyboards, where they run over the keyboard with several vehicles.
Tactile sensation: Who cares about all the other benefits? How do mechanical keyboards actually feel? Well, they feel pretty good. They’re designed to offer the best possible tactile sensation to users. That sensation varies depending on the type of mechanical keyboard you buy, but in general, you can expect the mechanical keyboard to have a comfortable and satisfying amount of ‘give’ for each keystroke, making for a more enjoyable typing or gaming experience. There are actually a number of different color-coded switches in mechanical keyboards which offer a bunch of different tactile experiences. Some have a clicking noise, while others are completely quiet and require very little in order to be pressed down. For a good explanation of mechanical keyboard switches and their unique differences, click here.
Faster response times: Synthetic keyboards require users to press the key down all the way in order to activate that key. Mechanical keyboards require less force. That makes it easier to execute combos in games and in games with lots of keystrokes like StarCraft or League of Legends, it can be the difference between defeat and victory.
Aesthetics: Mechanical keyboards, in general, look pretty good. The curvature of the keys has been perfected and many of the keys are colored using dye sublimation techniques, double-shot injection molding, and other high-end manufacturing processes. What does that mean for you? It means that your keyboard looks good and it will probably continue to look good for its entire lifespan – the dye on your WASD keys isn’t going to fade anytime soon.
Cons of a mechanical keyboard
Louder: This advantage depends on the type of synthetic keyboard or mechanical keyboard you purchase. In general, mechanical keyboards are louder than synthetic keyboards. Some mechanical keyboard switches are louder than others, and you can even install ‘o-rings’ on some keyboards to make them quieter.
More expensive: Synthetic keyboards can be found for under $20. Mechanical keyboards are usually priced around $100. Gamers are willing to pay more for their accessories, but the average PC user may find the price of mechanical keyboards to be a little too high for their liking.
Typing versus gaming for mechanical keyboards
I spend a lot of time typing articles on my computer. But I also spend a lot of time playing games. So which mechanical keyboard is right for me? Check out this publically available poll here which is attempting to rank the gaming versus typing balance of various mechanical keyboard switches.
Right now, users are arguing that the Cherry Red Cherry MX switch (with 45 gram AF) is the best for gaming, with an average rating of 8.95/10. Meanwhile, the Cherry Blue Cherry MX Switch is ranked as the best switch for typing with an average rating of 8.77/10.
The best way to determine which mechanical keyboard is right for your needs is to visit your local tech store and try one out today. Everybody has different sized hands, different sized fingers, and different methods of typing, and the ratings you find online may not apply to you.