in Technology

With the advent of less expensive alternatives in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the once ubiquitous mechanical keyboard for a long time disappeared from the shelves. Since mid 2010 however,  interest for them has increased steadily:

mechanical-keyboard-search-trends

But why would an otherwise sane person purchase a mechanical keyboard when they can get a membrane one for $100 cheaper?

Some will say it’s a trend, that it’s just a niche market made up mostly by computer geeks and gamers. That’s probably not far from the truth, but mechanical keyboards usually have a better build quality overall and most importantly: they are a joy to type on!

You see, in contrast with other keyboard technologies (rubber dome, membrane, chiclet) mechanical keyboards have real mechanical switches under each key. Cherry MX switches, by far the most popular brand,  come in a variety of colours, mainly differing in the following properties:

  • tactile feedback — whether you can feel when a key is activated.
  • audio feedback — whether you hear a “click” when a key is activated.
  • actuation force — how hard the key needs to be pressed before it is activated.
Animation depicting a Cherry MX blue switch being activated

A Cherry MX blue switch
being activated

And here are some of the switch varieties:

Colour Tactile feedback? Clicky? Actuation force
Blue Yes Yes Medium (50g)
Brown Yes No Low (45g)
Red No No Low (45g)
Black No No High (60g)
Green Yes Yes Very high (80g)
Clear Yes No High (65g)

If you can’t decide which switch colour to pick, here’s the usual recommendation: if you are a typist, get blues, greens or clears; if you are a gamer, reds or blacks; if you are both, browns.

Cherry MX Blue switch

Cherry MX Blue switch

As for the keyboard itself, if you are a newbie or on a tight budget, I’d suggest anything from the Cooler Master Quickfire line, with prices ranging from $80 to $100. On the other hand, if you’re ready to become an enthusiast, get a board from the Filco Majestouch line, starting at $140. They are made in Japan and are considered one of the best.

Other known brands that are easy to find in North America:

  • Ducky
  • Steelseries
  • Das Keyboard
  • Razer BlackWidow

2016 update:  Jeff Atwood designed an excellent keyboard — the CODE. It’s worth checking out.